ArtsWatch Weekly: A little boo! and what looks new

Beyond the haunts, here come "Tosca" & other sounds, book fests, movies & nostalgia, more.

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HERE AT ARTSWATCH WE’VE GOT PRESSING BUSINESS THIS WEEK: Something’s weighing heavily on us. We can’t imagine what it might be, or why it’s got the Official ArtsWatch Therapy Horse so bug-eyed. But whatever it is, we’ve found ourselves turning very uneasily in our sleep. 

We checked with the doctor, who told not us to worry: It’s a common seasonal disorder that should clear up by Monday. She gave us a prescription: Stock up on candy, wear a mask, and don’t worry when your doorbell starts shrieking like crazy Sunday evening. It’s just young ghosts and goblins and a witch or demon or two, and they’ll all revert to normal by bedtime. The whole affair’s a ritual form of community cosplay, she explained. It happens every year around this time: Take two peanut butter cups and don’t call her in the morning. 

We wouldn’t dream of it. Would we?

Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli), “The Nightmare,” 1781, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts

Opera new & old, a choir gets a second start

Portland Opera opens its season with a fresh new look and an old favorite, “Tosca.” The new choir In Medio relaunches after a two-year Covid break. Robert Ham roams the clubs, listening and writing things down. And November’s music scene scares up an early start with a weekend of Halloween sounds.
Priti Gandhi. Photo by Christine Dong.
Priti Gandhi, new artistic director of Portland Opera. Photo: Christine Dong

DIVING INTO THE MOMENT OF CREATION. It’s a new season and a new story for Portland Opera, which after a long Covid layoff (broken briefly by June’s open-air production of Robert X. Rodriguez’ Frida) at last begins a new season on Friday with its opening-night performance of Puccini’s 121-year-old favorite Tosca on the Keller Auditorium stage. The season opener is a deep dive into opera’s grand traditions in the midst of big changes and forward-looking plans for the company, Angela Allen writes. It begins the season with a new artistic director, Priti Gandhi; a new interim music director, Damien Geter; and a new determination to look forward in its programming while also balancing the new with the well-known. 

“Anyone in my sphere knows that I have a deep love of the traditional operatic repertoire, and the way it elevates the human voice to its maximum beauty,” Gandhi tells Allen. “It is the core of our art form, and I’ll always champion that. I also know that opening our spaces for new voices and stories is necessary to evolve not just the art form itself, but how we produce it. What happens when you incorporate all of our respective cultures and backgrounds into this art form? Even the traditional repertoire will grow with this new energy.”

MOTIVATED AND PASSIONATE: JOHN EISEMANN DIRECTS IN MEDIO’S DELAYED “HARD LAUNCH.” There’s a new choir in town. Well, sort of new, as Daryl Browne writes. In Medio gave its first concert two years ago, in the fall of 2019. Then came Covid, and a long, long break – until this Friday, Oct. 29, when the choir relaunches with a concert at Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church. It’s the brainchild of Eisemann, who’s revived the vaunted choir program at Grant High School and has been an interim conductor of Portland Symphonic Choir. “In Medio” means “In the Midst,” which is right where this young choir plans to be.

WEEKLY (P)REVIEWS: NINA LJETI, CADENCE WEAPON, YO LA TENGO. Robert Ham makes the weekly rounds of what’s just happened and what’s about to happen, talking with vocalist Ljeti of the punk group Kills Birds, reviewing rapper Cadence Weapon at Polaris Hall, and going the distance with old pros Yo La Tengo.

SKELETAL ORDEALS: FROM CIVIL WAR AND HALLOWEEN TO PSYCHEDELIA AND TRANSPARENT AQUA VINYL. Charles Rose’s MusicWatch Monthly for November starts a little early to take in this weekend’s scary sounds, and proceeds to cover a very wide range of music in Oregon.


At the movies: Back to the future & before ‘Dune’

A new series brings back some old gems that still reverberate. A look at the “Dune” director’s twisting career. And a scathing dive into the highs and lows of Swinging London in the 1960s. 
Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Gene Wilder, and Teri Garr in “Young Frankenstein,” playing Saturday, Oct. 30, in Elliot Lavine’s new classic film series at Cinema 21.

PROGRAMMER ELLIOT LAVINE’S TWO-FISTED APPROACH TO CLASSICS ON THE BIG SCREEN. Marc Mohan talks with Lavine, a devotee of old genre film classics, about a new series of big-screen revivals he’s put together. Such movies as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1951’s little-known Five (which opens with a nuclear explosion) and The Face in the Crowd, in which Andy Griffith stars as a cynical entertainer-turned-ruthless-politician, play remarkably well in 2021. And we’d be remiss not to mention that the series kicks off this Halloween weekend with Mel Brooks’s deliciously decadent Young Frankenstein

FROM SPIDERS TO SANDWORMS: A GUIDE TO THE CINEMA OF DENIS VILLENEUVE. On the big screen, suddenly it’s sand, sand, everywhere: Seems like everybody’s talking about the new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction tale Dune, and arguing about whether it’s a masterpiece or a disaster or something stuck in the middle. Bennett Campbell Ferguson takes a deep look at the filmmaking career of its director, Denis Villeneuve, tracing his ten films from 1998’s August 32nd on Earth to now, to see what makes Villeneuve tick.

“LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” LOOKS BACK IN ANGER AT 1960S LONDON. Marc Mohan reviews director Edgar Wright’s incisive new movie about the Swinging London scene of the ’60s. Exposing some of the dark sides of the times, it’s something of a precautionary tale about the allure of nostalgia. It also includes fine performances from its young stars and a trio of excellent veteran actors who were there at the time: Rita Tushingham, Terrence Stamp, and the late Diana Rigg.

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Onstage: A dark & funny family, a Covid caution

The world isn’t out of the woods yet: Shaking the Tree’s “weirdly compelling” dark comedy is taking a break until Nov. 4 because of a positive Covid-19 test. 
Family portrait, from left: Blake Stone, Kai Hynes, Rebby Yuer Foster. Photo courtesy Shaking the Tree

AT SHAKING THE TREE, A STRANGE, DARK, FUNNY “FAMILY.”  In Celine Strong’s “weirdly compelling” play about a tight-knit family of half-siblings, Marty Hughley writes, hell is other people – and they seem to be all in the family. It’s a good production and a good review, but the big news came a little later, and provides a big caution as large gatherings and live performances begin again: Even with vaccine-only restrictions and other precautions, things can happen. A few days ago Shaking the Tree announced that its show was taking a two-week break because “someone working on the production has tested postive for Covid-19.” Performances will resume Nov. 4 and the show’s run will be extended to Nov. 28, the company said.


A literary bonanza: November’s booked solid

The big news is the arrival of the Portland Book Festival, with star power from Louise Erdrich and others. Also: an intriguing festival of Jewish books and writers, surrealist poetry, open mics and more.
Portland Book Festival headliner Louise Erdrich outside her bookstore, Birchbark Books, in Minneapolis, on May 5, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Ackerman + Gruber

LITWATCH NOVEMBER: PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL, “BOOK FEST IN YOUR LIVING ROOM” & MORE. Amy Leona Havin surveys the Portland Book Festival, coming up live and virtually Nov. 8-13; gives the lowdown on a new Zoom book fest from the Mittleman Jewish Community Center Book and some national cosponsors; checks in on some surrealist poetry at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop; spies some Ghost Town Poetry; and more. 


A cultural landscape takes shape in the camera lens

Photographer K.B. Dixon begins a new series of black & white portraits, this time turning his focus on some of the actors, poets, publishers, visual artists, musicians and others who help define the shape of Portland’s culture.  
Theater artists Kevin Jones and Ithica Tell. Photos: K.B. Dixon

THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE: 11 PORTRAITS. Photographer and writer K.B. Dixon, a frequent contributor to ArtsWatch, has long been fascinated by the possibilities of black & white photography for its formal power and structural observation. He’s contributed photo essays to ArtsWatch ranging from a carousel museum to cultural gatherings to street scenes to examinations, at the height of Covid lockdowns, of familiar objects in his own home. And he’s made a specialty of formal portraits of Portland arts and cultural figures: writers, visual artists, musicians and more. This week he begins a new series focusing on “our cultural landscape—on the talented, dedicated, and creative people who have made significant contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city and state, people whose work and various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.” This first portfolio includes studies of theater folk Kevin Jones, Marissa Wolf, and Ithica Tell; jazz pianist and composer Darrell Grant; Northwest Film Center director Amy Dotson; bookstore owner Emily Powell; art collector and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer; artist Jef Gunn; book publisher Rhonda Hughes; classical guitarist Scott Kritzer; and poet John Beer. Who’ll come next? It takes time to complete a project like this. We’re as eager to find out as you are.



About those nightmares: BloodyVox is back in town

Creepy crawlies: Little Miss Tough It and Her Spidery Gents are creeping back into action this weekend in the latest iteration of “BloodyVox.” Photo: Jim Lykins

ALL RIGHT, SO MAYBE WE’RE NOT DONE WITH HALLOWEEN. BodyVox, the Portland dance company that often injects a liberating dose of whimsy into its performances, has been celebrating the spooky season for several years with a dip into the dancerly macabre it calls BloodyVox. This year’s version plays live at the BodyVox Dance Center this weekend, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 28-30, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday the 30th. You can also see a filmed virtual version, BloodyVox: Lockdownhere. May the farce be with you.

Which leads to:

NOVEMBER DANCEWATCH: ONSTAGE AT LAST. From “Hip Hop Nutcracker” to “Cinderella” and Keylock & Bielemeier to Linda Austin’s explorations, dance is live and on the move again, Jamuna Chiarini writes in her new DanceWatch column.



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About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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