ArtsWatch Weekly: Big 500, Black Nativity, ZooZoo one last time

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s tough to say goodbye to an old friend, but that’s what lots and lots of Portlanders will be doing beginning Friday when Imago Theatre starts the final wrap-up on its touring hit ZooZoo.The magnetic menagerie performs on its hometown stage through January 3 before heading out for one more national tour, and then it’s back to the storage room for good. ZooZoo is a young old friend as old friends go: it’s been around only since 2009. But as an extension of the company’s international hit show Frogz (which reaches all the way back to 1979 under various names, and in various stages of development) it seems older. And it’s been a good friend.

ZooZoo's anteater: starting Friday, a final fling. Photo: Imago Theatre

ZooZoo’s anteater: starting Friday, a final fling. Photo: Imago Theatre

Now Imago is setting aside both shows, and their mask-theater tradition, as it develops its new spectacle, set to premiere next December: Beauty and the Beast, in a radically different version from the Disney movie and stage musical. It marks a huge departure for Imago and its cofounders, Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle, both of whom have been doing more radical projects for many years. But Frogz and ZooZoo have been plenty radical on their own terms: family shows that rely on edgy, inventive movement along with otherworldly costuming and the intense theatrical impact of mime. It’s family theater from a strange and weirdly fascinating family.

Farewell, fireflies, hippos, anteaters, polar bears, penguins and frogs. It’s been a great run, and we know you’ll give it your all this one last time. No doubt, with big crowds to cheer you on.


Langston Hughes, 1943. Photo: Gordon Parks, Library of Congress

Langston Hughes, 1943. Photo: Gordon Parks, Library of Congress

Go tell it on the mountain. When Langston Hughes wrote it, he called it Wasn’t It a Mighty Day? By the time it opened Off-Broadway in 1961 it had become Black Nativity, and that’s the way we know it today. Hughes’s landmark musical pageant, with its all-black cast and large choir retelling the nativity story in gospel tones (Hughes chose traditional spirituals for both the music and the lyrics), remains a moving theatrical and musical achievement, and Portland’s PassinArt Theatre presents it for three performances this weekend at The Greater St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church, on Northeast Mallory Street. The veteran Jerry Foster directs, and Tommy Hammond is musical director.


Oregon Ballet Theatre's 2013 production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2013 production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A few other shows of note this week:


  • George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. You can’t keep a good ballet down. And you can’t keep this good ballet from popping up, every holiday season, which is a very good thing, right up there with eggnog and mistletoe. Oregon Ballet Theatre’s version returns to Keller Auditorium Saturday through December 26, bringing all its visual splendor and virtuoso dancing with it – plus, of course, Tchaikovsky’s splendid score.
  • Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Messiah. The superb PBO teams with the also superb Cappella Romana chorus and four soloists in one of the city’s best and most eagerly anticipated holiday musical traditions. Three performances in downtown’s beautiful and intimate First Baptist Church, Friday through Sunday.
  • BOX: The Single Evening EditionMatt Haynes and The Pulp Stage bring a dash of sci-fi to the season with this compression of what began as a three-part series. “Trapped in a virtual reality chamber, Jane Hathaway must reenact events from her past. If she cannot beat the program, she will be convicted of an unknown crime and lose her freedom … or more.” Conspiracy theorists and fans of theatrical paranoia, queue up and be breathless. Friday-Saturday.
  • The Miracle Worker. Artists Rep brings back William Gibson’s 1960 Tony winner about the deaf and blind Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Dàmaso Rodriguez directs a promising cast that includes the likes of Val Landrum, Susannah Mars, Michael Mendelson, Amy Newman, and Don Alder. Opens Saturday, through January 3.
  • Goldi Locks & the 3 Bears. The little Jane: A Theatre Company continues its holiday tradition of the Hullabaloo, based on British pantos, those splendidly silly rehashings of popular folk and fairy tales that are filled with hijinks, low jinks, and innuendo. As always, Jane’s kids-and-oldersters-friendly version is free, which is a very good price. But it’s a very good idea to make a reservation. Weekends through December 20 at Post5.
  • The Late Now Mas-X Special. See what ringmaster Leo Daedalus and “the thinking mammal’s avant-variety talk show” have cooking for the holidays. Santa will show up. Saturday at Vie de Bohème.
  • Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest To Dance the Nutcracker. For dance and lit devotees, Lauren Kessler will be at Powell’s City of Books to talk about her new book, and her quest to join a professional ballet company after having three kids. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.


Big 500 Show works by Ruth Armitage (left) and Nicholas Orr.

Big 500 Show works by Ruth Armitage (left) and Nicholas Orr.

The eighth annual Big 500 Art Show opens Saturday, and to understand what’s going on, just check the numbers: 500 Portland area artists, each work a micro 8 by 8 inches, each selling for 40 bucks: you could start a mini-collection. Most artists have multiple pieces in the show – some 10 or more – and the whole thing’s a benefit for the Oregon Food Bank, which has a lot of mouths to feed. Bring a can of food for free entry. You might know some of the artists. Many will probably be new to you. All have got into the spirit of the thing. Big 500 continues through January 10 at Peoples Art of Portland, on the third floor of Pioneer Place Mall downtown. Above: works in the show by Ruth Armitage (left) and Nicholas Orr.



ArtsWatch links


Matthew Kerrigan meets Dario Fo: comedy times two. Photo: Gary Norman

Matthew Kerrigan meets Dario Fo: comedy times two. Photo: Gary Norman

Shaking Dario Fo: double the fun. “Matthew Kerrigan tiptoes onto the stage wearing a silk Japanese robe, stocking cap, and red nose. He’s an Arlecchino for our times.” Christa Morletti McIntyre finds plenty to laugh about, and think about, in Shaking the Tree’s twin bill of Dario Fo solo plays.

Viva’s Holiday: opera stripped down. “Thank you for supporting the arts,” the stripper said, and an opera was born. Brett Campbell goes backstage with composer Christopher Corbell to get the lowdown on his new opera about a most unusual Portland exotic dancer, Viva Las Vegas.

Spinning wheels, dance by chance. “Awright, awright,” Jamey Hampton shouted into his microphone, sprinting onto the stage in his best Joel Grey/carnival barker impersonation. “Here we go! Welcome to The Spin!I review BodyVox’s new game show-style dance program, and even talk a bit about the role of comedy in a culture stressed by traumatic events.

Oregon Chorale: changing of the guard. Choral director Bruce Browne goes to the West Side chorale’s latest concert and reflects, among other things, on what the future holds as it auditions for a new leader.

Pianist Charlie Albright: communicating emotion. Sixteen years ago, eleven-year-old Albright heard a performance of Janácek at Portland Piano International and told himself, “Holy smokes! I want to learn that!” Now he’s an Avery Fisher Career Grant winner, and over the weekend returned to PPI – as a performer – to play that same Janácek sonata. Jana Griffin talks with him about his rising career and his musical tastes, which range from classical to jazz to Jerry Lee Lewis to Korean pop.

Kinda Crick’s mad pursuit. The Portland artist talks with me about double helixes, DNA, her Nobel laureate grandfather and artist grandmother, her investigation of the science of memory, cutting-edge cancer research, and making art about science.

Kindra Crick with her double-helix sculpture What Mad Pursuit. Photo: Alex Crick

Kindra Crick with her double-helix sculpture What Mad Pursuit. Photo: Alex Crick




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