ArtsWatch Weekly: dance of life

From Scheharazade spinning stories to a 6-year-old spinning a galaxy, a whirl of creative energy keeps Oregon in the dance

DOES ANY LITERARY TALE DEAL MORE DIRECTLY with the power of storytelling than the story of Scheherazade? The visier’s daughter created a tapestry of words that saved her life, surviving for a thousand and one nights by spinning a string of stories so fascinating that the tyrant who had planned to kill her was compelled to grant a stay of execution night after night so she could tell the ending of each unfinished tale the following night. Scheherazade’s tale of tales fascinated the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, whose music for it in turn fascinated the late Portland choreographer Dennis Spaight, who created a ballet to it in 1990 for Oregon Ballet Theatre. Now OBT is in the midst of its first revival of Spaight’s story ballet since 1993.

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s visual phantasmagoria Scheherazade. Photo: Yi Yin 

Spaight’s version of the Scheherazade tale, which was something of a Portland all-star collaboration with sets by the celebrated painter Henk Pander, costumes by the visionary theatrical designer/director Ric Young, and lighting by the masterful Peter West, is the anchor of OBT’s thirtieth anniversary season-opening program, and Martha Ullman West, in her ArtsWatch review Wit, speed, a blast from the past, declares it a “grand entertainment.” She continues: “I have never seen Scheherazade better-performed than it was on opening night, and that’s saying something.”

But Scheherazade, Ullman West stresses, is only part of the story. The OBT dancers’ performances of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto are equally distinguished: “It’s brilliant programming, …. Each ballet is a gift to the audience, and a gift to the dancers as well, offering them opportunities to stretch and grow, hone their technique, and refine their artistry.”

Brian Simcoe in William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program has three more performances, Thursday through Saturday in Keller Auditorium. After that, who knows what Scheherazade’s story-hungry tyrant might do?

More dance from ArtsWatch:

  • POLE DISCLOSURE: ACROBATICS MEETS #METOO. Jamuna Chiarini reviews a new, packed-house performance by the contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado with cellist Yoko Silk that blended sharp acrobatic skills with some harsh revelations.
     
  • OCTOBER DANCEWATCH: THE MOVES GET SPOOKY. Check Chiarini’s monthly dance guide for what’s coming up. This week, the list includes the German contemporary dance company Sasha Waltz presented by White Bird in the Newmark Theatre; Boom Arts/Hand2Mouth’s Hidden Stories, downtown and outdoors; and the latest version of the improv showcase Holy Goats, hosted by Linda Austin at Performance Works Northwest.
Sasha Waltz’s Körper (bodies), at White Bird Dance. Photo by Bernd

OPEN STUDIOS, KID GALAXY, SCULPTURE INVASION, BIG CROCHET


Portland Open Studios: Jenn Feeney, Lichen 03, monotype print, left; Alan Rose, Benign Chaos, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic, right. 

ART MIGHT END UP IN A GALLERY OR A MUSEUM OR ON YOUR LIVING ROOM WALL, but it begins in the studios, large or small, where artists working sometimes in groups but more often on their own spread out their materials and do the hard creative work that goes into any kind of artmaking. The studios are their second homes, and sometimes feel like their first homes: the places where their art takes root and grows from idea to reality. As in many other cities across the country (in southern Oregon, Ashland is getting ready for its studio tour next weekend), Portland area artists throw an annual open house, inviting visitors into their studios to see (and possibly buy) their work, and to get a glimpse of how and why it’s done. This year’s Portland Open Studios runs the next two Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 12-13 and 19-20, showing off the work spaces of 117 artists from Clackamas County to Washington County and pretty much every corner of greater Portland, from the outer stretches of Multnomah County to the Pearl District and downtown. Check the link for times, maps, artists, and media and set your course: There’s a prodigious amount to learn and see.

Meanwhile, In wine country, Yamhill County’s 2019 Art Harvest Tour of artists’ studios moves into its second and final weekend Friday through Sunday. David Bates has the story here.

More visual arts from ArtsWatch:

  • FINN BUILDS A GALAXY … WITH HELP FROM A PRO. David Bates spins the tale of Finn Connaughton, a 6-year-old artist who likes Minecraft and Pokémon, and 32-year-old Artist Bernard Stevenson Jr., who helped Finn create a celestial installation that’s now lighting up a corner of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.
     
  • THE MULTIFACETED MAKER. That’s the title of the 29th annual International Sculpture Conference, which for the first time lets the chips fly in Portland, at various locations Saturday through Tuesday, Oct. 12-15. It’s a big deal, bringing 3D artists from around the globe to town to talk about trends, transitions, and techniques. Brooklyn sculptor Leonardo Drew, whose large works play on the tension between chaos and order, will be the keynote speaker.
     
  • A CITYSCAPE IN CROCHET. Jo Hamilton, a Portland artist via Scotland, works in fabrics – as writer Sebastian Zinn notes, “she typically crochets with soft yarn up-cycled from second-hand stores, yard sales, and friends.” But for a new, outdoor piece along Southeast Foster Road, she needed something tougher: parachute cord, which provided a soft landing.
Jo Hamilton and her new mural on Southeast Foster Road. Photo: Kevin McConnell

MUSIC: LITTLE SUE AND ALL THE OTHER THINGS


Little Sue: Welcome to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

TRUTH IS, SOMETIMES OUR WRITERS RELY ON THE KINDNESS OF SIDEKICKS. “The delicate imbalance of mental variance my Muse demands of me requires a certain amount of rest and risotto, and if I went out and did all the things you hear about here I’d soon be reduced to a burbling mess of incoherence,” Matthew Neil Andrews writes in his new MusicWatch Weekly. So sometimes he sends trusted allies out to check the scene, or goes to shows tandem and asks his cohort to jot down notes. Lately he/they have caught up with or plan to catch underground country queen Little Sue, who’s about to be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, and Norwegian Sámi singer Mari Boine, and Carnatic instrumental music from Kalakendra, and some interesting chaos at Third Angle, and Danny Elfman in Batman mode at the Oregon Symphony, and … well, read it for more.

  • THE MUSIC OF OUR TIME? Daniel Heila goes to a Delgani String Quartet concert of music by Eugene/Springfield composers and lays down a challenge to the composers to “step up to the plate, broaden their palettes, hone their technical skills, access their authenticity, take chances, risk failure, and produce works of equal measure” to the Delganis’ skills.

THEATER: FROM ANCIENT GREEKS TO ONCE UPON A SONG


The Bakkhai, striking up tension at Shaking the Tree. Photo: Meg Nanna 

WITH THE OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL’S outdoor shows closing this weekend and its indoor season winding down on Oct. 27, Oregon theatergoers’ eyes shift well and truly to metropolitan Portland, where the new season is off and running. ArtsWatch has been tracking things, including this pair of recent reviews:

  • BAKKHAI TO THE FUTURE. I review Shaking the Tree’s contemporary revival of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy, “a neatly contrived roller-coaster of a show, a smooth and sometimes scary fun ride that starts where it starts and carries on, with no breaks, to its bitter and propulsive end.”
     
  • ONCE UPON A TIME IN DUBLIN. Bennett Campbell Ferguson reviews Broadway Rose’s hit, sold-out musical Once, praising its splendid music and production and regretting its overstuffed script: “But Once is more than the sum of its flaws. While the story has changed, the music remains and the actors perform it with a force that makes it feel new.”
Cast members of the musical Once at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer.

END NOTE: CELEBRATING MADE-IN-OREGON FILMS


Poster for Buster Keaton’s silent movie The General, filmed in Cottage Grove. 

MAYBE WE’RE NOT HOLLYWOOD NORTH. But from The Goonies to Sometimes a Great Notion to Buster Keaton’s The General to the “cool little independent film” Phoenix, Oregon to the extraordinary documentary Home: The Story of Valsetz, about an abandoned and razed logging town, films made in Oregon have left an indelible mark on American movie history. Beginning on Oct. 25 Lincoln City’s Bijou Theatre will host the six-day Oregon-Made Film Festival, featuring these films and more. In Spotlight shines on movies made in Oregon, Lori Tobias talks with Bijou co-owner and festival co-founder Betsy Altomare about how it all came to be.
 


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