ArtsWatch Weekly: old, new, always

Same old story? Brash new wave? In Oregon arts & culture this week, old and new mix it up, and it's sometimes tough to tell which is which

ART IS ABOUT STRIDING BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE and discovering the new. The Portland Art Museum, for instance, is getting ready to open the first major retrospective of the work of American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photography, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects turn their focus sharply and sometimes satirically on the flashpoints of contemporary culture and the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal …, which will run Oct. 12-Jan. 12, is the museum’s big fall-season attraction, and a central part of a run of shows in the next few months about the work of artists of color: the essential Portland painter Isaka Shamsud-Din, the great Robert ColescottFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and the just-opened exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

BUT ART IS ALSO ABOUT LOOKING INTO THE PAST to discover where we’ve been and where the human journey might be taking us. The things we call “classic” are classic because, no matter how specific they might be to their own times and places, they also carry something timeless about them. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opens its big exhibit Leonard Bernstein at 100 today, celebrating the life and career of an artist who just a few decades ago was at the vanguard of American culture but now is viewed largely in the rear-view mirror. And why? His music for the likes of West Side Story, On the Town and Candide remains among the best in musical theater. He was lionized both as a composer and a conductor. Through his televised Young People’s Concerts he might have done more than any other American in the 20th century to popularize “high” art. Does the fact that he died in 1990 change any of that? Isn’t he, through his art, still among us? When Stephen Spielberg brings out his new movie version of West Side Story next year, will Bernstein be “new” again?

Leonard Bernstein in 1955. Photo: Al Ravenna, courtesy of the Library of Congress.jpg

WHAT’S OLD AND WHAT’S NEW, ANYWAY? In culture and the arts, the two are constantly intermingling, the present playing off the past to reimagine the future. And the best of the past simply refuses to shrivel up and blow away. The critic Robert Hughes made a witty and persuasive case for modernism in his book and television series The Shock of the New. But that was almost forty years ago: Is his new still new? Does the new still shock? (In 2004 Hughes did an update, The NEW Shock of the New.) The old informs the new, and reinvents itself, as it’ll be doing in several places this week:

IN MULIERIBUS, the superb Portland women’s vocal ensemble that concentrates on performing music written before 1750, presents Virtuoso of Venice, a concert of Baroque music composed by Barbara Strozzi in the 17th century: Performances are Saturday in Vancouver, Wash., and Sunday at The Old Church in Portland. So old! But as an early female composer, Strozzi’s work has been largely overlooked, and this concert represents a fresh chapter in a modern rediscovery. So new!

OREGON BALLET THEATRE (ballet: so old!) kicks off its 30th season Saturday with some William Forsythe, some George Balanchine, and the one that has Portland balletomanes buzzing: the revival, at long last, of the late Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade, a story ballet created for the company in 1990 that was an all-star Portland collaboration with choreography by Spaight, who would die in 1993, and costumes by the visionary Ric Young of Storefront Theatre, who would die in 1992, both from the AIDS epidemic; lighting by the masterful Peter West; and set designs by Henk Pander, still one of Oregon’s most important visual artists. So old it’s new!

PHYLLIS YES, a longtime leading visual artist in Oregon (you might remember her Por She, a 1967 Porsche 911-S she painted pink with lace rosettes) wrote her first play, Good Morning, Miss America, in her 70s; Danielle Vermette profiled her for ArtsWatch when it was produced at CoHo Theatre a year and a half ago. Now her play’s being produced in New York, and Jason Vondersmith has the story for Pamplin Media. Old? New? New direction for an older artist? Does it matter?
 
JESSYE NORMAN, THE GREAT OPERATIC SOPRANO, died this week at age 74; the New York Times has a well-written obituary. Norman was a contemporary master of an old art form, lending her voice to the works of Verdi, Wagner, Strauss, and other long-dead creators of the European canon. A “conservative” voice, then, dedicated to perpetuating the music of the past? Ah, but she was also a pioneer, an African American singer taking the predominantly white opera world by storm, refusing to be relegated to “racial” roles (and freely crediting such singers as Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price for paving the way). So, then, in crucial ways she was thoroughly contemporary, deeply involved in the struggle for equal rights and recognition: old and new and beyond both, all at once.

ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER, the terrific Swedish mezzo soprano, performs Monday night at Lincoln Performance Hall in a Friends of Chamber Music concert. She has one of the most exciting voices in the world, which she’ll use to discover the freshness in the likes of those ancient fellows Mozart and Schubert. (She’s also recorded with Elvis Costello: So crossover!)

ON FRIDAY NIGHT, Lacy Knickers produces a one-night show called Cabaret des Arts: A Fusion of Visual Arts and Burlesque, at the West End Ballroom. Ah, burlesque. A form that began as comic theatrical interludes and at some point evolved into cheesy stand-up comics and strip shows. So old, so seedy! Yet, as Jamuna Chiarini points out in her new DanceWatch Monthly, today’s contemporary burlesque movement includes both men and women creating “elaborate performance pieces incorporating the use of costumes, dance, comedy, and theater to challenge social norms, gender politics, (old attitudes toward) sexuality, and the public’s perception of the naked body.” So up-to-date!

ALSO ON FRIDAY, PORTLAND CENTER STAGE opens a new production in The Armory of Macbeth. Old play, safe choice, Shakespeare again, four hundred years old, based on an even older tale, seen it a dozen times, big deal, right? Ah, yes. Then again, it’s MACBETH, with all of its greed and naked ambition and unchecked desire and assassinations and plotting, like 21st century current events – and this time around it’s a stripped-down Macbeth, performed by just three actors, all of them women, and sporting new music and a lean, mean attack, which the company characterizes as “a taut, contemporary thrill ride.” Should we stick that in our up-to-the-minute pipe and smoke it?


Old? New? See how this game goes? Art defies time, and lets us slip in and out along with it. As those old codgers The Beatles put it, we’ve got a ticket to ride.
 


FESTIVAL SPOTLIGHT: EAST PORTLAND’S CULTURES


The stories and voices of East Portland: Illuminating Voices, projected. 

PAST AND PRESENT ALSO COME TOGETHER in the third annual East Portland Arts & Literary Festival, a family-friendly celebration Friday and Saturday in two locations – Orchards of 82nd (8188 S.E. Division St.) and Fubonn Shopping Center (2850 S.E. 82nd Ave.). Hosted by APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, the festival celebrates the global cultures that have settled into East Portland and the vibrant contemporary culture that’s emerged there, far from downtown. It’ll include everything from Filipino children’s dance to taiko drumming, Peruvian dance, music, comedy, storytelling, and a book and craft fair.

One highlight: At 7 p.m. Saturday at Orchards of 82nd, the Pakistani American artist Sabina Haque, who’s worked extensively with students and neighborhoods in outer East Portland, will present Illuminating Voices, a giant interactive projection that will include, among other things, the stories of Japanese American citizens who lost their land in the area when they were incarcerated in detention camps during World War II, and the resurgence of Asian immigrants and the “oral and hand written stories of the lived experiences of young people growing up in East PDX talking about their hopes and concerns for their community.” The projection, created in collaboration with Victoria Wells and the Mobile Projection Unit, will offer, in Haque’s words, “an immersive, experiential environment of overlapping projections putting the viewer in the middle of an intersection at 82nd Ave, the present-day geographical center of Portland.”


DANCE: AN OCTOBER TO HAUNT THE SENSES


The dancerly illusionists of Momix perform Thursday-Saturday in the Newmark Theatre in the White Bird dance series. Photo courtesy White Bird

AND SUDDENLY, THE DANCE CALENDAR’S FULL. It’s a new season, and everyone’s getting into the act, from the illusionists of Momix at White Bird to the Portland Dance Film Fest, circus artists at A-WOL, an open-style dance battle, Indian classical dance, flamenco, Linda Austin’s Holy Goats, and more. Plus, as Jamuna Chiarini points out in October DanceWatch: The moves get spooky, Halloween: “Aerial company Night Flight takes over Lincoln Hall with creepy creatures flying about, and Ballet Fantastique sinks deep into the soul of Poe with the world premier of their new ballet, Nevermore: Stories of Edgar Allen Poe.”

UNION PDX: MAKING THE CASE FOR DANCE. Beth Whelan takes a deep look at Samuel Hobbs’ new Portland dance festival and the challenges the city’s dance community faces.

NW DANCE PROJECT: 3 FOR THE SHOW. I review the company’s season kickoff performances of works by Ihsan Rustem, Luca Veggetti, and Patrick Delcroix.


VISUAL ARTS: OCTOBER IN THE GALLERIES


Takuichi Fujii: Self Portrait, in Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii, Oct. 19-Jan. 5 at the High Desert Museum, Bend.

OLIVIA KINKAID’S EVOCATIONS OF FAMILY at White Gallery, beautiful botanical art at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, breathing boxes at PDX Contemporary, Ancestral Connections at the Multnomah Art Center, new visions at Tropical Contemporary in Eugene, visual language perversions at Private Places, a wartime witness at the High Desert Museum in Bend, and textiles all over town, all month long: In VizArts Monthly: cozy autumn edition, Nim Wunnan makes his October museum and gallery picks.

WINE COUNTRY’S ART CUP OVERFLOWS WITH STUDIO TOURS. The next two weekends are Open Studios time in Yamhill County, with close to forty artists from one end of the county to the other opening their doors to visitors. David Bates has the goods about it, McMinnville’s fiber arts show, and a show of passionate and politically pointed relief prints in Newberg.
 
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS WITH SHU-JU WANG. Every Sunday during the September run of her exhibit Things That Don’t Float, at Waterstone Gallery, the artist invited a few of her friends to tell stories about fear or water or both. ArtsWatch joined the crowd, and even told a tale or two.

REPORTS FROM TBA 2019: EIKO OTAKE. Artist Linda Wysong immerses herself in the powerful visions of the Japanese performance artist, whose several works at this year’s TBA Festival marked her first return to Portland since her breathtaking performance in 2003 with her partner Koma. An exhibition of Otake’s work continues at Pacific Northwest College of Art through Oct. 24.

Eiko Otake, A Body in Places. Pacific Northwest College of Art, Sept. 5, 2019. Photo: Sarah Meadows

MUSIC: HOT SOUNDS IN THE COLD CITY


On Saturday the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble plays a tribute concert to Jim Pepper, the Portland saxophonist whose mix of Native American music into jazz drew an international audience. Pepper, above, died of lymphoma in 1992. 

IT’S A SLAM-BANG MONTH IN OREGON MUSIC, from hot sax to Firebirds to Batman in concert to a Beethoven/Coldplay smackdown to Hell’s Belles and a Primordial Swamp in Astoria – and, as they say, much, much more. Matthew Neil Andrews has the downbeat in MusicWatch Monthly: Hot music in the cold city.

LIGHT AMID DARKNESS. Bret Campbell tells the tale of the Oregon Repertory Singers and Portland composer Joan Szymko’s oratorio about Altzheimer’s.

BUILDING AND REBUILDING. Matthew Neil Andrews interviews British-American composer Oscar Bettison, whose commissioned piece helped kick off the Oregon Symphony’s new season.


THEATER: MACBETH, GOAL STAND, VERTIGO


Chantal DeGroat and Lauren Bloom Hanover in Macbeth. Photo: Kate Szrom/Portland Center Stage at The Armory

MACBETH WITH THREE ACTORS? ALL WOMEN? NOT NECESSARILY WITCHES? “Actually, they’re not referred to in the play as witches; they’re ‘weird sisters,’” says Adriana Baer, who sees the characters not as wizened, manipulative hags but as “ancient, wise and vital.” In Taking on ‘Macbeth’ with the power of three, Marty Hughley talks with Baer, director of Portland Center Stage’s new version of the Scottish Play at The Armory. “They pull their energy and wisdom from the environment,” she says of the sisters. “We represent that in a lot of ways, one being that all the props we use we pull out of the ground…We’re heavily designing it to help the storytelling.” Also in Hughley’s column: openings, closings, quick hits, cultural grants. 

GOAL-ORIENTED THEATER AT PORTLAND PLAYHOUSE. Marty Hughley talks with Jessica Wallenfels, director of The Wolves, about a teen girl soccer team. Is this a rousing, heart-warming, inspirational sports story?,” he asks, “or is it good?” – then tips toward the latter.

 VERTIGO GOES DARK AND COMPLEX. Bobby Bermea writes about complex, the 20th-season kickoff at Theatre Vertigo, a company he calls “the David Lynch of Portland theater.”


END NOTE: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STREET ROOTS


Street Roots: a beacon of hope and advocacy. Photo: Friderike Heuer

STREET ROOTS, PORTLAND’S WEEKLY NEWSPAPER SOLD BY VENDORS across the metro area, is celebrating 20 years as a beacon of advocacy for Portland’s homeless population. Those vendors – about 160 of them at any one time – are themselves homeless people, who buy their papers for 25 cents and sell them for a dollar. A lot of them are poets, too, often telling their tales of life on the streets. In Happy birthday, Street Roots, Friderike Heuer tells their story, and the story of the organization that prints the news, in words and photographs. 



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