Oregon ArtsWatch

 

White Bird Dance: Love, L-E-V-style

The Israeli dance company returns to Portland with a tense dance about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By HEATHER WISNER

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—heartrendingly described in Neil Hilborn’s OCD: A Love Poem—provides the framework for Israeli dance company L-E-V’s hourlong piece OCD Love, which opened last night as part of the White Bird Uncaged series. The dance looks and sounds like Hilborn’s poem, which inspired co-artistic director Sharon Eyal, reads: a series of repeated phrases suggesting a longing for connection and normalcy, and the agony of watching both slowly elude your grasp, despite your best efforts.

L-E-V co-artistic directors Eyal and Gai Behar have built their choreography around movement tics: jittery legs, shuddery torsos, ritualistic gestures. There’s a tick-tick-ticking sound as the curtain rises on a lone dancer, her musculature accented by a stark contrast between light and shadow. (The piece is shrouded in what’s described as “water-based haze,” similar to a smoke-machine effect.) She moves in slow motion, contorting her limbs in ways that look impressive but probably aren’t comfortable. Eventually a second dancer her joins her, sort of: they dance near each other, but not with each other. These sorts of close-but-not-quite encounters recur within the various configurations of the company’s six dancers, who bring sharpness and clarity to choreography that could have gotten muddy quickly.

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Perry Johnson’s shining light

A Eugene artist's "outsider" work goes to the Portland Art Museum in a new series designed to expand the museum's reach into the region

By RACHAEL CARNES

EDITOR’S NOTE: We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments opens Friday, Nov. 17, in the Portland Art Museum’s Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art. A series of five exhibitions developed with artists and art collectives, it’s designed to explore how the museum can engage with a broader and more inclusive array of artists in the region. The series, which will continue through December 2018, begins with an installation through Feb. 25, 2018, that includes artists who make prolific work, yet often face barriers to inclusion in galleries and museums. Co-curated by Libby Werbel and Public Annex, it will show work from Perry Johnson, Ricky Bearghost, Kurt Fisk, Elmeator Morton, Lawrence Oliver, and Dawn Westover.

Johnson, who makes his art at the OSLP (Oregon Supported Living Program) Arts & Culture Program in Eugene, will have six works in the series’ first show. Rachael Carnes’ essay ran originally in Eugene Weekly on Oct. 1, 2015, under the title “Shining Like the Sun: A photographic memory infuses the brilliant art of Perry Johnson.”

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Artist Perry Johnson at OSLP in Eugene.

Eugene artist Perry Johnson has a gift. His work is inquisitive and multidimensional, at once rooted in a folk art tradition while branching out towards something more visceral and visionary.

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Portland Symphonic Choir review: magnificent melange

Triumphant Oregon premiere of composer John Muehleisen's massive 'Pieta' combines varied musical styles and poetry to respond to social ills

By BRUCE BROWNE

John Muehleisen 90-minute Pieta is a mélange – in a good way – of all sorts of musical gestures: Byzantine chant; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hymnody; Bulgarian hymns; and familiar chorale tunes, many based on tunes melodies from J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Too, there is plentiful use of borrowed music, from a Civil War song by George F. Root to quotations from Bach, and a short motif from early baroque composer Antonio Caldara’s Stabat Mater. Muehleisen is certainly an equal opportunity borrower.

Since its Seattle premiere in 2012, Pieta has received several significant performances and, is receiving nationwide recognition. The composer was on hand to participate in and to witness Portland Symphonic Choir‘s rousing performance of its Oregon premiere in First United Methodist Church, on the last Saturday and Sunday afternoons in October.

Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy sang with Portland Symphonic Choir. Photo: Toni Wise.

An opportunity was missed, since Mr. Muehleisen was in residence with the choir most of the preceding week. Why not offer a pre-concert encounter sometime earlier in the evening/day? I loved what the composer had to say about his work; it was enlightening, and important. But this forced a 4:20 PM downbeat for the concert. Still, what followed was well worth it— for Muehleisen, for the guest conductor Erick Lichte, for the Portland Symphonic Choir and soloists Arwen Myers and Brendan Tuohy.

Soprano soloist Myers was radiant in the role of the Mother of Jesus, and probably, a universal mother to all. Her part demands a sprawling range, and an armor-piercing tone at times, all beautifully executed. In character throughout, Myers came through it all with a perfect aplomb, and pitch perfect musicianship.

Tenor soloist Tuohy has a silvery toned delivery. He too met most of the challenges of the score, but occasionally fought with the pitch center. After he returned to the stage following a dramatic exit in the first half of the show, the voice was perfectly in command.

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A stage for veterans’ stories

Profile's "Elliot" trilogy tells the tale of a soldier's difficult return. On the same stage Monday, real-life vets' own stories will be told.

By SEAN DAVIS

What do an 82nd Airborne infantry Afghanistan War veteran and an Ivy League educated, Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist have in common? Both have works being featured onstage by Profile Theatre over Veterans’ Day weekend. In fact, multiple veterans and veterans’ family members will have their words read on stage by professional actors on Monday, Nov. 13. And Profile Theatre is producing two award-winning plays by Quiara Alegría Hudes and holding an exclusive speaking event with the playwright herself on Nov. 18. This is the culmination of an eight-month collaboration among Profile, the Writers Guild Initiative, and several veterans’ groups around Portland.

Cast of “Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue,” which began Profile’s “Elliot” trilogy in February: Cristi Miles, Anthony Lam, Jimmy Garcia, Anthony Green. Photo: David Kinder

As the focus of its 2017 season, Profile presented Quiara Alegría Hudes’ award-winning “Elliot” Trilogy: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, the Pulitzer Prize winning Water By The Spoonful, and The Happiest Song Plays Last. The Elliot in the “Elliot Trilogy” is a Marine combat veteran who survived his soul-wrenching experiences at war and tries to integrate back into the society he left. The plays are also about how both physical and mental injuries suffered in combat can echo through the generations, and how families are affected by the trauma.

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Fear No Music & Third Angle reviews: discoveries

Portland new music ensembles open Oregon ears to music from beyond the usual sources

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

I love going to a concert with exactly zero familiar composers. In Oregon classical music programs, the standard is still usually one new composer per concert, sandwiched between the dead white guys. Even in Portland, it’s relatively rare to hear a concert with music by composers who are all new to me. In the last few weeks, veteran Portland new music ensembles Fear No Music and Third Angle delivered two such concerts that led me to new discoveries.

Fear No Music played recent music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: John Rudoff.

FNM’s October 9 concert at Portland’s Old Church, The Fertile Crescent, featured music by six composers rooted in the Middle East. Although they were new to me, they are all accomplished international composers. Gity Razaz studied at Juilliard with Corigliano, Beaser, and Adler; Kinan Azmeh is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; Reza Vali, Kareem Roustom, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh have all composed for Kronos Quartet (I’m sure they’ll get around to Bahaa El-Ansary eventually). Although the music performed at the concert didn’t always satisfy me, I liked most of it, and the pieces that left me cold still led me to discover other enjoyable music by the same composers.

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By PAUL MAZIAR

Especially if you’re an Instagram user, you might be keenly aware of the fact of the increasing ubiquity of images, the preoccupation that people seem to have with content. I think a lot gets lost when we fall into the kind of materialism that goes along with viewing, documenting, ‘using’ things in this way—with pics, snaps, posts. That’s not to say it isn’t fun or flatout unworthy of our time. But to express an impression by way of, say, painting—an act that takes invariably longer, with more concerted effort than snapping a pic—can convey the deeper sense of content that the medium brings to bear. I think that’s why I keep coming back to looking at paintings, why so many do.

This past weekend, I saw a series of paintings by New Yorker Sophie Larrimore, in her exhibition at Nationale titled Sunday Painting. Looking at her work, which continues at Nationale through November 26, I’m reminded of Willem de Kooning’s puzzling statement that “content is a glimpse” and all that it implies—and also what it doesn’t. The curious forms in Larrimore’s paintings appear, then seem to go away, replaced only by contours and shapes, to return again looking somehow more intact than before. The world these forms inhabit is a magic one, clearly composed in similar fashion. And by magic, I of course mean the ordinary, deliberate, rigorous, but altogether impossible work, made to cause enchantment, bewilderment, that a visual artist like Larrimore does. This kind of content, made out of sensation, gives way to further sensation.

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‘Diva Practice’ review: self-made magic

Pepper Pepper's solo dance-drag performance takes audiences on a ride through the life cycle of a drag queen

by ANTHONY HUDSON

Being a diva is exacting and it’s lonely. Look at the tragic lives of Maria Callas, Judy Garland, and Edith Piaf. The life of a diva is one of expectation, work, and the pain that comes with it. For a freelance artist, drag queen, and dancer, the same is true – but with an obligation to say yes to any and every opportunity that could mark a big break or financial well-being. To become a diva takes practice – maybe even enough to break your back – and unless you’ve gone viral on social media or hit reality TV gold, you’re going to do all the hard work yourself. Luckily the perks of being a diva include champagne.

Pepper Pepper’s ‘Diva Practice (Solo).’ Photo: Chelsea Petrakis from 2017 Risk/Reward Festival.

Following last year’s Diva Practice duet with Mr. E and a months-long residency tour this spring and summer across the United States, Portland diva-in-the-making Pepper Pepper’s solo dance-drag piece Diva Practice presents the fruit of Pepper’s research into what it takes to summon the heightened feminine, the Diva. Think of it like a drag queen Consumer Reports, only as a dance piece complete with its own fragrance (for real: you can purchase OLO Fragrance’s “Pepper Spray” – it’s like poppers but Pepper! – in the lobby).

Sharing the stage with a suitcase, a webcam, a ring light, and a golden cape that would put Liberace to shame, Pepper summons the Diva and takes us on a ride through the life cycle of a drag queen. Equally dance and drag-based, the show takes on an earworm of a sonic element as well – throughout the piece Pepper only says “yes,” repeatedly, constantly, as many queens who have not yet ascended into RuPaul’s Gender Illusionist Correctional Institute must do to get by.

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