Oregon ArtsWatch

 

With Amorphous, DownRight Productions asks, ‘What If?’

A new Portland presenter arrives on the scene with a mix of performance disciplines and film in various states of completion

By HEATHER WISNER

The new performance-presenting venture DownRight Productions—co-directed by dancers Anna Marra and Emily Schultz—debuted at Headwaters Theatre February 15-18 with Amorphous, a program designed to showcase local talent working at the intersections of dance, art, music, and film.

It felt like a waltz with possibility: DownRight was willing to book artists who, at the time of their booking, were offering pieces that were finished, partially finished, or still in the idealized stage. And for a show that skewed young (though not inexperienced) and modern, the modest stage in this intimate space provided a fitting platform to play around with creative questions, such as:

What happens if I twist this knob?

There’s a long choreographic tradition of using tech to goose dance: in her solo “Dark Spot,” Kate Rafter switched a handheld light on and off in front of a computer screen, creating inkblot images that splotched across a larger projector screen facing the audience. After dispensing with the light, she moved toward and away from the computer screen, causing portions of her body to emerge and recede on the large screen, to ghostly effect.

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Elizabeth Malaska: The ancient within the modern

An interview with painter Elizabeth Malaska must be wide-ranging, because that's the way she approaches her work

By PAUL MAZIAR

When I got the chance to sit down with painter Elizabeth Malaska to discuss some of what I see in her new exhibition, Heavenly Bodies, at Russo Lee Gallery, I was moved by her intensity and congeniality. It’s an unlikely pairing, maybe, and that’s consistent with her work. Her canvases bear the historical past and the immediate present, and a wide-ranging research of art history and contemporary art grounds her subjects—it also frees them.

I was also astonished to find that her answers kept covering questions that I had yet to ask. Her practice of art-making addresses her own life, the outside world, social and political concerns, and again, art history.

Elizabeth Malaska, “Reflections (1)”, charcoal, Flashe on paper/Courtesy Russo Lee Gallery

“I don’t believe in the Modern world: It’s such a thin veneer,” Malaska insists. “We’re trying to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of Being, basically, and we’re making so many concessions to do that. Any time I have a chance to point to how the ancient lives within the modern, to widen those rips within the fabric of our modern ego, I want to do that.”

Her work addresses the problem of being attentive to and open-minded about the contemporary world, while rejecting its narrowness, which is the cause of so many of its ills.

One thing I’m reminded of, having talked with Malaska, is that it seems that we always have—as creative and engaged thinkers with creative and engaged bodies—an entire history to draw upon. To reduce our concerns and attentions to the temporal only would be a mistake. Likewise, it’s just as grave an error to avoid the present.

Looking at Malaska’s paintings, I’m aware of the fact of my male form, of the power (as ever) and the sensibility of women, of the need for change in our society, the fragility of life in all forms. The handling of paint throughout this show mirrors these and other ideas, as much as it entertains, going from lush, wild and otherworldly—as in the strange, heartbreaking/heartbroken being in the foreground of Wake to Weep—to totally refined, unified, exacting. A walk through Heavenly Bodies is really a timeless walk.

I have restitched our conversation to group her thoughts on several specific topics.

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Pride and the need to connect

The performances put the punch into defunkt theatre's "The Pride," which tells two tales of love and pain, half a century apart

By ALIA STEARNS

The small black box theater that houses defunkt theatre welcomes audiences to its production of The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell without fanfare. The simple staging points accurately to a sitting room that does double duty in both 1958 and 2008. It is in no way an impressive backdrop, alive with special flourishes: Instead, it highlights how common the experiences of the three main characters are, and that is what makes the tears flow.

In the opening scene, audiences are introduced to Phillip (Morgan Lee), an estate agent, and his actress-turned-illustrator wife Sylvia (Paige McKinney), who has invited Oliver (Matthew Kern), the author with whom she is working, to meet her husband. As she finishes getting ready, the two men are left to work through tense chitchat, an undercurrent of attraction merely hinted at until, as they exit the flat for dinner, Sylvia comments that she “felt something.” Their storyline follows the relationship between the two men and Sylvia’s understanding of her husband’s desires.

McKinney and Lee in “The Pride.” Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

In a future that alternates with the 1950s narrative are another Phillip, Oliver, and Sylvia. Though they are played by the same actors, the understanding is that they are completely different people, if weighted with the psychic baggage of the ones that came before them. This Oliver is still a writer, a journalist, but rather than the romantic of the 1950s, he is seemingly addicted to having sex with strangers. Phillip, his recent ex, is a photographer. Sylvia, an actress, is his best friend. Whereas the 1950s are predominantly about Phillip and his self-hatred, the 2000s are all about Oliver and his self-hatred.

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PDX Jazz Festival preview: tributes

This year's jazz celebration offers homages to recently passed masters as well as today's sounds

by ANGELA ALLEN

The past year saw a number of members of jazz royalty ascend to jazz Valhalla: Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Geri Allen, Thara Memory and Hugh Masekela, among others. But jazz lives on. This year’s  Portland Jazz Festival provides an array of platforms for living musicians to honor jazz’s passed masters, and to continue the tradition with their own music.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the festival, in its 15th year, will present close to 200 musicians, many of them local. About 100 events (about half of them ticketed) feature longtime jazz luminaries and emerging musicians for 11 days from Feb. 15 through Feb. 25.

The music of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk served as previous festivals’ organizing principles. This year’s lineup focuses on tributes to a number of late musicians. “It’s a snapshot, an inner glimpse at what makes jazz great,” says PDX Jazz Executive Director Don Lucoff.

Vocalist Kurt Elling will pay homage to the late Jon Hendricks alongside Hendricks’ daughters Michele and Aria, Portland vocalist Nancy King and the Portland State University Jazz Vocal Ensemble at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Revolution Hall. A free jazz conversation with Elling will be at noon on Feb. 15 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

The Geri Allen tribute, featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, sax player Ravi Coltrane and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding will memorialize Allen, who Spalding calls “a divine prism of pure heart and artistry.” That show is at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in Newmark Theatre. PSU professor and composer Darrell Grant worked with Allen and calls her his most important influence. He will be on stage with a solo or two.

Luciana Souza blends music and poetry at PDX Jazz Festival.

Add to those tributes Bobby Torres Ensemble playing the late Al Jarreau’s “Breakin’ Away” music at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at University of Portland’s Buckley Center, a new venue this year. At the Old Church, vocalist Allen Harris will team up with saxophonist Richie Cole to commemorate Eddie Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20. Portland sax player Devin Phillips and his trio will pay their respects to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Jack London Revue.

This year the festival locus shifts more to southeast Portland from downtown. The newly renovated Revolution Hall, with a 850-seat capacity, will host eight headliner shows, including the Brazilian poet-singer Luciana Souza/Dave King Trio double-bill (Feb. 17); violinist Regina Carter performing Ella Fitzgerald hits in a double-bill with the Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan Duo (Feb. 18); and 83-year-old South Africa-born pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his 1983-born Ekaya ensemble on Feb. 21. Ibrahim (a/k/a “South Africa’s Mozart” and Dollar Brand) will be onstage without his fellow South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who died earlier this year. Expect to hear tributes to Masekela.

Tickets for headliner shows range from $29 to $69, but many performances cost far less, most notably at such smaller venues as  Mississippi Studios, Mission Theater and Classic Pianos. And many gigs are free at hotels and restaurants.

The festival ends at Rev Hall with saxophonist Javon Jackson’s Jazz By Five show on Feb. 25, which will open with Portland drummer prodigy Domo Branch’s group. Branch, 17, is a student at Grant High School and a mentee of sax player Devin Phillips. Aside from Jackson, Jazz By Five includes heavyweights NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen, trumpeter Randy Brecker, Miles Davis’ drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Bill Evans’ bassist Eddie Gomez. Can’t get better than that.

“(Pianist) Kenny Barron said this is a ‘real festival, one of the best in the world,’” Lucoff notes. “Esperanza Spalding is returning for the fourth time since 2011. [Legendary saxophonist] Jimmy Heath loves it.”

Even with so many notables having passed on recently, today’s living legends still relish the chance to continue the music at the Portland Jazz Festival.

Other notables:

• Vocalese, the art of singing jazz improv, is front and center at Al’s Den throughout the festival. Vocalists appearing at Al’s include Shirley Nanette, David Watson, Kathleen Hollingsworth, Jeremy Joyce, Robert Moore, Alyssa McDonald and the Laurent Nickel trio.

• Up and coming offspring of Portland jazz elders will appear. Singer Tahirah Memory, daughter of Thara Memory who died in 2017 and taught young Portland-area musicians through his American Music Program and mentored bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, will join the eclectic band of Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Revolution Hall. Vocalist/percussionist Haley Horsfall, daughter of longtime Portland pianist/vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, will play with guitarist Cameron Morgan from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 20 in a free gig at the AC Hotel.

• Next-generation emerging jazzers, local and from out of town, pop up frequently throughout the 11 days at Mississippi Studios, the Old Church, Mission Theater, and hotels and restaurants. Check them out.

• There are many free events. Jazz Conversations cost nothing, and some are interviews with big names like Elling, Ibrahim and Ravi Coltrane.

• Portland’s beloved Randy Porter, a Grammy–nominated pianist, will put on his “Porter Plays Porter” gig with singer Nancy King and the David Friesen Reunion Trio in a sold-out concert at 4 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Winningstad Theatre. Dr. Lonnie Smith’s concert is also sold out on Feb. 23 at the Winningstad.

•  Biamp, a Portland audio-visual equipment company, continues to be the festival’s main sponsor.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.

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Building a better ‘Mousetrap’

Beaverton's Experience Theatre Project puts the audience in the middle of the action – and the mystery – in Agatha Christie's famous whodunnit

By MICHAEL SPROLES

Born in the English seaside town of Torquay in 1890, Agatha Christie became one of the best-selling novelists of all time, known and beloved for her 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, and creation of the immensely popular detective characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.

One of her most successful novels, Murder on the Orient Express, was given a blockbuster movie release worldwide last November. The film received mixed reviews, largely because it didn’t add anything new or innovative to previous adaptations.

That’s a trap that Beaverton’s Experience Theatre Project is determined to avoid in its new production of Christie’s 1952 murder mystery The Mousetrap, the longest continually running play in history. ETP’s Mousetrap will immerse the audience in the action, placing it in the middle of the production’s manor as Christie’s eclectic characters roam around and are brought to life by the show’s actors and actresses.

Amber Bogdeweicz as Miss Casewell. Experience Theatre Project photo

This production of The Mousetrap, as all others, centers on a group of strangers stranded in a boarding house in the midst of a snowstorm in the English countryside in 1952. The suspects include the newly married couple who run the house, a spinster with a curious background, an architect who seems better equipped to be a chef, a retired Army major, a strange man who claims his car has overturned in a drift, and a jurist who makes life miserable for everyone. Soon a policeman, traveling on skis, arrives to inform everyone that no one is safe, and that there is a strong likelihood a killer walks among them.

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The Photographic Journal

A Portland photographer and writer creates "a storehouse of meanings and mysteries" from his observations of the daily life around him

Essay and Photographs

By K.B. DIXON

The images of Portland included in my latest book of photographs were excerpted from a larger ongoing project—from what is basically a photographic journal, a personalized and idiosyncratic survey of the world around me, an archive that serves in its own special way as a species of memoir. My hope was, as always, to document—to capture and to preserve for myself and others a transient moment of aesthetic pleasure, a strong sense of the subject, a resonating mix of common and individual experience. A storehouse of meanings and mysteries, it is an archive that shares in many ways the characteristics of a written work.

 

                 Stars & Stripes, 2014

Joan Didion—the novelist, essayist, and screenwriter—wrote a piece many years ago on the subject of keeping a journal. Wandering aimlessly through a set of her cryptic notes from years before, she found herself periodically perplexed by various entries. She found herself wondering why she had chosen to write this or that particular thing down—just as I, wandering aimlessly through my photographic archive, find myself periodically wondering why I decided to take this or that photograph. The keepers of notebooks are, Didion says, “anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” So too are many photographers. “The impulse to preserve lies at the bottom of all art,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin. It certainly lies at the heart of the documentary impulse.

 

                        Umbrella Man, 2013

“The point of keeping a notebook has never been…to have an accurate factual record.” Didion writes. This is where our paths diverge as “journalists.” The photographic urge as opposed to the calligraphic is born of what Didion calls an “instinct for reality”—an instinct she sometimes honors, but as a card-carrying Romantic usually disparages. “I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters,” she said. For the photographer’s purposes the distinction matters a great deal. For Didion it is the unfettered imagination vs. a cretinous literalism—a gross and self-aggrandizing simplification. Good old everyday rise-and-shine “reality” is the fundamental subject of photography. It may seem mundane, but it is essentially miraculous. If nothing else, it possesses what James Agee once called “the cruel radiance of what is.”

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Skinner/Kirk Dance Company hits rewind and fast-forward

In their upcoming concert Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk pause to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future

By HEATHER WISNER

The big questions we begin asking ourselves in middle age—about identity, achievement, love, loss, and how to reconcile the passage of time—color an upcoming concert by dance company Skinner/Kirk.

Founded in 1998 by Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, the company has produced work as the pair’s day job—dancing with BodyVox—allowed. But Skinner recently retired from BodyVox, where he and Kirk were founding dancers, and is considering his next moves, and both men have paused to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future.

This new show, which runs February 1-10 at BodyVox, features an all-male cast that includes Brian Nelson, Chase Hamilton, and Skye Stouber, and it offers a world premiere and two restaged works, both of which, Semita and Here and There, Now and Then, were originally commissioned by White Bird. During the creation process of Semita, Kirk began to spend more time with his dying father, which pulled him away from the project: the dance palpably reflects that feeling of being unmoored. It opens with a figure floating in space, lit by lighting designer Mark LaPierre.

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