ARTSWATCH FOCUS

Sasha Waltz’s KÖRPER: Bodies meet wall, artfully

White Bird's first foray into contemporary German choreography runs into a wall—and the bodies that run into it

Dancers took the stage at the Portland premiere of Sasha Waltz’s KÖRPER before the audience had finished taking their seats. While all the lights in the Newmark Theatre were still on, the industrial sounds of Hans-Peter Kuhn’s multi-channel soundtrack blurted from speakers around the theater. Two dancers approached the the massive wall that bisected the stage diagonally (think Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc), and at the same time individual body parts—a foot here, some fingers there—emerged from two small holes in the weatherbeaten, blue-grey surface of the enormous monolith.

This was not going to be an ordinary show.

Designed by Thomas Schenk and Heike Schuppelius, both of whom studied architecture, the wall is unlike any set seen before in a White Bird performance. The first German company ever presented by White Bird, the presence of Waltz and her amazing wall in Portland owes much to the assistance of the organizations collaborating in the Year of German American Friendship 2018/19. With all that in mind—and considering that the dancers alone represent more than a dozen countries—the show crackles with a sense of a great converging of effort and ideas into a singular experience, marked by a monumental wall.

Sasha Waltz and Guests brought a strong dose of experimental German dance to White Bird this weekend./Photo courtesy of White Bird

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A Baroque groove master at work

A conversation with composer Andy Akiho and percussionist Colin Currie, featured on this weekend's Oregon Symphony concerts

Composer-percussionist Andy Akiho gestured across the room to a table in the corner of the Heathman Hotel’s cozy library. “I composed most of it right there,” he said. “They let me stay here until three in the morning sometimes.”

Akiho is speaking of his Percussion Concerto, which Colin Currie and the Oregon Symphony will premiere this weekend alongside two of Akiho’s heroes, Igor Stravinsky and Charles Ives. Currie himself joined us, and both spoke fondly of Portland, where Akiho now spends half the year. Currie told me the first time he landed at PDX airport, he was immediately reminded of his native Scotland. “Then it rained all week,” Currie said, “and I thought, ah this is bliss!”

The percussionists maintain busy schedules. Currie will be conducting Steve Reich’s tribute to painter Gerhard Richter, Reich/Richter, and is excited about Scottish composer Helen Grime’s Percussion Concerto–very different from Akiho’s–which Currie commissioned and will be performing several times this year. Meanwhile, Akiho has been finalizing the recording of his LIgNEouS Suite for marimba and strings, is currently finishing an album with his band Miyamoto is Black Enough, and somehow also finds time to work on an eleven-movement quartet for Ian Rosenbaum’s Sandbox Percussion.

This weekend, though, it’s all about the long-awaited concerto: Akiho’s first major orchestral work (2015’s Ping Pong Concerto notwithstanding) is full of ceramic bowls, a meaty marimba, and all the rhythmic complexity and melodic verve we’ve come to expect from one of our favorite young composers. The Oregon Symphony performs at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Arts Watch recently spoke in person with Akiho and Currie; their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

Inception, inspiration, orchestration

Andy Akiho: I’m obviously inspired by the city, because I wrote almost all of it here. There’s no story or anything, that’s why it’s just called Percussion Concerto for now—until Colin comes up with a story, then we’ll change the title.

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Wit, speed, a blast from the past

Oregon Ballet Theatre lights the fireworks with Forsythe, Balanchine, and the dazzling return of Dennis Spaight's 1990 "Scheherazade"

From the sharp angles of William Forsythe’s  In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated to the lavish curves of Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade, Oregon Ballet Theatre celebrated the company’s 30th anniversary on Saturday night  with technical fireworks, wit, drama, and the speed, energy, and adaptability that are the hallmarks of American dancers.   

George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which contains much of the source material for Forsythe’s once-radical ballet, was the equally elevated middle piece on this highly charged sampler of works exemplifying three of the creative forces that made ballet American. The third force is Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the ways in which choreographers such as Spaight and OBT’s current resident choreographer, Nicolo Fonte (e.g. his Petrouchka),  reacted to that tradition.

It’s brilliant programming, and OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving is to be commended for it. 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, starting with the curtain-raising In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. This was Irving’s calling card, as a German critic once put it, referring to another artistic director’s vision for a different ballet company.  In this instance, Forsythe’s 1987 ballet, replete with revved-up classical shapes and steps mixed with insouciant, natural walking and standing, represents perfectly Irving’s vision of a contemporary ballet company supported at the box office by evening-length story ballets.   

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

IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME when I saw the company premiere of Forsythe’s work two years ago that Middle’s  relentless, high-tension propulsion of dancers across the stage, with only the walking and standing  giving dancers and audience a chance to breathe,  provides the same opportunities for bravura turns as the second act of, gulp, The Nutcracker, which will return for its annual run at OBT in December, or The Sleeping Beauty, to be seen in February.  The difference, of course, is musical: Thom Willems’s score for In the Middle ain’t pretty and it tells no stories. But as several critics have pointed out, the pounding rhythms demand as much precision from the dancers as the arias in Violin Concerto or the melodies in Scheherazade

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Happy birthday, Street Roots

Portland's weekly newspaper celebrates 20 years as a beacon of advocacy for the city's homeless, and its crew of vendor poets


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“THERE IS A LOT OF COURAGE OUT HERE,” Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Rootscommented recently when introducing women and men at a poetry reading at Gallery 114 ready to present their writing to the assembled guests. The poets were people who are living, fighting, and surviving houselessness. One should add grit, determination, persistence and talent to the notion of courage – both with regard to the presenting poets and the organization that endeavors to support them.

Symbols of the street: the right to speak out.

Many of us might be buying Street Roots on occasion or on a regular basis. The weekly newspaper is produced to provide income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and to act as a catalyst for individual and social change. Vendors pay 25 cents for every paper they sell for $1. For that, they stand days on end on street corners, in all weather, facing who knows how many people who avert their eyes for every one who glances at them, or engages in quick conversation while buying the paper. What stays invisible is the talent and perceptiveness of those vendors trying to connect. What stays hidden is our own timidity to face misery that contrasts with our privilege. Off we rush, having paid a token buck.

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The Artist Series: Writers

In the first of a new series of portraits, K.B. Dixon concentrates his lens on the faces of 10 leading contemporary Oregon writers.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the first in what I hope will be a long series on local artists—in this case, writers, the unusually talented people who work in words, the most common and most difficult of mediums.

The writers here are some of Oregon’s most accomplished and decorated. Their work offers the reader that unique adventure that only the evolutionary miracle of language allows—access to other worlds, both real and imagined.

The visual approach to this new series of portraits differs greatly from my previous series, In the Frame. Here the environmental details are kept to a minimum. The subjects have the frame to themselves and do not compete with the context for attention. This provides for a simpler, blunter, more intense encounter with character.


KIM STAFFORD


Oregon’s Poet Laureate, and Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis &Clark College. His latest collection of poems is Wild Honey, Tough Salt.

“Among the many forms of wealth,
in the catalog of luxuries, I choose
the right to be forgotten on a quiet
morning such as this….”

– Excerpt from the poem “The Right to Be Forgotten,”
in the collection Wild Honey, Tough Salt

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The family that vanished

Author JB Fisher talks about a 61-year-old Portland mystery, this week at Third Street Books in McMinnville

On Thursday evening, Portland author JB Fisher will return to his one-time home of McMinnville to read from and discuss his latest book, Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family. You’ll find him downtown at Third Street Books, which has proved over the years that small-town indie bookstores can not only survive, but thrive. The Sept. 26 event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the store has a plentiful supply of copies for purchase.

Fisher is the author of another Portland true-crime book, Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders, written with JD Chandler and published in 2014. That volume tells the tale of how gangsters gained control of some of the city’s unions during the Red Scare that followed the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

It turns out his new book was born right under my nose.

The author, teacher, and historian and his family used to live around the corner from us in McMinnville before they moved to Portland about six years ago. Our kids played together occasionally, so it turns out that I’ve actually visited the house where Echo of Distant Water has its origins.

Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’”
Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’” Photo by: Robert Delahanty

Digging through boxes in the garage of the ranch-style home, Fisher found a stack of newspapers left behind by the previous owner, and that was where he first learned about the Martin family. That story goes back to 1958, and boiled down to the most basic facts, it goes like this:

A few days before Christmas of that year, Ken and Barbara Martin of Portland and their three daughters climbed into their 1954 Ford station wagon and headed up the Columbia Gorge to find a Christmas tree. (Their 28-year-old son was stationed in New York with the Navy.) They had lunch at a Hood River diner, then apparently headed back to Portland.

Then they vanished.

Evidence emerged about a month later suggesting that the car had plunged off a cliff into the Columbia River near The Dalles. Early in May 1959, the bodies of the two youngest girls were discovered — one in the Columbia Slough near Camas, Wash., and the other near the Bonneville Dam spillway. The car was never found.

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‘The Hillsboro Story’: Weaving a web of memories

In a new book, performance artist Susan Banyas integrates multiple voices and viewpoints, revisiting a 1950s school desegregation battle in her Ohio hometown.

“Two months after Brown v. Board of Education legally ended school segregation…my sleepy segregated little hometown, Hillsboro, Ohio, the county seat of Highland County, was jolted awake by a fire at the colored school; and History and Memory came marching into town like the Fourth of July Parade the day before.” — The opening passage of The Hillsboro Story, a new book by Susan Banyas.

“In the wee small hours of July 5, 1954, I popped wide awake and looked at the clock. Two o’clock. I quietly dressed and tiptoed downstairs. Armed with a can of gasoline, a bottle of oil and a clutch of newspapers, I kicked and struggled my way through a tangle of growth that choked an abandoned alley at the back of lots to the little cloistered school and up the steps.” — From an unpublished memoir by Philip Partridge, former Highland County engineer.

“I am eight years old, and women and children appear and disappear outside my third-grade classroom window. They carry signs with messages. OUR CHILDREN PLAY TOGETHER, WHY CAN’T THEY LEARN TOGETHER?…There I am, floating in my inner tube in the plastic pool in the backyard on Danville Pike, soaking up the cultural commotion, riding my bike around in it, watching it from behind a window at school, fascinated by the drama, the characters who come and go. But I have no story to hold it, and I remain mute, in the dark, wondering, haunted.” — from The Hillsboro Story.

“How does a kid arrive at a resolution that shakes his world? Is there a sense of justice even in young children.” — From Partridge’s memoir. 

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, mothers and children in Hillsboro, Ohio protest continuing segregation of the town’s schools. Photo courtesy of Susan Banyas.

Back to a place of one of many beginnings

“It’s hard to know where a story begins,” Susan Banyas says on a recent afternoon, sitting in a Ladd’s Addition coffee shop a few blocks from where she lived when she began the lengthy artistic exploration that has become her book, The Hillsboro Story.

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