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Photo First: Hope and joy

An evening showcase of student dancers from Faubion and Harriet Tubman schools highlights the talent and promise of a new generation

Jump for Joy: Lighting up the Winter Showcase.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


There were at least two people in awe at Da Vinci Arts Middle School on a mid-January evening while attending the Winter Showcase of Faubion and Harriet Tubman Middle School: this young lady and me.

As Harriet Tubman Principal Natasha Jackson, in unison with teachers, staff and musicians from the other organizations, put it: People of all races and all backgrounds are coming together to celebrate art and the achievement of these young dancers who have worked hard to present an incredible program. Both schools have a diverse student population, with many languages on their website to get information to all those parents who have newly arrived. To see all those different faces merge into dance ensembles that became one in the movement really represented hope: for a future where unity fights back the forces of segregation.

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$10 million for the Portland Art Museum

Arlene Schnitzer makes a major donation to the Rothko Pavilion project

For weeks the Portland Art Museum has been teasing a “Historic Announcement” that will “mark a historic moment” on January 21st at 11 a.m.. The news is in: Arlene Schnitzer has donated 10 million dollars to the the Museum’s fund for the Rothko Pavilion and gallery redesign, the Connections Campaign. Though billed as an announcement, this morning’s event was more accurately a celebration of Schnitzer and included speeches about her many contributions to the Museum and arts community from her son Jordan Schnitzer, Museum Director Brian Ferriso, and Governor Kate Brown. The Lincoln High School Chamber Choir performed and Jordan Schnitzer provided lunch for the crowd of nearly 250 people. 

Though the dollar amount doesn’t approach the same heights, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici announced a second major donation to the Museum’s Connections Campaign, $750,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is an especially large grant from the NEH.

There was no mention this morning of how much money the Connections Campaign needed to raise in order to fund the construction of the Rothko Pavilion and planned renovations. A note on the Museum’s website from January 2018 indicates that the museum had raised $30.3 million of an intended $50 million but that figure was not mentioned and several comments in this morning’s remarks indicated that fundraising for the project is ongoing.

A cello, a violin, a final grace note

At a North Portland school, a lifelong music lover and students in the BRAVO music program meet and learn in the circle of life


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


On a busy musical afternoon at Sitton Elementary School in Portland’s St. Johns district earlier this month, a woman arrived at after-school music rehearsals bearing gifts: a cello in a hard case, and a half-size violin.

As it turns out, the cello and violin – as welcome as they were for the BRAVO Youth Orchestras program, in a school where the price of instruments is often beyond the means of the young musicians’ families – were emblematic of a larger gift: a gift of love and legacy; a passing-on, from generation to generation, of joy and encouragement. A going-away gift; a final grace note.

Sara Waddell and BRAVO’s Seth Truby, passing the torch.

The students are part of BRAVO, a program fashioned after the El Sistema movement that began in 1975 on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, to bring the love and challenge of music to children in the barrios. Portland’s program began in 2013, and also concentrates on areas with higher than average poverty rates.

The woman is Sara Waddell, a 52-year-old mother of two teens from Beaverton who set aside her own musical studies and teaching career years ago to raise her sons. “I had sold my wonderful cello with its rich, beautiful tone from my younger years of trying to learn in college when my kids were very small and my little family needed the money,” she said. “Then I did without and believed I had given up learning to play forever.”

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DramaWatch: Working up a “Sweat”

Brilliant designer-turned-director Christopher Acebo stages Lynn Nottage's timely look at labor for Profile. Plus, the theater calendar bursts with new shows.

Bill Rauch’s tenure as artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, from 2007 until last year, was justly lauded for a variety of characteristics and achievements. But one of the less-often remarked upon — yet most significant — contributions to the region no doubt was when he got Christopher Acebo, one of the members of Rauch’s LA-based Cornerstone Theater Company, to move north and serve as OSF’s associate artistic director. 

Festival fans became familiar with Acebo’s genius for scenic design (from thematically trenchant abstractions for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Mojada: a Medea in Los Angeles to scrupulous naturalism for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he seldom failed to amaze). Meanwhile he also was an operational lynchpin, tackling myriad tasks in planning, producing, casting and so on. Over time he also emerged as a prominent cultural leader, serving on the board of national Theatre Communications Group and becoming chair of the Oregon Arts Commission. Oregon ArtsWatch, too, highlighted Acebo in its recent interview series Vision 2020. 

Rauch has moved on to run the new performing arts program in New York’s World Trade Center, and Acebo, too, has left OSF. 

“I had been planning, even prior to Bill’s announcement, to take a new path,” Acebo said in a recent phone interview. “I was there, ultimately, 14 years. That’s a good amount of time and I thought it was time to get out and try some different things.”

Grit and grind: Even the neighborhood bar’s not so relaxing anymore, as the “de-industrial revolution” hits the workers in Sweat, a Pulitzer-winning play by Lynn Nottage. Linda Hayden (from left), Duffy Epstein and Cycerli Ash. Photo: David Kinder.

Fortunately for Portland theater fans, part of Acebo’s new path includes freelance directing, including a Profile Theatre production of the Lynn Nottage play Sweat, opening at Imago.

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Art review: Beneath the surface seductions

Disjecta and Upfor dive into difficult and dark waters with work by Arvie Smith, Pinar Yoldas, and Iyvone Khoo

 January is named for Janus, the double-faced Roman god who was able to look simultaneously at the past and the future. Given this etymological foundation, it seems appropriate that two stand-out shows in Portland this month grapple with the legacy of the past and the possibilities for the future: Disjecta has works by Arvie Smith in 2 Up and 2 Back and Upfor Gallery has works by Pinar Yoldas and Iyvone Khoo in The Absence of Myth.

At first blush, the shows are so different that the juxtaposition seems bizarre: Smith’s large, warm-toned paintings at Disjecta are chock-full of identifiable figures and symbols while the sculptures, prints, and video works at Upfor are captivating but less immediately familiar. Khoo’s materials include bioluminescent algae, fluorescent coral, and marine debris. Yoldas makes two- and three-dimensional prints of a cast of deities inspired by Greek mythology but that she describes as “designer babies.” What the works of the three artists have in common, however, is a visual seduction that gives way to repulsion that then transitions to big questions about humanity and complicity and responsibility.

What meets the eye is one thing, the “more” is cavernous.

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Turkish-born Yoldas boasts an impressive list of academic credentials. Currently a professor in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego, her research interests exceed the confines of art and design and blur into the biological sciences. The sculpted figures she makes don’t advertise this expertise at first glance. I was far too taken in by the glossy resin surfaces, undulating forms, and delicate filigree to consider any scientific underpinnings. But as I continued to look and looked closer at the figures themselves, it emerged that something was off: the faces are too contoured, the eyes too almond-shaped, the limbs turn into paddles or the shoulders into armored spikes. Several reminded me of sculptures from Amarna-period Egypt when the canon of representation that had been in place for thousands of years was discarded to accommodate a new religion. 

Pinar Yoldas, Aegeria the river goddess (2019) 3D printed Vero resin. Photo: Adam Simmons, courtesy of Upfor

Prints on the walls on black gridded or tessellated backgrounds show variations of the same figures. The backgrounds emphasize the “design” component of the figures; these forms aren’t meant to appear organic but instead painstakingly fashioned according to a master program. This, it turns out, is the influence of Yoldas’ scientific background. A booklet available in the gallery gives data and backstory for each figure, and flipping through the ethical implications begin to multiply.

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45th Parallel’s real-time music video

An interview with Ron Blessinger

It’s such a weird thrill going to Oregon Symphony concerts, looking down into the string section with its fifty-odd neatly seated performers, and seeing 45th Parallel Universe Executive Director Ron Blessinger, buried in the violins, attentively warming up his bow with the rest of the office. That’s how it goes with this orchestra: scan the rest of that string section and you’ll see local composers Nancy Ives, James Shields, and usually Kenji Bunch. Up in the back, Niel DePonte tightens cymbal stands and organizes mallets. Supergroup!

In 2018, when Blessinger took the reins of local music organization 45th Parallel (founded ten years earlier by his fellow symphony violinist Greg Ewer), he immediately expanded the relatively loose-knit group into a Universe of ensembles drawn mostly from the ranks of Oregon Symphony principal players. The Parallel Universe has exploded all Marvel crossover-like in the last season and a half, with a wide range of classical music concerts all across the Old Versus New abyss. Our personal favorite highlight (so far) was 45||’s double concert last year pairing Mousai Remix’s beautifully economical black composer history lesson with a Pyxis Quartet concert featuring new work by local composers created in collaboration with local poet Micah Fletcher.

Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Seth Nehill.
Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2019. Photo by Seth Nehill.

Tonight, 45th Parallel presents the latest result of their restless creativity: Les Boréades, an evening of French music performed on a square stage inside the PICA building, two sides open to the audience and a pair of projection screens on the others. We’ve just learned that the concert is down to standing room only, which suits this eternally peripatetic music journalist just fine. Come early for a discussion of The Frame with the concert’s visual/psychological collaborators, and wear comfy shoes for your circumambulatory musical adventure.

We spoke with Blessinger by phone; his answers have been condensed and edited for flow and clarity.

On collaboration and performance space

I go way back with Brad Johnson, the lead artist. He used to be the principal of Second Story Interactive, and I did a project with him where we used existing technology to create what you could call a virtual venue. We did something similar just about 15 years ago. This time around we came up with a musical program–a survey of French music–and then we were thinking of where to perform it.

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Fish, ink, and paper

The most critical element in gyotaku, says instructor Bruce Koike, is getting the eyes right

As a young man, Bruce Koike thought of himself as a science kind of guy, not one particularly interested in art. So when he happened upon a handful of students creating gyotaku — prints created from fish rubbings — at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, he was surprised to find himself drawn to the art.

Thirty-five years later, Koike is known for his masterful prints, as well as his workshops to teach the craft to others. His next is set for Jan. 25 at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center in Newport.

Koike encountered the Japanese art form in 1985, the same year he started grad school, which led to his master’s degree in fisheries science from the Hatfield Center. He made his first print that summer.

Bruce Koike’s gyotaku print of lingcod incorporates habitat by adding bullwhip kelp to the image, which appeared on the cover of the May 2016 Fisheries magazine, published by the American Fisheries Society.

“I bought a tube of black paint and went to the hardware store and bought a brush, some paper, and gave it a shot,” Koike said. “I still have that print, and it was of a pile perch. It was good enough to keep it.”

His technique evolved over the years, as the self-taught artist learned through trial and error the tricks to creating a print that could truly be called art. One is to remove standing water, likely to be found in depressions on the fish, and not to use too much or too little paint. Ink is applied to the fish with a brush, then paper is laid on the fish and pressed down to transfer the image.

The critical last step is properly capturing the eyes.

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