ArtsWatch Weekly: past imperfect, present tense

In the Northwest, images of horror and hope from the past and present. Plus a West Side story, a flamenco flourish, and a divine voice.

ARTSWATCH IS ABOUT ARTS AND CULTURE IN OREGON: It’s embedded in our name. But culture is a fluid thing, coming at us from all corners of the world, and, through our libraries and museums and musical notations, from the enduring fragments of previous times and places. It comes to us. We go to it. Everything mingles in the process. One of our number is on the nothern tip of the Olympic Peninsula right now, a ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, where depending on the weather she might be greeted on the shoreline by a bagpiper in a kilt (although the Unipiper remains a resolutely Portlandian attraction, rain or shine, sleet or snow). Another ArtsWatcher is working her way across Andalucia, taking hundreds of pictures as she goes. Our music editor is settling back into the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest after a sojourn in Bali with some masters of the gamelan.  

Parmigianino, Antea, ca. 1535, oil on canvas, 53.7 x 33.8 inches, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.

On occasion we indulge in a quick trip north to Seattle, and in case you do the same, you might want to drop in on the Seattle Art Museum, where the exhibition Flesh & Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum opens today and hangs around through January 26. It time-travels through Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and includes 39 paintings and a single sculpture from the collections of the Naples museum.


ArtsWatch Weekly: dance of life

From Scheharazade spinning stories to a 6-year-old spinning a galaxy, a whirl of creative energy keeps Oregon in the dance

DOES ANY LITERARY TALE DEAL MORE DIRECTLY with the power of storytelling than the story of Scheherazade? The visier’s daughter created a tapestry of words that saved her life, surviving for a thousand and one nights by spinning a string of stories so fascinating that the tyrant who had planned to kill her was compelled to grant a stay of execution night after night so she could tell the ending of each unfinished tale the following night. Scheherazade’s tale of tales fascinated the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, whose music for it in turn fascinated the late Portland choreographer Dennis Spaight, who created a ballet to it in 1990 for Oregon Ballet Theatre. Now OBT is in the midst of its first revival of Spaight’s story ballet since 1993.

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s visual phantasmagoria Scheherazade. Photo: Yi Yin 

Spaight’s version of the Scheherazade tale, which was something of a Portland all-star collaboration with sets by the celebrated painter Henk Pander, costumes by the visionary theatrical designer/director Ric Young, and lighting by the masterful Peter West, is the anchor of OBT’s thirtieth anniversary season-opening program, and Martha Ullman West, in her ArtsWatch review Wit, speed, a blast from the past, declares it a “grand entertainment.” She continues: “I have never seen Scheherazade better-performed than it was on opening night, and that’s saying something.”

But Scheherazade, Ullman West stresses, is only part of the story. The OBT dancers’ performances of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto are equally distinguished: “It’s brilliant programming, …. 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.”

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

The program has three more performances, Thursday through Saturday in Keller Auditorium. After that, who knows what Scheherazade’s story-hungry tyrant might do?

More dance from ArtsWatch:

  • POLE DISCLOSURE: ACROBATICS MEETS #METOO. Jamuna Chiarini reviews a new, packed-house performance by the contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado with cellist Yoko Silk that blended sharp acrobatic skills with some harsh revelations.
  • OCTOBER DANCEWATCH: THE MOVES GET SPOOKY. Check Chiarini’s monthly dance guide for what’s coming up. This week, the list includes the German contemporary dance company Sasha Waltz presented by White Bird in the Newmark Theatre; Boom Arts/Hand2Mouth’s Hidden Stories, downtown and outdoors; and the latest version of the improv showcase Holy Goats, hosted by Linda Austin at Performance Works Northwest.
Sasha Waltz’s Körper (bodies), at White Bird Dance. Photo by Bernd


Portland Open Studios: Jenn Feeney, Lichen 03, monotype print, left; Alan Rose, Benign Chaos, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic, right. 

ART MIGHT END UP IN A GALLERY OR A MUSEUM OR ON YOUR LIVING ROOM WALL, but it begins in the studios, large or small, where artists working sometimes in groups but more often on their own spread out their materials and do the hard creative work that goes into any kind of artmaking. The studios are their second homes, and sometimes feel like their first homes: the places where their art takes root and grows from idea to reality. As in many other cities across the country (in southern Oregon, Ashland is getting ready for its studio tour next weekend), Portland area artists throw an annual open house, inviting visitors into their studios to see (and possibly buy) their work, and to get a glimpse of how and why it’s done. This year’s Portland Open Studios runs the next two Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 12-13 and 19-20, showing off the work spaces of 117 artists from Clackamas County to Washington County and pretty much every corner of greater Portland, from the outer stretches of Multnomah County to the Pearl District and downtown. Check the link for times, maps, artists, and media and set your course: There’s a prodigious amount to learn and see.

Meanwhile, In wine country, Yamhill County’s 2019 Art Harvest Tour of artists’ studios moves into its second and final weekend Friday through Sunday. David Bates has the story here.

More visual arts from ArtsWatch:

  • FINN BUILDS A GALAXY … WITH HELP FROM A PRO. David Bates spins the tale of Finn Connaughton, a 6-year-old artist who likes Minecraft and Pokémon, and 32-year-old Artist Bernard Stevenson Jr., who helped Finn create a celestial installation that’s now lighting up a corner of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.
  • THE MULTIFACETED MAKER. That’s the title of the 29th annual International Sculpture Conference, which for the first time lets the chips fly in Portland, at various locations Saturday through Tuesday, Oct. 12-15. It’s a big deal, bringing 3D artists from around the globe to town to talk about trends, transitions, and techniques. Brooklyn sculptor Leonardo Drew, whose large works play on the tension between chaos and order, will be the keynote speaker.
  • A CITYSCAPE IN CROCHET. Jo Hamilton, a Portland artist via Scotland, works in fabrics – as writer Sebastian Zinn notes, “she typically crochets with soft yarn up-cycled from second-hand stores, yard sales, and friends.” But for a new, outdoor piece along Southeast Foster Road, she needed something tougher: parachute cord, which provided a soft landing.
Jo Hamilton and her new mural on Southeast Foster Road. Photo: Kevin McConnell


Little Sue: Welcome to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

TRUTH IS, SOMETIMES OUR WRITERS RELY ON THE KINDNESS OF SIDEKICKS. “The delicate imbalance of mental variance my Muse demands of me requires a certain amount of rest and risotto, and if I went out and did all the things you hear about here I’d soon be reduced to a burbling mess of incoherence,” Matthew Neil Andrews writes in his new MusicWatch Weekly. So sometimes he sends trusted allies out to check the scene, or goes to shows tandem and asks his cohort to jot down notes. Lately he/they have caught up with or plan to catch underground country queen Little Sue, who’s about to be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, and Norwegian Sámi singer Mari Boine, and Carnatic instrumental music from Kalakendra, and some interesting chaos at Third Angle, and Danny Elfman in Batman mode at the Oregon Symphony, and … well, read it for more.

  • THE MUSIC OF OUR TIME? Daniel Heila goes to a Delgani String Quartet concert of music by Eugene/Springfield composers and lays down a challenge to the composers to “step up to the plate, broaden their palettes, hone their technical skills, access their authenticity, take chances, risk failure, and produce works of equal measure” to the Delganis’ skills.


The Bakkhai, striking up tension at Shaking the Tree. Photo: Meg Nanna 

WITH THE OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL’S outdoor shows closing this weekend and its indoor season winding down on Oct. 27, Oregon theatergoers’ eyes shift well and truly to metropolitan Portland, where the new season is off and running. ArtsWatch has been tracking things, including this pair of recent reviews:

  • BAKKHAI TO THE FUTURE. I review Shaking the Tree’s contemporary revival of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy, “a neatly contrived roller-coaster of a show, a smooth and sometimes scary fun ride that starts where it starts and carries on, with no breaks, to its bitter and propulsive end.”
  • ONCE UPON A TIME IN DUBLIN. Bennett Campbell Ferguson reviews Broadway Rose’s hit, sold-out musical Once, praising its splendid music and production and regretting its overstuffed script: “But Once is more than the sum of its flaws. While the story has changed, the music remains and the actors perform it with a force that makes it feel new.”
Cast members of the musical Once at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer.


Poster for Buster Keaton’s silent movie The General, filmed in Cottage Grove. 

MAYBE WE’RE NOT HOLLYWOOD NORTH. But from The Goonies to Sometimes a Great Notion to Buster Keaton’s The General to the “cool little independent film” Phoenix, Oregon to the extraordinary documentary Home: The Story of Valsetz, about an abandoned and razed logging town, films made in Oregon have left an indelible mark on American movie history. Beginning on Oct. 25 Lincoln City’s Bijou Theatre will host the six-day Oregon-Made Film Festival, featuring these films and more. In Spotlight shines on movies made in Oregon, Lori Tobias talks with Bijou co-owner and festival co-founder Betsy Altomare about how it all came to be.


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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.


The Week: Seatbelts & Bumpy Nights

The mirror crack'd: Dance, art, and theater ripped from the anxieties and tensions of an unruly world at large

WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN, RIGHT? Phone calls and whistleblowers and suppressions and impeachment hearings. A teen-aged climate activist who speaks sharply at the United Nations and prompts both cheers and jeers from the political-media talking heads. A fair amount of fiddling, if we can make a historical comparison, as Rome burns. The Ukrainian Affair looks dark and complex, which by coincidence is what Bobby Bermea has to say about Theatre Vertigo’s season-opening show, the world premiere of Dominic Finocchiaro’s play complex – small “c”, infinite anxieties. Bermea, in his pre-opening interview with Finocchiaro, calls Vertigo “the David Lynch of Portland theater,” and if it feels like we’re living in a David Lynch world, well, that’s life in the 21st century fast lane.

complex, hanging out in the no murder zone. Theatre Vertigo photo

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEKEND, at Portland Playhouse, is Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, a play about “the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors” who do their battle on the soccer pitch, and if that doesn’t remind you just a bit of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg playing on a much bigger field, well, I ask you. Meanwhile, Portland Center Stage is moving into preview performances at The Armory of what looks to be a hard-boiled, stripped-down, lean and mean Macbeth, with all of its raw palace intrigue, which gets me thinking also about Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II and “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and … well, things do circle around, don’t they?


The Week: See you in the dock

Autumn settles in swiftly, and with it the rhythms of a new cultural season, from "In the Heights" to the sidewalks of Forest Grove

AUTUMN’S SETTLED IN EARLY ACROSS MOST OF OREGON, and with it the rhythms and traditions of a new cultural season. Music, theater, dance – each has its own history and pattern, its own set of rituals. 

Corey Brunish, the Portland and New York performer and producer who has a handful of Tony Award statuettes as a producer on Broadway, has just been named one of more than two dozen nominees for this year’s Broadway Global Producer of the Year Award, on a list that also includes the likes of Gloria Estefan, John Legend, and Jada Pinkett Smith. 

Brunish, whose nomination is for the aggregate of his Broadway work, has an abiding love for the rituals of the theater, and often expresses it in musings about the still time before the curtain rises. He wrote this one, he says, during a California run of the new musical Empire, about the building of the Empire State Building, a show that’s still trying to raise backing for a Broadway run. But, he adds, it could be any show, any time, anywhere:


Dancing is a highlight of Portland Center Stage’s In the Heights. Above: Alexander Gil Cruz, Eddie Martin Morales, Alyssa V. Gomez, UJ Mangune. Photo: Owen Carey


The Week: Art is where you look

From Eastern Oregon to a paint-out on the coast to queer opera and TBA Fest in Portland to the streets of New York, art is all around us

THE ARTS WORLD MIGHT BE FINANCIALLY FRAGILE, with a tenuous toehold on the economic stepstool, but art and culture are all around us, wherever we look – and certainly, wherever ArtsWatch’s writers look. Carnegie libraries-turned-community-art-centers in Eastern Oregon. Street art and “high” art having a deep-in-the-trenches conversation in New York. Dancers in the woods near Astoria and a landscape paint-off in Cannon Beach. Queer Opera in Portland, a virtuoso theatrical solo turn in Clackamas County, Pavarotti on the radio, contemporary performance art at PICA’s TBA Festival in Portland, a great photographer imprinted on the nation’s memory. And really, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of things.

Pendleton Center for the Arts, in a former Carnegie Library. In the
home of the Pendleton Round-Up, Randy Gundlach’s horse statue by
the entrance adds a Western touch. Photo: David Bates


The Week: TBA or not TBA?

As the contemporary arts festival surges onto an already bulging September calendar, that is the question.

A NEW CROP OF APPLES IS HITTING THE PRODUCE STANDS. Lush ripe tomatoes are overflowing gardens and markets. Cukes are ready for pickling. America’s schoolchildren, ready or not, are back in the saddle again. And today, for the 17th year, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual TBA Festival kicks off again. “TBA” stands for “Time-Based Art,” which mainly means performance – art that takes place in a set period of time, in front of an audience – although visual art’s part of the mix, too. And the time is very contemporary: the art of today, for good and sometimes ill. As PICA puts it, the festival, which runs in venues around Portland through Sept. 15, “gathers artists and audiences from around the world” for eleven days of “contemporary performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, food, drink, conversation, and celebration.” 

Eiko Otake. Photo courtesy Joseph Scheer, IEA at NYSCC, via PICA

Over the years TBA’s had a lot of hits and a lot of misses. Its emphasis on non-traditional and resolutely experimental work can elevate the narcissistic and the sloppy. It can also champion fresh art of astonishing provocation and beauty, as it did in the festival’s very first incarnation, on Sept. 11, 2003, when, on the second anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the great butoh-influenced performers Eiko and Koma stunned their Portland audience with an outdoor performance in and around the water at Jamison Square, beneath a darkening sky. That performance, eloquently titled Offering, was sad, deep, ghostlike, hopeful, profound. “It strikes me, on this anniversary of death, that the world’s war-makers would detest this dance, which is about deep truths that can’t be glossed or managed,” I wrote at the time. “One watches an invisible flight of ideas. It is the holy and the profane, inseparable, wrapped into one. A mystery.”

The good news is that Eiko Otake is back at TBA for the first time since that 2003 performance, and she’ll be a busy part of things. You can see her tonight, at TBA’s opening reception, in her evolving piece A Body in Places, based on her return to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. Prints and video works will also be on view through Oct. 24 at PNCA’s 511 Gallery. There’ll be a screening of her film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, on Sept. 9. She’ll perform her Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with several collaborators, Sep. 12-14. And in a free event on Sept. 13, she’ll be in conversation with chroreographer Linda K. Johnson and PICA Artistic Director Kristan Kennedy.