ArtsWatch Weekly: Jungle of Eden

A jaunt into Mowgli's jungle and a musical Paradise puts us into a song-and-dance mood. Plus a week's worth of good reading.

IT’S BEEN A SONG AND DANCE SORT OF WEEK in my little corner of Oregon ArtsWatch, a musical and movement adventure that’s taken me from the jungles of India to the groves of Paradise. First things first: On Saturday I caught a matinee performance of The Jungle Book at Northwest Children’s Theater & School, with a rapt young audience that included a troop of Girl Scouts who took a long enough break from selling cookies to get with the groove and clap, quite happily and rhythmically, to the beat.

A grand blend of sight and sound in “The Jungle Book,” reimagined. Photo: David Kinder / Northwest Children’s Theater & School

In this Jungle Book there’s plenty of beat to get down with, provided emphatically and stylishly by Anita Menon’s choreography and Rodolfo Ortega’s music, both of which combine Western and Indian elements to help nudge Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli tales away from any hints of English imperialism and more squarely into the sights and sounds and culture of India. Combined with Mary Eggers’ vivid costumes, Paul Brown’s lighting, John Ellingson’s floor-to-ceiling tropical-vine set, and some aerial choreography by Jen Livengood of A-WOL Dance Collective for when the monkeys and the action move up into the trees, the dance and music create a vibrant theatrical atmosphere.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Sheer poetry with Grabel and the fishing crew

Leanne Grabel and Breads & Roses, FisherPoets and the song of the sea. Plus the week's dance, drama, sight, and sound.

IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR POETS IN OREGON, and an especially big week for longtime Portland poet Leanne Grabel, who’s been named the winner of the second annual Soapstone Bread and Roses Award. The prize, given by the women’s literary organization Soapstone to honor a writer who has helped sustain the writing culture in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, comes with a $1,000 award. It’ll be officially presented at a Soapstone board meeting on March 6, two days before International Women’s Day.

Portland poet Leanne Grabel, the 2020 Soapstone Bread and Roses Award winner. Photo courtesy Soapstone, Inc. 


Borderless clowns, film bash, more

Short takes: Clowns Without Borders, International Film Festival & gala, Sleeping Beauty, Volcanos & Colescott, Tanya Barfield's big prize

If “Clowns Without Borders” sounds funny, it should: After all, it’s clowns we’re talking about here. And if it doesn’t sound funny, well, it shouldn’t, because what the Clowns Without Borders clowns are up to is pretty serious, and in its way important, business.

All right, it’s not saving lives; at least not immediately. But like groups such as Doctors Without Borders, the members of Clowns Without Borders are taking their special skills to places where they’re needed most. What they offer, according to the group’s mission statement, is “joy and laughter to relieve the suffering of all persons, especially children, who live in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones and territories in situations of emergency.” Recently that’s included projects in Colombia for Venezuelan refugees, Palestine, the Bahamas for Hurricane Dorian relief, Zimbabwe, along the United States/Mexican border, and elsewhere. When times are tough, laughter can be the best medicine.

Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein lassos laughs. Photo: Regularman


ArtsWatch Weekly: Flying Colors

Lighting up the galleries, scratching out federal cultural funding, experimenting with learning, sussing "world music," dancing all week

IT’S MID-FEBRUARY, THE SKIES ARE SULLEN, and all that holiday cheer has faded away: As Laurel Reed Pavic suggests in her column Signs and Portents: The urge for color, we’re sludging through a “post-twinkle winter slump.” There’s always Valentine’s Day, of course, for a quick pick-me-up. (Chocolates and flowers are a good idea.)  And for a longer-lasting effect, how about something downright bright? “In the face of all this gloom,” Reed Pavic writes, “I thought I’d be most taken in by color this month.” In her February cruise through Portland’s First Thursday gallery shows, she discovered color aplenty, sometimes with complex and surprising meanings.

V. Maldonado, Carcel de Niños (2019). Photo: Mario Gallucci, courtesy Froelick Gallery


ArtsEd: Two education experiments center arts practices

The ideas of the established Wayfinding Academy and brand-new Alder Commons lead to a central role for the arts

During the past few decades we’ve seen rising enthusiasm around new small, independent education experiments. It’s one of the many cultural changes in Portland during the past few decades that have tapped into the DIY movement. In many of these, the arts have figured prominently, both as something to be studied and as a way to engage students in doing things as opposed to crunching pre-manufactured information. When the arts began to disappear from public school curricula in the 1990s, it had the curious side-effect of spawning these new projects, commercial and nonprofit, to fill the void. The experiments continue, even after the passage of the Arts Tax, which brought back art teachers at least to the early grades of public schools in the city.

Two experiments in education are breaking new ground in Portland. The Wayfinding Academy, now on its fifth cohort of students, has carved out a new route for college-age young people looking to make their mark on the world. Meanwhile, a program on the horizon, Alder Commons, hopes to push the envelope further by serving all ages with special consideration for school-age children.

Wayfinding Academy keeps its core curriculum front and center./Photo Nim Wunnan

While neither identifies specifically as an art program, both cultivate an atmosphere that encourages and develops young artists in ways that traditional schooling often fails to. The early success of the Wayfinding Academy is exciting proof that viable alternatives to expensive four-year degrees are out there for young artists. Directly inspired by Wayfinding, Alder Commons will soon launch a great experiment to see what happens when community members of all ages who are looking to take control of their own education and creativity have a shared, nurturing home.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Confronting the great divides

America's battle with itself comes alive in a pair of plays, a book on the working-class tightrope, and a photo show about the persistent South

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED DURING OUR RECENT IMPEACHMENT SPAT and other real or manufactured public outrages, we are living in deeply divided times. One of the roles of art is to look into such abysses and give them shape that either clarifies the issues or reveals them to be more confusing and complex than we believe. In times like these art is not simply decoration: It also can be, and likely should be, a relentless and unwaveringly human mirror. 

Jason Glick and Andrea White, caught in a Blind. Photo: Lindberg Media

Art often looks back to look forward. While watching Lynn Nottage’s brilliant play Sweat in its recently closed, knockout production by Profile Theatre, I felt the lurking presence of the late, great Arthur Miller in the hall. Nottage’s play, which deals with the economic crumbling of the American working class and the way such stresses also can reveal racial and other fault lines, suggests some of the underpinnings of populism’s hard turn to the right and left. It also feels like an updating and almost a reverse image of Miller’s 20th century social realism in the likes of All My Sons, a play that looks at the effects of economic skullduggery from the vantage of the owners, while Sweat considers its brutalizing effect on the workers.


Southern Rites at the Jewish Museum

Photographer Gillian Laub's deeply documented show on the persistence of racial attitudes in the South is visual activism at its best

What do I want? Why do I want it? And how do I get it?
– Stacey Abrams, in a TED talk shortly after she lost her bid to be elected governor of Georgia in the 2018 midterm elections.


AS SHOULD BE OBVIOUS by now, I rarely review exhibitions that I don’t like. The world doesn’t need more negativity, and I don’t need the emotional aggravation. It is therefore with some trepidation that I accept invitations to review something I have not yet had a chance to see. I will only do so if I am deeply committed to an institution and usually trust its choices, as is the case with the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE.)

Felicia after the Black Prom, Vidalia, Georgia, 2009. Photographed by Gillian Laub. Photo: Friderike Heuer

No need to fret: OJMCHE’s newest exhibition, Southern Ritesis one of its strongest yet, a moving and thought-provoking tour de force about race relations and racism in contemporary America. Organized by the International Center for Photography and judiciously curated by Maya Benton, the exhibition of photographs by Gillian Laub is visual activism at its best: perceptive, engaged, critical photography of human beings in a context that defines them. Did I mention beautiful? Beautiful!