My last considerations of 2012

A pass through 2012: great theater and dance, the arts tax, saving the church, Mark Rothko, more!

Kidd Pivot's "Dark Matters"/Christopher Duggan

Kidd Pivot’s “Dark Matters”/Christopher Duggan

This year was SO eventful that I doubt these will be my “last considerations” on its developments. We’ll be mulling them over for a long time, I bet. If pressed, I’d say that the list of the year’s biggest arts stories had to include the passage of the arts tax, the hiring of Dámaso Rodriquez at ART and Namita Wiggers at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the resignations of Elaine Calder from the Oregon Symphony, Christopher Stowell from Oregon Ballet Theatre and Linda Magee from Chamber Music Northwest, and the continuing assertion of Portland artists, writers and musicians into the national conversation.

I myself didn’t write about all of those things, but they were all important, and ArtsWatch has dealt with them in one way or another.

So what DID I write about this year? What was my path through this particular rotation of the planet around its star? Well, I did a little surveying and culling, and I came up with a few milestones, news and commentary, that marked my way and maybe yours as well.

It was an election year, so a fair number concerned the election and the arts tax. Even though ArtsWatch isn’t an explicitly political project, we are a CULTURAL project, and that inevitably includes politics. I wrote about Portland Playhouse’s expensive little dance with the city bureaucracy, too—an excellent example of how arts, community and politics intersect.

Most of the rest of the stories concern specific concerts, productions and exhibitions, my attempt to understand them and connect them to other events and ideas in our community. I suppose even these could be considered “political,” but I choose to think of them as cultural.

As I went through these stories, I realized I’d almost completely forgotten a few of them—and I WROTE them. So, maybe our primary purpose here is simply to jog our memories and perhaps catch up a bit. The order is roughly chronological, oldest to most recent.

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The death of John Buchanan: The controversial former leader of the Portland Art Museum actually died at the end of 2011 in San Francisco, but I wrote about him on the first day of 2012. Why? Because his path through Portland was so singular, so strange and so successful in many regards (and so much less than successful in others). And that tells us a lot about… us.

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Robert Hanson's "Pink"/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

Robert Hanson’s “Pink”/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

A show of drawings by the late Robert Hanson: Artist Robert Hanson also died in 2011, and this small show, tucked away in the corner of the art museum, honored his passing. And somehow a small show of drawings seemed perfect, a happy and deft intersection of lines and splotches of color, a theater of limited means on paper or maybe a jazz solo by a gifted pianist.

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Chris Coleman finds the forgiveness in “Cymbeline”: This minor Shakespeare play has always confused me, and it begs for directorial “shaping,” which the artistic director of Portland Center Stage provided. It also started actor Kelley Curran on a remarkable double, first as Imogen here and then as Anna in “Anna Karenina.”

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John Cage’s “Litany for the Whale”  at YU: Fear No Music and Third Angle, two of our primary vehicles for modern classical music, joined forces for a celebration of experimentalist John Cage’s 100th birthday. I found myself totally submerged in one particular, small bit of the massive show, Cage’s “Litany for the Whale,” which I think was its purpose. To slow us down, just for a moment.

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Portland Playhouse gets its church back: As I mentioned above, this was an unnecessary bit of drama that cost a little theater at lot of money and effort, which little theaters have in short supply to begin with. BUT the city council session also proved to be a great way to demonstrate the social impact a little theater can have, as a succession of neighborhood people testified fervently on Portland Playhouse’s behalf. I also wrote about the issue on OPB’s Arts & Life page.

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An instructive Candidates Forum on the arts before the elections: The candidates for mayor and city council gathered at the Armory to talk about the arts with a roomful of arts folks, which was pretty interesting. The big takeaway: Just about everyone was in favor of the arts-active course that Mayor Sam Adams had set.

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Kidd Pivot meditates on Free Will: White Bird brought Kidd Pivot down from Vancouver, B.C., with a show every bit as provocative and theatrically inventive as the best of Chunky Move, which is high praise in my book.

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Mark Rothko, "Untitled", 1957/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

Mark Rothko, “Untitled”, 1957/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

Portland re-introduces itself to Mark Rothko: The Portland Art Museum’s long overdue retrospective of the work of semi-native son Mark Rothko spawned a series of other interesting events, from theater (“Red”) to music (a concert featuring Morton Feldman’s great “Rothko Chapel’). This essay attempted to integrate these into a wider consideration of Rothko and his place here.

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Portland Center Stage, “Anna Karenina” and the joys of Big Theatre: At some point after watching this theatrically large probing of Tolstoy’s novel, I realized how accustomed I’d become to Little Theatre and resolved to embrace the different pleasures of Big Theatre. Today, having seen the recent fine film version, I’m struck by the similarity of approach (though theater can’t deliver those endless Keira Knightley close-ups).

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Imago’s “The Black Lizard”: Jerry Mouawad’s staging of this Japanese noir was pretty spectacular in many ways, mostly because he let it be just as campy and perverse as its author Yukio Mishima intended. Wait, no, that’s wrong, because Mouawad pushed the nuttiness further than anyone else I can think of could have.

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Betty Feves and accidental connections: The most inspiring art show of the year for me was Museum of Contemporary Craft’s fond remembrance of ceramic sculptor Betty Feves, assembled and explained by Namita Wiggers. The show was beautiful and led me down several avenues of discovery. I also considered it for OPB’s Arts & Life page.

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Randee Paufve explains Mary Todd Lincoln to me: Speaking of movies, I have to say that Paufve’s dance investigation of Mary Todd Lincoln (what a strange subject for a dance!), made the film “Lincoln,” so much more interesting to me. “So I married Abraham Lincoln…” completely overturned my poor opinion of Mrs. Lincoln, and oh yeah, the dancing was pretty great, too.

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Chris Murray, Bruce Burkhartsmeier, Michael O'Connell and Tim True in  "Penelope" /Owen Carey

Chris Murray, Bruce Burkhartsmeier, Michael O’Connell and Tim True in “Penelope” /Owen Carey

Third Rail’s boys go a’romping in “Penelope”: One of the enduring images of the year for me came from this Enda Walsh play: Chris Murray, Bruce Burkhartsmeier, Michael O’Connell and Tim True battling it out at the bottom of a swimming pool carved out of the Winningstad Theatre, terrible Ulysses on his way to make mincemeat out of them and lovely Penelope above them, the ultimate prize, looking for his sails.

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Jon Kretzu re-creates “King Lear” for the Portland Shakespeare Project: Mr. Kretzu is leaving his post as associate artistic director at ART in part to take on projects such as this one (his artistic director Allen Nause is leaving also, of course), a deft re-invention of “Lear,” which restored him and his situation to the 99 percent! Amazing.

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My summer vacation: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s summer shows: I’m nearly always happy when I go to Ashland. What’s not to like: an entire day built on preparing myself and then seeing theater! Of course, it can rain on you during the outdoor shows, which it did in my case, but it only made “Henry V” that much better.

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How much are the arts worth, just talking raw dollars? Studies are always attempting to put a dollar sign on the contribution of the arts to the economy. But the number always leaves me unsatisfied, no matter how big it is (and in this case, it was big).

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The Oregonian on the arts tax: I wrote several times about the efforts of The Oregonian’s editorial page to defeat the arts tax. Although I think there were entirely reasonable arguments to vote against the measure, The Oregonian certainly didn’t find them, at least to me.

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Shaking The Tree’s “Far Away” hits close to home: Good grief, it was a good year in theater! I hope you saw lots of it. This intimate production of the Caryl Churchill play happened to be just what I was looking for at the time—non-linear, philosophical, searching, deeply political—and featured some excellent acting along the way. More Caryl Churchill, please!

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Regress this: some thoughts about the arts tax: One of the primary arguments against the arts tax was that it was regressive. But if you pull back the lens a little and see the wider context, it really wasn’t. This was a response to the fourth Oregonian editorial against the measure (and Willamette Week’s first).

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“The Body of an American” and reality hunger: I saw this show workshopped at the JAW new plays festival before Center Stage gave it a full production, so I knew what it was about (the playwright coming to terms with his hero worship of a war photographer). But OSF’s Bill Rauch shaped it into a fine piece of theater, though the script itself might have been irritating to those preferring a single, clean narrative. On the other hand, life is so seldom like that, and this play is autobiographical.

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The arts tax that wouldn’t die: So yes, that old arts tax (remember it) actually passed, to the amazement of anyone who believed The Oregonian’s poll on the matter, which was wrong by an astounding 44 points. 44 points. Maybe the greatest failure in the history of Oregon political polling. How did that happen? Well, I put on my reporter’s cap and did a little investigating.

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Tahni Holt’s “SUN$HINE” pushes multiple perspectives: I was engrossed by Holt’s experiment in making a dance that could feed both narrative expectations and abstract ones—fascinating. And it reminded me of Tere Mathern’s fabulous collaboration with Tim DuRoche and Blue Cranes, “Gather,” and the maturation of the dance scene here.

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Peter Macon and Ramona Lisa Alexander in "King Hedley II"/Brud Giles

Peter Macon and Ramona Lisa Alexander in “King Hedley II”/Brud Giles

August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” refuses to compromise: Have I mentioned that it was a great year in theater? Portland Playhouse pushed Wilson’s harshest play right into our faces at the little church on Northeast Alberta, giving it room to ruminate (to the irritation of some), and the slapping us around a little big more. If you missed Peter Macon as King Hedley, you missed a volcano.

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Mutual embrace: Damaso Rodgriguez and Artists Repertory Theatre: Finally, we had a little talk with Allen Nause’s replacement at Artists Rep, who has had both little theater and big theater experience down in Los Angeles. You know what? He was very impressive. Welcome to Portland!

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Goodness gracious… that was a lot. But a lot more awaits in 2013, we hope. See you around!

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