One of Oregon’s most interesting dance companies, Eugene’s DanceAbility International, is coming to Portland this weekend. Next Movement, the company’s collaboration with Eugene’s equally innovative Orchestra Next, will be presented at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at Southeast Portland’s New Expressive Works.
DanceAbility, which was founded in 1987 by Alito Alessi, who still runs it, is built on a simple but profound idea: All bodies move, and all movement can be beautiful. The performers over the years have ranged from talented and highly skilled professional dancers to amputees, people in wheelchairs or on crutches, and people with cerebral palsy or mental or emotional differences.
And the result can be truly beautiful. From intense variation, Alessi and company create movement that meshes into something transformative. Alessi’s methodology, I wrote about a 2013 performance, “is simply to approach the world as it is, and to find the beauty in that. ‘The real thing happens,’ he says, ‘when you work with everybody.’ … You find what’s possible with a group of performers, Alessi says, and you work from that: ‘What I’m looking for in my dancers is not only how they can move, but who they are.’”
The emphasis in a DanceAbility performance isn’t on the “otherness” of the performers — after all, we are all “other” in one way or another — but on the simple joy and beauty of planned movement, and on the fullness of expression of the movers. Alessi and company have taken their approach global, with classes and workshops and performances, and even during the pandemic they were able to keep things going: “There was a squeeze, but we went online and continued on,” Alessi said in an email exchange. “We have been busy. Good things happening in teaching and performing.”
And he was pleased with the collaboration with Orchestra Next, a professional training ensemble which is led by composer, trumpeter, and University of Oregon music professor Brian McWhorter and is also the house orchestra for Eugene Ballet. “The thing unique with this show was the music and dance was a total collaboration with DanceAbility and Orchestra Next,” Alessi said. As the program elaborates: “The piece was formed by the dancers and musicians bouncing ideas off of each other in a collaboration exercise led by Alessi and McWhorter. Each rehearsal was a step toward building the lyrical movement and music you will experience.”
Open & Shut at the Portland Art Museum
If you’ve been in downtown Portland recently you might’ve noticed the street barriers along Southwest Jefferson Street between Park and Tenth, and the bashing of the bricks along the south wall of the Portland Art Museum’s Belluschi Building. It’s part of construction of a new loading dock that’ll take trucks into the museum from Jefferson and out again on Southwest 10th Avenue, keeping traffic backups to a minimum. And that project is a prelude to construction of the long-planned Rothko Pavilion, a 95,000 square foot project that will connect the museum’s two buildings, add gallery space, and vastly improve access to existing galleries.
Construction on the glassed-in pavilion is expected to begin this fall and continue into 2025. In the meantime, a lot’s up in the air. PAM will stay open throughout the remodeling and construction process, but which parts will be open or closed, and when, will be something of a movable feast.
While several of the museum’s galleries will remain open and several new exhibitions are scheduled, a lot of spaces are shut down, many for the duration. They include, in the main building, the fourth-floor Northwest Art galleries, the second-floor Native American galleries (beginning May 12), the lower-level Prints and Drawing gallery, the European galleries, the first-floor Asian Art galleries and the Chinese galleries, the second-floor American and Silver galleries, and, in the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, the fourth-floor galleries and the photography gallery.
In addition to what’s on view in the remaining permanent galleries, several new shows are in the works, among them the potential crowd-pleaser Guillermo Del Toro: Crafting Pinocchio, opening June 10; the highly promising Black Artists of Oregon, which opens Aug. 16 and will feature both current and historic artists; and, from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Africa Fashion, opening in November.
Opening in October and continuing through April 2024 will be Throughlines: Connections in the Collection, a potentially liberating exhibition of works from throughout the museum that are in different collections but somehow make creative sparks together. In addition, Hito Steyeri: This is the Future, the show of artificial-intelligence art that Georgina Ruff reviewed for ArtsWatch, continues through June 18; and the museum’s film arm, PAM CUT, will hold its fourth annual Cinema Unbound Awards June 22.
The Margaret Chapman Costume Design Apprenticeship
“A lot of people talk about ‘a life in the theater,’ but few have managed it as completely as Margaret Louise Chapman, a Portland theater stalwart known and admired for decades as one of the city’s finest costume designers,” I wrote shortly after Chapman died in February, at age 71.
Now Chapman, who was legendarily talented and legendarily liked in Portland theater circles, has a fitting memorial: The Portland Civic Theatre Guild has set up the Margaret Chapman Costume Design Apprenticeship, a $15,000 fund to be renewed annually for three years, to provide one student each year with a yearlong apprenticeship in costume design at Oregon Children’s Theatre, including a full year’s tuition at OCT. The first student will begin this fall.
“I think this is such a wonderful way to honor Margaret,” Adair Chappell, the theater guild’s president, said. “I think it is just perfect. We announced it on Sunday (at a memorial service for Chapman) and the crowd erupted in applause.”
The guild’s Chrisse Roccaro added: “Isn’t it a great idea? Adair dreamed it up, the PCTG board spent about four minutes raving about then approving the idea, Dani [Baldwin, artistic director of OCT’s Young Professionals Company] at OCT loved it, and the next day it was a done deal. We’re very pleased.”
The details, according to the guild: “During this season-long apprenticeship, one Young Professional (YP) will be selected by interview to work alongside OCT Costume Designers on two productions to provide a well-rounded understanding of the scope of work. The Apprentice will then work as the Costume Designer for the third show of the YP season, with support from a mentor. Each Apprentice will end the season with a resume of demonstrated hands-on experience and knowledge, and a portfolio of their own, professional-level design work.”
The torch, as they say, is being passed. And it’s hard to imagine that Margaret wouldn’t be pleased.
Bridgetown’s gala and the very good guest
Left: Chasten Buttigieg, special guest at the Bridgetown gala. Right: Broadway producer and Bridgetown patron Corey Brunish and Jessica Rose Brunish.
Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre, the Portland academy that sends its young students to university programs and performing companies across the country and that shares its space in the Tiffany Center with the professional theater training program The Actors Conservatory, is getting ready for its big annual fundraising gala on Sunday, May 20, at the Tiffany Center’s Crystal Ballroom.
For Bridgetown it’s a pretty big deal, with a $100,000 fundraising goal. And showing up as the evening’s special guest is another pretty big deal: Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation and former presidential aspirant. “‘Knowing who you are’ is at the cornerstone of Bridgetown training, and Chasten embodies that idea,” the conservatory’s artistic director, Rick Lewis, said.
Buttigieg has his own theater background. “Growing up, theater helped me find my voice,” he once wrote. “As an educator, I had the chance to help my students use the arts to find theirs. We need leaders who believe arts education is a necessity, not a luxury, so every young person can realize the best in themselves.”
Meanwhile, another notable friend of Bridgetown, the Broadway producer and former Portland actor Corey Brunish, is upping the ante on the annual scholarship program he started a year ago for Bridgetown students. That year’s $3,000 award went to graduating student Finn Rutis, who used it to help begin his freshman year in musical theatre at Molloy College. This year’s award, which will be announced at the gala, ups the amount to $4,000.
It’s been a good year for the multiple Tony-winning Brunish, too, who’s just upped his total Tony nominations (he’s won four) to 15 with a fresh crop for this spring’s awards. He’s nominated as a producer for Parade (best revival of a musical), The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (best revival of a play), and Fat Ham (best play). In addition, he’s an investor in the nominee New York, New York (best musical).
Demons, Trust, & the 2023 Pulitzers
This year’s Pulitzer Prize awardees were announced Tuesday, and they include, in their cultural categories, double winners for the year’s best work of fiction: Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield to impoverished Appalachia; and Hernan Diaz’ Trust, a novel of wealth, love, and power “in a country where capitalism is king.”
The winner in drama is Sanaz Toossi’s English, a play “about four Iranian adults preparing for an English language exam in a storefront school near Tehran,” and the poetry winner is Carl Phillips’ Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007-2020.
Winner of the music Pulitzer is Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels’ opera Omar, about enslaved people brought to North America from Muslim countries; and the winner in criticism is Andrea Long Chu of New York magazine, “for book reviews that scrutinize authors as well as their works, using multiple cultural lenses to explore some of society’s most fraught topics.”