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News & Notes: Wild & woolly festival in the Gorge, gender imbalance at the barre, geezer gathering, crisis in the family

Maryhill Museum's "Exquisite Gorge II" throws a party. Who is and isn't getting ahead in the ballet world. Geezer Gallery gets a new home. A Portland artist's child faces a health crisis.

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Maryhill Museum of Art’s grand group fiber-arts project culminates in a giant festival on Saturday, August 6. Friderike Heuer’s coverage of the art and artists started last November with a trip to a sheep ranch, source of the wool that makes the fibers. Photo: Friderike Heuer

ON SATURDAY, August 6, it all knits together: the Festival of Fiber Arts, on the grounds of Maryhill Museum of Art, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge from the Washington state side of the river, about 110 miles east of Portland. The free gathering celebrates the completion of Exquisite Gorge II: Fiber Arts, a months-long project pairing fiber artists with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River, from its confluence with the Willamette River in the west to its confluence with the Snake River in the east.

Things will kick off on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. with a sheep-shearing, because, well, sheep have wool, and wool is spun into yarn, and yarn can be turned into art. Various activities will go on from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, including artist demos, hands-on activities from felting to spinning to weaving, and more. You can even watch a 70-foot fiber-art sculpture being assembled on the museum grounds.

ArtsWatch readers have had a chance to learn about the project from its beginning in a series of stories by writer, photographer, and visual artist Friderike Heuer, who’s visited the artists in their studios, linked their work to the larger art world, and taken hundreds of photographs of the work in progress. You can see all of her stories about the project collected here.

And you can see her entire collection here of stories and photos from Maryhill’s first Exquisite Gorge project, in 2019, which gathered printmakers to create works along the same 220-mile stretch of river, and which resulted in the making of a 66-foot-long print, pressed on the museum grounds by a steamroller.

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Eugene Ballet’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.” The Eugene company is the nation’s 46th largest ballet company. Portland’s Oregon Ballet Theatre ranks 21st. Photo: Aran (Ari) Denison © 2019 All Rights Reserved.

“BALLET IS WOMAN,” George Balanchine famously said, but he meant it in a limited way. The ballerina was the ideal, a beautiful being pirouetting on a platform carefully constructed by men: male choreographers, all too often falling in love like Pygmalion with the statues they were sure they’d carved, and showing them off to applauding audiences. Male artistic directors. Men in the board rooms; men writing donor checks.

That was then, of course. This is now. And … what’s changed? To find out with a little precision, I like to check in now and again with the Dance Data Project, an organization that keeps tabs on the numbers in the worlds of national and international ballet, and that pays special attention to the differences in treatment of men and women, often in cold cash terms.

Who gets the money? Who holds the jobs? If ballet is woman, why aren’t more women running the show?

The bigger the company, the more male-dominated it tends to be, a Dance Data Project report released last week suggests — and the dominance reaches right down to the wallet. The report refers to the imbalance as “the persistence of a glaring gender-based pay and opportunity gap.”

Of the 50 largest ballet companies in the United States, the study found, just 15, or 30 percent, have woman artistic directors. That figure’s held roughly the same over the past five years. And how much are those leaders paid? Among the 50 biggest companies, women artistic directors made 63 cents for every dollar paid to male artistic directors. That figure represents a 10-cent drop from as recently as 2019, when woman ADs were paid 73 cents for every dollar given to their male counterparts.

Among the second tier of 50 companies, the imbalance is a little lesser. In that group, 39 percent of companies have women artistic directors. And in the third tier — the 101st to 150th biggest companies — women actually hold 57 percent of the artistic directorships.

On the business side, intriguingly, women more than hold their own in sheer numbers (51 percent of the top 50 companies have woman executive directors) and come much closer to financial equity (they make 93 cents for every dollar that their male counterpoints are paid). It’s worth tossing into the conversation that women are much more prominent in leadership roles in contemporary and experimental dance. It’s also worth mentioning that such companies tend to work on far slimmer budgets.

Where do Oregon’s ballet companies rank on the DDP list? Oregon Ballet Theatre, in Portland, is the nation’s 21st largest. Eugene Ballet is 46th. The biggest company in the Northwest is Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, which ranks seventh nationally. San Francisco Ballet is the nation’s second-biggest, and Ballet West, in Salt Lake City, ranks 11th. The top five nationally are, in order: New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet.

Oregon Ballet Theatre has always had a male artistic director, save for a brief period when former company dancer Anne Mueller served as interim artistic director. Eugene Ballet has always had a woman artistic director: Toni Pimble, who co-founded the company in 1978.

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Katarina Svetlova, director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School. Photo: Apis Photography

OREGON BALLET THEATRE, meanwhile, has some leadership news of its own. The company announced Thursday that is has hired Katarina Svetlova as director of the OBT School. The appointment is effective immediately. She had been appointed the school’s interim director in May while the board did a national search.

For Svetlova, it’s something of a homecoming, and for OBT, a reconnection with its own past. Ballet followers remember her as a teenaged member of the company under founding artistic director James Canfield: She was 15 when she joined the company in 1995, and quickly became an audience favorite, remaining as a principal dancer through 2002.

She then returned to her native Germany as a principal dancer with Deutsche Oper Am Rhein Ballett, touring extensively in Europe and Asia until retiring from performing in 2007. Returning to the U.S., she taught and coached for OBT’s School, Central Utah Ballet Academy, Vancouver School of the Arts, Columbia Dance School, Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy, Steps PDX, and The Portland Ballet. In 2011 she founded the ballet school Dance From the Heart PDX, training more than 900 child and adult dancers over 10 years.

Svetlova had received much of her early training in Miami from Haydee Gutierrez, and followed Gutierrez to Portland to continue her training after Gutierrez was named director of the OBT School.

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IT COULD BE THE BEST-NAMED GALLERY in Portland, and now it has a new home. The Geezer Gallery has announced it’s moving into new digs, at 3147 S. Moody Ave., in the Emery Building on the city’s South Waterfront. It’ll celebrate with a grand opening party 5-9 p.m. Saturday, August 13, with wine, music, and a lot of life-experienced good cheer.

The Geezer Gallery’s motto is “A Whole New Old,” and it champions the work of older artists as well as therapeutic art programs for older people. It’s done regular exhibitions at Oregon Health & Science University, Artists Repertory Theatre, and elsewhere, and its tongue-in-cheek name reflects a certain irreverence that belies stereotypes of “senior citizens” and recognizes the continuing power and imaginative scope of seasoned artists.

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April Coppini, “Buff Tail Bumblebee,” print with pastel, 15 x 29 inches, Imogen Gallery, Astoria.

AN ARTIST FRIEND INTRODUCED ME the other day to the work of April Coppini, a Portland artist who, in my friend’s estimation, is an artist to watch, with excellent drawing skills and a masterful touch with charcoal. It’s true: Coppini is a keen observer of the natural world, which she represents and expands upon with a fine line, suggesting life and movement among insects, birds, opossums, deer, fox, flowers, and more.

But Coppini’s artistic skills weren’t the only things on my friend’s mind. Coppini, she told me, has three children, including a 20-year-old who’s been severely disabled by a spinal manifestation of hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that has “rendered them extremely weak and fatigued, unable to walk, talk, brush their teeth, read, watch things or engage in the world in any way for more than a few moments here and there.” Surgery can help but is expensive and would have to be performed out-of-state. Coppini has begun a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $75,000 to make the surgery possible; you can see details at the link.

In an artist’s statement for her work at Imogen Gallery in Astoria, Coppini describes “this puffy, far away feeling of disbelief. … things DO keep going, but at a stutter and stop — for hospital stay, for research, for moments of struggle and extreme emotions … any plans for the future ride on what happens next and these drawings have come bumping out on waves — rougher around the edges than usual, as I try to show up where I’m needed and still be myself, full of all of this.”

Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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