A Midsummer Night’s Dream

DanceWatch Weekly: A Flamenco evening via Sevilla

Find the castanets and prepare for Flamenco, por favor

In Sevilla, Spain, about a week or so after Holy Week (a yearly Catholic tribute to the Passion of Jesus Christ that takes place during the last week of Lent), the people throw a really big party celebrating Andalusian culture, with loads of flamenco dancing, music and tapas. It’s called Feria de Abril.

Thanks to Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland, both the brainchild of Flamenco dancer Brenna McDonald, we Portlanders can celebrate Feria de Abril right here in our own home town on Saturday night at the AudioCinema under the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge. From 5 pm to midnight, under the warm glow of string lights and fragrant flowers, you can experience the pulse and heat of flamenco music and dance, and the flavors of Spanish food.

Feria de Portland as it is called in Portland, will transport us to Sevilla while celebrating Oregon’s own Flamenco community with performances by dancers from Portland Flamenco Events, Beach Elementary Dance Program, Espacio Flamenco Portland, Elena Villa, 3shine Flamenco, guitarist Ricardo Diaz, Los rumberos, Pepe Raphael and DJ Blas. The tapas will be supplied by Morgan St Theater – Inspired ice creams, Crown Paella, M&M Catering, and J.Molina Pasteleria.

Flamenco, an improvisational form of dance, is a folkloric tradition that combines song, dance, instrumentals (guitar mostly), hand clapping and finger snapping. This art form is an amalgamation of centuries of cross-pollination between the many cultures that have existed in Spain. Because it is a folkloric tradition passed down orally until the mid-18th century, its history is imprecise. Its evolution is widely debated, but it is thought to be greatly influenced by the Roma people, called Gitanos, who migrated from Rajasthan (Western India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, bringing with them tambourines, bells, castanets and a variety of songs and dances. The arm, hand and foot movements of Flamenco closely resemble those of classical Indian dance styles. These traditions combined with the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and Moors make up the Flamenco we see today.

The Flamenco dance (baile) can be characterized by the light graceful arm movements of the female dancer and the contrasting stomping foot drills of the man. It is intense, passionate, sexual and deeply emotional.

The song (canto) which is the core of Flamenco has three forms: grande or hondo (grand or deep) which is intense, profound, tragic in feeling and steeped with duende, which is the transformation of the musician by the depth of emotion; intermedio (intermediate), which is moderately serious; and pequeño (small), marked by light, energetic songs of love.
The Spanish playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, who grew up in southern Spain and was greatly inspired and influenced by the Roma culture, spoke in depth about duende in his essay Theory and Play of the Duende, written in 1933.

Performances this week

Feria de Portland, 5 pm-12 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Brenna McDonald.

Feria de Portland
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
5 pm-12 pm May 13
AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison St.
See Above.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 6-28. Photo courtesy of Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 6-28
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a month chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843. May also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. (Chinese workers made up a large part of the workforce for the line.)

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes.

This weekend’s programs includes performances by the Thai Association of Oregon, Vancouver Dance Troupe, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, and the Haiyan International Dance Academy. Check out the full schedule for specific dates and times.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Anita Menon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Anjali School of Dance, Anita Menon
Hosted by Walters Cultural Arts Center
2 pm May 13
Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E Main St., HIllsboro
Anita Menon, the founder and director of Anjali School of Dance, a Bharatanatyam dance school in Hillsboro is interested in finding ways to help connect her Indian dance students to the dual cultures that they live in, and to connect American audiences to Indian culture.

This “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” combines Shakespeare and Bharatanatyam. When it debuted in 2012, ArtsWatch Bob Hicks wrote, “Anjali’s “Midsummer Night” is gorgeous to look at, from its rich temple-inspired costumes to the architectural snap of its precise group formations, which suggest a singularity of movement and purpose that a Radio City Rockette would understand. This is spectacle, in a good sense, a work that saturates the eyes and pleases the senses. It’s in constant motion, shape-shifting to a mix tape that’s authentic to the spirit of the American stewpot: it tosses in a little bit of everything from classical Indian music to Beethoven’s Fifth, Bollywood songs, and hip-hop. In that sense it reflects the shifting multiplicities of everyday life in Indian American communities. And unlike compressed ballet versions set to Mendelssohn’s brilliant score, Anjali’s “Midsummer” is leisurely and expansive, playing out most of the comedy’s major themes and using a narrator (actor G. Scott Brown, as Shakespeare himself) to set up the action and summarize the scenes.” You can read Hick’s full review of the production here.

Memories of Mom, May 13-14. Photo courtesy of Wanderlust Circus.

Memories of Mom
Presented by Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso
May 13-14
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
Portland’s Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso pair together to tell the phantasmagorical story of ringmaster William Batty’s early boyhood in the Victorian slums, his boyhood shenanigans, and his ailing actress mum, in this blend of circus arts, dance, melody and rhythm.

An American in Paris Broadway Tour, May 16-21. Photo courtesy of An American in Paris Broadway Tour.

An American in Paris
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 16-21
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
This award-winning touring production, inspired by George Gershwin’s time spent in Paris during the 1920’s, features music by George and Ira Gershwin as well as choreography by the former New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer, Christopher Wheldon. Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

Performances next week

May 6-28, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 19-21, Junior Artist Generator, BodyVox Dance Company
May 20, The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance, Hosted by New Expressive Works and Anjali School of Dance
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 21, Refinery: A Work in Progress Showcase, Hosted by Dance Wire
May 24, Spectacle Garden Birthday Show, Curated by Ben Martens

Upcoming Performances

May
May 25, PCC Spring Dance Concert, Hosted by the Portland Community College Dance Program
May 26-28, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, 6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26-27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
May 27, La Peña: ¡Baila, canta, toca!, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

ChamberVox shakes things up

Chamber Music Northwest and BodyVox dance to the music of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

At heart, dancing is moving to rhythm, and that means it’s almost inseparable from music. There are exceptions and variations: experimental cases when dances are created without sound; the Merce Cunningham/John Cage partnership, in which movement and music were created deliberately in isolation from each other so one would not influence the other, but were performed together; contemporary pieces with more or less arbitrary music that might better be described as “specimens of sound” (which, of course, can make their own sort of music); dances in which extended periods of silence are part of the score. But on the whole dance and music are pretty much happy bedfellows, cohabiting almost by instinct.

A fairy queen cavorting with a donkey: Anna Mara as Titania and Brent Luebbert as Bottom in "Midsummer." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A fairy queen cavorting with a donkey: Anna Mara as Titania and Brent Luebbert as Bottom in “Midsummer.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

So the relationship between Chamber Music Northwest, Portland’s premiere summer music festival, and BodyVox, one of the city’s leading contemporary dance troupes, seems like a natural, and it’s beginning to be a tradition. This year’s collaboration, which opened Thursday night at the BodyVox studio in Northwest Portland and continues through July 23, brings a third player into the mix, too: that musically savvy playwright, William Shakespeare. Titled Death and Delight, the program pairs a version of Romeo and Juliet set on Sergei Prokofiev’s R&J Suite with a new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream danced to Felix Mendelssohn’s ravishing score.

Continues…

A late autumn night’s dream: magic, mixups, and who we are

Evocations of the Other in 'Midsummer Night,' 'Ephemory' and 'No ... You Shut Up'

Tim True, Linda Alper, Andy Lee-Hilstrom, Daisuke Tsuji, Todd Van Voris, Damon Kupper. Photo: Patrick Weishampel.

 

Like a music lover waiting eagerly for a certain shift of cadence in a well-known symphony, I always look forward to that moment in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when Titania, queen of the fairies, wakes from her drug-induced slumber and first sets eyes on donkey-headed Bottom. O revelation! O feckless bliss! Her world turns!

This is a moment of high comedy, the mirror-opposite of the illusion-shattering moment when the little boy pipes up and breaks the spell in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and actors generally milk it for all it’s worth. It’s the moment when the illusion is born, when sense becomes nonsense and any attachment to reality (which is already tenuous, considering that we’ve been frolicking in the forest of the faeries) disappears. Since the audience understands this but neither Titania nor Bottom does, the joke rises and bubbles and takes off.

Yet as funny as it is, the moment also holds a seed of sadness: we’re watching ourselves, or our theatrical stand-ins, in our most addled and ill-advised of states. This moment of faux falling in love, it seems to me, is a quintessential artistic illustration of our capacity for self-deception. We can call it “magic,” and in the play it is, but it strikes me that magic, like hypnotism, won’t work if the capacity for deception, or betrayal, or wickedness, or call it what you will, isn’t already lurking somewhere deep inside, waiting to be awakened. Something within Titania finds itself attracted to this utter ass of a mortal man, and though that something’s usually deeply and safely buried, it’s there nonetheless. The same holds true for the young lovers who hop from infatuation to infatuation under the spell of the drug: Hermia and Helena and Lysander and Demetrius are a mixup of affections and attractions (the boys, predictably, more so than the girls, who seem to know what and who they want), or the magic wouldn’t work. True love is never entirely true. Selfishness and the illusion of adventure persist. We are attracted to, and also repelled by, the idea of the Other.

Maybe it’s the recent national election, may it rest in peace. But in a race that seemed to hinge on one side’s almost pathological reluctance to entertain the notion of the “other” as anything other than “other” – the reprehensible and misguided 47 percent of “takers,” the “lockstep” African Americans and Hispanics who represented a “problem” to be overcome rather than a partnership to be embraced, the homosexuals who would be wed – “Midsummer” seems an intriguing metaphor for our national muddle of fractured self-identity. With its donkey-headed weaver and scrambled lovers and bickering royals and cries of cultural doom (the young lovers essentially do the equivalent of running off to live in Canada), Shakespeare’s comedy seems to root around in the murky undergrowth below our invasive shrubbery of twisted intentions and strange bedfellowings, and unearth some of the muck of our national malaise. Who are “we,” what is “they”? If we don’t understand “them,” and why we think what we think about “them,” how do we understand ourselves – especially if “ourselves,” in the larger sense, encompasses “them”? Is it possible, it feels reasonable to ask, that the Indian changeling boy might be something more than an exotic prize to be won; that he might actually have a central role to play in the deciding of his own fate?

Whether such questions are truly embedded in the play (and I think they are) or are simply extrapolations from a culturally restive mind, they seem to rise naturally from Portland Center Stage’s lush and charming new production of “Midsummer,” which is directed by the former Oregon Shakespeare Festival mainstay Penny Metropulos and features talented performers and designers gathered from here (Portland), there (Ashland) and everywhere (Chicago, California). The production has an easy, almost regal flow, organically blending sight, sound and action into an invigorating, pleasurable, and mostly seamless whole. For the few who haven’t experienced “Midsummer” before, it’s a clear and lovely introduction to one of the greatest comedies ever written. For old “Midsummer” hands, it explores the play’s nooks and crannies with illuminating and satisfying charm.

The production’s look is both comfortingly familiar and challengingly diverse. Michael Vaughn Sims’ set, with its hanging picture-frames and gnarly-rooted trees, has that classic fairy-tale sense of being realer than real, a landscape that’s not just alive but also strangely sentient. Diane Ferry Williams’ lighting gives the set a refracted Arthur Rackham or Kay Nielsen glow; Deborah M. Dryden, who has just retired after many years as resident costume designer at the Shakespeare fest in Ashland, wittily blends periods and attitudes, from Elizabethan to Goth to James Dean punk, into an inexplicably congruent whole. (Could it be she’s figured out the inclusive part of this whole “other” thing?)

A few things struck me, as a veteran of more “Midsummers” than I can count, about this one in particular.

First, Metropulos took care to cast the young lovers as very different from one another, not peas in a pod. Ty Boice’s young-rebel Lysander and Joel Gelman’s buttoned-down junior executive of a Demetrius would dislike each other even if they weren’t rivals in love; Kayla Lian’s barking Chihuahua of a Hermia and Jenni Putney’s festering Rottweiler of a Helena may be from the same species (which accounts for their supposed friendship) but have fundamentally differing personalities. This makes the quarreling more plausible, and adds a suggestive undertone to the loveplay: opposites repel, but they also attract.

Second, Ashland vet Daisuke Tsuji’s circus background gets an amusing workout in his performance of Puck, who “can put a girdle round about the earth” in 40 minutes. On a slow and moony night, he’s the speed demon who keeps the action rolling: at one point he leaps deftly backward between the roots of one of Sims’s gnarly trees, disappearing like a stray thought. Tsuji also lends the show a wayward operatic air, now and again breaking out mid-speech into song, or at least recitative, and adding an unexpected layer of melodrama to the stylistic fantasy.

Third, I found myself viewing the story mainly (and unusually) through the eyes of the two sets of royals, Titania and Oberon and Hippolyta and Theseus. This is partly because Dana Green and Richard Baird, who played both pairs of sparring lovers, seemed to be most at ease with the language, giving the poetry room to roam but never allowing it to overrule the stress and meaning of the text. They sounded elevated, natural, and dramatically expressive – the Shakespearean trifecta – and both also acted physically with precision and ease. It also struck me, particularly with Theseus and Hippolyta, that other-ness was central to their relationship, and that fact seemed a key to the play. Hippolyta, remember, was an Amazon queen, defeated in battle by Theseus and then, contrary to expectation, drawn to him in a union of romantic and personal parity. In their case, the “other” becomes the “one,” a stronger and more elastic if less comfortable “one,” with lofty political, cultural and personal ramifications. Republicans and Democrats, take note. (Side observation: In Greek mythology, Hippolyta’s father, the war god Ares, gave her a magical girdle. Did Shakespeare borrow that idea and hand it off to Puck?)

Fourth, my one important regret: I wanted to see the lovers at least struggle against the magic when Puck misapplied it and turned the objects of their affections in the wrong directions. This wish goes along with my understanding of the play as a matter of a struggle between warring dominant and recessive desires inside each of the major characters: an “othering,” if you will, of the self. Demetrius, remember, believed himself in love with Helena until Hermia came along. There was something real in that. And surely Lysander doesn’t find the prospect of having Helena as a lover entirely disgusting. Yet considering that Hermia is his soulmate, I’d expect him to at least hesitate a little against the power of the magic. But here, the juju’s unstoppable: one little whiff and the lovers’ heads are spun completely around. This bothers me even though I concede that sometimes in Shakespeare, you have to simply accept what happens, illogical as it seems. King Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale,” for instance, develops a sudden, fierce, and entirely unwarranted jealousy of his wife and his great childhood friend. Why? Well, because it says so, that’s why.

This is such a charming and well-integrated cast that I can’t slip away without applauding the rest: the cannily cornpone James Newcomb as a neighing ass of a Bottom; Linda Alper, flexing her farcical muscles, as Quince; Todd Van Voris as a sweetly meek Robin Starveling; Damon Kupper as Snout; Andy Lee-Hillstrom as Flute; Tim True as Snug; and Dylan Earhart, who plays a mean toy piano, as the Changeling Boy. (The mechanicals double, quite winningly, as the fairies.)

***

Sometimes the strangers we don’t understand are those closest to us. Our parents, perhaps. Perhaps the simple yet all but impermeable barriers of time. “Ephemory,” Miriam Feder’s semi-autobiographical new play continuing through Nov. 25 at the little Headwaters Theatre in deep North Portland, is the affecting tale of a middle-aged daughter coming to grips with the failing memory and inevitably approaching death of her aged mother, and at the same time learning for the first time in depth about the astonishing if largely anonymous story of her Jewish mother’s escape from Nazi Germany and eager embrace of the American way of life.

Collage courtesy Such a Production

The ignorance of children about their parents’ lives before the children existed is common. The effort to break through and understand is quietly remarkable. “Ephemory” is a jigsaw puzzle of a play, with most of its pieces hiding in the past, and it has a documentary, reportorial quality – but a kind of reporting in which the author is intimately and unapologetically part of the story. “As my Mother exhaled her last breath,” Feder writes in her program notes, “I suddenly felt both the permission to work with her story and the urgency to do so.”

Feder’s stand-in, as Ruth, the grown daughter sorting through the memorabilia in her mother’s home and the increasingly shaky memories in her mind, is played with quiet openness by Alana Byington: a little frustrated, a little astonished, a little guilt-ridden, a little dictatorial, but always wanting to learn and understand. Carolyn Marie Monroe is eager and winningly brash as the young Carole, breaking from her home in Germany and embracing the opportunities in the teeming city of New York.  Kaycheri Rappaport plays Carole as an old woman, forgetful and fitfully lucid but happy, all in all, with the life she’s led. Chris Shields and Amanda Mehl take on a variety of roles, and the adaptable David Mitchum Brown marches manfully through all of the male roles, from old-world father to new-world lover to soldier and latter-day husband.

What seems remarkable about “Ephemory,” which is directed by Debbie Lamedman, is that Carole’s story isn’t remarkable – or rather, that it’s remarkable in a way that so many immigrants’ tales are, especially the stories of those who found safety from the horrors of the Holocaust, whether they left before, during or after. Carole is one of the fortunate ones, and one of the many whose loss to Europe was America’s gain.

It’s not so much the role of art to challenge the politics of identity as it is the nature of art to explore it. Who are we? How did we get that way? Why do we think and feel the way we do? Yes, art can be didactic, but when it is, it usually lessens itself. In a human sense, politics can only follow where art has already explored. The great American symbol of inclusion, the Statue of Liberty – also known as the “Mother of Exiles” – implores the world to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In many millions of stories like this, that remains the hope and strength of this immigrant nation – not border fences and exclusionary politics. Because, after all, the Other is Us.

***

Comedy on the razor’s edge. Courtesy Lauren Weedman

On Saturday night I drove to Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in the Kenton neighborhood to catch Lauren Weedman’s late-show performance of her monologue “No … You Shut Up.” It was unfortunately a short run, and Sunday’s performance was the last. So let’s just say, in case you missed it: Weedman’s a very funny woman.

Many Portlanders first saw her last year when she performed her solo show “Busted” at Portland Center Stage. She was so intrigued by her stay in town that she decided to write a show about life in our peculiar little corner of civilization. “The People’s Republic of Portland,” which she’s developing now, will premiere at Center Stage at the end of this season, April 30-June 9. Watch out, Portlanders: Weedman might very well put more than a bird on it. If “No … You Shut Up” is any indication, it’ll be more than bright and cute and safely quirky. Weedman’s got teeth, and she’s not afraid to use them.

Doing a solo show is like dancing on a razor blade: you’ve got to move fast and light or you’re gonna get hurt. There’s no place to hide, and you’ve got to be “on” without a lull: If you let the audience’s attention flag for a moment, you could lose them for good. Sometimes it’s closer to standup comedy than traditional theater, but it calls on both kinds of skills, and Weedman’s extremely good at them: we don’t see performers with her kind of physical and vocal focus and adaptability very often.

I’m not sure how much Weedman sticks to the facts of her own life in her solo shows, but I suspect that, like “Ephemory,” a lot of “No … You Shut Up” is autobiographical. And what begins as standard late-night TV joking – Weedman’s the protypical motormouth, a regular Lucille Ball with an attitude, always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and then having to try to clean up the mess she’s made – morphs ever so subtly into something much more tender and revealing. The laughs and the shocks are here, but in service to a fascinating and touching personal story. It involves adoption neuroses and a couple of split-ups and a widower with teen-agers and an “unadoptable” kid and a nightmare visit to the potential in-laws and, finally, a self-realization, or maybe a self-determination, that opens things up. Sometimes we, ourselves, are the “other” we don’t understand, but with a little effort we can stumble through. Laura, meet Laura. She’s actually pretty cool.

 

NOTES:

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the dance version, gets a run in town this weekend: The young dancers of The Portland Ballet, accompanied by several professional guest artists, bring back choreographer John Clifford’s version with live accompaniment by the Portland State University Orchestra of Felix Mendelssohn’s enchanting score, Friday through Sunday at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall. Details here.

Holly Johnson’s review of Center Stage’s “Midsummer” for The Oregonian is here.

Win Goodbody’s review of Center Stage’s “Midsummer” in Portland Theatre Scene is here.

Mitch Lillie’s review of “Ephemory” for Willamette Week is here.