ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”


Ain’t no mountain high enough

Third Rail Rep's "Annapurna" dives into the depths of middle-age regret from the heights of the mountaintop

Sharr White’s two-person play Annapurna drops us into the center of a hellhole surrounded by the snow-peaked Rockies, the infinite crags and features of the mountains that cut the country in half with an immense buckle. The mountains are so high in some places that it snows in July at the crests. Sunburns happen all year ’round, and oxygen becomes rarer with the elevation.

Here, in this alpine isolation, director Isaac Lamb, actors Karen Trumbo and Bruce Burkhartsmeier, and Third Rail Rep take on the vistas of middle-age regrets. We’re in a trailer, the kind owned by a fugitive. Scenic designer Kay Blankenship has us in years-old soaked grime, grease, and perma-dust that has settled and become a petrified feature of the longhouse hovel. The trailer looks like the backseat of a teenager’s car cluttered with moldy food cartons, curdled milk bottles, dirty laundry, and trash. The only elements that seem missing from this realistic set are random hairs or nail clippings, but no one would want to look that closely. If this home is a picture of the owner, the owner is a hot mess.

Burkartsmeier and Trumbo: the height of depths. Photo: Owen Carey

Burkhartsmeier and Trumbo: the height of depths. Photo: Owen Carey

The king of this ragged castle is Ulysses, played by Burkhartsmeier, whom we meet for the first time in his natural state except for an apron made from an old towel tied around his waist. He’s a large man who’s settled onto the path of aging, but his crystal-clear eyes still beam from beneath their almond lids. He carries a hyper-blue backpack that slings a tube around the front of his face and is held into his nostrils. It’s oxygen. His dog is that dog of the neighborhood, the one who won’t quit barking day or night. It could be neuroticism, idiocy, or a mean streak, but all understanding aside, it’s damn annoying. Just when you suppose you’re not uncomfortable enough, Ulysses’ ex-wife comes through the door.