Boom Arts

June DanceWatch: Back on stage

Oregon Ballet Theatre leads the way as Portland dancers perform for live audiences for the first time since the pandemic hit.

Summer is back and so are the dancers. Live and in-person, as a matter of fact! Throughout June, you can find dancers in the courtyard at the Oregon Museum of Industry and Science (OMSI), on the lawn of a private residence in Lake Oswego, at Zidell Yards in Portland’s South Waterfront district, throughout Portland’s public parks, in the trees at Mary S. Young Park in West Linn, and at the experimental performance hub, Performance Works NW in Southeast Portland. Suddenly, dancers are everywhere!

Who knows what the future may bring, but at this moment, the veil has lifted, and life as we knew it—with dancers performing for live audiences—is returning. But don’t worry, all of the performance venues require masks and social distancing, so you will be safe. And just to warn you, you might be shocked at how much you missed the dancers, so bring the tissues. Things might get emotional. 

From left to right OBT dancers Xuan Cheng, Brian Simcoe, Christopher Kaiser, and Jessica Lind rehearsing Nicolo Fonte’s 𝘊𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘰𝘴. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

One of the companies gearing up to perform outside is Oregon Ballet Theatre. The state’s biggest dance company will be performing June 5-12 on the new Jordan Schnitzer CARE Summerstage at OMSI. The outdoor stage is a shared vision between Portland Opera, the ballet, and the science museum to safely bring back live ballet and opera performances to Oregon audiences. 

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Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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Art on the road: Circus in Montréal

From the Big Top to radical, utopian, emancipating dreams, the circus world is on the rise – and this Canadian city's in the center ring


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


IN THE STAUNCHLY CONSERVATIVE, predominantly Catholic German village of my childhood, we children eagerly anticipated three occasions each year. Carnival came around in February, an affair that allowed the entire population to break the social rules and party to the point of excess. Kids collected massive amounts of candy thrown during the parade of the few floats the village could muster, and adults knew that all would be forgiven come confession on Ash Wednesday.

In November we jumped around the bonfires of St. Martin’s Day, with paper- lantern processions illuminating the dark streets at night. Your kindergarten teacher, wearing a ratty red velvet cape that the saintly knight was said to have shared with a beggar, handed out hot cross buns to all. Both occasions were goose-bump territory: being around unrecognizable, disinhibited adults at the beginning of the year could be mystifying. Being allowed out into the cold night at the end of the year, with fires reflected in the silver helmet of St. Martin’s apparition, could be overwhelming.

Neither, however, compared to the emotions riled up when the circus arrived each summer. This was in the 1950s, over half a century ago, mind you, and circus was still a rather modest affair. They’d pitch a tent on an empty field between the diocese and the fire station, with bleachers in the round close enough to the small arena that you could see the sweat on the acrobats’ faces and smell the cheap brown stage makeup of grown men playing, I shudder to say, cowboys and Indians while performing tricks on the backs of some exhausted ponies. And always, always, a ravishing maiden with a trained poodle. Poor poodle.

Circus School students and acrobats performing on the streets of Montreal during Montréal Complètement Cirque festival

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Boom! Big changes as season ends

Boom Arts founder Ruth Wikler takes a top circus job in Montréal; Tracy Cameron Francis takes over as the company's new artistic director

The end of a season is always a moment of transition for a company. But for Boom Arts this year the transition will be much bigger than normal. Company founder Ruth Wikler has announced she is stepping down and taking a position as Director of Circus Programming for TOHU in Montréal, Canada.

Boom Arts’ board has selected Tracy Cameron Francis as the company’s next artistic producer. Francis is a first-generation Egyptian-American director, producer, deviser, dramaturge and educator. She is the festival director of the Cascade Festival of African Film and has worked in greater Portland with Milagro, Corrib, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Bag & Baggage, and PICA’s TBA Festival.

Tracy Cameron Francis, Boom Arts’ new leader.

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Dreaming about ‘Tomorrow’

Boom Arts 8: The New York ensemble The TEAM talks about "Tomorrow Will Be ...," its new, made-in-Portland show, playing Friday-Saturday

The three members of the New York theater ensemble the TEAM don’t call Tomorrow Will Be…, which they’ll present Friday and Saturday in Portland at Boom Arts, a show. “I feel weird calling it one thing,” says Zhailon Levingston. “A person who is looking for a one-sentence description might need to take a leap of faith.”

Tomorrow is also a switch in plans. Originally TEAM was going to present Primer for a Failed Superpower, an all-ages community concert featuring a multigenerational group of singers performing new arrangements of classic protest songs, for the last show of Boom Arts’ season. But early this year the company announced that TEAM would be presenting a new work, Tomorrow Will Be….

The “Tomorrow Will Be …” team, clockwise from top left: Zhailon Levingston, Orion Johnstone, Nehemiah Luckett, Ben Landsverk.

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Boom update: hold the choir

New York's The Team drops "Failed Superpower" and its community choir from its Boom Arts run in Portland, substitutes a new show

The last show in Boom Arts’ season of “festive revolutions” was set to be New York-based the TEAM’s Primer for a Failed Super Power. But last week Boom announced in a press release that while the TEAM still will be the final artist of the 2018-19 season, Primer for a Failed Super Power will no longer be the show they present. Instead the Team will perform Tomorrow Will Be…, an “interactive evening of song-sharing and community celebration inspired by the TEAM’s choral concert project Primer for a Failed Superpower.”

The Team’s “Primer for a Failed Superpower” in New York. Set to be recreated in Portland with a community choir, it’s being replaced by a new work. The Team photo

The largest difference between the two shows is that Tomorrow Will Be… does not feature a community choir the way Primer for a Failed Super Power did. The new production will debut in Portland, and still involves Portland-based musician and choir director Ben Landsverk. Different guest artists and activists are slated to appear in each of the performances and be followed by a social justice fair.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: UPDATE


As part of our ongoing series on Boom’s season, we’ll talk with the TEAM about this new project and how it’s different from Primer for a Failed Super Power. The performance dates and venue remain unchanged, May 10 & 11 at The Old Church, and tickets are available at Boom’s website.

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TJ Acena has been covering Boom Arts’ 2018-19 season from inside and out for Oregon ArtsWatch. His previous pieces in the series:

  1. Boom Arts’ festive revolution. Embarking on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change.
  2. Boom Arts: Puppets from Kiev. From Ukraine, a 10-day dash of song, theater, puppetry and culture.
  3. Penny Arcade, back in town. Boom Arts brings the celebrated performance artist to town for the second time in a year with an old favorite and some new projects.
  4. Boom Arts: the executive chair. New executive director Kamla Hurst talks about planning, risk, and growth.
  5. Boom Arts: The halftime report. Acena looks back on the first half of the 2018-19 season and ahead to what’s still to come.
  6. Boom goes fishing with puppets. “Puppetry is a way of looking at acting,” Dominga Gutiérrez, co-founder of the Chilean troupe Silencio Blanca, tells Acena.