imago theater

DanceWatch Weekly: a world, a world

An interview with Linda Austin on the culminating chapter in her series on memory and movement, plus "Nutcrackers" and more

Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Merry Christmas.

Jamuna Chiarini

Hold onto your hats, dance lovers, because you have a dizzying 11 dance concerts to choose from this week! And, because we are especially strapped for time in this accelerated period of the year, I’m going to attempt to make this week’s performance listings briefer-ish, except for an extended preview of Linda Austin’s a world, a world, which I caught a glimpse of last week. In this version of DanceWatch you’ll need to click on the links for performance information.

Continuing for a second week at the Keller Auditorium is George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre accompanied live by the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra.

Candace Bouchard dances in The Nutcracker one last time before retiring from Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

The students of The Classical Ballet Academy, directed by Sarah Rigles, Candalee Wrede, and Sissy Dawson, will perform an assortment of holiday-themed dances for different tastes and attention spans, from a full-length version of The Nutcracker to a contemporary version of A Christmas Carol, as well as a condensed Nutcracker and an even more condensed version called The Nutcracker Sweet Suites to be performed by the youngest dancers. You can catch all of it at Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University.

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‘The Lady Aoi’ and ‘Revenge of the 47 Loyal Samurai’: Noh meets noir, kabuki goes to college

Imago Theater’s production of Mishima’s play is a tight, nuanced production involving ancient roots and modern sensibility 

In 2012’s Black LizardImago Theatre director Jerry Mouawad winningly merged the “physical theatre” of his famous teacher, French actor, mime and teacher Jacques Lecoq, with another stylized theatrical form, kabuki. Despite their differences, the combination worked because both forms tell stories through movement, gesture and design more than dialogue and narrative.

The source for that colorful spoof was a Yukio Mishima play drawn from a 1930s Japanese pulp novel that was in turn inspired by American film noir and pulp fiction. As I wrote then, what distinguished that show wasn’t the pulpy story so much as “the clever, layered way the creators combine evocative non-realistic action, movement, scenic and sound design.”

'The Lady Aoi' runs through March 27 at Portland's Imago Theatre. Composite graphic: David Deide.

‘The Lady Aoi’ runs through March 27 at Portland’s Imago Theatre. Composite graphic: David Deide.

That goes double for Mouawad’s second Japanese-tinged production. The Lady Aoi shares with its predecessor a Mishima source (his 1954 modern noh play by that title, which in turn was inspired by a character from the classic millennium-old Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji); dramaturgy by Portland State University Japanese studies professor Lawrence Kominz, who specializes in the study and staging of Japanese theater; touches of humor; the excellent composer John Berendzen; Mouawad’s inimitable scenic sensibility; and even a leading man, the redoubtable Matt DiBiasio.

Yet though both succeed on the basis of their production rather than their respective stories, the two shows deliver quite different emotional impacts. If the colorful, eventful Black Lizard veered close to 1960s Batman (around the time Mishima wrote his version), the less convoluted, more austere, and ultimately more chilling Lady Aoi is closer to Dark Knight Batman, or even more, early ‘60s Twilight Zone, a haunting modern ghost story that’s a triumph of subtlety and atmosphere.

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There’s the Portland theater scene. And then there’s Imago. Although it’s one of the city’s most venerable theater organizations, Imago Theater has always operated artistically on the fringes of the tapestry that is Oregon theater. Founders Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle come from a mime theater tradition very different from the realist inclinations that have animated so much American theater in the past century.

Freed from some but not all financial constraints by its ownership of its historic building (including rehearsal and workshop space) and the annual success of crowd pleasing, family-friendly shows like Frogz and biglittlethings, Triffle and Mouawad have the luxury of experimenting with theatrical forms in their other shows. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it changes your way of seeing the stage — which is to say, as the Bard reminds us, the world.

It means that without conventional Western theater’s premium on realism, Imago (which means, in Latin, “image”) is all about stage magic. What you see isn’t necessarily what you get. And that makes the best Imago shows fascinating in a way unlike any others in Oregon.

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