Pablo Neruda

The unkindness of strangers

James Canfield's distillation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" highlights NW Dance Project's premieres, with Sarah Slipper's dance of love

The funk and sweat and desperate seediness of New Orleans are so thick in the air above James Canfield’s new dance Sketches of Connotation that you can almost smell them rising from the stage of Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s an intoxicating aroma.

Sketches, Canfield’s distilled evocation of Tennessee Williams’ beautiful nightmare of a play A Streetcar Named Desire, is the anchor of NW Dance Project’s fifteenth-season-ending Summer Premieres program, which opened Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s a gorgeous, exquisitely crafted piece of dance theater, the work of a choreographer who’s stayed true to his longtime vision of dance as a reflection of popular culture and who now, as a veteran artist, seems fully in control of his considerable imaginative skills.

William Couture, Anthony Pucci, Colleen Loverde, Kody Jauron, Katherine Loverde, and Franco Nieto in the world premiere of James Canfield’s Sketches of Connotation. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

NDP’s program of three premieres also includes company artistic director Sarah Slipper’s Save Me the Plums, a sweet and often funny dance of love and loss performed beautifully by Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto; and Felix Landerer’s angsty All’s Been Said, in which a dancer in a polar-bear mask declaims about magicians and climate change.

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Poetry and politics collide in “Neruda”

Director Pablo Larrain ("Jackie") depicts Pablo Neruda's run from the law in 1940s Chile

Poets don’t typically make for very engaging cinematic protagonists. Even such dramatic lives as those of Allen Ginsburg and Sylvia Plath haven’t resulted in especially gripping movies. But we’ve now had two films about poets—one fictional, one real—open in Portland in the last couple of weeks, and each has its distinct charms.

Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” stars Adam Driver as a bus driver who finds inspiration in the quotidian details of his daily life. It’s a testimony to the poet as ordinary guy, and we reviewed it here. Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda,” on the other hand, takes as its subject one of the most larger-than-life figures in 20th century literature, which allows it to be as much about Pablo Neruda’s political and hedonistic exploits as his aesthetic ones.

Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in “Neruda.”

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The poet in twilight: Neruda before the fall

Milagro's 'Ardiente Paciencia' is a sweet lovers' tale before the outside world lowers the boom

To quote the flower-selling daughter of a well-known Cockney philosopher and man-about-town, “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! … Is that all you blighters can do?”

Andrade, Samayoa, Mendoza: the poet and the lovers. Russell J. Young Photography

Andrade, Samayoa, Mendoza: the poet and the lovers. Russell J. Young Photography

Well, no. But even among the most poetically besotted, there are times when life moves beyond the magic of words, and speech should stop. Such a moment arrives, in Antonio Shármenta’s play Ardiente Paciencia, when the young lovers Mario and Beatriz drop their pretenses and their speaking and a good deal of their clothing, and do a slow sensual dance, rolling a fragile raw egg over each other’s bodies in looping patterns that may be like writing and are definitely about feeling and touching and just being. As Miss Eliza Doolittle wouldn’t have had to say if Freddy Eynsford-Hill had had half the gumption and animal sense of Mario the postman, just shut up and show her.

Words are central to Ardiente Paciencia, which has just opened at Milagro Theatre, and which revolves around the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, in the latter years of his life but mostly before the 1973 right-wing coup d’état by Augusto Pinochet and his troops. That other, earlier, September 11 atrocity overthrew Salvador Allende’s elected Socialist government, with which the longtime Communist Neruda had been allied, and inaugurated decades of repression in a nation that had been a comparative beacon of democracy in South America.

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