portland ballet

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks again

On a day of sharing, we talk about giving and receiving, and then dig in to Oregon's lavish cultural banquet: the arts beat goes on


TODAY IS A DAY OF GIVING THANKS, HOWEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO SO. Here at ArtsWatch, some of us are on the road, traveling to visit family. Others have already reached their destinations. Some are hosting dinners or meeting with friends. Some are already busy in their kitchens, chopping and baking and simmering and laughing and preparing for a grand meal. We imagine you’re doing much the same. Some of you might even be busy in soup kitchens or food pantries, helping to cook and serve a good hot meal for people who don’t always get one. Some of you might be in line, waiting. 
 

Childe Hassam, Oregon Stlll Life (detail), 1904, oil on canvas, 25 x 30.25 inches, Portland Art Museum. Gift of Col. C.E.S. Wood in memory of his wife, Nancy Moale Wood. (On view in Belluschi Building; the museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day.)

Oregon is a land of bounty, as Childe Hassam’s delicious painting above from more than a century ago attests. Enjoy, share, and nurture it. Revel in its natural and creative wonders. Be generous. In a time of division and antagonism, help make it a place for everyone. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And thanks for being part of ArtsWatch. We’re here thanks to you.  

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Dance never sleeps

June is dancing out all over on Oregon stages: what, where, and when

If you think dance has left the building for the summer, you’re half right. While it’s not the mad crush of fall and spring, summer means festivals, which, in turn, means several artists packed into a single weekend. Summer also marks year-end recitals and the beginning of barefoot-in-the-park season, when we can all enjoy some fresh air with our art. (For every kid who fell hard for ballet after seeing The Nutcracker, there must be an equal number whose love of dance was inspired by the the dazzling swirl of Mexican folkloric dancers’ skirts viewed at close range.)

Where, besides in theaters, can you find June dance? In a winery, on a road trip, and even—we’re told—around a swamp in Forest Park. People of every age, shape, and skill level are making dance this month, in well-known styles and newly smashed-together genres. What’s your pleasure?

International and cultural dance styles

Cosecha Mestiza takes viewers for a spin at the Wilsonville Festival of the Arts. Photo courtesy of Wilsonville Festival of the Arts.

Wilsonville Festival of the Arts
June 1-2
Town Center Park, Wilsonville
wilsonvillearts.org

If you’ve never been to the Wilsonville Festival of Arts, what have you been waiting for? The event is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with art you didn’t know you needed until you did, such as the mobile opera truck and the mask parade.

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Doing the dance — in 3D design and in ballet

Highlights in Yamhill County include art exhibitions focused on wood, faces, and student work, while Portland Ballet offers a glimpse of life as a dancer

When I’m paying attention, I occasionally catch word about a Yamhill County artist showing his or her stuff at the Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. So let’s kick off this week’s round-up of what’s going on arts-wise with Totem Shriver.

Shriver is an adjunct professor of 3D design at Linfield College, and he’s showing wooden relief sculptures at Bush Barn, along with pen-and-ink drawings and collages that served as the gestation phase of the ideas that found completion in 3D pieces. According to the program materials: “Totem begins each work with drawings and collages in order to discover new approaches to the carving process. His two-dimensional pieces unfold innovative ideas of positive and negative space and are featured alongside his sculptures.”

Totem Shriver's collection of drawings and wood carvings runs through April 20 at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem.

Totem Shriver’s collection of drawings and wood carvings runs through April 20 at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem.

“Every day I am an artist,” Shriver writes in his artist’s statement. “Decisions about what to make and how to make it are constantly running through my mind. Art and life are the same. Aesthetic decisions, concepts, theory all need to come together. And then there is the work. New skills, old skills, materials. It is indeed a dance of sorts.” His goal is to “do the dance, make the work and put it out into the world as much as possible.”

Also at Bush Barn, there’s time to catch Jennifer Kapnek’s images of tree branches coupled with “serene, color-drenched fields,” and the 10th annual Young Artists’ Showcase, which features work by hundreds of K-12 students from Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties. Bush Barn is at 600 Mission St. SE in Salem.

THE PORTLAND BALLET IS REACHING OUT TO NEWBERG this Friday with a free Outreach Performance at the Chehalem Cultural Center. The ballet’s “most advanced, pre-professional dancers” will do a 45-minute show featuring a demonstration of a dancer’s daily exercise routine, an opportunity for audience involvement, and performances of various repertoire selections to give folks an idea of ballet’s stylistic possibilities. The program will include selections from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Rip/Tide by Jamey Hampton and Ashley Rowland of BodyVox. Doors open at 7 p.m. March 23, the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Dancers Maggie Rupp and Peter Deffebach perform a pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” one of several pieces that Portland Ballet dancers will perform Friday in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: Blaine Truitt Covert

Dancers Maggie Rupp and Peter Deffebach perform a pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” one of several pieces that Portland Ballet dancers will perform Friday in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: Blaine Truitt Covert

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‘She never wanted to leave anyone out’: Bonnie Merrill, 1935-2019

Collaborators remember a Portland dance pioneer’s generous spirit

Generations of Portland dancers—with one conspicuous exception—turned out to see Minh Tran’s concert Anicca (Impermance) last weekend at Reed College. Tran’s work, inspired by the recent deaths of his parents, premiered just a week after one of his teachers, Bonnie Merrill, succumbed to leukemia on Valentine’s Day. Tran’s piece, already weighted with grief and memory, felt like a kind of elegy for Merrill, an influential Portland dancer, instructor, and choreographer, and a founding mother of the city’s contemporary dance scene.

Merrill's work We Gather was performed at the citywide Portland arts festival Artquake in 1994. Photographer unknown.

Bonnie Merrill dances a solo in Donald McKayle’s “Collage.” Photo courtesy of the Merrill family.

Merrill kept her Portland dance card full for close to 40 years. She worked with modern and ballet companies, public school students, and collegiate dancers from Portland State, Lewis and Clark, and Reed. She created more than 100 works that were performed on film, onstage, and in city streets. Along the way, she forged creative alliances with musicians and visual artists, and earned accolades including the only Oregon Governor’s Award for the Arts given to an individual dance artist.

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This week is more about connecting with friends and family, contemplating gratitude, and consuming vittles than imbibing music, but Oregon nevertheless offers its usual bounty of concerts this week if you know where to look.

Lucas Pitts stars in the Portland Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

One place is in a dance performance: the Portland Ballet’s annual live-music enhanced Thanksgiving show this time features John Clifford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Friday-Sunday at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall. Ken Selden leads the PSU Orchestra and opera singers in Mendelssohn’s ever-sparkling score, accompanying an 80+ member cast in one of the season’s most reliably entertaining events.

An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas features Chicago/Broadway musical star Evan Tyrone Martin reminding us why Cole was one of the last century’s finest singers. Friday-Sunday at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre.

Evan Tyrone Martin covers Nat King Cole this weekend.

Speaking of Portland State, a free recital Tuesday at Lincoln Hall celebrating the PSU String Scholarship Fund features some of the city’s finest classical musicians, including cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, violinist Tomas Cotik, pianist Julia Lee and PSU students playing Vivaldi, Bach, Gliere, Handel, Popper, Granados, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.

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A Danish pastry, via Napoli

Preview: Oregon Ballet Theatre premieres a lavish version of a 19th century Danish story ballet set in Italy, with a heroine made for today.

Teresina, the heroine of Napoli, is a woman for our time. Don’t believe me? Go see Oregon Ballet Theatre’s sparkling new production of August Bournonville’s signature ballet, which opens the company’s 29th season at the Keller Auditorium on Saturday night. With a libretto by Bournonville, and a score by E. Helsted, Gade and Paulli, with whom the choreographer collaborated in the same way as Petipa with Tchaikowsky, and Balanchine with Stravinsky, this is a 19th century story ballet with which 21st century audiences can relate –– and particularly with fiery, independent Teresina.

In all three acts of the great Danish choreographer’s lighthearted ballet about common Neapolitan people (there isn’t an aristocrat in sight) she is a take-charge kind of gal, in control of her life and her future: “I’ll decide whom I’ll marry,” she declares without words in Act I, choosing Gennaro, the fisherman, over Giacomo the macaroni seller and Peppo the lemonade seller. Her widowed mother would prefer greater economic stability for her daughter, and incidentally for herself. But Teresina prevails and despite a looming storm, she and Gennaro go off for an evening boat ride and some alone time. He, the hapless hero—a convention of 19th century story ballets –– manages to lose her in the stormy seas, and returns to land without her.

Makino Hildestad in OBT’s 2015 production of the third act of “Napoli.” The company premieres its full-length production of the 1842 Bournonville story ballet on Saturday. Photo: James McGrew.

“Give me that medal, I’ll do this myself,” she asserts, equally wordlessly, in Act II when her fiancé finds her in Capri’s famed Blue Grotto, and fails to act quickly enough to save her from the unwanted attentions of Golfo, a sea demon who dwells there, happily turning maidens into Naiads whenever he gets the chance. And thrusting the medal depicting Mary, Mother of God (another strong woman) straight at her would-be seducer, she stops him cold.

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Fresh faces, historic ballet

A hundred years after Ballets Russes's sole Portland performance, the young dancers of The Portland Ballet delve into the Russian tradition

“Ms. Davis, this is my daughter, she’s 5, and I’m wondering if you have a class she could take?”

“What a wonderful show. My daughter has been studying ballet since she was 8, she’s 12 now, do you think she could study at Portland Ballet?”

These were two of the many questions fielded by Nancy Davis, who with Anne Mueller is co-artistic director of the The Portland Ballet, immediately following the conclusion of their spring concerts at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall on the last Saturday in May.

And I couldn’t help thinking that these and other questions were inspired by the palpable pleasure the young performers were taking in being on stage, dancing their hearts out in a difficult program that demanded the mastery of quite different techniques and styles.

Henry Winslow and Naomi Rux in “Les Sylphides.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program was keyed to ballet history in Portland and elsewhere, and began with Les Sylphides, the Michel Fokine ballet that Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performed here a century ago, in the spring of 1917. Set to an arrangement of Frédéric Chopin’s music by that most Russian of composers, Alexander Glazunov, it premiered as “Chopiniana” at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1907. The version performed by TPB, its third revision by the choreographer, was made for the Ballets Russes’s first tour to Paris, and premiered at the Théâtre du Chatelet, in 1909, with Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky heading the cast.

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