Robert Huffman

ArtsWatch Weekly: February roars

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

The Fertile Ground festival of new works is tucked safely in bed for another year, and the city’s still tuning up for the Portland Jazz Festival, coming February 18-28 (Charles Lloyd! Dianne Reeves! Sonny Fortune! Brian Blade!). That doesn’t mean you get to relax. We’re heading into an extraordinarily busy week, from theater openings to First Thursday in the galleries to a revamped Late Now to the Oregon Symphony’s visit to The Planets, with a side trip to some piano parables by Paul Schoenfeld.

Enough with the intro. Let’s dive right in, starting with theater:

Dael Orlandersmith. Photo: Mikey Mann

Dael Orlandersmith. Photo: Mikey Mann

Forever at Portland Center Stage. The newest from writer/performer Dael Orlandersmith, in the intimate Ellyn Bye Studio. Marcel Proust, Richard Wright, Jim Morrison, and the legacies of family, biological and chosen. In previews; opens Friday.

What Every Girl Should Know at Triangle. It’s 1914 in a Catholic reformatory. The new girl shows up, bringing an attitude and some contraband: pamphlets on birth control distributed by Margaret Sanger. Opens Thursday.

You for Me for You at Portland Playhouse. Gretchen Corbett directs Mia Chung’s provocative drama about two sisters attempting to flee North Korea. Opens Friday.

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Remembering Robert Huffman

Rehearsing with the longtime ballet pianist, who has died at 78, was like having a concert pianist and an inspiring artistic partner in the studio

By GAVIN LARSEN

The dance studios of Portland are dimmer, and more hushed, following the passing of Robert Huffman at age 78 on January 16 after a brief illness. Pianist, accompanist, performer, comedian, friend, confidant, mentor, and inspiration to many generations of dancers and teachers, Robert leaves us poorer, yet richer for the wisdom, characteristic wit, vibrancy and love that defined his life.

Nancy Davis, artistic director of The Portland Ballet (where Robert was principal accompanist since the school’s inception in 2001), considered him to be Russian at heart, and savored his playing of Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Khachaturian. Carol Shults, who taught classes with Robert at the piano since the mid-‘80s, will always think of him as French because of his delicious interpretations of Debussy. And Nick Jurica, a former TPB student now studying at Juilliard, says he learned to love and appreciate Ravel thanks to Robert’s music. Who knows how many other identities this one musician adopted with the countless dancers and teachers who experienced his accompaniment over the decades.

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet's "La Boutique." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet’s “La Boutique.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

The list of schools and companies where Robert worked includes every iteration of what is now Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Jefferson Dancers, Northwest Academy, and Whitman College. But his music reached much further than this region: an abbreviated roster of important ballet world figures who taught to Robert’s music includes Mark Morris, Keith Saunders, Trey McIntyre, Alonzo King, Melissa Hayden, Paul Sanasardo, Ed Kresley, Denise Dabrowski, Gelsey Kirkland, and Jacques D’Amboise.

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