Unit Souzou


Oregon music organizations respond to corona culture cancel with livestreaming

On Wednesday, March 11, Cappella Romana executive director Mark Powell faced a tough decision. The Portland vocal ensemble had a performance scheduled for that Saturday. But the coronavirus now threatened all concerts. Gov. Kate Brown had just prohibited public gatherings of greater than 250 people, half the attendance the group was expecting. And with the virus spreading and responses racing, even that might change. But the group had already rehearsed its performance of Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy, singers from around the country had already arrived to join the Portland-based performers, 500 seats had already been sold, and the venue, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, couldn’t add a second performance if they wanted to split the audience in half.

Powell called his counterpart at Portland Baroque Orchestra (where he also used to work), which also had a concert coming up that weekend. “I was just going to call you,” PBO’s executive director Abigail McKee replied. With news arriving of concert cancellations around the country, the orchestra had just decided to livestream their Friday performance and had secured portable video equipment and a videographer. Would Cappella Romana like to use them for their Saturday show?

Powell leapt at the offer, canceling Saturday’s live performance. PBO in turn made the same offer to yet another Portland music group, Big Mouth Society, for its Sunday afternoon concert. All three wound up livestreaming their shows for the first time, and all declared the unexpected streaming experiment a resounding success. A week later, Portland taiko/dance ensemble Unit Souzou also livestreamed a show, by which time circumstances had changed in this rapidly evolving crisis.

With other Portland performing arts organizations also now planning to livestream events during the crisis, this month’s streaming experiments offer lessons pertinent long after 2020’s virus crisis and Great Culture Cancel have passed.


DramaWatch: A new stage of “Otherness”

Unit Souzou turns to live streaming to present part of its performance project "The Constant State of Otherness." Plus: what isn't happening in local theater.

It’s lonely out there.

You might have that sense these days merely from looking outside. As Americans and others around the world practice — to unfortunately varying degrees — the newly ascendant and essential principles of social distancing, our streets appear emptier and therefore lonelier, and it’s not a big step to imagine that many folks sheltering in place (odd use of “sheltering,” as though the novel coronavirus were falling like acid rain) alone are sheltered in a lonely place.

Michelle Fujii has a different sense of it. She has long felt the loneliness of the outsider.

Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, co-directors of Portland-based taiko-theater company Unit Souzou. Photo: Intisar Abioto and New Expressive Works.

An artist who has forged a career out of representations and explorations of her cultural identity, formerly as artistic director of Portland Taiko and for the past several years as co-director of Unit Souzou, Fujii has lately been digging into what her company’s current performance project calls The Constant State of Otherness.


MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!

Cancellations, confirmations, and quarantine playlists

Bad news, everyone! No, it’s not quite the end of the world, at least not yet–and that’s probably the scariest thing of all. It seems we never quite hit Full Disaster, and if the Great Malthusian Dieoff really is underway it’s apparently content with taking its sweet time with us. Instead of a full-blown crisis, we get a series of morally debilitating crises which drain us but don’t ever amount to much (except for the people directly impacted by these subapocalyptic crises, of course, but they’re usually poor, old, foreign, or some other shade of invisible).

Not that we’re wishing for a full-blown crisis: but our minds sure go there in a hurry, don’t they? You’ve seen all the memes by now: on some level of our social psyche we find it easier to hoard toilet paper than to wash our hands more often. We don’t like the small, rational fixes. We like to dream big, and we like to nightmare big too. We like to panic. We like to ostrich.

That, paradoxically, is why the present author has been so gratified to see the concert cancellation notices pouring in. Denial and panic are two sides of the same apocalyptic coin, a rejection of measured responses in favor of whichever easy option is more comfortable (note that neither denial nor panic require much effort). Instead, everybody’s actually talking about it, weighing options and doing their own research, grappling with their social responsibilities, and coming to their own conclusions in the old contest between “safety is job one” and “the show must go on.”


What is involved in the making of a dance? What does the duality of Shiva and Krishna look like in Bharatanatyam? What happens behind the scenes at a circus? What does the space between two people look like? How do you play a skeleton piano? How can you express yourself in performance beyond the conventional? What happens when you bring a writer, dancer and a filmmaker together in a small space? These are all questions that this weekend’s performances will address. If you don’t go, you will never know.

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Evidence of a dance, Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth.

Marginal Evidence (an interactive experience of dance-making),
Katherine Longstreth
October 1 – November 14
White Box, 24 NW 1st Ave
6 pm October 1, Opening Reception
3 pm November 7, Panel discussion with paleontologist Theodore Fremd, artist Sara Huston, and Mark Johnson, a criminologist with the Portland Police Bureau.

Twenty years ago Katherine Longstreth, a Portland dance artist, received a camera for Christmas from her father, she took the camera to rehearsal, turned it on and forgot about it. Twenty years later after moving to Portland Oregon from New York she unpacked and found these beta tapes, had them converted and realized that they were the only record she had of the full rehearsal process of any of the dances she ever made. Little did she know that the footage she took of herself in those rehearsals, would become the spark for Marginal Evidence, a visual art exhibit that she developed, which opens tonight, at University of Oregon’s White Box gallery.

Marginal Evidence is a visual art installation about the intimate act of choreography. Dance is ephemeral and when it is gone, what is left? How do we know it existed? What is the evidence left behind? Using the approach of a forensic investigator, Longstreth reveals the private process of dance making and exposes the inner life of archival materials.

“My goal was to try to lift the lid metaphorically on the creative process and my creative process is dance: that’s what I am using because that’s my material and my expertise. I am hoping it will reverberate for any artist in any kind of creative process.”

She was also interested in broadening the definition of choreographer. What would be created if you took an artist from one field and had them create art in a field outside of their discipline? What would they make?

Using set design, text, illustrations, diagrams, photographs and video projections, Longstreth has created an interactive experience in collaboration with filmmaker, Dicky Dahl, and composer, Loren Chasse. As visitors move through the three rooms at the White Box, they will be encouraged to engage with the materials by reading, touching, watching and listening to it.

Inspired to look at this research process through different lenses, Longstreth has organized a panel discussion on November 7  at 3 pm, with paleontologist Theodore Fremd, artist Sara Huston, and Mark Johnson, a criminalist with the Portland Police Bureau. A Q & A with the artists involved with the exhibition will follow.

Choreographed by Jayanthi Raman and Guru Adyar Lakshman, presented by RASIKA
7 pm October 2
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Choreographed by Jayanthi Raman, this troupe of seven professional Bharatanatyam dancers from India and the US, will perform Anubhava. The word has many meanings but generally refers to the ecstatic experience of the divine. The first half of the dance will be about Lord Shiva, the Hindu god known as the destroyer, and the second half will be about Lord Krishna, the most popular Hindu god identified by his dark blue skin (the color of a dark monsoon cloud) and his love of cows.

Raymond Silos of Ballet Fantastique

Guest artist Raymond Silos of Ballet Fantastique

Cirque de la Lune
Ballet Fantastique, directed by Donna and Hannah Bontrager
7:30 pm October 3
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Set in the 1930’s depression era, Ballet Fantastique will take us behind the the scenes of a traveling circus company just an hour before curtain. Mother and daughter choreographic duo from Eugene, Donna and Hannah Bontrager, have created a contemporary ballet piece that sets the scene on faded grandeur and romance, combining texture and illusion, set to original music by Troupe Carnivàle, Mood Area 52, and Betty and the Boy. Expect the unexpected. Guest starring three folk orchestras and international guest circus artist Raymond Silos.

Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe in 88: Hachi Hachi

88: Hachi Hachi
Unit Souzou, directed by Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe
October 2-4
Zoomtopia, Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont Street
Portlands newest professional Taiko company, Unit Souzou, will perform 88:Hachi Hachi directed by dance artist Susan Banyas. A new work that weaves taiko, dance and theater, the piece will investigate the space that exists between two people in a percussion journey.

Skeleton Piano Dances
Agnieszka Laska Dancers
October 3-4
Bodyvox Theater, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Now in its twelfth year, Agnieszka Laska’s modern dance company will be searching for the truths that have occupied human minds for centuries: what is true, what is worth fighting for, and what is worth being lost.

The evening will fuse modern dance choreography, video work by Takafumi Uehara and live music by three living composers—Jack Gabel, Dan Senn and Jennifer Wright—on the Skeleton Piano. Wright has written Obscure Terrain for Laska and will be playing a shot glasses, wire brushes, timpani mallets, picture wire, scrap wood, a homemade bottle cap mandolin rail, cannibalized hammers and keys, a tambourine stick, magnet strips and a junkyard cymbal. You can get a sneak peek to her marvelous music on Vimeo.

Performance artists Kelly McGovern

Performance artists Kelly McGovern.

Lucy Lee Yim, Kelly McGovern, Future Death Agency and Antibody Corporation
Presented by Lacuna Club & Performance Works NW
9 pm October 2, Lacuna Club, 5040 SE Milwaukie
8 pm October 3, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th
One performance, two locations, two different days, brought to you by Lacuna Club and Performance Works NW, this show features Portland performance artists Lucy Lee Yim, Kelly McGovern, Future Death Agency, and Chicago-based Antibody Corporation, who will be performing new works.

Pure Surface
Dora Gaskill, Tyler Brewington, Justine Highsmith
6 pm October 4
Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny St<
Curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, Pure Surface is a performance series interested in encouraging cross-disciplinary practice and performance by bringing together movement, text and film in the spirit of improvised collaboration. Each month a new group of artists is brought together in the intimate, open air setting of Valentine’s and performance is made. This month’s artists are dance artist Dora Gaskill, writer Tyler Brewington and filmmaker Justine Highsmith.