Wanderlust Circus

DanceWatch Weekly: A Flamenco evening via Sevilla

Find the castanets and prepare for Flamenco, por favor

In Sevilla, Spain, about a week or so after Holy Week (a yearly Catholic tribute to the Passion of Jesus Christ that takes place during the last week of Lent), the people throw a really big party celebrating Andalusian culture, with loads of flamenco dancing, music and tapas. It’s called Feria de Abril.

Thanks to Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland, both the brainchild of Flamenco dancer Brenna McDonald, we Portlanders can celebrate Feria de Abril right here in our own home town on Saturday night at the AudioCinema under the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge. From 5 pm to midnight, under the warm glow of string lights and fragrant flowers, you can experience the pulse and heat of flamenco music and dance, and the flavors of Spanish food.

Feria de Portland as it is called in Portland, will transport us to Sevilla while celebrating Oregon’s own Flamenco community with performances by dancers from Portland Flamenco Events, Beach Elementary Dance Program, Espacio Flamenco Portland, Elena Villa, 3shine Flamenco, guitarist Ricardo Diaz, Los rumberos, Pepe Raphael and DJ Blas. The tapas will be supplied by Morgan St Theater – Inspired ice creams, Crown Paella, M&M Catering, and J.Molina Pasteleria.

Flamenco, an improvisational form of dance, is a folkloric tradition that combines song, dance, instrumentals (guitar mostly), hand clapping and finger snapping. This art form is an amalgamation of centuries of cross-pollination between the many cultures that have existed in Spain. Because it is a folkloric tradition passed down orally until the mid-18th century, its history is imprecise. Its evolution is widely debated, but it is thought to be greatly influenced by the Roma people, called Gitanos, who migrated from Rajasthan (Western India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, bringing with them tambourines, bells, castanets and a variety of songs and dances. The arm, hand and foot movements of Flamenco closely resemble those of classical Indian dance styles. These traditions combined with the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and Moors make up the Flamenco we see today.

The Flamenco dance (baile) can be characterized by the light graceful arm movements of the female dancer and the contrasting stomping foot drills of the man. It is intense, passionate, sexual and deeply emotional.

The song (canto) which is the core of Flamenco has three forms: grande or hondo (grand or deep) which is intense, profound, tragic in feeling and steeped with duende, which is the transformation of the musician by the depth of emotion; intermedio (intermediate), which is moderately serious; and pequeño (small), marked by light, energetic songs of love.
The Spanish playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, who grew up in southern Spain and was greatly inspired and influenced by the Roma culture, spoke in depth about duende in his essay Theory and Play of the Duende, written in 1933.

Performances this week

Feria de Portland, 5 pm-12 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Brenna McDonald.

Feria de Portland
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
5 pm-12 pm May 13
AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison St.
See Above.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 6-28. Photo courtesy of Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 6-28
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a month chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843. May also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. (Chinese workers made up a large part of the workforce for the line.)

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes.

This weekend’s programs includes performances by the Thai Association of Oregon, Vancouver Dance Troupe, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, and the Haiyan International Dance Academy. Check out the full schedule for specific dates and times.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Anita Menon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Anjali School of Dance, Anita Menon
Hosted by Walters Cultural Arts Center
2 pm May 13
Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E Main St., HIllsboro
Anita Menon, the founder and director of Anjali School of Dance, a Bharatanatyam dance school in Hillsboro is interested in finding ways to help connect her Indian dance students to the dual cultures that they live in, and to connect American audiences to Indian culture.

This “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” combines Shakespeare and Bharatanatyam. When it debuted in 2012, ArtsWatch Bob Hicks wrote, “Anjali’s “Midsummer Night” is gorgeous to look at, from its rich temple-inspired costumes to the architectural snap of its precise group formations, which suggest a singularity of movement and purpose that a Radio City Rockette would understand. This is spectacle, in a good sense, a work that saturates the eyes and pleases the senses. It’s in constant motion, shape-shifting to a mix tape that’s authentic to the spirit of the American stewpot: it tosses in a little bit of everything from classical Indian music to Beethoven’s Fifth, Bollywood songs, and hip-hop. In that sense it reflects the shifting multiplicities of everyday life in Indian American communities. And unlike compressed ballet versions set to Mendelssohn’s brilliant score, Anjali’s “Midsummer” is leisurely and expansive, playing out most of the comedy’s major themes and using a narrator (actor G. Scott Brown, as Shakespeare himself) to set up the action and summarize the scenes.” You can read Hick’s full review of the production here.

Memories of Mom, May 13-14. Photo courtesy of Wanderlust Circus.

Memories of Mom
Presented by Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso
May 13-14
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
Portland’s Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso pair together to tell the phantasmagorical story of ringmaster William Batty’s early boyhood in the Victorian slums, his boyhood shenanigans, and his ailing actress mum, in this blend of circus arts, dance, melody and rhythm.

An American in Paris Broadway Tour, May 16-21. Photo courtesy of An American in Paris Broadway Tour.

An American in Paris
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 16-21
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
This award-winning touring production, inspired by George Gershwin’s time spent in Paris during the 1920’s, features music by George and Ira Gershwin as well as choreography by the former New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer, Christopher Wheldon. Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

Performances next week

May 6-28, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 19-21, Junior Artist Generator, BodyVox Dance Company
May 20, The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance, Hosted by New Expressive Works and Anjali School of Dance
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 21, Refinery: A Work in Progress Showcase, Hosted by Dance Wire
May 24, Spectacle Garden Birthday Show, Curated by Ben Martens

Upcoming Performances

May
May 25, PCC Spring Dance Concert, Hosted by the Portland Community College Dance Program
May 26-28, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, 6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26-27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
May 27, La Peña: ¡Baila, canta, toca!, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

Continues…

‘A Circus Carol’ is familiar, yet incomparable

Mounting two distinct holiday shows with almost no crossover, Wanderlust's got it going on.

I’d heard of Wanderlust’s two holiday shows in (ahem) Christmases Past. I was aware that “White Album Christmas” and “A Circus Carol” were seasonal standards. Still, I had yet to seen them, and based on limited exposure to much older monthly shows at Bossanova, I’d made a few assumptions. I figured that the shows would be PRETTY great, but also pretty similar to one another, two forums to repackage the same talented circus acts, with a very simple narrative through-line.

When I caught “White Album” a couple weeks ago, the storyline at least was what I’d expected: a family of ringers from the audience—a little girl and her two ghastly parents—interacted contentiously with Mickens, and eventually the daughter (played by Meg Russell) took to the stage. Fair enough; broadly drawn heroes and villains drum up bigger yays and boos from an all-ages crowd. But as for the rest of the show…I was wowed. The band was particularly superb, and the routines were dazzling. The personnel were so plentiful, and the scene changes so sudden, and the show so long (about 3 hours), it was almost too much, and hard for even an avid note-taker like me to track. I thought, “Surely the next show will re-use some of this work. I’ll sit on these notes and write up both shows at once, telling what each notable act did at both events.”

Nope. As it turned out, “A Circus Carol” was completely distinct from “White Album,” with not just a different band, but a wholly different cast of characters, and a changed ratio of tricks to tale. Where “White Album” was a skill showcase hung on a thread of narrative, “Carol” was a full-fledged musical with very witty dialogue and a tasteful smattering of acrobatics. Two familiar faces from “White Album” were ringmaster Noah Mickens, who played Scrooge, and ingenue contortionist Meg Russell, who portrayed a (miraculously recovering to say the least) Tiny Tim. But by trotting out an otherwise all-new cast of multidisciplinary stars, Wanderlust proved so versatile and prolific that just chronicling their efforts was unwieldy.

As soon as jazz band 3Leg Torso shambled onto the stage in chimney sweep costumes, jawing at each “ovver” in cockney accents, we got a clue that this show would weave acting in with its musical offerings. A later appearance by accordionist Eric Stern as the Ghost of Hanukkah Present further cemented this, as he shuffled and shrugged around mumbling, “Oy, gevalt!” at Scrooge’s bad attitude. While the show tasked its musicians with acting, it also asked a handful of acrobats and swing dancers to sing. In the most extreme example, Terra Zarra as the Ghost of Christmas Past performed a head-spinning aerial routine on a hoop while singing “Carol of the Bells.” Vocally, it was already a feat of respiration and range, and acrobatically, it was a showcase of supreme grace and might. Altogether, in a sparkling ice-white leotard and skeletal makeup, she was pretty unreal. Swing dance luminary Russell Brunner even held up his half of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”—adequately, while, like a good dance partner, he let his lady shine. Bob Cratchit (played by juggler/balancer Charlie Brown) was notably near-silent and barely in character—kind of a shame since his off-kilter verbal wit was an obvious strength in a past appearance at Miz Kitty’s Parlour. Some story-suitable explanation for his props, from his stackable blocks to his sword, would have been helpful. Singer Scot Crandall as Marley did no tricks—except for singing “O Holy Night,” divinely.

Classic carols got plenty of reinterpretation: Mickens re-framed “Silver Bells” as an old man’s rant about the noise level of merriment (a la the Grinch). 3Leg reset “Joy To The World” as a Copland-esque composition with wild-west wide-open fifths, translated “Carol of the Bells” into a polyrhythmic world-beat jam, and mutated “Let it Snow” into a mournful minor polka. As the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come swung eerily from purple silks, the band used squeaks, rattles and resonating frequencies to create a first-rate horror-show soundscape. 3Leg’s versatility was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Even ghostly acrobats couldn’t upstage them.

The script found its humor in re-framing the Dickensian events into more modern terms: Do-gooders who canvased Scrooge’s counting house were “gentlemen on bicycles” (read: Mormons) the Cratchits (celebrating Hanukkah in this version) were strapped with their daughter’s student loans and payments on their Prius, Young Scrooge was too busy working on his MBA to properly court Belle. Scrooge defended his “humbug” attitude with a wry comment that his “friends at Coca Cola invented Santa Claus to go with their bottle.”

Performances that defy categorization are too often doomed to underrepresentation in the press. After all, it’s harder to declare “a fine representation of a form” when shows combine too many disciplines to parse. But in case you hadn’t heard, the huge collective of artists under the umbrella of Wanderlust Circus are generally working their multitalented asses off, full of surprises, and better than I (or probably you) could imagine. And even though the holiday shows have wrapped…it doesn’t show signs of stopping.

More Portland “Christmas Carol” Reviews: Portland Playhouse | Post5 Theater | Twist Your Dickens

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Wanderlust Social is a Cabaret, old chum

The eloquent melancholy of a ringmaster...and the weekly winter jazz jams that promise sweet relief

It’s been a tough month for Portland’s ringmaster. He’s had five friends die, and withstood an amicable split from his bellydancing life partner Tiare Tashick. But Noah Mickens kicks off his second weekly Wanderlust Social on Dante’s crimson-curtained stage with “Life Is a Cabaret.” He raises his pinky from his whiskey tumbler and arches his brows, effortfully lifting his spirits above malaise to sing words that are all too true:

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret…

****

Few local figures are quite as much larger than life as Mickens (save maybe the slinky, glittering, glamorous, serpentine  “Nagasita” Tashnick, just returned from Budapest, waiting in the wings to dance her number). Wanderlust Circus’s intrepid leader coordinates and emcees more touring shows each summer than he cares or bothers to count; he’s even franchised half of his brand to a second San-Diego-based touring troupe just to cover the growing demand. You may recognize him as the first sample of local color tapped for the “Portlandia” pilot, marshaling a parade of circus folk down the west esplanade.

But what’s more…Mickens is a character.

noah_mickens

photo by Xilia Faye

Always in his ringmaster alter-ego “William Batty,” but increasingly just as himself, Mickens sports pinstripes and a slicked-back coif. He affects antique, gentlemanly graces that can switch on a dime into roguish rambling. He’s a legend of his own making, as eager to recount his origin story as he is to promote the upcoming shows. He may be a master of many media—but he’s an absolute alchemist at ambience. Where Salvador Dali famously said, “I don’t take drugs, I AM drugs,” Mickens doesn’t make a scene, he IS one. Which is paradoxically why the new Wanderlust Wednesdays, he insists, are not about him. They’re a refuge for persons like himself: too glitzy, bizarre, romantic and fantastic for this humdrum workaday world. As he’s fond of calling them, his bohemian family.

But of course there are also more practical matters: Right now, Mickens is juggling two holiday cirque-stravaganzas, “White Album Christmas” and “A Circus Carol,” whose accompanists are, respectively, The Nowhere Band and 3 Leg Torso. This roster temporarily bumps the Wanderlust Circus Orchestra, a nine-member supergroup that Mickens has gradually recruited from other favorite jazz acts to accompany his circus shows the rest of the year.

wanderlust_circus_orchestra

photo by Xilia Faye

Mickens explains the making(s) of the band:

The story of how I got the band together is a little complex. The Orchestra has members of Vagabond Opera, 3 Leg Torso, Shanghai woolies, Juan Prophet Organization, Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady, and Bhattsi.

My initial house band was Shoehorn and the Hat Band, then we went our separate ways for a while and I hired Juan Prophet Organization as our new house band during, while continuing to cast Shoehorn as a featured performer sometimes. THEN, Juan Prophet lost three members simultaneously, leaving only the core songwriting duo of Jeff Holt and Kristopher White. So I took Jeff, Kris, and Shoe; and added a bunch of my other favorite players.

I knew Anna Leander and Paul Evans (our musical director, while I am the band leader) because I was doing a monthly swing night with them and Russell Bruner for a while. I figure her voice was perfect for this kind of vaudevillian swing band [he’s right; with a light fry, a sprightly rhythm, and a bit of Boop-ish squeak, Leander suits the songs], and Paul is an absolute motherf-cker, music-wise. Shortly thereafter, he joined Vagabond Opera when Robin Jackson decided to back off from touring. I had done many shows with 3 Leg Torso, which is where I got xylophonist TJ Arko; and I met fiddler Griff Bear when he played violin in the opera Queen of Knives, written by Eric Stern and directed by me [and performed in by Ashia Grzesik]. Joe Haegele our drummer, was referred to me as a member of The Shanghai Woolies, but it turned out we already knew each other from way back in my noise/experimental days at The Jasmine Tree. So that was the band, The Wanderlust Circus Orchestra. We perform some material composed by the various members of the band, and some standards. About half and half, I’d say.

****

More often upstaged by summer circus shenanigans, the Wanderlust Circus Orchestra is richly deserving of its own spotlight and a forum to hawk its album, “Joyous Panic.” Hence this regular winter gig, where guest acts come and go but the band stands on a rare pedestal, sauntering through its repertoire for a room that, at turns, babbles along with the atmosphere and stares in rapt reverence. This band, accustomed to toodling along in the background, doesn’t make a big deal of itself—but the individual and ensemble musicianship is amazing. Flute, xylophone, and coronet make surprising little flourishes (a la Merrie Melodies) over syncopated grooves that dig deep into the proverbial pocket. In fact, the playing is so high-caliber that it’s possible to enjoy the Wanderlust Social completely sans-conversation.

Aerialists, meanwhile, have found the perfect low-pressure venue to work out kinks from their usually-higher-stakes (and ceilings) routines. Various solo acrobats spin, swoop, and contort just above the room, and Wanderlust co-director Nick The Creature eagerly accommodates them, installing and collapsing a ladder to hook and unhook their various silks and hoops between songs.

Soprano/cellist Ashia Grzesik, just returned from Europe and set to release a brand-new album at the Alberta Rose Theatre the next day, was last week’s surprise guest, sitting in on a few jazz numbers and playing a couple of originals that Mickens specifically requested, admitting they’d moved him to tears.

One assumes there’s room for more surprise guests in weeks to come; the Wanderlust Social has been reaching out to a network of talent to claim some stage time. Mickens could carry the show on his own, but what fun would that be? He’s actively asking for company.

****

“Welcome, Friends,” Mickens grandstands, “To this gathering of the tribes, this convening of the family,” He sweeps his arms wide to encompass each neo-bohemian romantic in the room. He tells a story about “the dirtiest limerick of all time,” but then recites the limerick itself with all but the filthiest words redacted. People howl. Between songs and announcements, the emcee bops offstage to circulate in the crowd, at some point returning to reveal “a silent costume contest…in which you’ve all been judged.” He awards a bashful couple dressed like a skunk and an opossum with his own silver waistcoat for a prize.

As the show winds down, Mickens gets serious, rhapsodizing into an impossibly eloquent eulogy for recently fallen friends, bemoaning how the world is sometimes cruelest to the bright-shining ones. He doesn’t want to lose more, he says. Anyone who feels like letting go should hold on…should try to keep on the Sunny Side of the Street…segue the jazz classic.

Mickens and friends supply more pure SHOW than a ten dollar cover on a weekly Wednesday should legally buy. (Not to mention implied entry into a “circus family,” which usually comes at far dearer costs, like superhuman skill and/or freakish alienation). It seems like an ideal way to regale holiday visitors with our town’s treasures, or pre-func for one of Wanderlust’s big weekend shows, or simply indulge your yen for fabulously overdressing.

“This waistcoat,” growls Mickens, “Has magical properties, imbuing the wearer with the most dashing, most refined, most androgynously powerful sensibilities…so that you believe you can become…whatever you aspire to as your highest self…even if your aspiration…is to be ME.”

Wanderlust Social occurs every Wednesday night at 8pm at Dante’s through January.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury

Support Oregon ArtsWatch!