Wilsonville Festival of Arts

DanceWatch Weekly: Dance doesn’t go away with the first signs of summer

In the old days, dance took a break from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but we need it too much to let it go

Oregon’s dance season just won’t quit and I’m really glad, of course. Every week when I sit down to write DanceWatch, I get a little verklempt thinking about how much the dance scene has grown in Oregon since I moved here eight years ago. And, has it ever!

This week’s dance offerings are a continued measure of that growth and offer a little bit of everything from experimental contemporary dance, to ballet, to Eastern European folk dances, to Bharatnatyam, to dance films, and so much more. Plus, they take place in every venues possible from the outdoors, to indoors, to intimate spaces, and concert halls. You name it, dance is happening there.

So, in this mood of celebration and summer, of course, let’s get out and soak up some dance, and maybe a little sun, too.

Enjoy!

Performances this week

Hannah Davis, Kimberly Nobriga, and Jessica Lind performing in Helen Simoneau’s ‘Departures,’ part of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Closer, May 24 – June 3, 2018 at the BodyVox Dance Center. Photo by Chris Peddecord

Closer
Oregon Ballet Theatre, artistic director Kevin Irving
Choreography by Peter Franc, Makino Hayashi, Lisa Kipp, Katherine Monogue, and Helen Simoneau
May 31-June 3
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Avenue
Oregon Ballet Theatre closes out its 2017-2018 season with Closer, an intimate showing at BodyVox Dance Center of new works choreographed by OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, OBT company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc, alongside Helen Simoneau’s Departures. Simoneau’s ballet was commissioned by OBT in 2017 as part of OBT’s Choreography XX project to discover new women choreographers in ballet. The works by OBT dancers will be accompanied by commissioned musical compositions from Grammy award-winning remix artist, Andre Allen Anjos (aka RAC). Heather Wiser reviewed Closer for ArtsWatch, which you can read here, and I interviewed Simoneau about her work, her process, and her dance company, which you can read here.

Instaballet in Eugene. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Haag.

#INSTABALLET NO.25
Directed by Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan of Eugene Ballet Company
5:30 pm June 1
Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk, Capitello Wine, 540 Charnelton St, Eugene
This event is FREE
Reimagining who creates ballets, Instaballet, directed by Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan of the Eugene Ballet company, gives artistic control to the audience. If you have ever wanted to choreograph a ballet or a musical score but aren’t a dancer, choreographer, or musician, now is your chance. Head on over to Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk in Eugene and be a part of the process and make a ballet or musical score on the spot. The creative process begins at 5:30 pm and a performance of the final product will happen at 8 pm. The performance will be accompanied by live music and Eugene Ballet dancers will make themselves available for your creative juices.

If you are interested in learning more about Instaballet and how it came to be, Eugene ArtsWatch correspondent Gary Ferrington wrote about them in 2015 in Crowd-sourced Choreography.

Dance artist Leralee Whittle. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NW.

J (()) Y and Death=Change
Choreography by Leralee Whittle and by Mizu Desierto
June 1-2
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
12-3pm June 3 Leralee Whittle Workshop at Performance Works NW

Dance and video artist Leralee Whittle and Portland based dance-theatre artist Mizu Desierto will share an evening featuring Whittle’s J (()) Y and Desierto’s work-in-progress, Death=Change.

Whittle works in collaboration with musician/composer Paul Spraw, and she combines her history in American, European, and African dance to create instant compositions. She is Inspired by her travels, new spaces, visual elements, and the element of play, and likes to bring, according to her press release, “found spaces into the performance space, where the audience can then experience a giant retro yellow gym, or trip into a strange corner for a humorous impromptu dance.”

Desierto is a 20-year practitioner of Butoh and the co-founder of Portland’s Water in the Desert, a major hub of artistic activity that includes The Headwaters Theatre, Prior Day Farm, and the annual Butoh College. She “explores themes of feminism, queerness, playful social deviance and regenerative land/culture” in her work, as well as the idea of “losing control in favor of liquidity.”

A still from Wobbly Dance’s new film ‘Tidal.’ Photo courtesy of Wobbly Dance.

Tidal-A film
Wobbly Dance
Portland ReelAbilities Film Festival
6:30 pm June 2
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont
This event is FREE.
The new dance film Tidal is a collaboration among Wobbly Dance, cinematographer Ian Lucero, costume designer Jenny Ampersand, and musicians Sweetmeat. It’s “a fantastical film, where breathing masks transform into diving masks, ventilator tubing morphs into costumes, and an ancient diver who calls the ocean home, draws us into his world. We fall, we dream, we dive. We transform from human to jellyfish and everything in between. This film is a continuation of the exploration of Wobbly’s dark, dream-like and sometimes absurd aesthetic. Starring Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson as the Dreamers, Nathan H.G. as the Diver, and Grant Miller as the Forager.”

 

The Tamburitzans. Photo courtesy of the Tamburitzans.

Passages-The Journey of Our Ancestors
Presented by the Tamburitzans
7:30 pm June 1
Soreng Theatre-Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
7:30 pm June 2
Dolores Winningstad Theatre, 2913, 1111 SW Broadway
Presenting their 81st season, The Tamburitzans, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, celebrate music and folk dances from Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Cuba, and more, in a two-hour production boasting more than 400 costumes performed by 31 dancers, musicians, and singers.

Aerial Muse Collective. Photo courtesy of Wilsonville Festival of Arts.

Wilsonville Festival of Arts
June 2-3
Town Center Park, Wilsonville, OR
In its 19th year, the Wilsonville Festival of Arts brings visual art, literary arts, live music, dance, theatre, and performance art, outside to the public for free, at Town Center Park.

This year’s festivities includes several dance performance: DanceAbility is a Eugene-based dance company focused on dissolving barriers and connecting people with and without disabilities through dance and movement; Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group is a dance group formed in 1995 by Mexican and Chicano students at Oregon State University to share Mexican culture throughout the Pacific Northwest; and Aerial Muse Collective combines aerial circus, dance, theater, music, and visual art, and will be roaming the festival doing mini-performances throughout. The festival will also provide morning yoga and tai chi for folks who want to move too. For a broader view on the festival offerings outside of dance, check out Bob Hicks’s News & Notes for ArtsWatch.

Padma Shri Shobana’s, ‘Shobana’s Trance.’ Photo courtesy of Shobana.

Shobana’s Trance
Presented by Chinmaya Mission Portland and Rasika
4 pm June 3
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway Ave.
Acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, and film actress Shobana Chandrakumar, also known as Padma Shri Shobana (Padma Shri is a title awarded by the Indian Government for Shobana’s contribution to classical dance), or just Shobana, from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, presents a collage of Indian art forms to tell the stories of Shiva, Vishnu, and Mary Magdalene. The production includes poetry, live music, and Bharatanatyam, and desires to transport the viewer into a primordial, trance-like, state of being.

Photo courtesy of 11: Dance Co.

Planet Earf — A Video Series
11: Dance Co, artistic director Bb DeLano
3 pm June 3
The Loft, 5321 SE 28th Ave.
11: Dance Co is back with a film. Their new film, Planet Earf, funded through a grant from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), looks at familiar, everyday places and transforms them into stages as a reaction to the gentrification and privatization of previously public spaces.

A panel discussion will follow the screening, led by 11: Dance Co’s Bb DeLano along with the Planet Earf camera crew, and dancers. “If time allows, there will be a wiggle session after.”

11: Dance Co. is a Neo-Fusion dance company (a choreographic style that blends the street and classical worlds of dance) and is directed by Brittany DeLano (Bb for short).

In 2016 I interviewed DeLano and executive director Huy Pham on reimagining the dance company model, working with Emma Portner and what it looks like to challenge perception through choreography. You can read that interview here.

Upcoming Performances

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 9, Wakily Kúkátónón Showcase, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, Special guest performances by Habiba Addo, Habib Iddrisu, and the Obo Addy Legacy Project
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow, Presented by Fathom Events
June 13, Dance Forum, showcase and reception, American Dance Abroad at BodyVox
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, This Time Tomorrow-Danielle Agami, NW Dance Project
June 15-23, Waters of the World, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Claire Barrera, Shaun Keylock, Sarah Brahim, and Decimus Yarbrough
June 16, Dance Film Double Feature: Standing on Gold and Moving History, hosted by Eric Nordstrom
June 22-23, Bodies of Existence/Dances of Resistance, Company Movimiento, Artistic Director- Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Eugene
June 22-23, Ævium: Intimacy with Disappearance, Jayne Lee, Delisa Myles, Mizu Desierto, Breanna Rogers, Ashley Fine, Sedona Ortega, and Studio M13
June 22-23, Recipe: A Reading Test (1983) and Raw Material (1985), Linda Austin
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem
June 29-July 1, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance
June 29-30, River Daze, Dillon & Wilde + Artists

July
July 6, #INSTABALLET NO.26, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
July 11-27, [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait, keyon gaskin
July 19-21, RELATIVES // apples & pomegranates, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
July 27, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, Washington Park Summer Festival

August
August 2-4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 3, #INSTABALLET NO.27, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-WOL Dance Collective
August 10-12, JamBallah Northwest
August 12, India Festival, produced by the India Cultural Association of Portland

September
September 1, #INSTABALLET NO.28, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag

Festivals, awards, a college dies

News & notes: an arts festival in Wilsonville, the PAMTA musical theater awards, Marylhurst's loss to the arts, PassinArt goes deep east side

It’s not quite summer, but it’s festival season – and Wilsonville, just a short skip south of Portland on the freeway, is leading the charge. Coming up Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, is this year’s Wilsonville Festival of Arts, which will spread out over the city’s Town Center Park with contemporary music, dance, visual art, theater, literary events, film, design, and performance art.

Master maskmaker and director Tony Feummeler will lead maskmaking events at the Wilsonville Festival of Arts.

“This year, we are introducing three commissioned interactive art installations by artists Damien Gilley, Palmarin Merges and Tiana Husted,” festival director Sarah Wolfe noted in a press release. “Also new is a partnership with NW Film Center in Portland. We are teaming up to offer a Micro Movie Theatre, featuring short films by filmmakers throughout the Pacific Northwest. And we will be featuring several Oregon Book Award winners and finalists as special guests for our focus on literary arts, Art of the Word. Latinx and alter-abled contemporary artists will also be highlighted.”

Singer Saeeda Wright

The lineup looks ambitious and intriguing, with attractions ranging from a reading by this year’s Ken Kesey Award fiction winner Omar El Akkad (American War); to demonstrations in skills from etching to 3D printing to weaving and spinning; to performances by R&B star Saeeda Wright and the innovative troupe DanceAbility. And of course, there’ll also be artists’ and crafters’ booths, ice cream and other food stands, and beer: It wouldn’t be a festival without ’em. Festival entry is free; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Black with colored amoeba-shaped pieces from artist Palmerin Merges’ installion art in Wilsonville.

The granddaddy of ’em all, the Portland Rose Festival, is working up a head of steam, too. The city’s annual extravaganza kicked off Friday, May 25, with a Memorial Day weekend CityFair on the riverfront (much more to come, from elephant ears to open-air concerts, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park), and the big event, the Grand Floral Parade, is June 9. After that, dig out your maps and fill in your calendars: you can pretty much hop from festival to festival around Oregon all summer long.

 


 

 

AND IF FESTIVAL SEASON IS HERE, CAN AWARDS SEASON BE FAR BEHIND? Portland’s double whammy of theater award celebrations kicks off Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. in the Winningstad Theatre with the annual PAMTA musical-theater awards. Started and produced by Broadway/Portland producer/actor/director Corey Brunish, who’s picked up more Tony producing honors in recent years than he can count on all his fingers, it’s always a fun, well-produced event. Actor Darius Pierce, who’s just about perfect in the role, returns as the evening’s host.

A few of the musical-theater productions that have been under consideration for this year’s PAMTA Awards.

Awards will be presented in 21 categories, and as befits the musical theater, which thrives as much on revivals as new work, the best show category has been divided into two parts. This year’s nominees for outstanding revival are Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, Gypsy, and Always, Patsy Cline; Pixie Dust’s Billy Elliot and Beauty and the Beast; and Triangle’s Avenue Q. Nominees for outstanding original show are Portland Playhouse’s Scarlet, Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Cinderella and Peter Pan, Stumptown Stages’ Folk City, Broadway Rose’s Trails, and Staged!’s John Hughes High. See the complete list of nominees here.

The older and more inclusive Drammy Awards will celebrate their 40th anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Portland Center Stage – an interesting choice for venue considering that last year the city’s two biggest theater companies, Center Stage and Artists Rep, dropped their participation in the awards. Both awards events are free.

 


 

BUT WHAT ABOUT MARYLHURST? The recent announcement that Marylhurst University, the small institution south of Lake Oswego, will close its doors after 125 years sent alarms not only through the education world but the arts world as well. The university has been rocked by sharply declining enrollment and swiftly rising deficits since the national recession of a decade ago, Jeff Manning reported in The Oregonian. Fall term enrollment was more than 1,400 in 2013, and fewer than 750 in 2017.

An active opposition made up of students, former students, and faculty members has emerged in an attempt to overturn the board’s decision and find a new path to financial sustainability, but it faces a steep uphill battle. The closure of Portland’s vital and lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft, which was carrying a much smaller deficit, proved final.

From Christine Bourdette’s 2008 show “Riddles, Bunnyheads and Asides” at The Art Gym.

Marylhurst has been well-known in art circles for The Art Gym, an innovative and essential contemporary art center that paid deep attention to the work of living regional artists and usually published catalogs of its shows. Its loss, if the decision remains final, will be large. The university also offers a variety of valuable academic art programs, some of which, including its masters program in art therapy counseling, cross over into other disciplines.

The university has an active music presence and was home to many fine concerts in its intimate performing spaces: I still remember seeing the innovative 20th century composer Terry Riley (In C) in performance in the mid-1990s not playing his own minimalist-leaning music but singing traditional Indian ragas, sweeping and gliding and bending and always landing right. “Tonally, the raga is more like a string suspended between two sticks: Usually it’s slack, but you can draw it taut when you want,” I wrote at the time. “Riley is a master of the slide from slack to taut.”

A community loses such traditions at its own peril.

 


 

PassinArt takes the theater where the people are.

REPULSING THE MONKEY. PassinArt: A Theatre Company, in collaboration with ROSE Community Development, is entering its final two performances of Michael Eichler’s play Repulsing the Monkey, about a brother and sister who inherit a blue-collar bar in Pittsburgh and must decide, in the face of gentrification, whether they can keep it going. Final performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30, with a discussion after the Wednesday show, and one of the interesting things about the production is where it’s being performed – at the T.E.A.M. Event Center in deep East Portland, at 9201 S.E. Foster Road. As Portland’s own gentrification and escalating housing prices force many people farther from the city center, arts and performance almost certainly will have to follow them. PassinArt’s most recent production, in North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, was a well-received run of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Tickets for Repulsing the Monkey are a wallet-friendly $5-$15 sliding scale.

DanceWatch Weekly: Journeys, a goblin king and an arts festival

The dance weekend features PDX Contemporary Ballet and Trip the Dark Dance Company

Two Portland dance company performances and an outdoor arts festival in Wilsonville— your dance weekend in a nutshell!

Two shows open on Friday night. PDX Contemporary Ballet’s Iterum Echo collects three works that involve journeys (“iter” is a Latin word meaning journey) by artistic director Briley Neugebauer, Margaret Wiss, and Kiera Brinkley. And Trip the Dark Dance Company will stage The Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, which runs for three consecutive weekends.

For PDX Contemporary Ballet, Iterum Echos finishes out the company’s first full season, an exemplary feat, considering most Portland choreographers work from project to project due to the amount of funding available for dance and the financial reality of dance: maintaining a company of dancers year round is a whole other ball of wax.

Since October 2016, the company, directed by Neugebauer (who danced with the now defunct Moxie Contemporary Ballet Company as well as Polaris Dance Theatre, ART-IF-ACT Dance Project and was an apprentice with Donald Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle), has produced three major shows: Incipio in October, Interlude in February 2017, and now Iterum Echos. The company which prides itself on experimentation in ballet, received its nonprofit 501(c)(3) last April, and has since provided a platform for numerous choreographers, who have all been women. The fact that the company is directed by a woman and performs works by women choreographers is an unusual distinction in the ballet world, where choreographic commissions and directorships are predominantly held by men.

The works featured in Iterum Echos will be performed in the intimate setting of New Expressive Works space at 810 SE Belmont St., doing away with the traditional space that separates the audience from the performers.

The pieces include Circular Wave of Circumstance by Boston choreographer Wiss, inspired by the concept of space-time where time and three-dimensional space are considered fused in a four-dimensional continuum. It employs an original soundscape composed by local artist Colin Minigan. Portland choreographer Kiera Brinkley has created The Times, which explores her “real world” profession as a nurse. Brinkley, a former performer and choreographer with Polaris Dance Theatre, is a quadruple amputee since age two. Neugebauer’s Continually Beginning considers “the ordinary, repetitive steps of everyday life, the subtle differences that sometimes occur, as well as the feeling of moving backward instead of forward.”

On Saturday BodyVox, Polaris Dance Theatre, Edge Movement Arts, and Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group, a dance group formed by Oregon State University students in 1995 to help preserve and promote Mexican culture, will perform as part of the Wilsonville Festival of Arts that brings visual art, literary arts, live music, dance, theatre, and performance art, outside to the public, for free, at the Town Center Park.

If you missed it, last week I spoke with former New York City Ballet dancer Tom Gold about working with Twyla Tharp, ballet marketing and his work for The Portland Ballet. “It’s all about marketing, and money and business. Nobody’s thinking, ‘I want to encourage and nurture this.’ That’s kind of the last thing.” You can read the full interview here.
Also last weekend ArtsWatch’s Nim Wunnan reviewed the latest installment of New Expressive Works’ resident choreographer program, and noted that tension was a common thread.

Performances this week

Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital, 7 pm June 1. Photo by Fritz Liedtke.

Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital
Jefferson Dancers
7 pm June 1
5210 N Kerby Ave.

The Jefferson Dancers, a Portland Public Schools dance training program and company based at Jefferson High School in North Portland, celebrates its 41st anniversary this year and will feature choreography by faculty members and performances by students in this recital program.

Iterum Echos by PDX Contemporary Ballet, June 2-4 at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont. Photo courtesy of PDX Contemporary Ballet.

Iterum Echos
PDX Contemporary Ballet
Directed by Briley Neugebauer
June 2-4
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.
See above.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute by Trip the Dark Dance Company, June 2-17, The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Photo courtesy of Trip the Dark Dance Company.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute
Trip the Dark Dance Company
Co-directed by Corinn deWaard and Stephanie Seaman
June 2-17
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.
In tribute to Jim Henson’s 1986 film “Labyrinth” and singer/songwriter David Bowie, Trip the Dark Dance Company takes the audience on an adventure to the center of the Labyrinth to rescue Sarah’s baby brother from the Goblin King after Sarah had wished him gone. It’s a mind-bending, hypnotic adventure that includes a little tap, contemporary dance, theater and a lot of Bowie, and… “where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.”

Photo of the Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group. Wilsonville Festival of Arts June 3-4. Photo courtesy of Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group.

Wilsonville Festival of Arts
June 3-4
Town Center Park
29600 SW Park Pl., Wilsonville
In its 18th year, the Wilsonville Festival of Arts brings visual art, literary arts, live music, dance, theatre, and performance art, outside to the public for free, at Town Center Park. This year’s festivities includes dance performances by BodyVox, Polaris Dance Theatre, Edge Movement Arts, and Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group-a dance group formed by Oregon State University students in 1995 to help preserve and promote Mexican culture.

Performances next week

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 13, Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, a film by Eric Nordstrom
June 14-15, SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students

Upcoming Performances

June
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
June 30-July 1, Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017, Hosted by The Creative Music Guild and Disjecta
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-15, Rantom Skoot, Linda Austin, Gregg Bielemeier, Bob Eisen (NYC), and Sada Naegelin & Leah Wilmoth
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 26, Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films, Hosted by NW Film Center featuring films by Conrad Kazcor, Fuchsia Lin, Dylan Wilbur Media, Gabriel Shalom, Jackie Davis, and Amy Yang Chiao
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
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: Vanport Mosaic

Remembering the destruction of a city and its culture, Brett Campbell's music picks, arts in Wilsonville, kabuki, and more

Sixty-nine years ago today, on May 30, 1948, a 200-foot section of dike burst in the lowlands south of the Columbia River and north of Portland, and the untamed river’s waters burst in, inundating the city of Vanport and killing 15 people. Almost overnight what had been the second-largest city in Oregon, with a population of about 40,000 at its peak, was no more. People fled in a panic, a more orderly evacuation made impossible because up to the last moment the Army Corps of Engineers and the Housing Authority of Portland had assured the city’s residents – many of them black or Japanese American, almost all of them working-class – that the dike was safe, and there was no need to worry.

Shipyard workers and Vanport residents, with their paychecks. City of Portland Archives.

Today there is little evidence of Vanport, which in its six brief years of existence had been a thriving “instant” community built to house wartime workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. Up to 40 percent of the population was African American, and although the neighborhoods were segregated, the schools and after-hours social life were not. Vanport was hardly a Utopia of cultural and racial harmony, but at the time it might have been the most socially progressive community in an almost completely white state.

All of that ended with the floodwaters, almost in a blink. But the memory lingers on. People who lived there or were born there are still alive; others are their children and remember the family stories. And the annual Vanport Mosaic Festival, a four-day event that this year ended Monday and marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the city’s birth, helps keep the flame alive.

On Sunday afternoon I went to the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, where much of the action took place (the center’s upstairs galleries hold a nice exhibition on Vanport’s history and culture) to see staged readings of two plays that were central attractions of the festival: Michael A. Jones’s Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water and Don W. Glenn’s American Summer Squash. Both are by African American playwrights, and both are about the displacement and trauma and readjustment of people caught in the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 flooding of vast African American neighborhoods of New Orleans, an event that echoed the Vanport flood in both its environmental and its cultural effects.

Overturned cars and other devastation after the Vanport deluge of 1948. City of Portland Archives

There was, in spite of the tracing of vibrant African American cultures being shattered at least temporarily, and the lingering cultural and political questions about exactly why and how that happened, a feeling of hopefulness in the dramas and a sense of joy in the event itself. These are our stories. They are good to tell, and good to hear. That two stories of New Orleans were told in a celebration of the legacy of Vanport seemed fitting, somehow: the widely known disaster of Katrina, which cost at least 1,200 lives across the hurricane’s broad path, and the smaller, lesser-known destruction of Vanport seem like intimate cousins, forever linked. The texture of the tales also seemed to bleed into Portland’s ugly current events, in particular the murder of two men and serious wounding of a third in a racially charged crime on a MAX light-rail train, allegedly by a white supremacist who was threatening two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. There are the floods – the flashpoints – and the long-simmering circumstances in which they strike. Performances of the two plays repeat this weekend, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at IFCC. Catch a slice of important history, and some engaging theater, if you can.

Continues…