THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.
Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.
On Tuesday, Jamie Hale reported in The Oregonian/Oregon Live that The Lot at Zidell Yards, a socially distanced, 33-acre outdoor venue between Tillikum Crossing and the Ross Island Bridge on the west bank of the Willamette River, will be open for spring and summer events, including the return, after last year’s Covid-caused cancellations, of the Waterfront Blues Festival and the Portland Pride festival and parade. It’ll also host a film and music series produced by the Hollywood Theatre. Hold your breath, check your calendar, and decide whether you’re sitting this one out or hustling over to the starting line. The race is on.
Rethinking opera: Love, justice, and renegades
THE OPERA WORLD IS ON THE MOVE, expanding its vision, rethinking its traditions, opening up to new voices and fresh ways of doing things. This week, ArtsWatch writers looked at two examples, both in Portland: a continuing shift at the venerable Portland Opera, and the birth of a renegade upstart
- SONGS OF LOVE AND JUSTICE. Angela Allen talks with Portland Opera artistic advisor Damien Geter, who’s assembled the opera’s next production, a 75-minute concert of art songs and opera selections that’ll be streamed beginning April 16. Titled Journeys to Justice, the program consists of six pieces composed in the late 20th or early 21st century, each dealing in one way or another with the American Black experience. The program will include Geter’s own The Talk: Instructions for Black Children When They Interact with Police. “I would never program my own pieces,” he comments, “but (the singers and opera staff) wanted it.” Allen also discusses the several educational accompaniments built around the concert’s music and the issues it raises.
- NEW HORIZONS. Max Tapogna gets the lowdown on the new Renegade Opera, a small and agile company that got on its feet just before the Great Shutdown of 2020 and has now dusted itself off to go at it again. With one show under its belt – the intriguingly titled Secret Diaries of Pennsylvania Avenue – it’s planning for a new one, Orfeo in Underland, a contemporary take on Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Renegade? It seems baked in. “The things that we think matter, don’t matter,” says company co-founder Madeline Ross. “If we push some of those boundaries and break some of those rules that we think are unbreakable or solid, you can find some new horizons.”
- MUSICWATCH MONTHLY: APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH. It’s not all opera. Plenty of other things are sounding out in Oregon in April, and Charles Rose has his journalistic finger on the musical pulse.
Portfolio: Lillian Pitt and friends on life and art
LILLIAN PITT IS A LIVING LEGEND AMONG PACIFIC NORTHWEST ARTISTS, and not just for the high quality of her own work but also for her role as a central figure among a movable circle of fellow artists – friend, mentor, collaborator, part of the glue that binds the vibrant overlapping circles of the region’s contemporary Indigenous artists and art. Pitt, whose heritage is Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs, is the subject of Lillian Pitt: 10,000 Years Through Art, Dmae Roberts’ newest Stage & Studio podcast for ArtsWatch. Pitt and Roberts cover a host of subjects in their fascinating conversation, from the values of mentorship (Pitt’s own mentor was the revered Navajo nation artist RC Gorman), to the effects of Covid-19 on Native communities, to the millennia-long history of Native peoples along the Columbia Gorge and “the importance of Celilo Falls as an historic meeting place for Indigenous communities.”
And they talk about Lillian Pitt: Ancestors Known and Unknown, Pitt’s new exhibition showing through May 1 at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River. Pitt’s work in the exhibition ranges from glass and clay to metal casting, prints, jewelry, and multimedia pieces. And, true to form, it also includes work by several follow artists she invited to join in. It’s part of a pattern: Her excellent show two or three years ago at the Portland Art Museum, The Art and Artistic Community of Lillian Pitt, included work by, among others, her friends James Lavadour, the late Rick Bartow, and Ka’ila Farrell-Smith. In Hood River, she’s joined by contemporary artists Sara Siestreem (Hanis-Coos), Joe Cantrell (Cherokee), Toma Villa (Yakama), Analee Fuentes (Mexican heritage), and Debora Lorang (friend of the Columbia Gorge Native Americans). The resut is a show with great variety and depth.
Cantrell, a superb photographer and a frequent contributor to ArtsWatch (that’s also his shot from the Waterfront Blues Festival at top), was on hand for last Friday’s opening celebration and created this photographic portfolio for us.
National Poetry Month: Laureates & more
PHOTO SHOOT: SIX OREGON POETS. Photographer K.B. Dixon has spent a lot of time in the past few years creating formal, black & white portraits of Oregon artists, from writers to visual artists to musicians, inviting them into the studio for sittings designed to bring out something of the inner life while capturing the outer form. To commemorate National Poetry Month, in this series of previously unpublished images he portrays six leading Oregon poets: the state’s current and just-previous poets laureate, Anis Mojgani and Kim Stafford; plus Samiya Bashir, Floyd Skloot, David Biespiel, and Zachary Schomburg.
MORE POETRY MONTH:
- Just across the Columbia River from Portland, in Vancouver and Clark County, Washington, Armin Tolentino has been selected as Clark County Poet Laureate for 2021-23. Tolentino works in Portland and lives in Vancouver and is well-known in literary circles on both sides of the river. And Rena Priest has just been named Washington state’s 2021-23 Poet Laureate. Priest, a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, is Washington’s first Indigenous Poet Laureate.
- On a March evening in 2006, Portland poet Judith Barrington introduced the groundbreaking poet and feminist Adrienne Rich to a Poetry Downtown audience. The Archive Project, from Literary Arts, recorded both Barrington’s comments and Rich’s reading, and at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 11, they’ll be re-released on the Literary Arts website and OPB Radio. To whet your appetite, you can read Barringon’s fascinating recollections of the evening.
- Haiku you (and the Columbia Gorge). April 17 is International Haiku Poetry Day, and the conservation group Friends of the Columbia Gorge is all over it, announcing its second Friends Spring Gorge Haiku Challenge. Make ’em up, write ’em down, send ’em in by April 14: Details at the link.
- And this would be a good time to take another look at Amy Leona Havin’s April LitWatch Monthly column, which concentrates on the many events surrounding National Poetry Month.
Around Oregon: Native issues, fire art, eco prints
‘MANAHATTA’ FROM ASHLAND AND NEW YORK. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is streaming through April 24 its highly praised 2018 production of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s time-traveling play about the clash between white and Indigenous cultures. And The New Yorker has just published Mary Kathryn Nagle Changes the Story, In Court and Onstage, Oregon writer Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s fascinating profile of Nagle, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, who is distinguished as both a playwright and a lawyer. As Pollack-Pelzner notes, “Nagle is one of the leading lawyers in the United States advocating for tribal sovereignty—and also one of the country’s most-produced Native playwrights.” Many Portlanders will also remember her for another time-traveling play – Crossing Mnisose, about Sacagawea and Standing Rock, which premiered at Portland Center Stage in 2019.
FROM ASHES OF THE ECHO MOUNTAIN FIRE, ART. Lori Tobias tells the story behind Up From the Ashes, a new exhibit at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, which features photographs from the 2020 wildfire that devastated the town of Otis and 2,500 acres around it – and works of art that grew out of the disaster. “It’s a pretty special show,” gallery director Krista Eddy tells Tobias. “We are trying to share people’s stories and also show that there is this amazing spark of hope and resilience in people. They’ve struggled and there are good things at the end.”
LISA BRINKMAN: ‘A COLLABORATION OF LIFE WITH NATURE.’ The images in Kairos: Eco Print Series by Lisa Brinkman at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center, David Bates writes, “are deliberately yet instinctively crafted using the stuff of nature — plants, leaves, flowers — ‘cooked’ into raw silk, then adorned with layers of acrylic, oil paints, and cold-wax translucent glazes. They tell — perhaps ‘suggest’ or ‘hint at’ is the way to characterize it — stories through the use of symbols, which are drawn from nature: a dove, a crow, a serpent, or a butterfly; the sun or moon. But mythological figures also are present — Pegasus and Sophia, the spirit of female wisdom. Because many familiar symbols date back millennia, it is unfathomably rich territory. “
ELLEN TAYLOR’S SACRED REFLECTIONS.The Umatilla artist’s newest show, which opens Thursday and continues through May 29 at the Museum at Warm Springs, includes more than 40 pieces, from paintings to painted cowboy hats, painted buckskin jackets, a painted horse collection, and a beaded cradle board. Taylor, a member of the Cayuse-Umatilla-Walla Walla Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, blends contemporary and traditional techniques and issues in her work, which she’s described as a “Picasso meets Native American type of contemporary art in Andy Warhol’s living room type of thing.”
Is going to the movies the next big thing?
STREAMERS: PORTLAND THEATERS’ REOPENING PLANS. The next big thing? Depends on how big is “big.” But, ready or not, Portland area movie theaters are reopening in time for the Oscars rush and summer blockbuster season, Marc Mohan writes in his new “Streamers” film column. In Multnomah and Clackamas counties, which have slid back into the “high risk” category for coronavirus danger, that means a maximum of 25 percent of a theater’s seats can be filled. Mohan also takes a deep look at 2021’s Oscar-nominated short films (including Portlander Skye Fitzgerald’s “gut-wrenching” documentary Hunger Ward, which, Mohan declares, “damn sure better win”) and the new French feature Slalom.
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