All posts by Bob Hicks

I've been observing Portland and its culture since 1974, for most of that time as a writer and editor at The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal. I finally left The O in December 2007 so I could spend more time hanging around coffee shops and catching up on good books. My journalistic wanderings have led me into the worlds of theater, dance, music, the visual arts, literature and food. I'll continue writing about those and broader cultural subjects for Art Scatter. They're terrific windows onto the great mysteries of life, and thinking about them makes the mendacities of our wayward national political culture a little more bearable.

Second rate? Second rank? A snarky dispute

By BOB HICKS

Maybe you spotted it, near the end of a generally mild-mannered editorial urging people to help pay down the debt at Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theater at the Armory, in the Saturday, Feb. 9, Oregonian: a throwaway insult guaranteed to boil blood.

“Portland has long been recognized,” the editorialist sniped, “as a first-rate place to see second-rate theater.”

That didn’t get past Oregonian reader Mary Starrs, who replied angrily in a letter to the editor on the Tuesday, Feb. 13, op-ed page, and if the original editorial hadn’t happened to run on a Saturday, by tradition the least-read edition of any daily newspaper, it might have raised more of a ruckus.

Now, there probably isn’t a writer in history who hasn’t experienced the clever line coming back to bite him on the behind, so I’m not going to toss too many pebbles at the anonymous editorial writer: glass houses and all that. Nevertheless, this particular cute line is a big mistake in a couple of ways.

First, it muddies the main message of the editorial, which is that Portland Center Stage is still almost $11 million short on its $37 million rehab of the Armory — a troubling figure that hasn’t much budged in the past year. The whys and wherefores of the company’s inability to pay off its debt — you always want to have bricks and mortar paid for before a new museum building or performance hall opens, while there’s still some excitement about the project — are fit subject for some serious analysis, but that’s another story.

Second, if the editorial writer actually meant what he or she wrote, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of local and regional theater. What exactly does “second-rate” mean? (And isn’t the reference to Portland as a “first-rate place” just another example of this city’s increasingly annoying habit of overestimating its own charms? — but that’s another story, too.) Continue reading Second rate? Second rank? A snarky dispute

Sculpture meltdown (not for scrap metal)

This report from my wife, Laura, who was walking in the South Park Blocks near the Portland Art Museum this morning, Tuesday, Feb. 12:

An elderly gentleman is standing beside that stern, sorrowful, loving statue of Abraham Lincoln. A bouquet of flowers is resting by the pedestal.

“Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday,” the gentleman says.

“Did you put the flowers there?” Laura asks.

“Yes,” he replies. “I do it every year.”

“Oh,” says Laura. “Let me get a picture.”

But by the time she has her cell phone out of her purse and in her hand, the gentleman has disappeared.

Now, that’s public art.

— Bob Hicks

Balletptomaines at the museum

By BOB HICKS

In Paris they were called abonnes.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg they were balletomanes.

Lincoln Kirstein, the impresario who founded New York City Ballet with George Balanchine, rolled his eyes and referred to them waspishly as “balletptomaines.”

One way or another, they are nuts: nuts for the ballet, for the dancers, for the social swirl, the easy access. The ones who know every step, and know better than the choreographers how the steps ought to be combined. The ones who give money to the company and assume they’ve bought the right to make decisions about how it’s run. The starstruck, the shoulder-rubbers, the bedazzled. The gents who love the bodies — in an entirely aesthetic sense, of course. The best friends a ballet company can have, and a bane on its existence.

Degas' Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot

The Portland Art Museum’s current exhibition “The Dancer: Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec,” which continues through May 11, 2008, gives an almost unseemly amount of attention to the abonnes, those wealthy and well-connected Parisian gentlemen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, by virtue of their season subscriptions to the Paris Opera and other performance halls, had unprecedented access to the backstage life. Some of Degas’ prints in the exhibition touch on the subject, but they are the compulsion of Forain and to a certain extent the exhibit as a whole, throwing the thing into a curious imbalance: Forain, by far the least important of these three artists, becomes the defining figure in the show.

Continue reading Balletptomaines at the museum