Category Archives: General

Ballet at the speed of sport, & vice versa

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Oregon Ballet Theatre opens its newest production, Chromatic Quartet, on Thursday night at the Newmark Theatre, and has sent out a few rehearsal photos by one of our faves, Blaine Truitt Covert. We saw the shot above of Lucas Threefoot and Michael Linsmeier racing through the paces of Matjash Mrozewski’s The Lost Dance and thought immediately of winter Olympics speedskating sensation Apolo Ohno, below. Or is that just wrong?

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Link: Goteborg dances into PDX

By Bob Hicks

Last night I went to White Bird‘s opening-night performance by Goteborg Ballet (the Swedish contemporary company performs again tonight and Saturday night in the Newmark Theatre) and discovered a sort of sister-city alternate universe.

"OreloB," by Kenneth KvarnstromThree dances, all contemporary and very European, all very different from what you see at Oregon Ballet Theatre but also intriguingly complementary, and reminiscent of OBT’s old James Canfield days. I wrote about it in this essay, Sister dance cities? Goteborg meets Portland, on Oregon Arts Watch. An excerpt:

“At the core of OreloB is Jukka Rintamaki’s electronic score, based on the sinuous repetitions of Ravel’s Bolero but scratching them up so they sound ragged and removing the overly familiar undulations while retaining the hypnotic effect. Helena Horstedt’s costumes, with little shoulder-and-back ruffles that seemed like sea-creature gills, lent the piece a slightly sinister science-fiction feel (the designs reminded me a little of the stuff the late lamented Portland theater artist Ric Young used to do). And the dancing was vigorous and unstoppable, inventive and relentless. The energy doesn’t let up: when the dancers walk, they walk with purpose. It’s rhythmic, sexy, trancelike – maybe something like Ravel’s music was when it was fresh, before it became commonplace.”

Photo: “OreloB,” by Kenneth Kvarnstrom

Link: Gay marriage & surfboard Bard

By Bob Hicks

What do nine short plays about gay marriage and a Gilligan’s Island take on Much Ado About Nothing have in common? What do either or both have to say about that old bugaboo, elitism and the arts?

Melissa Whitney and Peter Schuyler, on the beach in "Much Ado." Photo: Jon GottshallIn my essay Gay Marriage, beach-blanket Bard: elitism for the masses over at Oregon Arts Watch, I try to sew it all together in a discussion about Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at Artists Rep and the beach-blanket Much Ado at Northwest Classical Theatre Company.

On Standing on Ceremony:

“Whatever happened to the old-fashioned curtain-raiser, the theatrical equivalent of the pre-show cartoon and newsreel at old Saturday movie matinees? How about 10 minutes of Labute’s Strange Fruit, just to play imaginary producer for a moment, paired with a production of David Mamet’s Boston Marriage?”

On Much Ado About Nothing:

“The other thing I love about Much Ado is the way that Beatrice and Benedick spin a new reality out of their passion for language. By talking, by creating their stories on the fly, they travel from isolation to consummation. It’s the perfect evocation of the power of language, of art, to transform lives. Beatrice and Benedick don’t fall in love. They talk themselves into it.”

Plus, as they say, much much more if you click the link to the full story. Don’t delay!

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Melissa Whitney and Peter Schuyler, on the beach in “Much Ado.” Photo: Jon Gottshall

Foodie Diaries: bitter, cheap and ugly

People have been cultivating kale for more than 2,000 years, but up until a few months ago hardly anybody bragged about it. Sure, it grows well in winter, and it’s loaded with vitamins. But is that any reason to treat it like the foie gras of the vegetable kingdom?

Kale bundle. Photo: Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons“This is food whose texture screams to be rejected,” guest essayist Trisha Pancio Mead declares as she neatly slices and dices kale’s sudden rise to superstardom. That pale green mess on your plate just might be the medicine of bitter times. Or it might be an astringent garden genius, the Stravinsky or Picasso of the dining room. Either way, it’s kale and hearty – and it’s everywhere.

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By Trisha Pancio Mead

Remember the eighties, when no power lunch was complete without thin half-moons of avocado and a sprinkling of sprouts and mangoes to elevate it from humdrum to haute?

Or the nineties, where we rebelled against all that California spa fusion and instead  established a dish’s pedigree by name-dropping the obscure Southern roadside barbecue shack whose proprietor slipped us the recipe on a sweet-tea-stained napkin – but only after we swore on our meemaw’s grave not to reveal the secret of those melty, smoky collard greens? (The secret was, and still is, pork fat. Lots of it.)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, "Winter," 1573. Louvre Museum/Wikimedia CommonsAt the turn of the millennium we became schizophrenics, giving lip service to the foams and mousses and architectural confections of the molecular gastronomy movement while actually spending all our money on increasingly elaborate macs, casseroles and turkey tetrazzini loaves in a Rachel Ray-inspired dash to the comfort-food-stuffed American middle.

But now.

Now we’ve turned a corner, very like Picasso when he stopped painting pleasingly forgettable realist and impressionistic portraits and started arresting people with the shattered ugliness of his canvases. Or like Stravinsky, who in 1913, with his jangling score for the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, made music that sent people rioting out of the theater. I love Stravinsky. And Picasso. But the art they created was not pretty. It was ugly, and it was only their genius for balance and composition that made the bitter dissonances and mineral sharp planes and angles resolve into a truly satisfying artistic experience.

Bitter …  mineral … ugly … beloved by bohemians. … What is the current foodie version of Stravinsky? I think you know where I’m headed here.

Continue reading Foodie Diaries: bitter, cheap and ugly

Bits & pieces: Glass, Le Guin, and Austin

Richard Troxell as Older Galileo. ©Portland Opera/Cory Weaver.

By Bob Hicks

Breaking the Glass ceiling. Again.

This just in from Portland Opera: the Philip Glass connection strikes again. You probably already knew the opera company will open its production of Glass’s 2002 chamber opera Galileo Galilei on Friday night in the Newmark Theatre. And you probably recall that Portland Opera’s recording of Glass’s Orphee – the company’s first-ever commercial recording – made Opera News’s 10-best-of-the-year list in 2010.

Well, recording no. 2 will be this production of Galileo Galilei. And as with Orphee, it’ll be the first CD of the opera. It’ll come out, once again, on Orange Mountain Music, which specializes in recording Glass’s work, and the conductor will again be Anne Manson. Release is expected late this year. The libretto, by the way, is by the excellent playwright Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses and her new play The White Snake, the hit so far of the current Oregon Shakespeare Festival season).

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The book is dead. Long live the book.

Seems like everybody’s talking about the death of the book these days, and it’s true, the publishing industry is going through cataclysmic changes. But if the primary purpose of books is to feed the act of reading, maybe we’re being a little premature. Ursula K. Le Guin, Portland’s belle dame of letters, has been thinking it through and came up with some provocative conclusions on her blog post The Death of the Book. Here’s a brief taste tickler. Read the full post for much, much more:

“Is reading obsolete, is the reader dead?

“Dear reader: How are you doing? I am fairly obsolete, but by no means, at the moment, dead.

“Dear reader: Are you reading at this moment? I am, because I’m writing this, and it’s very hard to write without reading, as you know if you ever tried it in the dark.

“Dear reader: What are you reading on? I’m writing and reading on my computer, as I imagine you are. (At least, I hope you’re reading what I’m writing, and aren’t writing ‘What Tosh!’ in the margin. Though I’ve always wanted to write ‘What Tosh!’ in a margin ever since I read it years ago in the margin of a library book. It was such a good description of the book.)”

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Linda Austin and the space time continuum

In case you missed it, I posted this essay, Stop making sense: Linda Austin’s ‘A Head of Time’, yesterday on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about the Portland choreographer/dancer’s remarkable new group piece, which played over the weekend at Imago Theatre. Here’s a teaser:

“Chances are the narratives she puts on stage don’t make a lot of sense, at least in the old-fashioned linear way. … What you get in an Austin dance is a dream-story: fleeting images tied together by little, perhaps, but an empathetic feeling and the coincidence of being clustered together. Maybe it’s Freudian. Or maybe it’s only a cigar.”

Make sure to check Martha Ullman West’s comment at the end of the post. It adds some important information.

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PHOTO: Richard Troxell as Older Galileo. ©Portland Opera/Cory Weaver.

Faith and ‘Gomorrah’: a hero grows old

By Bob Hicks

CJ Jones is 75-odd years old, and although he moves around slowly, he thinks in short sharp bursts, which in Portland writer Charles Deemer‘s new novel Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones translate into short sharp chapters.

Charles Deemer's "Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones"It’s almost more of a novella, really, if the categorizing makes a difference, with a lot of air: some of those chapters aren’t much more than a paragraph long. And the writing’s lean – bent on telling the story rather than playing around with the words, although the story, such as it is, is not of the traditional narrative sort. Things meander, tautly, without an awful lot happening.

But as you’re reading it you gradually begin to understand that the novel is moving on two tracks. The first tells what CJ, a retired history prof at Portland State University whose specialty had been the moral debacle of the United States’ dealings with its Indian nations, is doing and thinking. The second, more subterranean, suggests what he’s feeling. And when the thinking and feeling finally align, both CJ and the novel ride off into the sunset – CJ into a diminished but genuine if intriguingly detatched rejuvenation of further adventures, the novel to a neatly clipped conclusion.

Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones is a quick read, and deceptively simple. It begins at a funeral in Portland and ends in a minivan camper in Mississippi, with an audio reader on the stereo reciting one of the bawdier passages of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale. In between –through folk singing and drinking and encounters with younger women and older women and new technology and new sexuality and his belated discovery of the other great love of his late wife’s life – CJ slowly sheds the parts of his past that are weighing him down and keeps the parts that can catapult him into vigorous old age.

Continue reading Faith and ‘Gomorrah’: a hero grows old

Wicked good, wicked bad with the LLSB

By Bob Hicks

Breaking theater protocol, Mr. Scatter leaned toward the LLSB* as the show was running and whispered: “She’s like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.”

Mamie Parris as Elphaba. Photo: Joan MarcusThis nugget of cross-genre enlightenment was met with less than enthusiastic acknowledgement because (a) for the LLSB, who was born in 1994, the 2001 movie Legally Blonde almost counts as prehistory; and (b) the LLSB was deep in the pleasures of the megamusical Wicked and did not wish to be distracted by parental interference.

Yes, Wicked. For the second time in a month (after a surprise Valentine’s Day encounter with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) Mr. Scatter found himself in the unusual position of attending a touring version of one of those great big overblown kids’ shows of an expense-account mainstream Broadway musical. The LLSB has developed into an MFMT – a Major Fan of Musical Theater – and Mr. Scatter considers it his bounden duty to feed the appetite as generously and frequently as possible. After all, it may well do more for the lad than pre-calculus or physics in the long run of his life.

Continue reading Wicked good, wicked bad with the LLSB

Link: Feves’ clay motion at craft museum

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By Bob Hicks

Betty Feves (1918-1985) was a pioneering American ceramic artist who lived most of her working life in the Oregon desert town of Pendleton but gained a national reputation as a thorough modernist in a tradition-bound medium, and not coincidentally shattered a few glass ceilings as she went about her work. Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft has just opened a fascinating retrospective of her work, Generations: Betty Feves, and I covered it for Oregon Arts Watch. The result is this story, Betty Feves: down and dirty with the clay.

An excerpt:

“In Feves’ case, (art and craft) seem inseparable. Her more mature work, the stuff where you see more of her and less of her influences, is pared down and elemental, more purely suggestive than representational of anything specific or immediate. But you also see, very clearly, the landscape in which she lived her life: the geologic curvatures and textures, the size and brawn, the brown-based desert colors that shift suddenly and sometimes burst into flame. Things crack and sag and curl, and sometimes their glazed surfaces look like wood or stone. But usually lurking somewhere is the spine of the land. Its impact is inescapable, as in the paintings of the late Oregon abstract artist Carl Morris and the works of Pendleton artist James Lavadour, whose celebrated international career got a kick-start from Feves’ prodding and encouragement.”

Illustration: “Six Figures,” date unknown. Raku on wooden base. Collection of Feves Family. Photo: Dan Kvitka

All new, all the time at NW Dance Project

By Bob Hicks

Ching Ching Wong and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix's "Chameleon." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.For Portland’s scrappy Northwest Dance Project, putting on a program of three world premieres is just another day at the office. It’s how they roll. I went to the company’s Spring Premieres a few nights ago and posted this piece, Spring awakening: NDP’s torrent of new dance, at Oregon Arts Watch. An excerpt:

“In its Spring Premieres program on Friday and Saturday nights in the Newmark Theatre, NDP rolled out three new dances – Wen Wei Wang‘s Conjugations, Sarah Slipper‘s Airys, and Patrick Delcroix‘s Chameleon. And unlike the weather, which was whipping every which way but loose, these three new dances seemed to be blowing from a similar place. An angsty sort of place; a place that made me think more than once of cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s earnest modern interpretive dancer.”

Ching Ching Wong and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix’s “Chameleon.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

Link: OCT does the Locomotion

Tyler Andrew Jones and Andrea White in "Locomotion" at OTC. Photo: Owen Carey.

By Bob Hicks

Today I posted this essay, Doing the Locomotion with kids’ theater, at Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s terrific production of Locomotion, Jacqueline Woodson‘s stage adaptation of her National Book Award-finalist children’s book, which is something of a tree-grows-in-Brooklyn tale. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, to be exact, where a kid nicknamed Locomotion learns to deal with some tough stuff through the power of poetry. An excerpt:

… I like to drop in every now and again on a show for kids. No audience experiences the give-and-take between stage and seats more directly or honestly. If an audience of kids tunes out, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad show: It might just not be right for kids. But if you’re an actor or director it’s a good idea to pay attention to where the kids zone out, because maybe you’ve got a problem on your hands. And if the kids are with you, they’re gonna let you know. Loudly.

Above: Tyler Andrew Jones and Andrea White in “Locomotion” at OTC. Photo: Owen Carey.