Category Archives: Martha Ullman West

Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Photo: Pak HanPhoto: Pak Han

By Martha Ullman West

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Conduit since I moved to Portland’s South Park blocks – also known as the city’s “cultural district” – a month ago, happily walking a few blocks to see Top Shake Dance; the studio’s 17th anniversary benefit, where it was lovely to see some excerpts of Mary Oslund’s work; and, most recently, Thursday night’s opening of Bay Area choreographer Randee Paufve’s So I Married Abraham Lincoln …, subtitled A Dance about the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln and the American First Lady.

It’s a lovely piece, containing all the attributes of a really good novel: it makes you laugh and makes you cry and makes you think.  Paufve, no stranger to Portland – she’s danced with Mary Oslund and Gregg Bielemeier and performed her own work here as well – has incorporated spoken text, a score that includes classical, folk and rock music, some of which the dancers sing, and her own space-devouring movement vocabulary into one of the best pieces of dance theater I’ve seen in many a moon.

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OBT’s ‘Chromatic Quartet,’ Take 2

OBT performs the world premiere of Matyash Mrozewski's "The Lost Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Art Scatter’s chief correspondent, Martha Ullman West, keeps a sharp and steady eye on the dance world for a variety of publications. A week ago she reviewed the opening of Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s “Chromatic Quartet” program for The Oregonian. (Art Scatter’s Bob Hicks followed with this take on Oregon Arts Watch.) Then, on Friday night, Ullman West returned to the Newmark Theatre to see what a week’s experience and some different casting had done to the show. Sometimes, quite a bit. Here’s her report.


By Martha Ullman West

Just as you think you can’t stand to see Lambarena again, ever, Yuka Iino dances the lead female role with such charm, such energy, such abandon and such pleasure, you want to see her do it again.

Grace Shibley and Brett Bauer in Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." Photo: Blaine Truitt CovertI had fully intended to leave the Newmark Theatre at the second intermission Friday night, having watched many companies (well, three) perform a ballet I don’t think really works. But I was curious to see how convincingly Iino and Chauncey Parsons would de-classicize themselves in Val Caniparoli’s blending of tribal dance and ballet. In movement that is antithetical to classical epaulement, Iino was terrific, Parsons had the right energy, and Yang Zou’s undulating shoulders looked like they’d been oiled at the joint.

Continue reading OBT’s ‘Chromatic Quartet,’ Take 2

OBT Next: schooling the audience

By Martha Ullman West

The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre delivered a promising and rewarding evening of ballet on Thursday night. It repeats on Sunday, and it’s well worth seeing even if you’ve no little hostage-to-fortune performing on the Newmark stage.

sobt_asp2012The evening began with a clean, musical performance of Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15; Mozart’s gorgeous score, in a piano reduction, was played elegantly by David Saffert. As a curtain-raiser, Divertimento works well for professional companies, too: the solos of the Theme and Variations show off the skills of individual dancers, and the group sections – the opening Allegro and closing Allegro Molto  – reveal a cohesive corps de ballet. Clearly, SOBT is training dancers to feed the company, men and women both. I was particularly taken by the dancing of Jordan Kindell, a company apprentice, in this and everything else in which he danced, as well as Chloe Shelby in the First Variation.

If Divertimento 15 shows off the pre-professional and upper-level dancers, Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka, with Ring Master Kevin Poe flicking the whip (thank God) rather than cracking it, gives an excellent indication of the various levels of training, from the tallest kid in blue or green to the littlest one in pink. This was followed by a tidy accounting of an excerpt from Trey McIntyre’s Curupira, a percussive dance with the pointe shoes providing the music, much as they do in Dennis Spaight’s Crayola.

Continue reading OBT Next: schooling the audience

Timeless TBA: art & politics in ‘Giselle’

“We could do with a regiment of Wilis to haunt the halls of Congress,” Martha Ullman West declares, and then she tells us why. Art Scatter’s chief correspondent, who reviewed Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s current production of “Giselle” here for The Oregonian, expands on her ideas for us, moving the conversation into the twilight territory between arts and politics.

Giselle (Haiyan Wu) and the peasants in "Giselle" at OBT. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

By Martha Ullman West

With no apologies whatsoever to PICA and its annual TBA festival, Giselle is a sterling example of time-based art.

The creators of this collaborative piece from 1841 – composer Adolphe Adam, choreographers Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and librettists Vernoy de Saint Georges and Theophile Gautier – were seasoned, rather than young, creatives.

Coralli and Perrot were making some distinct innovations in ballet technique, particularly pointe work, which gave new prominence and independence to ballerinas. You can see this particularly in Act II, where the women balance in unsupported arabesques. And the librettists were expressing, or reflecting, some political ideas just seven years before Karl Marx (who came from the Rhineland, in which the ballet is set) issued the Communist Manifesto.

So the ballet is at once time-based and timeless, a great work of art, providing a cathartic experience in the theater as well as much food for thought. Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new production (staged by Lola de Avila, and repeating this weekend) looks distinctly old, but because of the commitment and talents of the dancers, it speaks to our concerns as well as our hearts.

Think about the libretto. The class divide (or “war,” to use Republican hyperbole, and which our president isn’t causing) drives the plot.

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Mark Goldweber memorial January 22

Art Scatter chief correspondent Martha Ullman West sends along this note about the Portland memorial service for Mark Goldweber, the founding ballet master of Oregon Ballet Theatre, who died last month from lymphoma at age 53. Goldweber, who made and kept many friends here, moved on to ballet-master positions at the Joffrey Ballet and then Ballet West in Salt Lake City. Martha also wrote this moving memorial for Portland Arts Watch.

mark-goldweber-e1323825569587A  gathering at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 22, in the studios of Oregon Ballet Theatre (818 Southeast Sixth Avenue, Portland) will remember Mark Goldweber, who was company ballet master from 1988 until 1997, when he returned to the Joffrey Ballet, where he had been a dancer, to take up the same position. Goldweber, who was ballet master for Salt Lake City’s Ballet West when he died on December 9, was a superb dancer as well as ballet master. He set high standards for OBT that are still in place today.

Performance video will be shown, not only of Goldweber dancing, but also of ballets on which he had a real influence: his love of Romanov history as well as 19th century classicism was an integral part of James Canfield’s Nutcracker, and it was he who lovingly staged the company’s first production of Giselle. Speakers will include, among others, Carol Shults, former OBT dancers Daniel Kirk and Katarina Svetlova Thompson; Josie Moseley, and yours truly. Since space is limited, please RSVP to Carol Shults at

Art and storytelling, Best Friends Forever

By Bob Hicks

The fun thing about art is that it always seems to come with a story. Not that the stories are more important than the art — at least, not usually — but they do have a way of getting a potentially esoteric subject down to the nitty gritty.

Alfred Maurer, "George Washington," Portland Art MuseumMartha Ullman West, whose tale about the painter Titian and the man-about-Europe Pietro Aretino provided the pith for our previous posting, took a break from the thickets of her book manuscript to send along another quick story, this one about the American painter Alfred Maurer, whose 1932 Cubist version of George Washington was included in a piece I wrote in this morning’s Oregonian about images of faces in the permanent collection of the Portland Art Museum. The story was a sidebar to my cover story about Titian’s La Bella, which is on temporary display at the museum. Martha’s father, to complete the setup, was the New York painter Allen Ullman, and her grandfather was the artist Eugene Ullman, so inside stories about artists flowed like wine in her childhood home.

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Titian and the Scourge of Princes

By Bob Hicks

Titian did not live starving and penniless in an unheated artist’s garret. He was wealthy and famous in his own time — more Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst, at least as far as the fame game goes, than Vincent Van Gogh.

    Pietro Aretino, first portrait by Titian, c. 1512, at the Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti in Florence.At least partly, that’s because he had a good press agent.

Mr. Scatter has been spending some time lately communing with the great Venetian High Renaissance artist, because Titian’s 1536 portrait of an unknown lady, La Bella, has taken up temporary residence in the European galleries of the Portland Art Museum. You can read about it in Mr. S’s cover story from this morning’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s most highly paid correspondent, tipped us off to the key role played in Titian’s life and career by one Pietro Aretino, a man known with less than complete enthusiasm in certain circles as “Scourge of Princes.” Historians have acknowledged Aretino also as a scabrous satirist (hence the “scourge”), a pornographer and a proto-feminist, a playwright and poet, and one of the finest art critics of his day. That’s why they called them Renaissance men.

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Oklahoma! — the dance continues

Gregory J. Hanks, Timothy Ware, Jurran Muse and Don Kenneth Mason put some kick into "Oklahoma!" Photo: Patrick WeisenhampelPatrick Weishampel

By Martha Ullman West

I’ve already expressed my outrage at the comments posted on Marty Hughley’s preview of Oklahoma! in The Oregonian that confirmed what I already knew: We are decades away from a post-racial society, whatever that means. It will be a joyful day when we celebrate our differences rather than tolerating them, like a drug reaction.

So I thought I’d go see for myself whether Portland Center Stage‘s not-quite all-black cast (Jonathan Raviv, magnificent as the Persian peddler, isn’t African-American) would change the dramatic impact of a musical I grew up with. I still own the original cast album; I still know almost all the music and lyrics by heart, and I love the ground-breaking dances, which furthered the plot rather than stopping the drama.

Original Dances by Agnes de Mille, the program says.  Choreographer Joel Ferrell, it also says, whose dances for My Fair Lady I much enjoyed several years ago when Center Stage presented its pared-down version. For Oklahoma!, Ferrell’s choreography for the ensemble is just dandy: the clog/tap dancing of the men in Kansas City, the two-steps and waltzes for social occasions. But the cluttering-up of the Dream Ballet with, of all things, a bed and dance-hall girls of extreme vulgarity, is a huge disappointment. That’s picking up on Jud’s fascination with pornography, but it’s way over the top. And I wish Laurie’s dream double were actually a ballet dancer. Perhaps that wasn’t practical, but I suspect DeMille got that idea from Eugene Loring‘s Billy the Kid, in which Billy’s dream sweetheart is the only dancer on pointe.

Having said all that, I loved this Oklahoma! — the pace of Chris Coleman’s direction, the characterizations, the detail, the bits, the subtleties and the broadness we call dynamics. Its one flaw is the cluttered dream ballet, which I remember for its simplicity and stripped-down horror. And I especially loved Rodney Hicks’s Curly, Brianna Horne’s Laurey, and Justin Lee Miller’s Jud Fry.


Gregory J. Hanks, Timothy Ware, Jurran Muse and Don Kenneth Mason put some kick into “Oklahoma!” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel.

OBT’s Petrouchka and Carmen revisited

petrouchka_5_500pxJames McGrew

By Martha Ullman West


Last night I returned to Keller Auditorium because I wanted to see again Nicolo Fonte’s highly detailed urban rendering of Petrouchka, and to see Haiyan Wu dance Micaela in Carmen. I’m very glad I did.

Apparently, for some readers, I failed to convey in my original review for The Oregonian that I loved Fonte’s re-imagining of Fokine’s ballet when I saw it the first time on opening night.  I’m pleased to report that after a second viewing, I’m even more impressed by the way it reflects 21st century concerns, in the same way that the original imparts the zeitgeist of early 20th century Russia.

One hundred years ago, when the ballet premiered, Russia was between revolutions, culturally part European and part Asian, and Stravinsky and his collaborators were searching for a national identity. That Petrouchka was all about engagement and its dangers. Fonte’s, with its faceless corps de ballet and the title character’s search for an identity, seems to me to be about the perils of disengagement.

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Neon Panic: Crime of the symphony

By Martha Ullman West

I have had an addiction to detective stories (and coffee, I confess) since I was fourteen years old, when I read Agatha Christie late into the night, using a flashlight, in my dormitory room at the Quaker boarding school I loved.

booktransWe sometimes had interesting vespers speakers on Sunday evenings, and in my junior year Rex Stout, whose daughter was a year ahead of me, was invited to come and talk about world federalism. The author of the immensely popular Nero Wolfe series of mysteries took one look at the drowsy teenagers draped over their desks in the big study hall and decided to wake us up by telling us how to write a mystery story. There were diagrams, there were rules, there were myriad complexities to the craft.

I thought of that while I was reading Neon Panic: A Novel of Suspense (400 pages, $14,95, Vantage Point Books), by Charles Philipp Martin, a Seattle writer who lived for many years in Hong Kong, the setting for his first novel. It’s a good, well-paced, carefully plotted read, with interesting if somewhat one-dimensional characters and a fascinating mise en scene he knows well, and he’s to be commended for it.

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