By Bob Hicks
Today I posted Theater: Hard Times for big theories on Oregon ArtsWatch _ a little theorizing on the failure of theories, as expressed by Voltaire in Candide (as adapted in the Leonard Bernstein musical at Portland Opera) and Charles Dickens in Hard Times (as adapted by playwright Stephen Jeffreys and performed at CoHo Theatre).
The grand theorizers tried by their creators and found wanting are the libertine Dr. Pangloss in Candide and the earnest schoolmaster Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times. You might find their viewpoints familiar.
A couple of excerpts:
“You can’t walk around the art world, let alone the culture at large, without bumping into a theory or twelve. Essential to science, where they’re part of a continuing process of discovery, they tend to harden into dogma in the cultural, political and religious realms. In art circles people sometimes forget that theories work best when they explain what’s happening in art, not when they try to drive how it’s being made. And when applied rigorously to something as unpredictable and emotional as human beings, theories can create havoc. Ask B.F. Skinner’s kids. Ask Dickens and Voltaire.”
“Gradgrind may be something of a fool, but he’s no Pangloss, adopting a handy theory as an excuse for libertinism. Gradgrind’s public-spirited and wants to be generous: he just gets it wrong. He begins with the Utilitarian tenet that society’s main goal is “the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people,“ a not unreasonable response to the industrial revolution that created a few big winners and a multitude of losers (sound familiar?) as it wrenched Europe away from its agrarian roots, and extends it to a belief that reason, and reason alone, will improve the average person’s lot.”
Inset: Camille Cettina in “Hard Times.” Photo: Gary Norman.
By Bob Hicks
The other day I posted this essay, BodyVox cuts to the Hollywood chase, on Oregon ArtsWatch. It’s about BodyVox dance’s cannily amusing ode to the movies, The Cutting Room, which continues through May 19. In the piece, I dive into the pool where film, dance and music swim around in existential, essentially nonverbal waters, and I try not to sink. An excerpt:
What The Cutting Room achieves is to distill the essence of movie storytelling without weighting it down with any actual story. And it has fun doing it. Its a situational comedy, a comedy of mood and ritual trappings. “Stella!” a voice cries; or, “I’ll have what she’s having”; or “I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”; and we all know what the scene is and where, in Hollywood dreamland, we are. It’s as comfortable and comforting as reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
Photo courtesy BodyVox: Jonathan Krebs (top) and Jamey Hampton.
By Bob Hicks
Portland, a city at last? It’s just possible that Peter Pan is growing up.
Last weekend I saw three plays – the premiere of The Storm in the Barn at Oregon Children’s Theatre; Next to Normal at Artists Rep; and The Bridge, an adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, at Cerimon House. The experience led to this post, What if we woke up and found we’re a city?, on Oregon Arts Watch.
In the post, I discover myself wandering amid “an unruly flowering of culture, often in surprising places.” An excerpt:
“It’s easy to poke fun at it, Portlandia-style. And in the not-so-grand Portland tradition it’s still being done on a broken shoestring. To be clear: Portland isn’t New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, despite a lot of hopeful hype. For one thing, those cities actually put their money where their mouths are. Plus, they’re simply bigger, and size does make a difference. Yet there’s little denying: In spite of ourselves, we’re in the midst of a cultural revolution. And the seeds are blowing all over the place.
“Simple fact: It’s impossible for any one person to keep up with all the theater happening in town. Can’t be done. That alone suggests the end of township and the beginning of city status: Cities are places that are too big to be known. In a real city, no matter how well you know it, you’re always also a stranger. And that can be exciting.”
Photo by Owen Carey: Jack Clevenger in “The Storm in the Barn”
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.
I 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
Art Scatter regulars will remember essayist Trisha Pancio Mead‘s recent struggle with the concept of kale. Her gardening roots run deeper yet: thanks in a roundabout way to Barbara Walters and Keanu Reeves, she’s a budding artist of the side yard plot. Read on to see how the plot thickens â€“ and savor the garden-fresh recipes at the end.
By Trisha Pancio Mead
The pea shoots are up in my garden. The collards and rainbow chard and arugula seedlings are finally gaining the upper hand against the hordes of slugs that have been decimating them this particularly wet spring. The watermelon radishes are popping out little heart shaped leaves and the “cosmic purple” carrots are sitting patiently in their packets for the next sunny day.
Our garden plan this spring is a painter’s palette of unusual hues, heirloom textures and pickle-able curiosities. Golden beets. Red and white speckled cranberry beans. Giant picturesque turban squash. It’s an artist’s garden and a foodie garden, focused on the rare, the expensive, the edible and the beautiful.
I couldn’t be more delighted by it. I find myself out there every morning and every evening, tucking a few more eggshells around some vulnerable seedlings, checking the progress of the dill sprouts, and dreaming of the day, someday soon, when I can pass breezily by the produce section on my weekly grocery trip, rolling my eyeballs at the “local, sustainable” sticker on the tomatoes and announcing to anyone in ear shot that everything in my garden salad will be sourced from my OWN BACKYARD.
It wasn’t always this way.
Continue reading Foodie Diaries: palette on a plate
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.
The 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
By Bob Hicks
Today I posted an essay, Serpents, true believers and ‘Holy Ghosts’, on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about Romulus Linney‘s remarkable 1970 old-time religion drama, which is still fresh and vivid in light of the rise of the fundamentalist right, and worth seeing not just because it’s rousingly good entertainment but also because it’s the farthest thing from a predictable diatribe: it’s funny and sympathetic and engaging, and then every now and again it reminds you that some pretty strange stuff’s going down. Beth Harper’s production for Portland Actors Conservatory is a … well, a revelation.
“Music is at the soul of the revivalist spirit that haunts Holy Ghosts, and poisonous snakes, the successful handling of which signifies faith and glory to the true believers of the theatrical congregation, are in its grip. Linney’s play is Southern Gothic, and from a rationalist perspective its characters are as nutty as a Truman Capote fruitcake – who are these people, and why are they doing this insane stuff? – but they also follow a rigorous logic of the heart. The craziest thing about the play is how it gets inside fanaticism and allows you to understand and even sympathize with it, or at least with the people who turn to it for solace. …
“Blue state urban bubble-dwellers really ought to see this play, and not to poke fun at the red-state rubes, although the drama has some very funny scenes, but to get inside some pretty interesting skin and begin to understand the culture wars from a different perspective. Among these fervidly holy men and women ‘value politics’ isn’t a matter of partisan tactics but of everyday life. And don’t think you’ll always know what the values are …”
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?
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.
Three 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
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?
In 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!
Melissa Whitney and Peter Schuyler, on the beach in “Much Ado.” Photo: Jon Gottshall