Tag Archives: Nutcracker

For OBT, a season to give you the Wilis

By Bob Hicks

The world of ballet has its share of exotic creatures, from lovelorn swan-women to a magical firebird to a princess who takes a hundred-year nap.

Lithograph by unknown of the ballerina Carlotta Grisi in en:Giselle. Paris, 1841. Image was scanned from the book "The Romantic Ballet in Paris" by Ivor Guest. Wikimedia Commons.But no one seems quite as oddball, or as eerily sympathetic and nasty at the same time, as the Wilis, those sad young spectres of girls who were jilted by their lovers before their wedding day and now spend their nights madly dancing young men to death before fading off into the sunrise.

Tuesday night, Oregon Ballet Theatre threw a little party in its studios to announce its 2011-12 season, and one of the highlights of the lineup is Giselle, the venerable story ballet in which the Wilis rose to fame.

Here’s the new season lineup:

Continue reading For OBT, a season to give you the Wilis

Felix/Martha goes a-nutcrackin’

The Snowflakes in the grand finale to Act One of Oregon Ballet Theatre's production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

As regular readers may recall, the Small Large Smelly Boy (a.k.a. Felix/Martha) is a lover of the ballet. Not so much contemporary dance — at 13, he’s a classicist at heart — but definitely the ballet. That made a trip to this year’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Oregon Ballet Theatre a command performance, so off we went on Wednesday night. Mr. Scatter had asked Felix/Martha if he’d like to blog about the experience, and he declined. But in the car on the way downtown, Mr. Scatter struck a deal: Write five sentences about the show after you’ve seen it, and I’ll write the post. Done, with a bonus Sentence No. 6. To maintain the verity of balance, Mr. Scatter decided to confine himself to an equal number of segments. Felix/Martha’s sentences are in bold, Mr. Scatter’s in more quotidian light face. Final performances are Thursday night and Friday noon.

By Felix/Martha and Bob Hicks

1. The music is brilliant, better even than the dancing. The story is compelling, and the mixture of it all — plot, dance and music — forms an arguable masterpiece.

Continue reading Felix/Martha goes a-nutcrackin’

Thoroughly modern Rachel Clara Marie

Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s chief correspondent, shares some modern and classical moments with dancer/choreographer Rachel Tess and rediscovers that the distance between old and new is often whisker-thin.

Dancer Rachel Tess. Photo: Christa Mariottini

By Martha Ullman West

I took thoroughly modern choreographer Rachel Tess to the opening matinee of Balanchine’s The Nutcracker with me on opening day last Saturday, the day after seeing her compelling tour de force of a solo show, Once a Fool…

Dressed in bright blue cotton trousers, running shoes, and a couple of layers of sweaters and tops, backed by an installation of glass canning jars, Tess in a half hour of a capella movement took us in Once a Fool through a soliloquy of rage and regret, gaiety and bemusement, sometimes using jagged angular movement, other times movement as rhythmic and insouciant as an old-time hoofer.

nutcracker_1Whatever and wherever Tess is performing, whether it is in her friend Paige Prendergast’s Breeze Block Gallery last Thursday and Friday, or at Disjecta during a heat wave the summer before last, she has the presence and confidence of modern/contemporary dancers and choreographers who are far more experienced than she.

Or are they? Tess is a Portland girl, who as a child danced Clara in James Canfield’s first Nutcracker for what was then Pacific Ballet Theatre. She danced other roles in his second version for Oregon Ballet Theatre (in which Clara becomes Marie, as she is in Balanchine’s version, and in Canfield’s later, beautiful take, in which she’s performed by a small-sized company member, such as Vanessa Thiessen).

Continue reading Thoroughly modern Rachel Clara Marie

Keep on truckin’, Scatter: grinding gears with OBT, Polaris, Sophie and Do Jump!

By Bob Hicks

Shocking as it may seem, sometimes the denizens of Art Scatter World Headquarters don’t give it away for free.

Performers: Andrea Lawhead, Brittany Walsh, Nicolo Kehrwald, Wendy Cohen, Tia Zapp, and Molly Courtney in Do Jump!'s "Greatest Hits for the Holidays." Photo by Jim Lykins“If I can’t sell it gonna keep sittin’ on it, never gonna give it away,” the hard-bitten narrator of the bawdy blues tune Keep on Truckin’ declares. Her hardcore-capitalist sentiment is definitely not the motto at Art Scatter, where we tend to write what we write just because it sends little shivers up and down our spines. Still, we have an abiding fondness for those stalwarts of the heritage media who help us keep the spring in our mattress by paying cash on the barrel head for written contributions. O admirable concept! Here are a few recent pieces wherein we’ve made the noble trade of play for pay. We thank the editors of The Oregonian for assigning these exercises in fundamental free trade, and the publisher for his largesse:

  • A third of a century in, the prestidigious performance troupe Do Jump! just keeps getting better. Mr. Scatter reviews the company’s lighter-than-air holiday show. Catch it if you can.
  • Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s chief correspondent and maker of one mean seafood stew, reviews the old reliable Nutcracker and the new kid on the Oregon Ballet Theatre block, a witty grown-up revue with the dancers and singer Susannah Mars. As those TV guys say, thumbs up.
  • Mr. Scatter takes in Repo, the latest show from Polaris Dance Theatre, and reviews it.
  • More than a quarter-century after she first hit the stage in Soph, trouper Wendy Westerwelle once again embodies the amazing Sophie Tucker, last of the red-hot mamas — this time in a leaner, more intimate show. Mr. Scatter compares and reviews.

Grab a seat and come along for the ride. We’ll be truckin’ ’til the break of day.


Andrea Lawhead, Brittany Walsh, Nicolo Kehrwald, Wendy Cohen, Tia Zapp, and Molly Courtney in Do Jump!’s “Greatest Hits for the Holidays.” Photo: Jim Lykins.

Hot links: hard nut, black swan, bad ‘Y’

Mark Morris and his Dance Group in the Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 2008. Photo: Klaus Lucka/Wikimedia Commons.

By Bob Hicks

HARD NUT: It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen The Hard Nut, Mark Morris‘s pared-down version of The Nutcracker, but I’ve always more than liked it. It’s lean yet lush, beautifully framed, and intensely musical.

Nikolai Dimitriyevich Kuznetsov, portrait of Tchaikovsky, oil on canvas, 1893. State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons.You still occasionally hear people refer to it as Morris’s winking bad-boy spoof of the ubiquitous holiday story ballet, but people who think that about it (a) aren’t paying a lot of attention to the dance itself, and (b) apparently haven’t read the E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which both The Hard Nut and The Nutcracker are based. Morris took the narrative for his version, which premiered in 1991, directly from Hoffmann’s tale-within-the-tale, which is more sinister than your average sugar plum and which Hoffmann himself titled The Hard Nut. If you’ve never read the Hoffman story, it’s well worth it.

The Hard Nut returns to the Brooklyn Academy of Music next weekend, and this morning’s New York Times carries a freewheeling Q&A interview with Morris by Julie Bloom. It offers a great inside look at Morris’s thinking and his approach to art. He declares himself a classicist in many ways, which I think is true, especially in terms of musicality. And he reveals that it was his love for Tchaikovsky‘s score that prompted him to create The Hard Nut in the first place.

Absolutely. Tchaikovsky strikes me as one of our most misunderstood major composers, a guy whose work is often dismissed as sweet and antiquarian. Hardly. Yes, his music is melodically gorgeous. Structurally, it’s like steel: tough and springy, and fully anticipating modernism. As Morris puts it, it’s “astonishingly advanced.”

Read the interview here. And don’t forget that Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s production of the Balanchine Nutcracker opens December 11.

Continue reading Hot links: hard nut, black swan, bad ‘Y’

Holy holidays, hipsters. Is it that time already?

The Oregon Symphony's annual "Gospel Christmas" concert rocks the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

By Bob Hicks

It’s true. Mr. Scatter, in his semi-official capacity as regional chronicler of the wintry festivities, has published a pair of guides to holiday concerts and shows in this morning’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

Three weeks before Thanksgiving. But not, in Mr. Scatter’s defense, before Halloween. (And in that regard, ask Mrs. Scatter sometime how the giant gargoyle on the front porch came to have its ugly little plaster mug smashed in.)

Finn Henell as Pinocchio and Josh Murry as Gerard the Shopkeeper in The Portland Ballet's "La Boutique Fantasque." Photo: Blaine Truitt CovertThe Twelve Shows of Christmas gives the lowdown on a selection of Portland’s big-deal holiday events — things like The Nutcracker and Tuba Christmas, which are not only inevitable but also oddly alluring. The Scatter Family is sure to hit several of them.

Resisting the early arrival of the holidays? includes a lot of smaller, often quirkier shows that appeal to Mr. Scatter’s sense of seasonal follies, including the neo-Piaf band Padam Padam and the sackbutt-blatting Oregon Renaissance Band. It also evokes the not-so-sainted memories of Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Harry Simeone Chorale. You’ll have to hit that link button (or pick up your dead-tree copy) to find out how.

Continue reading Holy holidays, hipsters. Is it that time already?

Thursday scatter: church blues, high spirits, NW Biennial

So, what does a possible breakup of the Episcopal Church in the United States have to do with the price of tickets in Portland? Nothing, maybe. Then again, maybe something, after all.

At first blush this morning’s news in the New York Times that a small group of conservative bishops has declared itself divorced from the American branch of the church (though not from global Anglicanism) doesn’t seem to have much to do with the world of art. The dispute seems to be mostly over American Episcopalians’ welcoming of gay and lesbian parishioners, and conservatives’ continuing disgruntlement over the ordination five years ago of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The temptation is to scratch your head over how, in a supposedly sophisticated spiritual communion in the year 2008, homosexuality can still be a bitterly divisive issue, to declare that 20 years from now the children of the breakaway churchmen and churchwomen will be similarly scratching their heads trying to figure out what in the world their parents were thinking, and move on. Their church, their problem: Every great social movement has its backwater of protest.

But. If this really goes through, almost inevitably there will be lawsuits
over which faction owns church property when a local church breaks away from the larger group. And because churches enjoy tax-exempt status, the possibility of spillover to the nonprofit world isn’t out of the question. When this fight hits the courts the question of why churches aren’t taxed will be raised in a lot of quarters. And although we all complain about the lack of public support for the arts, the fact remains that our local and national governments do provide nonprofit arts groups (which in a city like Portland means just about all of them) with the very big financial advantage that nonprofit status entails — a public underwriting, in the fine print of the ledger books, of the arts and other community-based endeavors. Don’t expect, in our current atmosphere of bailouts, defaults, rising unemployment and scary recession, that this form of public spending won’t be challenged, too. Especially amid the rising libertarian movement, which looks suspiciously on any and all hands it thinks might be dipping into its pocket.

With the recession already coming down heavily on arts groups — for instance, Oregon Ballet Theatre has dropped live music from the majority of this month’s performances of The Nutcracker, a major step backward for a company that’s been making a name for itself nationally — an added hit in the tax and underwriting pocket could be devastating. And don’t think it can’t happen. A few years ago a judge on the Oregon Coast decided that the tax breaks to a small community theater in Lincoln City weren’t legal. If he’d prevailed (he didn’t) the entire structure of arts support in Oregon would have been jeopardized. So, onward, cultural soldiers. Don’t take anything for granted. Keep in touch with those city council members and state legislators. And keep making your case.


On a bubblier note, a friend points out that Prohibition ended 75 years ago Friday — on Dec. 5, 1933 — and we’ll drink to that. The 18th Amendment, which ironically put a lot of the roar into the Roaring Twenties, had gone into effect on June 16, 1920, and had the effect mainly of manufacturing a lot of criminals out of previously law-abiding folks. It also led to a thriving moonshine industry, the possible naming of the great Li’l Abner character Moonbeam McSwine (and the comic strip’s house tipple, Kickapoo Joy Juice), and those eventual twin pillars of American pop culture, the movie and song versions of Thunder Road.

So, celebrate — quietly, moderately, enjoyably — tomorrow night. We’re putting a bottle of Saint-Hillaire 2004 Blanquette de Limoux brut in the Art Scatter refrigerator right now.


It’s no secret that the old Oregon Biennial was about as high on Bruce Guenther’s list of priorities as his shoelaces: Asked once what he’d like to do with the Biennial, the Portland Art Museum‘s chief curator grinned and said, “Kill it off.”

Eventually, he did.

But if the state of Oregon doesn’t have a broad-overview showcase of the visual arts any more, or even the more narrowly focused showcase that the Biennial became before it quivered and died, the Pacific Northwest does. Today the Tacoma Art Museum announced the featured artists for its ninth annual Northwest Biennial, and followers of the Portland art scene will recognize a lot of the talent.

Michael Brophy (that’s his highway scene above), Linda Hutchins, Victor Maldonado, Stephanie Robison and Susan Seubert all made the cut of 24 (from 543 entries), as did Tannaz Farsi and Chang-Ae Song of Eugene. All of the others are from Washington state, mostly Seattle: Rick Araluce, Gala Bent, Jack Daws, Eric Elliott, Sarah Hood, Denzil Hurley, Robert Jones, Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, Zhi Lin, Micki Lippe, Margie Livingston, Deborah Moore, Susan Robb, Ross Sawyers, Scott Trimble. No one from Idaho or Montana was chosen.

The picks were made by Tacoma museum curator Rock Hushka and Alison de Lima Greene, contemporary curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can zip up the freeway and see the show between Jan. 31 and May 25.