Tag Archives: White Bird

The smooth meets the idiosyncratic: Skinner/Kirk+Bielemeier

Let’s just say we’re about to face-plant along a truly scouring patch of financial gravel road. Let’s just say. And those responsible for the emotional health of the citizenry (who would that be exactly?) start looking for a way to cheer us up, bread and circuses before we become an angry mob. Who should they call?

Here’s a vote for Gregg Bielemeier, because nothing brings a smile to your face faster than a Bielemeier dance. His dances are a little like those old Tex Avery cartoons, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, with maybe a little Fantasia thrown in to class up the act a little, the amusing bits of Fantasiaanyway. They have their own madcap illogic, the same happy spirit, the same invitation into an absurd world. And at the end of the day, or the show, they are gentle somehow, too, even Utopian a little bit. We dance, and that is good.

As I was grinning through the “+Bielemeier” contribution to the Skinner/Kirk+Bielemeier dance concert, which runs through Sunday, Half of Some, Neither of Either, I finally just clicked my pen and put it back in my pocket, leaving the note-taking to someone else. I just wanted to connect to the jazzy mix of David Ornette Cherry’s winsome music and Lyndee Mah’s scatty vocals, to Bielemeier’s own madcap solos, to the sweetest duet imaginable from Habiba Addo and Eric Skinner, to the funny little bits and general joy of living tossed off by the rest of the dancers as if they didn’t have a care in the world.
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Art Scatter looks back on a dance with a kick

I thought I’d said everything I was going to say about last week’s White Bird performance of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and the Shaolin Monks in this preview piece that ran in The Oregonian. But one friend who was impatient with the show asked me via email what I’d thought. And another friend said she couldn’t take time to post her own response, but if I posted something she’d respond in the comments.

So forgive the lateness of it all, but here we go:

“What did you think of the show?” my friend Sharon wrote. “I thought it could have benefited from some major editing. King does some really creative collaborations, but I found that the monks were much more interesting than the dancers (and he’s got a company of truly beautiful dancers … they just weren’t given a lot to work with). I was hoping for more integration, more story — rather than the flat cultural juxtoposition we saw. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like what I saw, I just wanted more and I wanted it more tightly woven.”

Another friend quoted her friend on the show, succinctly: “The trouble was, you couldn’t take your eyes off the monks.”

My own view is that something pretty interesting was going on here, and as much as I enjoyed it, I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a half-hour shorter: It was too much of a good thing. Every time I’ve seen LINES I’ve liked the work but felt it really needed to be cut.

I also agree there was no story in this piece, which is called “Long River, High Sky” — I don’t think King does stories. He sets up communities instead, so you get the possibility of stories coming out of it. But he’s not going to do it himself, the way that Balanchine or Tudor or Robbins or Ailey or Bill T. Jones would. I think of King as an explorer, interested in the borders between cultures. Especially in this sort of piece — like his “Moroccan Project” and his “People of the Forest,” a collaboration with a troupe of pygmy dancers and musicians from central Africa — his two cultures meet, mingle, try to find a way to mesh.

That’s what he’s interested in. How, given this meeting of cultures, will a new culture evolve? It’s dance as anthropology — not in the ordinarily conceived sense of “authentic” ethnic dance, but in that awkward, exciting, exploratory moment when two unknowns cross paths and begin to investigate each other. If, in “Long River, High Sky,” we find the kung-fu monks more compelling (and I also find a couple of King’s dancers magnetic on stage), perhaps it’s because we’re less familiar with what they do. And, yes, the monks’ aesthetic of combat is pretty cool stuff to watch.

Anyone else want to kick in on this discussion?

BodyVox jumps for joy about its new home

While we’re all worrying about arts organizations going bust (let’s just hope there’s life and vitality in the Portland Jazz Festival yet) and arguing about whether the city needs a covered plaza as a gateway to the downtown arts district, let’s take time out for a spot of good news.

BodyVox has a new home.

OK, right now it’s a big old mostly empty warehouse with 1890s brick walls reminiscent of a 1970s restaurant rehab (Art Scatter happens to be fond of old brick walls and brawny posts and beams, if not necessarily hanging ferns). But Jamey Hampton, who runs the popular dance and movement troupe with his wife and fellow performer/choreographer Ashley Roland, says the space will be ready for the company’s spring show, and adds that the troupe’s architects, Portland’s BOORA, are estimating a complete makeover by next June. Well, maybe some of the office spaces won’t be quite done by then, Hampton says: Depends on the money.

Portland is a talk-big, think-small town, and that’s both bad and good. The bad part is that it supports its large organizations poorly and doesn’t really think, despite its sometimes fawning press notices, that it can play in the big leagues. The good part is that modest-sized organizations such as BodyVox have learned how to get the most bang for their buck and have an impact far beyond the size of their budgets. It’s a corrolary to our economic self-image: We define ourselves as a small-business-friendly city because we don’t have much in the way of big businesses, and then turn that into an advantage.

BodyVox’s new building, which it rolled out in a convivial tour/party late Monday afternoon, is at Northwest Northrup Street and 17th Avenue, a nice, relatively quiet urban stretch that’s tucked neatly between the Pearl District and the city’s more traditional Northwest neighborhoods. Easy to get to, relatively easy to find a parking space, and a mortgage, not a lease. Nice work if you can get it, and BodyVox did.

The building, which began life as Portland’s Wells Fargo building (the main space was for carriage storage, and there were also stables and a dormitory for the drivers) and more recently was the printing and publishing space for Corberry Press, came to BodyVox through Henry Hillman, the arts supporter, photographer, glass artist and owner of several properties. As Roland tells the story, Hillman had been advising BodyVox in its hunt for a new, bigger space, and kept pointing out the shortcomings of several possibilities: too small, not at street level, too hard to rehab. Finally, Hampton said, “Well, what about your building?” And Hillman said, “Hmmm.” Hillman keeps his glass studio next door, and as a bonus has a decent parking lot that BodyVox can use in the evenings.

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A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls

“While you’re catching up on weekend papers,” our blogging compatriot Mighty Toy Cannon of Culture Shock writes, “I’d be interested in your comments on the Oregonian editorial regarding the renovation of the Schnitz and the possible enclosure of the Main Street Plaza (Saturday, August 30).”

As Mighty Toy points out, the editorial got lost not only by running on a Saturday but also because it was buried beneath the flurry of news about vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (pre-grandma version) — and wasn’t that an artfully worded baby announcement, by the way.

The editorial’s gist is this: Even though most Portlanders could care less about the symphony and opera and ballet, these things are important to our economy and our sense of civic pride. The city’s most prominent performance space, downtown’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, is in need of big fixes — at least $10 million, maybe a lot more — partly because its acoustics are subpar, and it’s used 60 percent of the time by the Oregon Symphony, a group for which acoustics are exceedingly important.

So far so good. But then the editorial gets down to what really seems to excite its author: the possibility of reviving the idea of some sort of bridge between the Schnitz and the theater building that houses the Newmark and Dolores Winningstad theaters right across Main Street. It’s an idea that was part of the original 1982 blueprints for the Portland Center for the Performing Arts but was scrapped for financial reasons. And it would include permanently blocking off Main between Broadway and Park Avenue to create a plaza that would connect the two buildings.

“In the offing now,” the editorialist writes, “is an opportunity to finally connect the two buildings, to animate their too-often-dormant lobbies, to cleverly create downtown’s long-sought ‘gateway’ to its cultural district.”

OK, first a little history. When the performing arts center was being planned in the early 1980s, it was all to be built on land donated by Evans Products adjacent to Keller Auditorium, which was then known as Civic Auditorium. That plan would have created a Portland version of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — an arts cluster near downtown but not quite at its center. And except for the old Civic, all the halls would be built new, so the acoustics and seating would be up-to-date and you wouldn’t run into any of the surprises and compromises that go along with historical renovation. (The Schnitz at the time was known as the Paramount, and was a shabby onetime vaudeville and movie house that was being used for rock ‘n’ roll concerts.)

But downtown business and political interests pushed through a swap so the new center would be housed instead along a stretch of Broadway that had become run-down, creating an economic spur to help the center of the city out of its recession doldrums. The Paramount, with all of its problems, became the key player in the switch, and the city took over the block across from Main to build its two smaller theater spaces. Economically, the plan worked like a dream (for the business district, at least: the arts center itself, and the companies that used it, still suffer because the center’s financial structure covered only the costs of construction, with no regard for maintenance or operation).

Flash forward to 2008 and the latest push to create a “gateway” to the cultural district, which also includes the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum along the South Park Blocks. And forget for the moment the nasty realities about actually funding any sort of project, because that’s a subject far too complex for this post. As the Oregonian editorial stresses, it would require plenty of individual, corporate and foundation support in addition to tax money.

Continue reading A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls

Scatter news and scatter notes

\"Gross Clinic,\" Thomas EakinsNews: The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Art have raised the $68 million necessary to buy Thomas Eakins’ “Gross Clinic” and keep it in Philadelphia. Without a city-wide effort to purchase it, “Gross Clinic” would have headed to Bentonville, Ark., and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by a Wal-Mart heiress.

Notes: So, the question arises, what paintings residing in Oregon would (or should) generate a similar effort to keep them in the state? My quick, short, wrong list: 1.) The C.S. Prices at the Central Library. 2.) The Hilda Morris bronze sculpture in front of the Standard Insurance Building on S.W. 6th Ave. (and maybe her sculptures on the lawn at Reed College). 3.) The Isaka Shamsud-Din painting of the pool hall. Isn’t it at the Portland Art Museum? 4.) Cindy Parker’s big painting at the Convention Center. 5.) The multi-paneled James Lavadour that usual resides at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton. But that’s a very fast, rough cut (obviously!). Help me out!

News: Francis Bacon’s 1976 Triptych goes on sale at Sotheby’s in New York on May 14 and is expected to fetch somewhere around $70 million. It’s the last major Bacon painting still in private hands.

Notes: Yesterday, we connected the British painter Francis Bacon to Portland artist George Johanson — Bacon, David Hockney and the Brits he met at the Birgit Skiold printmaking studios in London helped to confirm his decision to leave Abstract Expressionism behind and re-embrace the figure. Art Scatter has a certain fondness for Bacon, both his gruesome paintings and his tumultuous personal life, from his days in the Weimar demi-monde to Paris to London. We like the sense of dread that hovers over his paintings, his reduction of humans to slabs of beef, those famous gaping mouths that suggest torture. He prefigures, maybe even predicts, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the Dark Ops rooms in Eastern Europe, although he was probably citing Nazi torture chambers. It’s possible that this reading is too political, though; maybe he thought he was representing the human condition period, not the human condition in extremis.

Although I don’t have the receipts in front of me, I’m pretty confident that no George Johanson painting has ever commanded $70 million. Heck, the prints at Pulliam Deffenbaugh are $850 apiece, not to equate them with Triptych, which is a major Bacon painting. But the sensuality of Johanson’s paintings, without a glimmer of S/M in sight, has a dark, mysterious element, that speaks to us, too. Things are about to happen in them, voluptuous things, sexual things, passionate things, rarely creepy things. I like their possibility.

News:The San Francisco Ballet is in the middle of a festival of new work — 10 new dances by the likes of Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, James Kudelka and Christopher Wheeldon.

Notes: Lots of those names will be familiar to White Bird and Oregon Ballet Theatre fans. And the San Francisco Ballet itself will be in town for White Bird’s “4 X 4 — The Ballet Project.”