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This filly doesn’t flinch

After the runaway success of 'Asking for It,' Adrienne Truscott's 'One Trick Pony' is a return to her performance-artist roots.

You’ve probably heard this said of zoos: When you think you’re watching the animals, they are also watching you. Watching performance artists can be like that, too—particularly, watching Adrienne Truscott.

In her one-woman show A One Trick Pony, Truscott—who starts off dressed as a bare-buttocked horse and proceeds to admit one of her performance goals is to be present “like a dog”—is certainly the sort of animal who doesn’t mind putting her watchers as well as herself on the spot.

Adrienne Truscott – One Trick Pony

The U.S. premiere of Pony, presented by Boom Arts, was part of Truscott’s gradual and voluntary comedown following a meteoric rise to comedy fame—an odd detour, she admits, for an already seasoned performance artist. Her 2013 creation Asking For It, “a rape about comedy” in which she played a pantsless comedian character telling rape jokes, and won some performing arts prizes before vaulting from fringe festivals onto mainstream comedy stages—pantsless, no less. There, she got a mixed reception, earning raves from the likes of Chris Rock and The Guardian, but balking under a new level of public scrutiny (the kind comedians, not performance artists, typically get) and often feeling the need to defend her performance choices—including showing her “much maligned vagina.”

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Isabelle Huppert: World’s greatest actor

The French star vaults to the top ranks with recent performances in "Elle" and "Things to Come."

May as well just say it: Isabelle Huppert is the best screen actor working in the world today.

To support this somewhat bold contention, I present two pieces of compelling evidence, both showing in Portland theaters right now.

One, “Things to Come,” is, in outline, a fairly ordinary middlebrow drama. It centers on a French high school philosophy teacher (yes, they have those in France) whose orderly life is upended on numerous fronts. The health of her elderly mother (played by screen icon Edith Scob) is failing; she discovers that her husband her been unfaithful to her; and her career momentum stalls. We’ve seen this sort of midlife-crisis, “I Am Woman” story in the past–remember all those Jill Clayburgh movies?–but what elevates “Things to Come” is Huppert’s smooth, lived-in performance, which manages to communicate a controlled facade and a rich interior life without resorting to anything resembling acting (at least as we’re used to seeing it in Hollywood dramas).

Isabelle Huppert (Nathalie) and Roman Kolinka (Fabien) in Mia Hansen-Løve’s THINGS TO COME

The director of “Things to Come” is Mia Hansen Love, who based the main character on her own mother. Hansen Love, making her fifth feature, is part of a new generation of French female filmmakers who are demonstrating the wide range of stories women can contribute when allowed to infiltrate the typically male-dominated industry. And Huppert’s appearance in her movie is something of a stamp of approval, placing her in the ranks of other greats the actress has graced with her inimitable talents.

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Bi-Weekly MusicWatch: Solstice sounds

Traditional classical concerts bring the musical curtain down on 2016 Oregon music

As this miserable year mercifully winds down, so do the number of performances, so we’re listing some highlights for the next two weeks this time, and Weekly MusicWatch will live up to its name again in the new year. The crummy old one can’t end without one more piece of bad news:  the essential Oregon music club Jimmy Mak’s is closing, along with 2016. Its sold out final show is one event you can’t attend unless you already have tickets, but a few other final performances remain at one of the most sympathetic music venues Oregon has ever seen. ArtsWatch wishes ailing owner Jimmy Makarounis well. We’ll continue covering Oregon’s jazz scene in 2017, including February’s PDX Jazz Festival, which has rescheduled most of the Jimmy Mak’s events for other venues.

As usual, there’s no way we can come close to spotlighting all the attractive Oregon music happening as 2016 slouches to a close, so please use the comments section below to let ArtsWatch readers know about other remaining 2016 events worthy of your attention and consideration.

Because of the holiday, ArtsWatch will be posting stories about Oregon music and more over the next couple weeks on a reduced schedule. We’ll leave you with writer Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s Eve message delivered in Boston some years back:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. May your coming year be a wonderful thing in which you dream both dangerously and outrageously.

I hope you will make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and you will be liked and you will have people to love and to like in return. And most importantly, because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now – I hope that you will, when you need to, be wise and that you will always be kind. And I hope that somewhere in the next year you surprise yourself.

Michael Allen Harrison leads his annual series of Christmas concerts at Portland’s Old Church.

Michael Allen Harrison – Christmas at The Old Church
December 21-26
The Old Church, Portland.
The Portland pianist, composer, and philanthropist presents the 25th anniversary performance of one of the season’s most popular musical events for charitable causes, featuring long time cohort singer Julianne Johnson and other musical guest artists.

Bachxing Day
December 26
Classical Revolution PDX, Opera on Tap, Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd, Portland.
“What cannabis is today in Portland, coffee was in 1727 Leipzig, when J.S. Bach wrote his Coffee Cantata.” Read the rest of my Willamette Week preview of CRPDX’s annual tribute to JS Bach — this time, extra caffeinated!

David Hattner conducts Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Photo: Pete Stone.

Portland Youth Philharmonic
December 26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
The holiday concert tradition for more than half a century features the award winning youth orchestra’s entire 300-musician roster, including its Philharmonic Orchestra, Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, Portland Youth Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, plus an Alumni Orchestra, and featuring music by John Williams, Richard Rodgers, Aram Khachaturian and more.

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
December 15-30
Portland Center Stage, 128 NW Eleventh Ave. Portland.
Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch’s review of this musical biography of the prototypical American songwriter, and David Schiff’s essay on his music.

The Oregon Symphony’s Ode to Joy concert. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

 Ode to Joy
December 30-31
Oregon Symphony, Portland Symphonic Choir, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.
Along with the annual Beethoven’s Ninth and balloons, the city’s biggest classical new year’s eve party boasts a much-deserved tribute to its longtime pops conductor, Norman Leyden, who died in 2014 after a lifetime of composing, arranging and leading performances of the pop music of his era for orchestra. The first half of the New Year’s concert features some of his hundreds of big band arrangements for orchestra.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: happy holidays

In a holiday week, what to catch and what to catch up on after the snowstorm

Let’s keep things short and sweet this week. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the first day of winter, when the night begins to fade and the day begins to grow. Let there be light on what has been a dark season. In a world turned upside down in so many ways, we are four sundowns from the beginning of Hanukkah, five days from Christmas, six days from the beginning of Kwanzaa, and gloriously close to the fresh slate of a new calendar year. Let there be hope, let there be peace, let there be joy. From ArtsWatch to you, happy holidays.

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“Spring”: as the light grows, can it be far behind? Jacques Flèchemuller, 2016, oil on canvas, 63 x 47 inches, in the exhibition “Love Is a Pink Cake” at PDX Contemporary Art through Dec. 31. Most Portland galleries are open through the month.

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A FEW THINGS STILL HAPPENING, as the bustle slows down – still time to catch up on shows you missed during the snow and ice:

Christmas Revels concludes tonight and tomorrow at St. Mary’s Academy downtown; this year’s edition is Commedia Italiana.

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‘L’amour de Loin’ & ‘The Place Where You Started’: Love from Afar

Contemporary operas show the consequences of idealizing, or stereotyping, strangers

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about the premiere of yet another new opera. Much of the action is in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago and Europe, of course, but signs of vitality are springing up even in places like Fort Worth and Long Beach. After decades of relentlessly retro programming, Oregon too shows recent signs of operatic revitalization: Christopher Corbell’s Cult of Orpheus, which this month revived the Portland composer’s original 2015 opera Viva’s Holiday and has a new opera based on Antigone coming next year; Opera Theater Oregon, which co-produced Viva and is bringing Eugene composer Justin Ralls’s Two Yosemites to Portland in June; Eugene Opera’s recent productions of operas by living composers; and even normally stodgy Portland Opera’s upcoming David Lang one-acts.

‘L’Amour de Loin’ is broadcast in select theaters December 21.

Along with Corbell’s re-Viva, this fall has brought two more contemporary operas to Portland, one internationally renowned, created by a pair of Parisian immigrants, and showing in a few Oregon movie theaters this Wednesday, December 21, the other homegrown. Both seem timely given today’s social concerts, showing the consequences of our perennial tendency to view others through the distorted lenses of our own desires — or fears.

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Nelson Goerner review: He has the technology

Portland Piano International recitalist is master of extremes in music by Beethoven, Schumann and Handel

by JEFF WINSLOW

During the 1817 Christmas season, English piano manufacturer John Broadwood & Sons, as much a technology innovator in those days as Apple or Google is in ours, sent Ludwig van Beethoven one of their top-of-the-line pianos as a gift, complete with a laudatory engraved inscription in Latin.

As luck would have it, Beethoven was working on the big piano sonata that would eventually be published as his op. 106. Although it’s unclear, due to his advancing deafness, how much he could directly appreciate the piano’s features, he praised it enthusiastically to his friends and associates. Finally, he had an instrument that he felt measured up to the range of his genius.  It can hardly be coincidence that the sonata became the magnum opus we know today simply as “The Hammerklavier” – the German name then current for the piano, that celebrated its advanced mechanisms much as today’s “smartphone” is distinguished from yesterday’s mere “phone.” It turned out by far the longest and most difficult piano work of the time, and even today is considered a touchstone of pianistic virtuosity.

Portland Piano International brought Nelson Goerner to Oregon in November. Photo: Richard Brase.

Many classical music fans would count themselves lucky to hear two outstanding live performances of the sonata in their lifetimes. Here in Portland, we’re fortunate indeed, because thanks to Portland Piano International we’ve now had the opportunity to hear two in the same year. As I wrote in May, Murray Perahia wowed a Schnitzer Concert Hall audience with his version, and the first Saturday in December, those fortunate enough to be part of a relatively small audience at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall heard Nelson Goerner’s quite different but just as accomplished version. They were like two brothers: Perahia the serious one, recounting an epic from his own world, and Goerner the sunnier one, giving the crowd an exalted song and dance, something he senses they’ll love.

At first, Goerner gave away no hints how it might go. The Argentine-born Swiss pianist’s opening number, George Frideric Handel’s early 18th-century “Chaconne” – Beethoven would have called them Variations – “in G major” HWV 435, came across as a pleasant and busy essay of the period that would likely sound more impressive on the older technology instrument (a harpsichord) it was written for.

Robert Schumann’s 1837 “Dances from the League of David (Davidsbündlertänze)” was written just ten years after Beethoven’s death, but it’s a world of fantasy away from the music of the “Hammerklavier.” Gone is the titan wrestling with deep questions of musical form, replaced by a one-man show of colorful characters. Schumann’s “League of David” was a made-up inner circle of music cognoscenti revolving around the characters Florestan and Eusebius, who represented two extremes in Schumann’s own psyche. Eusebius was intellectual, precise, thoughtful, daydreaming, while Florestan was all action, impulsive, outgoing and adventurous.

Schumann left notations that suggest Florestan and Eusebius should get equal say in the Dances, but there was more Eusebius in Goerner’s precise yet lyrical performance. Unfortunately the most sublime moment in the entire work, where, after all musical loose ends are wrapped up, a blissful Eusebian afterthought takes off apparently in the wrong key, was ruined by a clueless cougher. Nonetheless, in dance after dance, I felt myself beguiled back to a simpler time, when music seemed to have all the answers, when I was surrounded by the warmth of family and school friends and my head was filled with hopes and dreams of the future.  No doubt the sweet directness of Goerner’s interpretation created a kind of intimacy that opened up such memory lanes.

Drama and Suspense

Eusebius’ sensitivity informed Goerner’s Beethoven too, notably in his particularly harmonious way with passages that use the extreme ends of the piano simultaneously, and in passages the composer specifically marked to reverberate by holding down the damper pedal throughout. The former can sometimes sound cartoonish and the latter muddy and unfocused, but Goerner had no such problems. In particular, his pedaling at the end of the first movement created a fittingly grand finish to one of Beethoven’s most exuberantly massive essays in sonata form.

But Florestan could not be kept in the background. He burst out in the beginning and ending sections of the antic scherzo, where Goerner somehow evoked the chuckling of a madman. Even in the languishing slow movement, he notably animated a bridge into a reprise of the unconsolable opening lament – a bridge that risks sounding like an undergraduate exercise in harmony – so that it became a vignette of drama and suspense. Most of all, Florestan’s spirit somehow permeated the most intellectual movement of the four, the final gargantuan yet high-spirited fugue, so that for the first time in my experience, it seemed to fly by and end almost too soon. And yet, Eusebius joined in too, for every detail was clear throughout.

Nelson Goerner performed at Portland State University. Photo: Richard Brase.

I went to congratulate Goerner on his performance, and though I had never noticed while he was on stage, in person I was reminded of what the great Soviet-era pianist Emil Gilels once said about his young compatriot Vladimir Ashkenazy: “He is small, but the grand piano is not too big for him. He does what he wants with it. Others who are big come to the piano, but it is too big for them.” Whether he comes to the piano, or as happened with Beethoven’s new instrument, the piano comes to him, Goerner does what he wants with it, and wonderfully well.

Jeff Winslow is a Portland composer and pianist.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Before the year ends, meet Katie Scherman

The dance schedule this week is busier than you might expect with "Nutcrackers," "Dancing With the Stars!" and other more experimental concerts filling the calendar

Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m saying all that now because this DanceWatch Weekly will be the last one of 2016. Here’s to a happier, healthier 2017.

But, before I go, I would like to introduce you to Portland dance artist Katie Scherman (2016 Alembic Resident Artist at Performance Works NW) who will be debuting Complicated Women, a work that explores the experience of being female, in all of its complexities. It opens Thursday night at Performance Works NW, Linda Austin Dance.

Scherman, who is originally from California, performed with Houston Ballet II, The Washington Ballet Studio Company, Trey McIntyre, Hubbard Street 2, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Central California Ballet, Terpsicorps Dance Theatre and BodyVox to name a few, graduated from Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet/Dominican University with a BFA in Dance and received her MFA in Dance from the University of Oregon.

In 2008 she was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for Best Ensemble, and in 2009, she was honored with a Princess Grace Award in Dance.

Her choreography has been presented in Oregon, California, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Utah, and Chicago.

Scherman now lives in Portland, where she teaches, choreographs and performs. I was able to speak with Katie via email about her life in dance.

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