ArtsWatch Weekly: Big 500, sugar plums, Messiah, La Belle, & more

OOPS. HERE IT IS A WEEK into December, and you’ve still got that shopping stuff to do. You sort of thought this would be the year you bought local – you know, support the place you live in sort of thing – but it’s all a bit confusing, and you’re really not sure where to start.

Hannah Wells 8 x 8-inch artwork in “The Big 500.”

So let us introduce you to The Big 500, an all-local, all-art, low-cost and accessible event produced by “people’s artists” Chris Haberman and Jason Brown and sprawling across the Ford Gallery in the Ford Building, 2505 Southeast 11th Avenue. Now in its ninth year, The Big 500 is actually more than that – 500+ Portland area artists, each creating 8 x 8 inch pieces on wood panels, each piece for sale for $40. More than 5,000 works will be on hand, and besides putting some cash in local artists’ pockets, the event raises money for the Oregon Food Bank, which can put it to extremely good use.

The sale kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday and continues through December 23. It’s a pretty wild scene, with all sorts of stuff at all sorts of levels of accomplishment, and it’s more than a bit of a crap shoot: you might walk in and find ten pieces you absolutely must have for the people on your list, or you might strike out. Either way, the sheer volume of objects is pretty amazing. And what you spend here stays here. You’re welcome.



Candace Bouchard as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Peter Franc as her Cavalier in last year’s “Nutcracker” at OBT. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

GIANT RODENTS AND SUGAR PLUM FAIRIES. Speaking of annual traditions, it’s Nutcracker time again – in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s case, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Balanchine’s version isn’t the original – that came from Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, who first choreographed the Christmas ballet to Tchaikovsky’s score back in 1892 – or even the first American version: that was Bill Christensen’s for San Francisco Ballet in 1944. But it’s the version that truly kick-started American Nutcracker mania when Balanchine, working from his memories of performing the ballet as a child in St. Petersburg, introduced it to New York City Ballet audiences in 1954. OBT’s production opens Saturday at Keller Auditorium and continues through December 26.



“La Belle,” lost in a visual wonderland. Imago Theatre photo

LA BELLE: LOST IN THE WORLD OF THE AUTOMATON. Imago Theatre’s long-awaited fantasy opens Friday after three years of preparation, and Brett Campbell follows the journey of how it got from there to here. It’s a major undertaking for the creators of the beloved Frogz and ZooZoo, and in developing it, Campbell writes, Imago’s Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle and their many collaborators looked past the Disney Beauty and the Beast and Jean Cocteau’s ravishing film version, returning to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original 1740 novel. Along the way, puppets, mechanical contraptions, and a steamship engine room happened. That’s the way things go at Imago.


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Meanwhile, the Pixie Dust production of the Alan Mencken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice Broadway hit based on the Disney animated movie returns to the Newmark Theatre on Friday for a run through December 24. Greg Tamblyn, who directs and produces, is an expert hand at musical theater and has done this fantasy several times before: he casts well and makes it look good.


IN GOOD COMPANY and ARCANE COLLECTIVE. Two top Portland dance companies have shows coming up Thursday through Saturday. Northwest Dance Project’s holiday show at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall, In Good Company, consists of short pieces created by the company dancers. It’s always fun to see what dancers do when the get free rein to create the dances themselves (whimsy has been hinted). On the same nights, BodyVox hosts the Los Angeles-based Arcane Collective for a show steeped in the writings of Samuel Beckett. It’s a natural connection: Arcane members Morleigh Steinberg and Oguri performed years ago with BodyVox founders Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton in the groundbreaking contemporary movement troupes Momix and ISO.


HANDEL’S MESSIAH. This is the weekend for Handel’s magnificent 1741 oratorio in its most prominent Portland production, the distinguished collaboration of Portland Baroque Orchestra and the singers of Cappella Romana. They undertake this wonder of depth and beauty inside downtown’s First Baptist Church on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon, with a shorter evening of highlights on Monday.


LIMINAL + FASSBINDER. And Marilyn Monroe. Portland’s experimental theater troupe Liminal presents German bad-boy director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “immersive video opera” Marilyn Monroe contres les vampires at Disjecta for six performances Thursday through Sunday. Soprano Carissa Burkett sings the role of the loomingly named Phoebe Zeitgeist.


ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT GOES BOOM. Rebecca Waits reviewed Truscott’s show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else when BoomArts brought Truscott to town a little over a year ago. Now BoomArts is bringing her back with an updated Asking for It and another piece, Adrienne Truscott’s a One-Trick Pony! (Or Andy K**fman Is a Feminist Performance Artist and I’m a Comedian). It’s Thursday through Sunday at The Headwaters Theatre, and politeness is not the point.


OBSIDIAN ANIMALS: JAZZ JOURNEY. Eugene keyboardist Torrey Newhart and his ensemble make their Portland debut Sunday at the club Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Gary Ferrington explains for ArtsWatch readers what to expect (and what a Mexican hand-carved obsidian cat has to do with it).



HOLIDAY SHOWS? WE’VE KNOW A FEW. WE’VE SEEN A FEW. WE’VE REVIEWED A BUNDLE. The latest in our quest to cover the PDX holiday waterfront:

  • Black Nativity: dignity and joy. PassinArt’s production of the 1961 Langston Hughes gospel-music retelling of the nativity tale, we declare, is a small gem: “The miracle, if you will, of his version is that it makes the story feel less like a ritual or a dogma and more like a current event, something happening right now in real time.”
  • A joyful miser: Portland Playhouse’s Christmas Carol. Christa Morletti McIntyre writes that the Playhouse’s imaginative version of the great Dickens story, now in its fourth year, is hitting on all Christmas cylinders.
  • Venus and Adonis: a minimalist masterpiece. Mathew Kerrigan and Rebecca Ridenour’s performances in this minimally staged adaptation of Shakespeare’s provocative poetry, A.L. Adams writes, amount to a master class in the art of acting.
  • ‘Tis the season to be Liberace and Liza. The potent combo of Liberace (David Saffert) Minnelli (Jillian Snow Harris) and Christmas, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, creates a … well, let’s just call it a glittering camp comedy at CoHo.
  • Spectravagsm Holidaze: come one, come all. Could this finally be the year, A.L. Adams wonders, that the comic brilliance of Spectravagasm stops feeling like a secret? She fervently hopes so.
  • Berlin stories: the making of an American legend. Pianist, singer, and writer Hershey Felder’s one-man show at Portland Center Stage about the great songwriter Irving Berlin, we write, recreates an American original born in Siberia and, as a Jew butting against prejudice and snubs, always something of an outsider in the adopted country he loved. But, oh, those songs.

Ridenour and Kerrigan in “Venus and Adonis.” Photo: Gary Norman





ArtsWatch links


New Expressive Works. In DanceWatch Weekly, Jamuna Chiarini writes about New Expressive Works’ project funds to choreographers and the difficulties of self-producing new dance works.

Oregon Symphony Soundsight series: Music to our eyes. Brett Campbell digs inside the symphony’s innovative collaboration of musical and visual artists, this time with Messiaen’s massive Turangalila symphony and the sweeping sights of the talented animator and media artist Rose Bond.

Maciej Grzybowski: interpretive insights. Terry Ross praises the “exceptionally talented” Polish pianist and laments the tiny crowd for his concert at Polish Hall: “I counted a total of 22 people in the hall, including the concert organizer and the man doing the audio recording. That’s how many people had come to hear a pianist of exceptional talent and genuine interpretational genius. A shame.”

Japanese Currents run strong and swift. Marc Mohan keeps readers up-to-date on the Northwest Film Center’s innovative series of films by contemporary Japanese masters.

Henk Pander’s memories of Nazi occupation. The exceptional Dutch-born Portland painter remembers the invasion of the Nazis in his native country during his childhood, and sees parallels in contemporary American culture. Barry Johnson writes: “Pander isn’t given to euphemism. ‘I again live in a Fascist period,’ he says of this time. He’s not talking about Obamacare, and he’s not being metaphorical.” Pander’s memory-paintings of the Nazi years, several of which are reproduced in this story, are potent reminders and warnings.

Memories of the occupation: “The Floor,” Henk Pander




About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this once a week to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


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One Response.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    One small expansion: the version of Balanchine’s Nutcracker that OBT performs, starting on Saturday (and I’ll be there) is the 1964 revision for the much bigger stage at what used to be known as the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, when City Ballet moved there from City Center. The Arabian, or Coffee divertissement was completely changed from the original, for example.

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