Oregon ArtsWatch

 

‘Raising the Barre’ excerpt: passion and persistence

A Eugene author makes a mid-life decision to fulfill a childhood dream -- dancing in 'The Nutcracker'

by LAUREN KESSLER

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch presents an exclusive excerpt from award-winning Eugene author Lauren Kessler‘s 2015 book, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker, which has just been released in paperback and would make a delightful stocking stuffer. Here’s what ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini wrote when it was published. “Her love affair with ballet and The Nutcracker began at the age of five when she was taken to see famous ballerina Maria Tallchief perform in New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. From there she began ballet lessons until she was twelve when sadly she stopped after learning that her teacher André Eglevsky, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, had told her mother that she did not have the right body for ballet.

Her unrequited love for ballet and her deep obsession for The Nutcracker is where her story Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker begins. In the book, Kessler takes a ten day, whirlwind tour of Nutcracker performances across America, and when she returns home she decides she hasn’t had enough and bravely asks the Artistic Director of the Eugene Ballet Company, Toni Pimble, if she might take company class and perform in their version of The Nutcracker. The answer was yes and off she goes to prepare.

Through this adventurous immersion into the subculture of ballet, Kessler finally experiences what it is like to be a dancer—the misadventures of shopping for leotards, the rigours of getting in shape, buying and applying gobs of stage makeup, and, of course, learning steps and dancing with ease. She is a “midlife interloper” as she called herself at her book reading at Powell’s on Wednesday night (this week marks the release of this new book), and she experiences what she has been yearning for her whole life: What it is like to be a dancer and perform in The Nutcracker.

This is a great, inspirational story for someone who is looking for a push to take that leap and do that thing they have been putting off for a really long time. If Kessler can do it, you can do it.

***

I started this project in awe of the beauty and grace of ballet as seen at a distance, my view from the audience. I am now in awe of the sweat, the grit, the sheer will that gets them through nine-hour days and ten-hour bus trips and sixteen-city tours. To say “you have to love it to do it” is an understatement so colossal as to be meaningless. Yes, I know they are not out there curing cancer or feeding the homeless, but these dancers have committed themselves heart and mind, body and soul to an enterprise, and they do it every single day. Days when they are hurting. Days when the sun is shining, and they’d rather not be stuck in a windowless studio. Days when it’s wet and gray (like, for example, today) and bed looks like the best option. Days when life conspires against you. And still, they get up and do it. It is a lesson to us all – certainly to me — and not just a lesson about ballet and what I need to bring to class and rehearsals. It’s about what it takes, really takes, to do something well. Forget “waiting for the Muse.” It’s about daily commitment. It’s about the marriage of passion and persistence.

Lauren Kessler, center, performed in Eugene Ballet’s production of ‘The Nutcracker.’

All of a sudden it’s November. Mon Dieu! I’d say “merde!” but that’s how dancers wish each other luck (their version of “break a leg,” which, of course, is not something you’d dare say to a dancer). What I mean, though, is: Holy Shit. It’s November. My first performance as Clara’s Aunt Rose—a part created for me–is sixteen days away. Toni emails me that she’s scheduling costume fittings this week. I text Suzi and beg her to come over to give me a lesson in how to apply stage make-up. Meanwhile every rehearsal counts.

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New voices of ArtsWatch 2017

A dozen writers have joined the ArtsWatch ranks this year. Find out who they are, and what they're bringing to the cultural mixer.

In one important way it’s been a very good year for Oregon ArtsWatch: We’ve added a lot of good writers to our mix, deepening and broadening our coverage of everything from dance to theater to music to visual arts to literary events and more.

ArtsWatch has been able to add the voices of a dozen new contributors because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

In 2018 we hope to add even more fresh voices and perspectives to our continuing engagement with Oregon’s complex and diversified cultural life.

Meet 2017’s new writers, from A to Z (all right; A to W), and sample their work:

 


 

TJ Acena

A Portland essayist and journalist who studied creative writing at Western Washington University, TJ was selected as a 2017 Rising Leader of Color in arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He writes about theater and literary events for ArtsWatch, and also contributes to American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to literary journals such as Somnambulist and Pacifica Literary Journal. Web: tjacena.com

READ:

Greg Watanabe with Mao on the wall in “Caught.” Photo: Russell J Young

CAUGHT IN A LIE, OR A TRUTH

Acena reviews the installation and performance Caught at Artists Rep, a play that crosses the line between fact and fiction, fake news and real. “If it feels like there’s something I’m not telling you about Caught, you’re right. Don’t take it at face value: There’s a hidden conceit to the show. But discovering that conceit is what makes Caught compelling.”

 


 

Bobby Bermea

 

A leading actor, director, and producer in Portland and elsewhere, Bobby specializes in deeply reported and insightful profiles of theater and other creative people for ArtsWatch. A three-time Drammy Award winner for his work onstage, he’s also the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy, and Rocket Man.

READ:

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ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

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Portland Symphonic Choir review: happy homecomings

Holiday concert features guest conductor recently returned to his native territory and new homegrown music by an Oregon composer

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

Samuel Barbara has come home for the holidays and more. The Portland native shared his pleasure at relocating to the Pacific Northwest with the audience earlier this month at the second season concert of Portland Symphonic Choir. Dr. Barbara, who studied with the late Roger Doyle at University of Portland, took his doctoral degree at USC, traveled and taught worldwide before returning to Portland to assume the choral directorship of Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus. And then, lo, arose the vacancy for the artistic director of PSC and the reason for his guest conductor role in the choir’s seasonal program.

Samuel Barbara conducted Portland Symphonic Choir’s Wintersong concerts. Photo: Toni Wise.

The venue was Portland’s Rose City Park Methodist Church, the program predictably holiday-ish yet eclectic, the presentation wonderfully well paced. Dr. Barbara assembled the repertoire well and then maintained the momentum from the podium. Holiday concerts seem to go in only a couple directions: a stand alone larger work such as Handel’s Messiah or a duo of medium-sized works, Magnificat by Bach or Britten’s Ceremony of Carols OR a “bits and pieces” collection of the conductor’s choice. Not to say folks don’t enjoy the latter, but sometimes it can just get a bit saccharine. But Dr. Barbara chose to anchor this concert with the John Rutter Gloria and offered up a creative variety of known/unknown and downright brand spanking new holiday fare.

Featured for added interest were Carl Thor’s hammered dulcimer (not a reference to overdoing the eggnog, but to distinguish it from bowed or electronic) played as accompaniment and solo, with eight jolly good brass players and percussion, engaged throughout in the Rutter; renowned Morman Tabernacle Choir’s Mack Wilberg’s Tres Cantus Laudendi (Three songs of Praise, second movement); and Italian late Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli’s polychoric Hodie Christus Natus Est (Today Christ is born).

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10,000 Roses Later: Sarah Meyohas’s ‘Cloud of Petals’

Sarah Meyohas’s film and Virtual Reality installation at Disjecta asserts the beautiful at a time and with technology we've begun to consider terrifying

By PAUL MAZIAR

It’s easy enough to rely on traditional painting and sculpture to be the go-to vehicles of creativity—to show, maybe, what’s it’s like to be alive in the world, or at least what it’s like to look at it. But what is the world anymore, and are those modes sufficient to show how complex and strange it all is, how “cloud-based”? Trompe-l’œil seems more and more a fat chance. It goes without saying that conventional art mediums and the old idyllic scenes aren’t enough. And, like it or not, technology is as much a part of life today as, well, oil and clay. We’ve seen it all, we’ve felt it all, and now it’s being played back to us in every media there is. But what does it want from us, this tech? Our big data, our little faces, our identities? What do we give up to the people who run it, to get to use or convene with it; who are we now? New York artist Sarah Meyohas seems to be considering these things in her new exhibition at Disjecta, Cloud of Petals, her first show in Portland.

In Cloud of Petals, virtual-reality, film, and sound-scape come together as an orchestration, a symphony that, no matter how mediated (media can be rendered moot in such an immersive experience), is intensely pleasurable. This feat is achievable because of Meyohas’s consideration of living forms in their relation to each other, and relative then to technology and its ramifications. The exhibition explores concepts that hinge upon the supremely familiar, “natural” subject of roses—redolent of “love” to the point of the most persistent cliché, thanks, poets—as well as human bodies.

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‘Messiah’ review: authentic surprise

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Cappella Romana’s historically informed performance of Handel’s masterpiece made the familiar sound new

By ALICE HARDESTY

I recently ushered at Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Dec. 8 performance of Handel’s Messiah at First Baptist Church in Portland. I looked forward to the music less for excitement than for its familiarity, since I had heard it many times before, both in concert and on the radio. But I was in for a surprise.

Cappella Romana sang ‘Messiah’ with Portland Baroque Orchestra.

This was the first time I had heard the Messiah with truly baroque instruments, techniques, and voices. I was just blown away. I’m sure that part of it was the skill with which PBO, Portland choir Cappella Romana, and three talented young soloists played and sang. But it was also because this historically informed performance displayed an authenticity that I hadn’t experienced before with this popular masterpiece.

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Boom Arts: A dance for freedom

"Chang(e)" tells the story of the short life of activist/artist Kathy Change, an "alarm against Armageddon"

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

“A universe full of love and wonderful possibilities would be yours if only you would reach for it. You are sitting in timid conformity… Do a dance for freedom.”—Kathy Change, 1996

Kathy Change: an activist, artist and dreamer who devoted her life to spreading her message of radical change in the name of peace, social equality, and a higher sense of global consciousness. She was born in Ohio with the name Kathy Chang, which she eventually switched to Change for performance. Her life was a culmination of misunderstood yet passionately persistent warnings of the social evils of an increasingly catastrophic world. Her vision was hopeful, but the increasing frustration and helplessness she felt led to her own self-immolation on October 22, 1996, when she doused herself with gasoline and lit a match.

Chang(e)—the third section of a trilogy of dance/theater plays that paid homage to Asian American visionaries with early deaths by NYC-based movement artist and actor Soomi Kim directed by Suzi Takahashi—depicts the life and work of a woman whose character was as vibrant as the technicolor wings she danced in while screaming words of warning against nuclear warfare, environmental degradation, the war on drugs, and every other social problem you could name. Boom Arts, a non-profit presenting organization for contemporary art, seeks out artistically adventurous and unusual work to bring to the Portland community, and this revised version of Kim and Takahashi’s 2014 original hybrid play fit in perfectly with Boom Arts’ programming.

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