DanceWatch Weekly: Cirque city

As we note the passing of Trisha Brown, we have a lengthy menu of dance options this week, heavy on circus

On Saturday, March 18, Trisha Brown, the American postmodern choreographer and native West Coaster (Aberdeen, Washington), passed on from this earthly realm. She was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theatre in New York, and her movement inventions and research helped shape generations of modern dancers and audiences worldwide.

Wendy Perron who danced for Brown in the 1970s wrote a beautiful piece on Brown this week for Dance Magazine. So did Alastair Macaulay for the New York Times. I recommend reading them both. This is the perfect time to settle into a deep study of Brown, if you don’t know her and her work already, and let the internet and all of its resources take you.

Performances this week

Gravity of Center ( Extended Promo ) from Quixotic on Vimeo.

Gravity of Center
Quixotic Cirque Nouveau
8 pm March 23
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St
This Kansas City Performing arts collective, known for seamlessly integrating technology, live music, contemporary dance, and cirque arts, brings us Gravity of Center, a multi-sensory performance that explores the tension between finding balance between gravity and lightness.

Quixotic, born in 2004, has toured nationally and internationally, and appeared at the Global 2012 TED conference In Edinburgh Scotland.

Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble. Photo by Christopher Peddecord

Burn It Backwards
Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble
Presented by BodyVox
March 23-April1
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Burn It Backwards is a new work from BodyVox Dance company founders Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk that combines five male dancers—Kirk, Skinner, James Healey, Chase Hamilton and Brent Luebbert, with the music of the late Portland singer, songwriter and musician Elliott Smith.

The work explores relationships: the bodies relationship to itself; to other dancers’ bodies; to the space around the body; and to the world at large. And it also looks into such concepts as ostracism and optimism through patterning, geometric shapes and physicality.

Photo courtesy of Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus.

Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus goes inside the body
Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus
March 24-April 1
Echo Theater, 1515 SE 37th Ave
Sir Cupcake, a gender-bending circus performer, is stranded in the future and his magic time-traveling pocket-watch had been sabotaged. His internal organs have been all mixed up and his heart has gone missing. The Queer Circus must travel inside Sir Cupcake’s body and put his organs back together and find his missing heart, in this performance/adventure featuring rope artist Kiebpoli “Black Acrobat” Calnek, from San Francisco, DieAna Dae and Box of Clowns, contortion by Meg Russell, and duo acrobatics by Ari and Ben, and more!

Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus celebrates queer and trans identities with storytelling and performances by queer and transgender people and their allies. The Saturday March 25 performance will be ASL interpreted and Audio Described (headsets provided). Echo Theater is wheelchair accessible and has a gender neutral bathroom.

Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound. Photo courtesy of Travis Wall.

After the Curtain
Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound
Presented by Portland’5
7:30 pm March 24
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave
After the Curtain, a contemporary dance production created by Travis Wall, the runner-up on So You Think You Can Dance Season 2, along with co-creators Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, tells the story of a man fighting to find his creative voice after the death of a loved one.

The creation of the company was documented on the reality television series All The Right Moves on the Oxygen channel. You can view a clip of that show here.

Travis Wall will be performing in the shows throughout the tour, and will be joined in various cities by the co-founders Kyle Robinson and Nick Lazzarini.

Alembic Double Bill: Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles. Photos by Chelsea Petrakis.

Alembic Double Bill: Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles
Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
March 24-25
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Performance Works NW presents Fifth Sun by Claire Barrera, which finds that all times are present at once, and This one is, by Noelle Stiles, which explores family intimacy, generational cycles of misogyny, and perseverance. These works were developed during the 2016 Alembic Artist Residency at Performance Works NW.

Barrera is an artist, activist, educator and writer. Her work can be found in the upcoming anthology of the zine, When Language Runs Dry, with Meredith Butner, and will be performing in an installation The Corresponding Distance, with Maya Dalinsky.

Stiles is an independent dance artist, graphic designer, and consultant. Her work has been seen at the Time-Based Art Festival, On The Boards, PWNW, and Dance New Amsterdam. She was co-instigator for the dance publication FRONT, with Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, and Robert Tyree.


Regress this: Some thoughts about the arts tax

Taxes, values and suspicion: a discussion of 26-146

Michael Sweerts, “The Drawing Class,” 1656-58

Now that my ballot has arrived in the mail, so fat and full of difficult questions, I’m back to thinking about Measure 26-146, which would restore regular arts education instruction to Portland’s primary grade students and increase access to the arts for all students and Portland’s “underserved communities.” The mechanism for this restoration and boost to accessibility is a $35 per year income tax, levied on all taxpayers who pay income tax, essentially everyone over the federal poverty level.

I’ve dealt with this arts tax before, in a couple of responses to  a couple of spectacularly dim editorials against the measure by The Oregonian (here’s another one). (The paper has now written no fewer than FOUR editorials against it, each just as empty as the last.) Although I intend to tick the yes box on the measure, I can think of reasonable objections to it, some of which I’ll get into in a bit. They just aren’t the ones enumerated by The Oregonian or their Brothers in Arms at Willamette Week, who aped their big brother’s arguments in their own recommendation for a no vote.

Of these, the one that I’ve heard most around town is the argument that the tax is regressive and therefore unsupportable, especially by liberals who support taxation according to the ability to pay. So I’m going to deal with that one first, mostly because it sets up the others so nicely.

(Conservatives oppose the measure because, hey, it’s a tax; they generally support flat tax rates. For The Oregonian, the regressivity argument is hypocritical, since they have little interest in progressive tax schemes—see their support for reducing capital gains taxes, for example.)


George Carter Needham, The Fortunes of a Street Waif

The ArtsWatch Pitch continues! Yes, we really need you to participate: to join his here at the site, to sign up for our eNewsletter (which will resume later this week!), to meet us at  Facebook and last, but FAR from least, become a paying member. Arts writing as we want and try to practice it takes money—for the knowledge and experience of the writers and for the time it takes to research, write and edit the work.

In my most recent essay-let, having made the case for the importance of art in our culture, I attempted to sketch the role of journalism in the relationship. Just to recap:

 “Journalism is about helping to develop that group narrative, that shared story, that common sense. Journalists are part of the culture they cover. They have the responsibility to help make it better. They do this by doing their best work and then listening to their readers add data, make better sense of the painting (or dance or political decision) than the journalist and make better arguments. And then take all of that into account in their next story. The understanding of journalists has to progress just as the understanding of the culture does. It’s the only way we stay relevant in the least.”

I have had and continue to have my issues with mainstream journalism, even during my long professional encounter with it at The Oregonian (a full 26 years, which makes me light-headed just to type). You know the criticisms of it at least as well as I do: Its narrow definition of “news,” its over-reliance on “experts” and “spokespersons,” the “objective orthodoxy” that serves as its intellectual basis, its reluctance to describe things itself or test the descriptions of other or build new descriptions from new evidence, the limited palette of story forms in employs, its fear of being scooped or getting caught straying from the conventional wisdom. We could go on, couldn’t we?

It’s one thing to make a very long list of practices we’d like to avoid. It’s another thing to replace them with something better. During my time at The Oregonian, I wrote a LOT of memos proposing different subjects, tones, approaches, graphics and products (Internet and otherwise).

Here’s an edited version of the start to one of those memos, which I include because it has so much bearing, ultimately, on what I hope for ArtsWatch.

I spent the shift editing stories by some of our better, mid-career reporters – one was on a sustainability conference, another dealt with the new nominees for the presidency of OSU, I can’t remember the other one offhand. The centerpiece was by one of our senior reporters on the Starlight Parade: we’d talked beforehand about giving it a “cultural” spin to give it a spine. I worked hard on all the stories, sent them back for minor rewrites, which the writers willingly agreed to do. And I left the building that night feeling good about what was going to be in the paper the next day: some competent, informed journalism.

When I got to my car, it was almost midnight, and the streets were still full of people loitering after the parade. As I started the short drive back to Irvington, I noticed groups at every street corner. They were arguing, laughing, canoodling or just watching. Mostly they were young, and occasionally they were loud and a little threatening.

I had to stop by the Convention Center for a light, right next to the Max line. Suddenly, I heard running footsteps, a lot of them, approaching quickly. I immediately rolled up the car windows and looked back, a little nervously. A pack of maybe a half-dozen kids, girls and boys, 13 maybe to 16 or 17, streamed by me. They in turn were stealing backward glances — they looked scared, really scared. I didn’t see anyone behind them, so I’m not sure what had spooked them – a cop? a drug deal gone bad? a tough guy from school? I have no idea.

I continued home. Again, at almost every corner SOMETHING was going on – a love spat, kids from different schools dissing each other, more laughter, something. And then I thought about what I had worked on for the past 9 hours or so. None of the stories I’d edited had a tenth of the life of that short ride home. I wanted to get out and start interviewing – what’s going on? what are you thinking? where will you be spending the night? are there any adults in your life and what are they like?

So the children running in the dark have become a metaphor for me: It’s what I want the stories I edit to have in them – something that makes me a little nervous, something that’s absolutely real, something that surprises me, something that makes me reconsider what I think I know about the world. It’s not easy – our story conventions aren’t as elastic as they might be, our reporters aren’t used to telling actual stories (I call them narratives below), we tend to go to the same places for news every day and so news becomes only what comes out of those places.

Are we relevant, revealing, coherent? Not until we include those kids. Not until the emotions of a June night bubble into our pages. Not until we start writing about a world that is a lot more complicated and messy than the seemingly orderly one we describe day in and day out.

Yes, I know, not the kind of memo that’s likely to convince someone. And that was just the start—a long list of suggestions followed. Some of those suggestions, we’ve taken to heart here at ArtsWatch. Others are waiting for enough money to pay for the reporting and writing time they would take. Tomorrow, I’ll go into them just a bit, just so you know that we didn’t jump into this endeavor without SOME consideration.

But I don’t know, maybe you’re ready to make the leap now? Without reading the rest of the memo? That would make you the best boss ever!

Our memberships start at $35…

Payment suggestions

…. but you can donate ANY amount, and any amount would be welcome!


Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter!

The Drying of August may have entered its last week, but that didn’t keep the ArtsWatch team from delivering cool spring water to the thirsty!  O no, ArtsWatch was busy and not just extending unnecessary metaphors. But maybe you missed something of burning interest to you? Here’s a little Monday reset.

Princess Grace winner Franco Nieto/Photo: Katie Schurman

Bob Hicks considered the three Princess Grace Award winners with Oregon connections, especially Northwest Dance Project’s Franco Nieto. “Nieto, smiling in an unbeastly manner, agrees. “There’s something animalistic I love about tearing up the stage,” he says. “When it comes to dancing I’m more of a creature.” Still, he says, lately he’s begun to appreciate the advantages of broadening his perspective and reaching for the sensitivity in the beast: “I’m learning, sometimes if you pull it back a bit, you’re more aware of the things around you.””

Brett Campbell gets to more events than seems humanly possible for his Weekend MusicWatch column, and this week he has the snapshots to prove it! Campbell is indispensable for fans of classical/alt.classical music, and ArtsWatch hopes you’re tuning in every week to catch his column: “At another Portland church Friday, I heard a pulsating new work, Corvallis composer Dana Reason’s Pauline’s Polka, dedicated to her mentor, the great American composer Pauline Oliveros, on her 80th birthday.”

Spot On is Patrick Collier’s peripatetic art column, and this week he wandered all the way to… Northeast Alberta! Seriously, from his farm outside Salem that is a bit of trek for his oxen cart, but as he points out, it was worth the extra ration of oats: “It may be that the Albers book was foremost in my mind upon a second return visit, for it was Cotterell’s photo, “Stir Stick” that pulled me in. On one hand, a simple exercise in color and geometry, it also contains a more complex narrative of process.”

The Underscore Orkestra performs at
Saturday’s Portland Farmers Market.

Portland pianist Maria Choban has written a couple of essays for ArtsWatch. Her most recent is a remembrance of her friend David Wood, the co-owner of the classical music hub, Sheet Music Service, who died earlier this month. Thank you for this, Maria:  “When I felt like I totally failed as a pianist, having quit music for the fourth or fifth time, humiliated by my own inability to stick to it, David hauled me off to a bar and plied me with alcohol and stories of his own setbacks until I was at least able to smile, and then together we planned my work schedule at the store so that I could still maintain health-insurance coverage, come in later, and spend the morning hours practicing piano.  Whatever magic he worked stuck.  I have continued to make a life in music since then.”

James McQuillen conducted two separate interviews with the Oregon Symphony’s outgoing president, Elaine Calder, who finishes up in Portland at the end of this week. These are available both as podcasts and in transcript form, and they get at Calder’s contribution to the symphony as well as her description of Portland and the climate for art making here: “I don’t know, Portland likes to think it’s unique. Every time I go to a new American city and discover that you can actually take light rail in from the airport, I think, Isn’t that odd? In Portland, you kind of think that Portland is the only city that does this. You can do it in Minneapolis, you can do it in Cleveland.”

And finally, I’ve been tracking The Oregonian’s attempts to argue the arts education tax out of existence (or at least to defeat at the polls in November). I thought their arguments were shallow, un-researched, out of context, and well, hopeless, and so I pointed a few flaws in the editorial, just for fun: “Then, the editorial takes on the “regressive” nature of the tax—specifically, that everyone eligible to be taxed will pay the same amount. They call it “breathtakingly regressive.”  I might accept this characterization from people who actually believe in progressive taxation: Naturally, The Oregonian wants to reduce Oregon’s capital gains tax, which would make a tax system that is truly “breathtakingly regressive,” even worse. The Oregonian doesn’t seem to be concerned with regressivity unless it suits them. “Inconsistency” is the nicest way to characterize this trait.”

OK, things were getting a little testy there at the end! But yes, we’ve reached a point where the culture doesn’t stop in August, any more than the dramas of  life do, the joy and sorrow and discovery. We’re glad you’re along with us for the trip!


Albert Anker, The Village School in 1848/Wikimedia

When we write, we reveal what we don’t know every bit as much as what we do know. Good writers convince the reader to focus on the latter, instead of dwelling on the miserable former, and they do it by demonstrating that they know their subject well. They’ve done their research; they’ve had original thoughts; they’ve tested those thoughts against the reality they’re trying to describe. Of course, some writers are gifted with an unusual command of verbal pyrotechnics and rhetorical sleight-of-hand, and they can sometimes conceal the truth that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The Oregonian’s editorial page these days, since it has become a bastion of Libertarian fantasy, er, hoo-ha, um, ideology, is all about what the writers don’t know. And no, they don’t have the rhetorical splendor to camouflage their poor descriptions of our world and their even poorer prescriptions for it.

I’m going to take a look at the newspaper’s most recent editorial against the proposed Portland art tax, its third by my count, because I’m interested in that subject for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean that the same ideological blinders don’t affect other topics the newspaper considers. We could analyze other editorials and find the same aversion to research, original thought and testing of propositions.

So, let’s dive right in, shall we? What are we talking about?


Jonah Lehrer was here in April to take part in OHSU’s Brain Awareness Season lecture series by talking about his book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” and he was a hit, both his lecture and his appearance on Think Out Loud for Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Last week, we learned that Lehrer had fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes (and misused some others) in the book, and then Monday, he resigned from his staff position at the New Yorker.

Jonah Lehrer

I happened to be part of a large group invited to have lunch with Lehrer before his lecture, so I’ve been thinking about Lehrer, creativity and journalism “issues,” since the news came out. Nothing like a glancing contact with someone to generate a connection.

I found him bright and engaging, smoothly addressing our questions about creativity and then turning the tables on us to ask us about Portland and how it has become a creative economy hub, of sorts. He didn’t make big claims or say anything especially controversial, at least not that I can remember.

At the end, I thought something like, “smart guy, but the whole creativity thing is way too mushy for him to have really found the ‘answer’ to it.” That’s NOT a direct quote from my mind, just my recollection from several months ago.

We all want to be creative, which is a little weird, because we all ARE creative already, and we have a pretty good idea of what conditions seem to help get the sparks going, even if they aren’t 100 percent reliable—reverie, free association, idle chat that suddenly makes a connection, pounding the head against the keyboard repeatedly. Well, maybe not that last one. But seriously, give your brain a little space and a good cup of coffee and the promise of a warm muffin at the end of the session, and hey, “the shortest distance between two points on a plane is a straight line.”


Edgar Meyer/ Photo by Jim Leisy, Chamber Music Northwest

This weekend I resembled the bees in my backyard, nosing around for a little something to take back to the hive, you know, a little Edgar Meyer sweetness at Chamber Music Northwest, a couple of blossoms at the JAW festival, another visit to Dance+ for Part Two.

Unlike the indefatigable bees, though, I’m not intending to build an entire honeycomb from the experience. And here, I’m taking leave of the metaphor altogether, especially because I know next to nothing about bees to begin with nor their alleged indefatigability. For all I know, bees start their days with the best of intentions and then find themselves distracted by less-than-urgent business on the Internet, just as I do! Hey, who DID win that air pistol gold medal?

Where was I? Right. No honeycombs and no more bees. (I am suppressing SO many bee puns right now…)

“The People’s Republic of Portland,” Lauren Weedman, JAW festival: You know the deal with JAW, right? Staged readings of plays-in-progress, which means that anything you see or hear could change or disappear before it hits the stage in a real production. And that means getting too deeply into the scripts is foolhardy, and the actors haven’t had time to develop their characters fully, so questioning a particular characterization doesn’t make sense, either.

That doesn’t mean we can’t write SOMETHING about the shows we see, though, although it’s likely, in Weedman’s case, just to confirm what you probably know already: Lauren Weedman is funny! And her reading was more like a progress report on how her reporting on the topic of Portland is going rather than a first read of a finished monologue. So… how’s she doing?

Lauren Weedman in “Bust” at Portland Center Stage/Owen Carey

Well, hard to say, because “Portlandia” has made this commissioned piece (by Portland Center Stage: the show is set to debut in April) difficult. How much satire can the city sustain? Food jokes, personal enlightenment jokes, gay jokes, stripper jokes? Check, check and check!

Trying to get off the usual merry-go-round of approved Weird Portland destinations (I remember when all we really had in the way of Approved Weird was the Church of Elvis and the Sandy Jug tavern), she wandered into some serious issues. But the problem is that Serious Portland is a lot like everyplace else: We struggle with changes to our neighborhoods that force out one class or race of residents and replaces them with others, for example. Maybe we’re trying to do more about it than most American cities going through similar things, but even so, this isn’t funny. Or maybe it is. I know even less about making comedy than I do about bees. Maybe a “Portland Is Really a Hellhole Just Like Every Other American City” comedy hour would be a laff riot.

Weedman’s got a good eye and ear, though, and as she wanders about, she encounters funny characters and situations.  Compared to her home ground in Indiana (she lives in LA now), the West Coast and Portland must seem optimistic, a place where technology, spiritual questing, the arts, the hand-made and the participatory (democracy, crafting, ‘zining, etc.) intersect in curious, amusing ways. And sometimes even profitable ways (in 2010 Portland’s growth in GDP was close to eight percent, I just heard on the radio). Maybe in her place, that’s the nexus I’d explore, not to make big “statements” about the future or nature of the city (both unknowable, right?) but simply to encounter the stories and characters that might be a little different from Evansville (which used to be the Big City to this western Kentucky boy) or even Indianapolis.

Whatever Weedman comes up with, I’ll be there, though, because she’s smart and engaging. That’s a pretty great start.

Dance+, Part Two, Conduit: I’ve written a couple of times about Dance+. Basically, Conduit (the downtown Portland dance studio non-profit) put out a call for proposals, specifically asking for collaborations between choreographers and other art forms, and a panel of judges selected eight to perform over two weekends, though one of them was scuttled from Part Two (Luciana Proano, “for reasons beyond her control”).

Some brief notes about Part Two? The Friendly Pheromones (Zahra Banzi, Chase Hamilton and Zoe Nelson) collaborated with Wave Clamor Bellow, performing together onstage. The tone was melancholy, by and large. In a sad world, sometimes we humans just form little clumps of support and maybe protection. Unclumped, up and dancing, the Pheromones moved in a satisfying classical modern style, that made the most of Hamilton’s angles, Banzi’s quickness and lightness and Nelson’s athleticism.

Gregg Bielemeier and Keyon Gaskin’s collaboration with composer Philippe Bronchstein was comic, full of quirky little solos and duets, though I hate using the word “quirky” to describe what Bielemeier does—he’s light and comic, like a Klee painting maybe, and Gaskin fit right in, capturing the little arm gestures above the head and little spins that mark Bielemeier’s work generally. Gaskin, though, turns Bielemeier’s shuffles into something altogether “leggier”—and funny in a slightly different way. And yes, there was a little cross-dressing at the end.

Danielle Ross’s “The Loveliest Landscape” is an extended solo with projected slides, strings of lights and flour, which Ross formed into little mounds and then scattered, with music and co-design by Christi Denton. I loved the semi-abstract slides projected onto Conduit’s back wall and mouldings, perfect for situating us in a space and dance that seemed to be trying to tell us something explicit but then pulled back for a more poetic gesture, either movement or visual. And I liked Ross and Denton’s ambition—”The Loveliest Landscape” is complex, various, well-considered.

“The Bachelors,” Caroline V. McGraw, JAW: Before hitting Dance+, I caught this dark comedy, which mostly makes fun of single men and their, um, relationship problems, if you consider breaking the rules about touching in a strip club a relationship problem. Maybe in the broadest sense? Anyway, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for these guys, even the sad-sack ones, which makes it easier to laugh at them.

The cast of Blake DeLong, Darius Pierce and Patrick Alparone seemed to have a good time with the material, and they adeptly located the laughs and drew them out of the audience. If I were giving feedback (and I’m not!), I’d say maybe one of the key turns didn’t seem logical to me (in the psycho-logical sense), but people were laughing around me, so they clearly had no trouble tracking.


Edgar Meyer/ Photo by Jim Leisy, Chamber Music Northwest

Edgar Meyer, Chamber Music Northwest: I’ll just say a word or two about Edgar Meyer, whom I interviewed back in 2009 when I was first attempting to work out some things about how classical music could renew itself, become part of a vital, living cultural conversation. Meyer was perfect for this because he’s a walking, breathing, bass-playing fusion project, who can find the heart of the matter in the classical repertoire as well as participate in and compose contemporary music.

And his concert at Kaul Auditorium was a demonstration project (here’s James McQuillen’s review). He started with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, which he played on bass, of course, and then moved first to a series of his own compositions (mostly, he also played Jobim) and then, for the encore, to music by his 19-year-old son George, who showed up to play violin alongside his dad. In his own work, the straw of the hoedown and some low-down mountain lonesome mix together, maybe with a little Western swing syncopation sometimes, and he glides up and down the neck of the bass easy as pie, producing sonic effects that make you laugh and also fit perfectly into the songs.

I think what I’ll remember most is the way Meyer paused in between movements of the Bach. He’d gather a breath, sigh, look at us, look heavenward and roll his eyes a little, throw his arm out around the neck of the bass and shake his hands (reminding me somehow of Stanley Laurel, the great Silent Era comedian) and then curl his fingers around the instrument, hunching over it at the same time. Playing a cello solo on the bass? That’s work, man!

And you know what? In the final movement, a gigue, a dance form that originated in the British jig, I thought I overheard the conversation between Bach and Appalachian mountain folk music. Without Meyer, I may not have noticed that.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives