Arcane Collective

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.


The Arcane Collective dances modern art

The imagery of the skilled dance company may be unpleasant, but it lasts

In the paintings of Louis Le Brocquy you can see the history of 20th century art. Homages to Picasso, Matisse, Braque, M.C. Escher, Francis Bacon (who was the artist’s friend) abound.

In “Cold Dream Colour,” Morleigh Steinberg and Oguri’s choreographed homage to Le Brocquy, you can see the history of 20th century dance: the anti-aesthetic aesthetic of butoh, the naturalistic expressionism of Isadora Duncan, the organic manipulation of body and fabric and lights of Loie Fuller, the analytical approach to movement of Rudolf Laban, the pedestrian movement of the Judson Church group, and just a touch of the stylized naturalism of Momix, of which Steinberg was a founding member.

This is not the kind of work you usually see at BodyVox, where Arcane Collective, Steinberg’s Irish-based company opened a three night run of excerpts from “Cold Dream Colour” on Thursday night.

There is nothing in these excerpts that is even remotely amusing or entertaining, and not much that is immediately accessible. The pace is extremely slow; the music, composed by Paul Chavez and U2 guitarist The Edge, to whom Steinberg is married, has few dynamics. Apart from the lights, designed by Steinberg, and a performance space gorgeously defined by a set piece of hanging white fabric to create a proscenium stage, created by Oguri and Moses Hacmon, there is little that is beautiful in any conventional sense. Some of the images presented I found incredibly unpleasant. However, and it is a huge “however”, I woke up this morning still seeing them in my mind. I have long maintained that as a critic you don’t have to like a work of art to judge whether or not it is good or bad. “Cold Cream Colour” is very good work indeed, everyone involved highly skilled, extremely talented and knowledgeable about the workings of the human body.


The Arcane Collective/BodyVox

The Arcane Collective/BodyVox

It begins on a darkened stage. Slowly, very slowly, a light reveals the face of Oguri in a malevolent grimace. He is dressed, more or less, in the loincloth of the butoh dancer, minus the white powder we’ve seen on Sankai Juku company members. His hand is spotlighted and looks huge; he leans forward, looking ancient and intense, only half his face revealed. He crouches and falls sideways; another dancer, who turns out to be Steinberg, stands, nude, behind a cloth, then begins mouthing through it, arms outstretched. I find this interesting, but disagreeable.

Steinberg then pulls down the cloth, the stage goes dark. When the lights go up again, we see Steinberg, clothed, hair brushed over her face and completely covering it, gathering up the fabric, which in the course of the piece will be folded into a square package and worn like an obi, spread out on the floor like a bedsheet, and bundled into the shape of a swaddled baby. Steinberg’s movement is as controlled and considered as Oguri’s, and the way she uses her long-fingered hands to manipulate the fabric is fascinating and beautiful.

The stage is cleared, Oguri returns, now clothed in western underwear, moving a little like a puppet without strings, very loose-jointedly, his head flopping. He sits, and wiggles his upraised feet, and gazes contemptuously at the audience. Steinberg returns with the sheet and spreads it on the floor to make a bed, and we have an unpleasant domestic scene, echoing the in-your- face realism of Bacon’s paintings.

Enter a small, dark-haired dancer named Cat Westwood and the mood and tone change, as she moves from a crouch to a fall, gets to her feet and starts jumping. She produces a bouquet of flowers from behind one of the curtains, which has the familiar appearance of the small nosegays Picasso inserted into some of his blue-period paintings, an image that is reinforced by Oguri, Steinberg and Westwood as they form a familial tableau.
Steinberg then holds the once-again folded cloth against her abdomen, looking intently at the audience. She and Oguri then start hitting themselves in the face, creating another unpleasantly memorable image, they’re out of control and Westwood smiles maniacally.

The cloth now seems to be a swaddled baby; Steinberg stands, cradling it in her arms, at the rear of the space, behind her what appears to be the glow of a votive candle. Ireland is a Catholic country, after all. A fourth dancer, who turns out to be her sister, Roxanne Steinberg, also tall, long-limbed and elegant, stands behind her, and they do a richly textured emotionally engaging dance that for me is the highlight of the evening.
This is followed by a quartet involving the sheet, which forces these dancers to relate to each other for the first time and the piece ends with the fabric once again rolled into an “infant,” being cradled.

“Cold Dream Colour” is performed again tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 at the BodyVox studios. Ticket information here.

And like it or not, it’s well worth seeing.

News & Notes: ‘Natasha Plays’, a new performance film series, more!

Just to fill every corner of your calendar, some shows to consider going forward

This edition of News & Notes is all about catching up with things that either exist now or will exist in the future. Actually, they probably exist in some form now, we just can’t see them. Sometimes I confront the calendar of possible arts events I could attend, and I shudder myself into a state of paralysis, and these items are intended as a sort of antidote. Except for the last one, which nominates an interesting spot to wait while the paralysis lifts.

Yelena Gorina in "Natasha's Dream"/Courtesy Meyerhold Center Moscow

Yelena Gorina in “Natasha’s Dream”/Courtesy Meyerhold Center Moscow

Ruth Wikler-Luker’s Boom Arts continues its savvy and provocative programming with workshop performances of “The Natasha Plays,” by the young Russian playwright Yaroslava Pulinovich in English translations by John Freedman. The two short plays look at what life is like in contemporary Russia for 16-year-old girls—one “have” and one “have-not.” Karin Magaldi directs Portland actresses Lily Burnett and Anneke Wisner in the two monologues. In characteristic fashion, Boom Arts will follow the performance with talkback conversations on themes including Russian theatre today (with playwright Yaroslava Pulinovich, Nov 21); girlhood and gender in Russia and the US (Nov 22); and inequality in contemporary Russia, co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council (Nov 23).

Since the Cold War ended our knowledge of Russia seems to have declined, oddly enough, and stories of individual, “normal” Russians are extremely rare. And given the large number of Eastern European and Russian immigrants to Portland, the “Natasha Plays” seems especially pertinent here. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (Nov. 21-23), in the Lincoln Hall Studio Theatre at Portland State. They’re free, but donations are suggested. Reservations here.


The Bolshoi Theatre's "Spartacus"/Dmitry Kulikov

The Bolshoi Theatre’s “Spartacus”/Dmitry Kulikov

Portland experiments with film versions of opera, theater, and ballet performances by major international companies are continuing, starting Sunday, December 15, at the Hollywood Theatre, with the “Opera and Ballet in Cinema” series, presented by Emerging Pictures. I don’t see these as replacements for local productions, more as supplements. After all, it’s expensive to see the Bolshoi on its home turf, but the company sets a certain sort of standard in the ballet world. And frankly, a YouTube video isn’t quite sufficient.

I mention the Bolshoi because yes, three Bolshoi productions are on the schedule along with an “Aida” from Teatro alla Scala, and two “spectacle” operas from Sydney that were performed on a floating stage in Sydney Harbor.

The schedule:

  • December 15 – “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bolshoi Ballet, featuring Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallberg, the first American ever to join the Bolshoi as a principal dancer
  • December 22 – “Aida” – Teatro alla Scala, with soprano Violeta Urmana in the title role opposite tenor Roberto Alagna
  • January 5 – “Spartacus” – Bolshoi Ballet
  • January 19 – “Carmen” – Opera Australia/Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
  • February 2 – “Le Corsaire” – Bolshoi Ballet
  • February 16 – “La Traviata” – Opera Australia/Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Performances are on Sundays at 1:30 pm; tickets are $18. Available through the Hollywood Theatre link or through Opera in Cinema.


Our friends at BodyVox are presenting the Arcane Collective and its production “Cold Dream Colour” by Morleigh Steinberg and Oguri with music by U2 guitarist The Edge and Paul Chavez of Feltlike. The dance (we’ll see excerpts) was inspired by the painting of the late Irish artist Louis le Brocquy—Steinberg lives in Dublin. BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton will moderate conversations with directors/choreographers  Steinberg (who was integral to Momix and Iso)  and Oguri (a dance force in Los Angeles) about the process of turning le Brocquy’s imagery into music and dance.

7:30 pm Dec. 5-7, BodyVox, 1201 NW 17th. Tickets are $25.


"Bridging" on the North Park Blocks/Photo by Sabina Samiee

“Bridging” on the North Park Blocks/Photo by Sabina Samiee

I noticed “Bridging” on the North Park Blocks yesterday, a sculpture made from 4×4 cedar posts that doubles as dining area and park bench. Created by 16 University of Oregon students in the Portland urban architecture program, it will sit between Davis and Everett streets through November 23, be disassembled, and then make appearances in O’Bryant Park, Jameson Square, and Holladay Park through the winter of 2014. I liked how RACC’s public art manager Kris Calhoun talked about it in the press release:

“The work is an open ended invitation for people to come together and relate to each other on a very basic human level- sharing a meal together. I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing the work in the various locations and seeing how the stories unfold. That is part of the magic of putting work out into the public to me, seeing how it is received, used and interpreted by the broadest possible audience.”

“Bridging” was developed by students in the “Place Branding for Public Services” studio taught by Philip Speranza.The studio culminated in the design and building of a single, full-scale urban installation. The students involved included Jesse Alvizar, Natalie Cregar, Vijayeta Davda, Sermin Yesilada, Tina Wong, Grace Aaraj, Charley Danner,Wilfredo Sanchez, Srivarshini Balaji, Timothy Niou, Oliver Brandt, Hanna Lirman, Haley Blanco, Jenna Pairolero, Eli Rosenwasser and Henry Smith.

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