DanceWatch Weekly: Helen Simoneau’s work in progress

Choreography XX at Oregon Ballet Theatre give three women choreographers a voice, including Helen Simoneau

For two weeks now the dancers at Oregon Ballet Theatre have been in the studio rigorously working out new, exciting choreography by Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins. The three talented choreographers were selected in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Choreography XX competition, an initiative specifically created to discover new women choreographers in the male-dominated ballet world.

The three have extensive dance world credits. Barbuto is an Italian-Canadian dancer and choreographer who was a soloist with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and danced with Nederlands Dans Theater III. Haskins works as a freelance choreographer and dances with Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, and she received a fellowship grant to New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute. Simoneau, an independent choreographer and teacher based in North Carolina, is also the founder of Helen Simoneau Danse.

Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX, presented June 29 ­30th, 2017 at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. Photo by Yi Yin.

Since February after seeing OBT’s new Swan Lake, choreographed by artistic director Kevin Irving, I have been mulling over exactly what classical ballet is, and how it fits into the current world view. While watching Swan Lake I was struck by the lack of diversity in the company, and the sexist, oligarchic assumptions in the story line, which may have seemed cute and acceptable as a children’s fantasy once upon a time but now seems wildly out of place. In the real world different cultures struggle to coexist and discrimination is illegal, stereotypes are rude, we are trying to understand the ethics of cultural appropriation, there are no happy dancing peasants (poor people), child brides are illegal and women are not commodities to be traded for money and power, and democracy is the desired form of governance. Are we doing our children a disservice, especially girls, by replaying these classical ballet stories over and over? Can ballet companies escape their dependence on story ballets and their feudal view of the world? And what would replace those ballets?


DanceWatch Weekly: Dualities and contradictions

As PSU pulls the plug on its dance department, the city demonstrates how vital dance is in the city

Dualities and contradictions exist in extremes this week in Portland’s dance scene.

While Portland’s talented dancers and choreographers are dancing for their lives and performing all over the city, Portland State University has decided to abolish its dance program, according to a press release for SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students. Although PSU’s contribution to the community has been waning over the years because of continuous budget cuts and the policies of the various administrations, losing a university dance program, especially in a cultural hub like Portland, will have long-lasting, far-reaching consequences.

In a show of support for Portland dance artists, and in resistance to the cultural shift away from supporting the arts, showing up to this week’s dance performances (and there are many) is the action to take.

See you in the theatre!

Performances this week

Photo of NW Dance Project dancers Lindsey McGill and Elijah Labay. Photo by Christopher Peddecord.

Summer Splendors
Works by Lucas Crandall, Tracey Durbin, and Rachel Erdos, Sarah Slipper
World Premiere by Sarah Slipper
NW Dance Project
June 8-10
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
Internationally acclaimed concert pianist Hunter Noack will perform Chopin’s 24 Preludes to the choreography of Lucas Crandall, Tracey Durbin, Rachel Erdos, and Sarah Slipper, as part of the The Chopin Project, one of two pieces being performed in their annual Summer Splendors concert.

The Chopin Project, which premiered in 2015, “avoided an attempt to make movement that translated the music directly, instead creating a parallel sphere that mirrored the richness and delight of the music rather than the notes. And that was tremendously satisfying,” wrote ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson at the time.

The second piece in the program Tell Me How it Ends, a world premiere by NW Dance Project Artistic Director Sarah Slipper, is a work for two couples (Andrea Parson, Elijah Labay, Julia Radick, and Franco Nieto), danced to a mix of contemporary classical and experimental music. It depicts a couple’s dual perspectives on their relationship over time.

Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, 6:30 pm June 9. Photo courtesy of Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe.

Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!
Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
6:30 pm June 9
Jefferson High School Auditorium, 5210 N Kerby Ave.
Kúkátónón’s young dancers and drummers will end the year with a performance featuring West African dance and drumming, ballet, and guest performances by Sebe Kan (a West African dance company) and Baramakono (an African drumming ensemble).Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe is a Portland children’s dance company founded by Rolia Manyongai-Jones in 1983, and now directed by Dana Shephard. It focuses on inspiring confidence among the troupe’s dancers and broadening awareness of African and African American cultural traditions throughout Oregon. The company offers tuition-free African dancing, drumming, and classical ballet lessons on a weekly basis, taught by professional music and dance instructors.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute by Trip the Dark Dance Company, June 2-17, The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Photo courtesy of Trip the Dark Dance Company.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute
Trip the Dark Dance Company
Co-directed by Corinn deWaard and Stephanie Seaman
June 9-17
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.
In tribute to Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth and singer/songwriter David Bowie, Trip the Dark Dance Company takes the audience on an adventure to the center of the Labyrinth to rescue Sarah’s baby brother from the Goblin King after Sarah had wished him gone. It’s a mind-bending, hypnotic adventure that includes a little tap, contemporary dance, theater and a lot of Bowie, and… “where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.”

Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co., June 9-11. Photo by Alleh Lindquist.

Jazz Around the World
Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
June 9-11
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St. (Entrance is on the south side door of the WYSE building)
Wild Rumpus Jazz Co., co-founded by Kelsey Adams and Lucy Brush, is bringing jazz dance back to Portland in their latest concert, Jazz Around the World, which explores jazz dance composition in relations to the different instruments, sounds, rhythms and melodies present in a variety of world music.The history of jazz dance is rooted in African American vernacular dance and over time branched out into many different styles including tap, Broadway, funk, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean, Latin, Pop, club jazz, popping, B-boying, party dances and many more. A few historical jazz choreographers include Katherine Dunham, Jack Cole, Lester Horton and Bob Fosse. Well-known Portland jazz teachers and choreographers include Tracey Durbin and Mary Hunt.

Wolfbird Dance, comprised of Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones, will perform as part of the Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, June 10-11. Photo courtesy of Woldbird Dance.

Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase
Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 10-11
Center Space Studio, 420 SE 6th Ave.
With the intention of pushing boundaries, and in the theme of “resistance,” this brand new presenting platform, created by dance artists Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation, will present three new works by Portland choreographers Jocelyn Edelstein, Sheyla Mattos and Wolfbird Dance.

Chickens and Cheese Pizza, Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, Disability Arts and Culture Project, 4:30 pm June 12. Photo courtesy of Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, Disability Arts and Culture Project.

Chickens and Cheese Pizza
Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, Disability Arts and Culture Project
4:30 pm June 12
The Rosewood Initiative, 16126 SE Stark St.
Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, founded in 2005 by Kathy Coleman (current director), Erik Ferguson (co-artistic director of Wobbly Dance), and Jody Ramey, is a mixed-ability, mixed-age dance company that aims to further the artistic expression of people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, by providing dance, choreography and performance as an artistic outlet.

Chickens and Cheese Pizza will be performed by Daric Anderson, Eleanor Baily, Arrow Bless, Ryan Blumhardt, Rachel Esteve, Peter Heiken, Addie Nelson, Monique Peloquin and Scott Selby (you can read their full bios here). The collection of five dances, choreographed by company members, digs into the human experience, exposing a full spectrum of emotions.

Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, a film by Eric Nordstrom, 7:30 pm June 13. Photo courtesy of Tere Mathern.

Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present
a film by Eric Nordstrom
7:30 pm June 13
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
With the help of some of Portland’s most notable dance artists and writers, along with archival research, Portland dance artist and filmmaker Eric Nordstrom has captured six decades of contemporary dance in Portland in his new film Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present. Back in June 2016 I interviewed Nordstrom prior to the screening of the film’s first iteration, and you can read that conversation with you again here.

SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students
presented by the PSU Dance Program/School of Theater+Film
Under the direction of Tere Mathern, Dance Faculty
June 14-15
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
The entire Dance Program at Portland State University has been cut. In this final performance, Portland State University dance students, faculty, and community dance members, will perform works that express mourning, celebration, integration, and liberation through movement to mark the department’s passing.

Performances next week


DanceWatch Weekly: Journeys, a goblin king and an arts festival

The dance weekend features PDX Contemporary Ballet and Trip the Dark Dance Company

Two Portland dance company performances and an outdoor arts festival in Wilsonville— your dance weekend in a nutshell!

Two shows open on Friday night. PDX Contemporary Ballet’s Iterum Echo collects three works that involve journeys (“iter” is a Latin word meaning journey) by artistic director Briley Neugebauer, Margaret Wiss, and Kiera Brinkley. And Trip the Dark Dance Company will stage The Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, which runs for three consecutive weekends.

For PDX Contemporary Ballet, Iterum Echos finishes out the company’s first full season, an exemplary feat, considering most Portland choreographers work from project to project due to the amount of funding available for dance and the financial reality of dance: maintaining a company of dancers year round is a whole other ball of wax.

Since October 2016, the company, directed by Neugebauer (who danced with the now defunct Moxie Contemporary Ballet Company as well as Polaris Dance Theatre, ART-IF-ACT Dance Project and was an apprentice with Donald Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle), has produced three major shows: Incipio in October, Interlude in February 2017, and now Iterum Echos. The company which prides itself on experimentation in ballet, received its nonprofit 501(c)(3) last April, and has since provided a platform for numerous choreographers, who have all been women. The fact that the company is directed by a woman and performs works by women choreographers is an unusual distinction in the ballet world, where choreographic commissions and directorships are predominantly held by men.

The works featured in Iterum Echos will be performed in the intimate setting of New Expressive Works space at 810 SE Belmont St., doing away with the traditional space that separates the audience from the performers.

The pieces include Circular Wave of Circumstance by Boston choreographer Wiss, inspired by the concept of space-time where time and three-dimensional space are considered fused in a four-dimensional continuum. It employs an original soundscape composed by local artist Colin Minigan. Portland choreographer Kiera Brinkley has created The Times, which explores her “real world” profession as a nurse. Brinkley, a former performer and choreographer with Polaris Dance Theatre, is a quadruple amputee since age two. Neugebauer’s Continually Beginning considers “the ordinary, repetitive steps of everyday life, the subtle differences that sometimes occur, as well as the feeling of moving backward instead of forward.”

On Saturday BodyVox, Polaris Dance Theatre, Edge Movement Arts, and Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group, a dance group formed by Oregon State University students in 1995 to help preserve and promote Mexican culture, will perform as part of the Wilsonville Festival of Arts that brings visual art, literary arts, live music, dance, theatre, and performance art, outside to the public, for free, at the Town Center Park.

If you missed it, last week I spoke with former New York City Ballet dancer Tom Gold about working with Twyla Tharp, ballet marketing and his work for The Portland Ballet. “It’s all about marketing, and money and business. Nobody’s thinking, ‘I want to encourage and nurture this.’ That’s kind of the last thing.” You can read the full interview here.
Also last weekend ArtsWatch’s Nim Wunnan reviewed the latest installment of New Expressive Works’ resident choreographer program, and noted that tension was a common thread.

Performances this week

Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital, 7 pm June 1. Photo by Fritz Liedtke.

Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital
Jefferson Dancers
7 pm June 1
5210 N Kerby Ave.

The Jefferson Dancers, a Portland Public Schools dance training program and company based at Jefferson High School in North Portland, celebrates its 41st anniversary this year and will feature choreography by faculty members and performances by students in this recital program.

Iterum Echos by PDX Contemporary Ballet, June 2-4 at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont. Photo courtesy of PDX Contemporary Ballet.

Iterum Echos
PDX Contemporary Ballet
Directed by Briley Neugebauer
June 2-4
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.
See above.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute by Trip the Dark Dance Company, June 2-17, The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Photo courtesy of Trip the Dark Dance Company.

Goblin King: A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute
Trip the Dark Dance Company
Co-directed by Corinn deWaard and Stephanie Seaman
June 2-17
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.
In tribute to Jim Henson’s 1986 film “Labyrinth” and singer/songwriter David Bowie, Trip the Dark Dance Company takes the audience on an adventure to the center of the Labyrinth to rescue Sarah’s baby brother from the Goblin King after Sarah had wished him gone. It’s a mind-bending, hypnotic adventure that includes a little tap, contemporary dance, theater and a lot of Bowie, and… “where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.”

Photo of the Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group. Wilsonville Festival of Arts June 3-4. Photo courtesy of Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group.

Wilsonville Festival of Arts
June 3-4
Town Center Park
29600 SW Park Pl., Wilsonville
In its 18th year, the Wilsonville Festival of Arts brings visual art, literary arts, live music, dance, theatre, and performance art, outside to the public for free, at Town Center Park. This year’s festivities includes dance performances by BodyVox, Polaris Dance Theatre, Edge Movement Arts, and Mexica Tiahui Aztec Dance Group-a dance group formed by Oregon State University students in 1995 to help preserve and promote Mexican culture.

Performances next week

June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 13, Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, a film by Eric Nordstrom
June 14-15, SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students

Upcoming Performances

June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 30-July 1, Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017, Hosted by The Creative Music Guild and Disjecta
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-15, Rantom Skoot, Linda Austin, Gregg Bielemeier, Bob Eisen (NYC), and Sada Naegelin & Leah Wilmoth
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 26, Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films, Hosted by NW Film Center featuring films by Conrad Kazcor, Fuchsia Lin, Dylan Wilbur Media, Gabriel Shalom, Jackie Davis, and Amy Yang Chiao
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

Je suis Charlie? Oui, even here

Art and politics collide in a terrorist atrocity in Paris, and the effects are felt around the globe

Also read Brett Campbell’s “The Charlie Hebdo murders: what I told my journalism students” on ArtsWatch.


“Je Suis Charlie” has swept the nation in the past few days, along with a few “I am NOT Charlie”s filed by people who agree that the murderous attacks on the offices of the Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were criminal and repugnant, but reject the slogan for a variety of reasons: because most of us don’t put ourselves in danger the way that war correspondents and the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists do, for instance; or because the newspaper’s caricatures were often offensively anti-Muslim. (Many critics have been calling them racist, although the issue seems to be religion, not race, and the publication seems to be committed to offending pretty much everyone pretty much equally.)

Much of the world has risen in indignation and resolve against the Charlie Hebdo murders and the apparently linked slayings shortly after in a Parisian kosher supermarket. Well more than a million people gathered in Paris in solidarity against terrorism on Sunday, including more than 40 presidents and prime ministers. Encouragingly, that list included both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Controversially, neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden attended.

Mockery in art carries a long tradition. Here, Charlie Chaplin skewers Hitler in 1940's "The Great Dictator."

Mockery in art carries a long tradition. Here, Charlie Chaplin skewers Hitler in 1940’s “The Great Dictator.”

Here at Oregon ArtsWatch, Charlie Hebdo seems both somewhat distant and urgently close. We don’t deal in the sort of savage satire that is Charlie’s baguette and brie. We trade in opinion, and reporting, but within relatively narrow bounds: we write about art. Someone might be offended by something we write, even angry enough to want to punch us in the nose, but no one ever has. The likelihood of artists or readers coming after us with assault weapons is remote to the point of seeming absurd. Within the context of international politics and the struggles between cultures, the world of art, surely, is safe.

Except, of course, when it isn’t. Art can comfort, art can provoke. Art can celebrate the small and private, or amplify the large and tendentious. It can be rude, and challenging, and stick out its tongue. In its gut it’s open, and openness is a threat to terrorism and totalitarianism alike. Even the relatively open governance of the United States is wracked by obsessive spying on citizens, and state secret-keeping on such matters as the use of torture for political ends. In opposition to such things, or simply making end-runs around them, the likes of Banksy, Ai Weiwei, Piss Christ artist Andres Serrano, Madonna-and-elephant-dung artist Chris Ofili, and the makers of a dumb movie comedy about assassinating a North Korean despot are in the same cricket match. If I think Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator by all odds must be a vastly superior artistic response to totalitarian thuggery than Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview (which I haven’t seen, and don’t intend to), the urge to mock is the same. And mockery comes with risk. Wherever ideas occur – good ones, bad ones, indifferent ones – danger follows.

CharliehebdoYou’ve no doubt read plenty of opinions elsewhere about Charlie Hebdo and the terrorists. A few of the more interesting commentaries I’ve seen: Adam Gopnik’s take in The New Yorker; onetime Oregonian political cartoonist Jack Ohman’s insider view for his current newspaper, the Sacramento Bee; underground comix legend R. Crumb’s view from France, where he’s lived for 25 years, in the New York Observer; columnist David Brooks’s demurring view in the New York Times; the outstanding cartoonist/journalist Joe Sacco’s graphic response in The Guardian; the English actor and writer Stephen Fry‘s musings on mockery. In case you haven’t looked at the cartoons that prompted the terrorist revenge, you can see them here, reprinted by the Huffington Post: most American publications declined to reproduce the offending drawings. (The photo insert above, from Wikimedia Commons, shows the cover of the newspaper’s November 3, 2011 issue, one of the lighter Muslim-themed drawings, with a speech bubble that translates, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”)

Well, there’s nothing to laugh about now. And certainly nothing to die about, although 17 people did in the newspaper and supermarket assaults. Until last week’s terrorist shootings I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo. Scanning what I’ve been able to see, I discern an obvious cultural disconnection between Charlie and me. I love Jonathan Swift; I re-read Gulliver’s Travels every few years. I sup at the aesthetic table of Daumier and Rowlandson and the harsher, angrier Goya in his Los Caprichos and Disasters of War mode. Much of what I see at Charlie Hebdo seems crude and sophomoric in comparison. Yet if Charlie unnerves me, and certainly offends many others, that’s the point. There’s an anarchic fervor to the thing, a relentless desire to call into question everything. And that’s what totalitarians can’t stand. Charlie is an emblem in the dangerous and often vicious struggle between freedom of expression and the drive to control thought.

Journalism and art are not the same thing, but they’re closely related in their drives to engage attention and reveal truths. Sometimes, as with the Saccos and Ohmans and Crumbs and George Orwells and Charlie Hebdos, they overlap. And often they have the same enemies. Repressive regimes, and “freedom” fighters acting in the hope of establishing repressive regimes, always want to control what’s written, spoken, and drawn. Art is a crucial player in that struggle, especially when it speaks truths that power doesn’t want to hear. The playwright Vaclav Havel became a symbol of Eastern Europe’s emergence from the Soviet bloc. Ai Weiwei is treated as a criminal in China, and something of a liberator to millions. The Third Reich outlawed “degenerate” modernist art.

It’s comforting to think the United States doesn’t act that way, except we do. Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t wish to draw a parallel between the French terrorists and the practitioners of thought suppression in America, because the gap is as wide as the gap between dirty tricks and murder: they are not the same thing. I’m aware of the long historical roots of mistrust between the West and the Muslim world; I’m aware that the terrorists don’t represent most Muslims. I’m also aware that murder is murder, and nattering is not. Even the most scurrilous of American agitators – the traveling circus known as the Westboro Baptist Church, for instance, which was in town a few days ago to castigate the Portland Trail Blazers, of all groups, for some sort of alleged crime of depravity – don’t put people in fear of their lives. And in the U.S., political blowhards are pretty much just political blowhards: we don’t expect them to come at us with AK-47s.

Few artists have been as brutal in their social commentary as Goya in his "Disasters of War" series, of which this print is No. 37. Titled "This Is Worse," it depicts the mutilated bodies of civilians skewered on trees in the aftermath of battle. Wikimedia Commons

Few artists have been as brutal in their social commentary as Goya in his “Disasters of War” series, of which this print is No. 37. Titled “This Is Worse,” it depicts the mutilated bodies of civilians skewered on trees in the aftermath of battle. Wikimedia Commons.

But the war on information and expression is real, even here. After 9/11 the Bush administration, remembering the power of images to sway public opinion during the Vietnam War, banned photographs of caskets and body bags returning home from the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Obama administration has done nothing to lift that restriction. In the 1980s the political and artistic worlds erupted in a “culture war” in which shrewd politicians such as Jesse Helms castigated artists over perceived depravities in an attempt to swing public opinion toward a harsher, more restrictive view of civil liberties. Artists and entertainers and arts funders and bureaucrats responded in varying degrees of outrage and caution, but one upshot was that “official” art – that art that is supported by tax dollars – became meeker; or more precisely, that the available money flowed more readily to uncontroversial projects.

In the end, one thing seems clear: civil society is designed to guarantee its citizens safety in both body and mind. It’s a guarantee that has been hard fought for, and is sometimes unreliable, but it is the goal and it is the standard. It’s not meant to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. On the contrary, it can be harsh and divisive and uncomfortable – just like some art. And the culture’s agreement to make decisions based on a code of civil laws is its chief protection from the passions of unbridled belief and extremism.

Freedom of expression is freedom of choice. Hell, freedom of expression is freedom, and that’s crucial to a civil society, even – maybe especially – when it makes us uncomfortable. Yes, we are Charlie. Whether we actually like Charlie Hebdo or not.


Read more from Bob Hicks >>

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52 pickup: reshuffling the 2014 deck

ArtsWatch looks back on the year that was: 52 arts stories for 52 weeks

What: we’re at the end of this thing already? It’s been a spine-tingling, head-scratching year, this 2014. During it we learned, by way of a $142 million Francis Bacon triptych that parked for a few weeks at the Portland Art Museum after its private purchase at auction, that Oregon is a tax haven for collectors of expensive art, a cozy Cayman Islands for ducking those pesky tariffs.

It’s also been the year that:

– Portland Opera decided to reinvent itself as a summer festival;

– Oregon Ballet Theatre star Alison Roper and Portland Art Museum chief curator Bruce Guenther retired;

– and a U.S. senator from Oklahoma, quite possibly as high as an elephant’s eye, railed against a government grant to Oregon Children’s Theatre for a musical about zombies.

Here at ArtsWatch World Headquarters we’ve been going over our dispatches from the past 12 months, looking for those pieces that give a sense of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how many intriguing little side trips we took along the way. In another shuffle of the deck we could have picked a totally different house of cards. But this is the deck we chose. Gentle readers, here you have ’em – 52 stories for 52 weeks. May 2014 rest happily in our memories, and 2015 break out of the gate with a robust sense of boldness and adventure.


Chase Hamilton in “Friends.” Photo: David Krebs

Chase Hamilton in “Friends” helps kick off the dance year. Photo: David Krebs



13: A roaring kickoff to the Second Dance Season. “[Tracey] Durbin and [Janet] McIntyre’s Ebb & Flow was the heavyweight of the evening, danced by a fine ensemble … and marrying dance and film fluidly, with each supporting the other: at one point the dancers sit down onstage, backs to the audience, and watch the film, too, absorbed in images of themselves underwater, sinking and swimming.” Bob Hicks reports that Eowyn Emerald’s show of works by eight choreographers got the year’s dance card off to a rousing start.

19: Portland Piano interview: Vladimir Feltsman. “I survived because I knew that finally I would be let out of there, and I had to be ready. I worked very hard for eight years; it was a blessing in disguise because I had plenty of time to learn new music, to read books, to develop. Those eight years were an important though difficult time, and I would not trade them for anything.” Jana Hanchett listens to the virtuoso Russian-émigré pianist talk about his long wait to leave the old U.S.S.R. and what it’s meant to his life and career.

26: To Mom, who isn’t here: Why Fertile Ground matters. “(T)he two most important things in my life happened at almost the same time: my mother died, leaving me with a cavernous empty space in my life; and Trisha Pancio Mead took me out to a downtown dive bar for whiskey sours with a group of theater people and said, ‘Guys, lets start a new play festival. And let’s make it open to everybody.’ This is why it matters that the Fertile Ground Festival is uncurated. Because the city was full of people like me who had stories to tell and the drive to create work, and we just needed someone to open a door.” As the city rushes toward a new Fertile Ground new-works festival in January (and you could look up A.L. Adams’ splendid coverage for ArtsWatch of 2014’s), playwright Claire Willett explains what’s important about it in the first place.


ArtsWatch biz 6: The final pitch

Support ArtsWatch and keep the artsflow going!

Join the Arts Watch! (Which looks a lot like Rembrandt's The Nightwatch, Rijksmuseum

Join the Arts Watch! (Which looks a lot like Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch, Rijksmuseum)

At its heart, ArtsWatch is a writing community. Some of us have been writing and editing stories and essays about the arts for decades, some are “mid-career,” and some are just starting out. Just as I did when I began in this business many years ago, the newcomers to arts writing need a place to start, editors to help them along, readers to respond to their work. ArtsWatch takes that responsibility very seriously, and we also absorb the energy and great ideas of new writers.

Among our writers, some consider themselves arts journalists. For others, writing about the arts is part of a practice centered elsewhere, often either in artmaking or academia (or both). We find the combination of outlooks and experiences produces a site that is hotter and deeper than it would be if it were only journalists.

I realized that I hadn’t come to terms with the numbers of writers involved when Brett Campbell, the pivot person for our classical music coverage, sent a group email to the writers who are actively writing for us at the moment. There were nine names on the list, plus mine, and that list didn’t include writers outside Portland or those who have contributed occasional pieces to ArtsWatch. I think it’s safe to say that this is the largest group of classical music writers that have ever written for an Oregon site or publication at one time. Their perspectives and experiences in music differ widely, which is why they sometimes disagree about things, and this makes our coverage around music all the better.

The group we have covering theater is somewhat smaller, but it strangely includes all of the fulltime staff theater critics The Oregonian has ever had: Bob Hicks, Marty Hughley, and me. We represent three decades of theater coverage, but even at The Oregonian, we were never ALL deployed on theater at the same time. AL Adams is also central to that group, and her wide experience in performance practice balances the rest of us nicely.

Our dance coverage is led by a former president of the Dance Critics Association of America, Martha Ullman West, who started writing about dance in Portland years before Oregon Ballet Theatre raised its first curtain. Bob and I also write about dance, and so do two younger writers, Jamuna Chiarini and Nim Wunnan.

One of our aims this year is to add to our roster of visual art writers. Right now we count Patrick Collier, Graham Bell, and Sarah Sentilles in that company, and we have some new voices on the brink of announcing themselves on the site.

These are just the group of writers writing for us right now. Others have dropped by for occasional stories and essays, too, and some of that is among the most interesting stuff we’ve published. With any luck, they’ll write our way again.

If you help us, that will be far more possible!

During the past couple of weeks I’ve attempted to “explain” ArtsWatch. I’ve written about the importance of the arts, the specific importance of the arts here in Oregon, and the importance of renovating the practice of arts journalism to respond to the arts in a more open and useful way. And I explained where the money for ArtsWatch comes from and where it goes.

This will be the last post in this “Pledge Drive” series, and I want to let you know what your support will allow us to do.

  • First, we’ll shore up the administrative side of our nonprofit. We’ve spent our money on our writers and their posts so far and haven’t built the strong structure we need to keep it going. Yes, I think that’s called “sustainability”!
  • Second, on the content side, we’ll invest in the visual arts while we do a better job of organizing our other coverage areas. And if we have enough money, we’ll expand: to the moving image, to the literary arts, to music outside the classically influenced, to deeper news coverage of our arts institutions.
  • Third, we want to experiment more than we have with other media, from public gatherings to podcasts to video to books. And we want to rebundle our work into apps that work better with tablets and mobile, for obvious reasons!

We can’t do it without you, though, and by becoming a member, you’ll start to receive lots of perks: special invitations, ticket discounts, and surveys to help us shape the site and our journalism.

We’re coming up on our third anniversary. If you’ve been reading us along, you know what we offer: a deeper drink of the arts and culture of the state than you can get anywhere else. And if that’s important to you and you can do it financially, we’d love it if you decided to join our small band of members. Because that’s the first step in making it a BIG band of members.

Joining us is so easy to do through Paypal: Just pick a level of support and you’re in!

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And if you don’t want to work through PayPal, you can just send us a check, because that works great, too. Just don’t forget to include your email address so we can sign you up to our Newsletter.

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To those of you who have already joined us? You are the best! Thank you! And for those who are still thinking it over? Don’t hesitate to click the membership button once you’ve decided that ArtsWatch is the kind of media you want to support. We’ll see you then!

The arts in 2013, Part 2: July through December

ArtsWatch looks back on some of the highlights and significant moments of the year

Here at ArtsWatch we’ve been casting our thoughts back to days of yore. Of, like, January 1, 2013, to June 30, 2013. We looked back on that six-month stretch yesterday to remind you (and ourselves) of some of the bigger and more intriguing Oregon arts stories that zipped past our startled noses.

Victor Mack, Jason Rouse in Portland Playhouse's "Detroit." Photo: Brud Giles

Victor Mack, Jason Rouse in Portland Playhouse’s “Detroit.” Photo: Brud Giles

So today, natch – as Old Grandfather 2013 shuffles off into the sunset of rocking-chair recollection – we continue our review, this time covering July 1 to December 31. What can we say about a six-month stretch that began with a radio station and an opera company shacking up together, and ended with a Portland museum showing off the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction – and to an anonymous bidder, at that? As it turns out, we said quite a bit. Below we’ve provided links to stories on some of the top moments in Oregon’s recent cultural history. Give ’em a click and relive those glory days. Seems just like yestermonth, doesn’t it?


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives