britt festival

ArtsWatch Weekly: Defying disaster

Anonymous Theatre beats the odds, Brett Campbell picks the top music of the week, pick of the weekend fests, Ashland shakes it up, more

It was theater. It was comedy. It was song and dance. And from the reaction of the audience at Monday night’s performance of Urinetown by Anonymous Theatre Company, it was sports all the way. The sold-out crowd in the mainstage auditorium at The Armory clapped and roared and hollered, cheering loudly every time an actor rose from among the audience, shouted out a line of dialogue, and hustled up to the stage to play ball with the rest of the cast. It was edge-of-the-seat stuff, a little like watching game seven of the NBA championships with the outcome still on the line.

Chrisse Roccaro as Penny collars Amelia Morgan-Rothschild as Hope in Anonymous’s “Urinetown.” Photo: Sydney Kennedy

If you were there Monday night – and more than 500 people were – you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t … well, you just sat out the season. This one’s done and gone. Anonymous is called Anonymous for good reason. In this annual highlight of the theater calendar, none of the actors knows who any of the other actors are until they meet onstage; everyone rehearses in isolation; the culminating performance is a one-and-done: one dangerous shoot-the-moon evening, and that’s all she wrote. In Who’s on first? Anonymously yours, ArtsWatch wrote about the preparations for this year’s show.


ArtsWatch Weekly: ice, ice, baby

Your guide to staying culturally cool while the heat wave shimmers

As Cole Porter put it in his musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, it’s Too Darn Hot. Maybe not quite, in the words of another musical-theater chestnut, 110 in the Shade. But, well, shading perilously close to it. How hot is it? So hot that the Northwest Film Center’s breezy Top Down: Rooftop Cinema series, which usually screens al fresco atop the parking garage of the Hotel DeLuxe, is moving indoors this week to the cool and comfy Whitsell Auditorium of the Portland Art Museum. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne will be heating up the screen, but not the air temp, on Thursday evening in the 1937 screwball comedy classic The Awful Truth. Museums, as you know, are carefully temperature-controlled to protect the artwork from the elements. Just chill.

As a public service on this hottest week of the year, ArtsWatch Weekly brings you this cooling image by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, “The Sea of Ice” or “The Polar Sea.” We will not mention the painting’s third alternate title, “The Wreck of Hope,” which refers to the ship crashed among the floes, not the rising temperature. 1823/24. oil on canvas, 50 x 38.1 inches, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany.




First Thursday. Portland’s monthly gallery walk is this week, with most openings on Thursday and a few scattered on other days. Among the many exhibitions opening, we have an eye on veteran historical illusionist Sherrie Wolf’s new show Postcards from Paris, which includes paintings of postcards of paintings in still life settings, at Russo Lee; Sara Siestreem’s new show of paintings equidistant, at Augen; Butters Gallery’s 29th anniversary group exhibit; and Blackfish Gallery’s We the People, a “participatory installation” by thirty Blackfish artists and others.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Banging the can

David Lang's "Match Girl" opera, JAW snaps open, Chamber Music Northwest's race to the finish, Brian Cox chats, art and science meet

Poor little match girl, and chamber music too: David Lang, cofounder of the effusive Bang On a Can and 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner for The Little Match Girl Passion, is all over the Portland cultural calendar this week.

Damien Geter, Cree Carrico, and Nicole Mitchell in David Lang’s “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” at Portland Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Portland Opera’s shift to a mainly summer season concludes with a double bill of Lang’s contemporary one-acts Match Girl and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, opening Friday in the intimate Newmark Theatre. And his music will be on the bill Thursday and Friday at Chamber Music Northwest. Get the lowdown on Lang and his fascinating career from ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell in his profile David Lang: From iconoclast to eminence.


ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”


Christopher Corbell's music is on tap at The Waypost Sunday night.

Christopher Corbell’s music is on tap at The Waypost Sunday night.

Since its founding in San Francisco in 2006, Classical Revolution has been best known for putting old music in clubs and cafes, but the plucky Portland chapter has also increasingly emphasizing contemporary sounds, especially in its annual composition competition. Since taking the helm at Classical Revolution PDX earlier this year, Portland composer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist Christopher Corbell has upped the already energetic organization’s activity level, adding a couple of monthly chamber jams to the always-packed original Sunday night fiesta at the northeast Portland cafe The Waypost, and intensifying the organization’s connection to contemporary music by encouraging participants to bring 21st century music to the party. These days, it’s not unusual for much or most of a jam to be devoted to new, original music, much of it born in Oregon.

Part of that new thrust is CRPDX’s new, annual showcase, Cult of Orpheus, an evening devoted to the works of a single Oregon composer. Sunday’s inaugural concert at the Waypost features Corbell’s own chamber music for voices and instruments, and those voices include some of Portland’s finest, soprano Catherine Olson (so impressive in her work with Northwest New Music), mezzo Hannah Penn (likewise with Portland Opera), tenor Justin Meyer (of Resonance Ensemble and Britain’s Academy of Ancient Music), and baritone Benjamin Bell (Opera Theater Oregon). They’ll sing Corbell’s settings of texts from the Dhammapada, Rilke, Millay, Catullus, Baudelaire, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hopkins. Other Oregon classical music presenters, including Cascadia Composers and Celebration Works, have sponsored such single-local-composer shows recently; let’s hope more follow suit.

Also on Sunday, at northwest Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the annual summer William Byrd Festival continues with its new music director, English organist Mark Williams, playing organ music by composers who span the centuries, including Sweelinck, J.S. Bach, Herbert Howells and more.

And Sunday night at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland’s Pearl District, jazz fans can welcome the return of one of Oregon’s top new musical stars, composer/singer/ bassist Esperanza Spalding, while also boosting the educational organization that has benefited the triple Grammy winner and many other Portland musicians: Portland jazz master Thara Memory’s American Music Program. Sponsored by PDXJazz, this 3rd Annual benefit concert also includes another of its prominent alumnae, rising young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, plus Portland singers LaRhonda Steele, Andy Stokes and Tahirah Memory. The show benefits a worthy cause: AMP’s Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra has won national renown for educating young people, grades 7-12, in American classic jazz. Last spring, the AMP orchestra won second prize in the Conglomerate Big Band division at the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey, California. Spalding’s fame has taken her beyond Oregon, to the White House and more, but as her Grammy winning song, “City of Roses,” and appearances like this one attest, she hasn’t forgotten her hometown, or her old teacher.

Portuguese cellist Jed Barahal, who performed last year with Springfield’s Chamber Music Amcici, is back at Oakland’s MarsAmmne Landing Saturday night with fellow Portungese musicians Ana Barros (soprano) and pianist Christina Margotto to perform works by Brazilian composers Claudio Santoro and Heitor Villa-Lobos and Portuguese composers Antonio Pinho Vargas and Fernando Lapa. Advance reservations, obtainable at, are required.

Eugene's Kef plays Festival Romani Saturday.

Eugene’s Kef plays Festival Romani Saturday.

This weekend again offers the chance to avoid the difficult choice between outdoor experiences and musical adventures. For a little longer, at least, we Oregonians can have it all. Saturday’s all-day Festival Romani in southeast Portland’s Sellwood Riverfront Park offers a panoply of gypsy-tinged sounds from Middle Eastern band and belly dancers Ritim Egzotik to gypsy brass from Eugene’s Kef and many other local and visiting bands and dancers, tracing the ethnic group’s musical migrations from their origins in India through Eastern and southern Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Along with the music, there’s dance galore, both onstage and in the audience. And you can bring the kids!

On Sunday, Beaverton Symphony conductor Travis Hatton leads Portland Festival Symphony‘s long-running summer series, this time at Peninsula Park, in music by Aaron Copland, the great Brazilian jazz/bossa nova composser Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Leroy Anderson.

The Britt Festival’s classical music under the stars is always a highlight of Oregon summer, and Sunday’s pops concert features more Bernstein, plus fine works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Enesco, and music from films and musicals, including an arrangement of movie themes by Oregon Symphony pops conductor and composer Jeff Tyzik, and the fun young flute-cello-bass threesome Project Trio.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives