cat painting

ArtsWatch Weekly: artists at play

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

When visual artists and show people get together, interesting things often happen. Some collaborations have become legendary: Isamu Noguchi’s sculptural set designs for modern dance icon Martha Graham; Léon Bakst’s expressionistic designs for Ballets Russes. The original designs and even the title for the musical Fiddler on the Roof were inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall. More recently, the South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishingly absurdist designs for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 production of Shostakovich’s equally astonishing and absurd The Nose brilliantly suggested the tone of the Gogol story that inspired the opera. Last season, Portland Opera produced Stravinsky’s classic mid-twentieth-century opera The Rake’s Progress, based on William Hogarth’s famous eighteenth century series of paintings and prints, with David Hockney’s inspired modernized designs.

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Paageno (John Moore) and Sendak's set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Papageno (John Moore) and Sendak’s set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Now Portland Opera is back with a new production of Mozart’s fabulist opera The Magic Flute, using sets and costumes designed in 1980 by the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whose designs for The Nutcracker were also a mainstay at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet for many years. Sendak’s sets and to a lesser extent his costumes for The Magic Flute are immediately identifiable as his and his alone: in this case the collaboration is an overlay of artistic sensibilities, a discovery of parallels between two artists whose outlooks differ but mesh well. Sendak’s bright color sense and playfully exaggerated figurative style emphasize the childlike aspects of Mozart’s music and the opera’s slightly nonsensical tale. Sendak didn’t so much rethink his source material, the way that Kentridge and Hockney did, as find a level of mutual agreement, a seductive surface that allows the music to dive more deeply behind the mask. He created very traditional tableaux, but in his own  pleasing and agreeable style, and the result is … well, pleasing and agreeable and pertinent.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: 24/7 Fertile Ground (plus cats)

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

All right, it’s not really twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Fertile Ground just seems that way. Portland’s eighth annual festival of new performance does happen daily, and often both daytime and evening, and every day through Sunday, when it completes its eleven-day marathon run. By that point it will have staged more than 160 performances of new works in more than thirty venues across the metropolitan area. And while the festival itself will end, several of the works will continue, because theater companies have begun to program their new plays during the festival’s annual January run, capturing some of the splash and then settling in for an ordinary several-week slot. You can catch up here with what’s happening when and where for the rest of the festival.

Sam Reiter as The Maiden Tsar in "Baba Yaga." Photo: Trevor Sargent

Sam Reiter as The Maiden Tsar in “Baba Yaga.” Photo: Trevor Sargent

Here at ArtsWatch we’ve been out and about, catching the shows we can, and here, so far, is our Fertile Ground report:

Into the Woods with Baba Yaga. Sam Reiter is Baba Yaga, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, embodying the mythos of the Slavic folk tales’ strange and powerful woman of the woods.

Just art: a creative shot in the arm. I Want To Destroy You, Rob Handel’s new play at Theatre Vertigo, plays smartly and provocatively with a fictionalized version of the saga of Chris Burden, the performance artist who catapulted to fame by having himself shot in the arm, I write.

Woman, trapped. Sue Mach’s new adaptation of the story The Yellow Wallpaper, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, leaves you feeling “like the pit of your stomach was ripped out and lost down a hole.”

In search of the great white … leg. The latest chapter in Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s continuing riff on Moby-Dick, Barry Johnson writes, concentrates its attention on something that isn’t there: Captain Ahab’s missing leg.

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