Imago Theatre

Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

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Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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Tess Gallagher on Raymond Carver

The celebrated poet, who'll be in Portland for Imago's Carver stage adaptation "Human Noise," talks about life with and after Carver

It’s difficult to imagine a question that has not been asked of the poet, short story writer, essayist, playwright and teacher Tess Gallagher. As one-half of the legendary literary partnership with the revered, Oregon-born poet and short story writer, Raymond Carver, there was a time when Gallagher, well-published on her own, was one of the world’s most interviewed artists. If you’re familiar with her writing, you are not surprised.

Gallagher’s been generating poetry and prose for decades that shocks and moves with its vast range of expression. All of her work, even the most emotionally raw, seems to be guided by a steadfast intelligence and relentlessly penetrating vision.

Tess Gallagher: writing a life.

She’s published and taught extensively while also being the devoted steward of Carver’s work since he died in 1988. After reading Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge and seeing the invaluable Carver collections that Gallagher shepherded to posthumous publication, one gets a sense that the communication between the two never really stopped.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:

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Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.

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Portland theater: victimizing women

Well intentioned adaptations of Greek theater classics undermine the originals’ dramatic power

by MARIA CHOBAN

Once upon a time, a spoiled sorceress, the apple of her father’s eye, fell in lust with an equally self-absorbed foreigner. The beautiful brat paid no attention to her father — the king’s — warnings. The foreigner, on a quest to steal treasure from their kingdom, seduced her with the cunning of a Greek. The barbarian sorceress cast magic spells on the dragon guarding the treasure, allowing the cad to steal the Golden Fleece and flee. The besotted sorceress joined him, securing their escape by murdering her own brother. She sprinkled his fingers and toes into the ocean, slowing the pursuers to pick up the pieces to bury.

Fast forward ten years and two kids later. Now no longer a princess but a mistrusted stranger in a Greek land, Medea thinks Jason will worship her just as her father did. But the middle-aged status seeker, tired of the “skila’s” (bitch’s) shrill tirades, pulls off one more cunning trick. He convinces the king of Corinth to allow him to marry his beautiful young daughter. 

Anne Sorce as Medea: a family tragedy. Photo: John Rudoff/Polaris Images.

My Greek grandmother pauses. Kerchief tied around her head, kitchen apron, thick black grandma shoes. Ankle-less squat feet. We’re sitting on the back stairs of her house, her black olive eyes as crazy as Medea’s. She tortures me with anticipation.

That’s the Medea telling her story in my Greek grandmother’s crazy eyes. That’s the Medea Euripides brought to the playgoers in 431 b.c.

That’s the Medea you read about in the news, like Diane Downs who shot her own kids.

We hate her, we fear her, but we reverberate because she’s buried in each of us.

The Medea we got in Imago Theater’s recent production of Medea is NOT that frenzied vibrant living Greek murderess. Imago gave us static lines that thudded through the continual andante pace. I knew we were off to a bad start when the Nurse trudged in ritualistically. Euripides starts the play like a gunshot. The nurse in a tizzy, wringing her hands, worries that her mistress will do something really really awful SOON! Greeks don’t trudge. We wring our hands, fret and talk fast!

This Medea isn’t the only example of modern productions and adaptations sapping the originals’ artistic vitality in a misguided attempt to bring a modern feminist angle to ancient classics. Last year, Shaking the Tree Theatre used Edna O’Brien’s adaptation of Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis, which turns Iphigenia into a sacrificial victim by deleting lines where she admonishes her mother to suck it up, and that show Iphigenia as headstrong an outlier as is her father, Agamemnon.

I haven’t seen it, but I’m worried about what I’ve heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Medea adaptation (Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, continuing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland through July 6) with playwright Luis Alfaro’s script telling an immigrant’s story.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver

 


 

THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.

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Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

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Those were the good old days

Carol Triffle's human comedy "The Reunion" at Imago plays with nostalgia and longing and the surprise of life as it hits us in the face

Imago Theatre is reviving its production of Carol Triffle’s The Reunion, which premiered in June 2017. It reopens Friday, Jan. 12, and continues for a short run through Jan. 20: ticket and schedule information here. ArtsWatch’s review of the original production, which had the same cast:

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Walking into Imago Theatre on Saturday night to see Carol Triffle’s new play The Reunion was like walking into a hippie pad circa 1969 (yes, I speak from direct experience) on a particularly groovy day. One psychedelically bubbly wall was sporting more peace symbols than a VW camper at the Oregon Country Fair. Donovan was warbling Season of the Witch over the speaker, reminding me in flashback of how snotty the future Nobel Laureate of the Lowlands had been to a singer I liked. No strings of beads were dangling in the doorways, but the stage was aglitter in crepe and saturated color and overdone cheerfulness, as if Triffle had raided The Lippman Company party-supply store with a hundred bucks and an SUV to load the booty into and haul it all off. In other words: perfect.

Party hearty: Sean Bowie, Danielle Vermette, Jerry Mouawad. Photo: Kevin Young

Over the years Triffle’s developed a brittle absurdist comic style that seems deeply rooted in the traditions of mime and clown and slapstick comedy, and at its best can make you laugh out loud while it’s quietly breaking your heart. The Reunion, which runs about a well-paced hour and packs the concise wallop of a good novella, does both – or at least, it did for me. On the surface a Triffle play can feel like an animated jaunt through the Sunday comics, a cartoon landscape inhabited by characters with the oddball normality of the townsfolk in Robert Altman’s Popeye movie. And so it is in The Reunion, where the oddball and laughable and sometimes more than slightly looney settle slowly, almost imperceptibly, into a deep and moving contemplation of the human condition. It’s the sort of thing that good clowns do, this bonding of the foolish and profound, and it makes them essential to the culture.

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