Portland Columbia Symphony

ArtsWatch Weekly: barking mad

Biting into September's shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Ethnic Non-Specific, West African drumming & dance, more

Here we are in the Dog Days of Summer, and we pretty much know what the phrase means: that hot and often muggy stretch of August that seems to last forever, when the sun saps energy and the whole world seems to lag. But where did the saying come from?

Maybe from the rising of the dog star, Sirius – a period, as Wikipedia describes it, that “Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” Not to mention this week’s Dog Days interloper, the lunar blotting-out of the sun. The story ambles down from Zeus to Achilles, Hector, Seneca, and Pliny, on into the medical lore of the early modern age and even the Age of Reason: The Clavis Calendria of 1813 declares that in the Dog Days “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, Quinto raged with anger, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

It’s their time: “Pierrepont Edward Lacy and His Dog, Gun,” attributed to Milton W. Hopkins, 1835-36, oil on canvas, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

All of which, frankly, has us looking forward to September, which in the cultural world (maybe as a carryover from the traditional school calendar) is the true time of fresh beginnings. Theater seasons begin to kick in. The dance calendar gets busy. The Oregon Symphony gets ready to swing into action again. TBA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual Time-Based Art festival, overtakes the city Sept. 7-17.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Great Graham

Revisiting Martha Graham's potent power of the past; a Wanderlust Mother's Day; Michael Curry's "Perséphone" with the Symphony; Brett Campbell's music picks

Martha Graham created her legendary American modern dance company in 1926, and it’s difficult to imagine, more than 90 years later, just how earth-shattering her early works must have seemed. Graham carved legends out of time and space: intense, pristine, pared to the bone. She created a hyper-expressionist, essentially American style of dance, built on the works of Denishawn and other pioneers but reimagined in the movement possibilities and theatrical impulses of her own body.

She collaborated with many of the great composers and visual artists of her time, which was long and artistically fertile: born in 1894, she created her final dance in 1990, the year before she died at age 96. Her bold, emphatic approach to dance can seem overstated to contemporary audiences. Yet it carries the intensity and hyper-expressionism of the great silent movies, and if you just give it a chance, something of the pure rawness of her glory years comes through, as if it were new all over again.

Martha Graham in “Dark Meadow,” 1946. Reproduced with permission of Martha Graham Resources, a division of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, www.marthagraham.org. Library of Congress.

No company built by a daringly original dancemaker – not Graham’s, or Balanchine’s, or Alvin Ailey’s, or José Limón’s – can survive on memories of its founder alone, and it can be a tricky business to balance the tradition of what was once radical with the need to remain in the contemporary swim of things. The Graham company, under current artistic director Janet Eilber, mixes things up boldly. When the company performs Wednesday evening in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the White Bird dance season the program will include works by a couple of high-profile contemporary dancemakers: the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, who now runs the Berlin State Ballet, and the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. But the core of the program will be two of Graham’s own works, 1948’s Diversion of Angels and Dark Meadow Suite, a distillation of an ambitious 1946 work that ran 50 minutes in its original form (the suite is much shorter).

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