portland music

ArtsWatch Weekly: hail & farewell

Dance and dancers on the move, jazz in Cathedral Park, women composers, taiko and Bach, Mozart's spicy little sex opera

Last Thursday at Lincoln Performance Hall, the line to pick up tickets for Éowyn Emerald & Dancers’ performance ran across the lobby, down a partial stairwell and up the other side, like a restless snake shifting and stretching in the midday sun. Eventually the crowd slithered into the theater’s 450-plus seats, packing the place with people eager to see the company’s final show of contemporary dance in Portland and give it one last cheer before Emerald & Co. move to Scotland, where they’ve scored enthusiastically reviewed successes during two recent appearances at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Emerald, on top of the world in Edinburgh for the 2014 Fringe Festival.

As it happens, the first piece I wrote for ArtsWatch, back in January 2012, was about Emerald’s first show in town as a choreographer, at BodyVox, where she’d been dancing with BodyVox-2. Now here I was again, with a lot of other people, to witness her farewell gig in town. An eagerness bubbled in the crowd, a sense that a fresh contemporary voice was moving on to new things, and ought not be let to slip away without a warm farewell.

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A chat with the pianist of Willesden Lane

In a break from her busy career and performances at Portland Center Stage, Mona Golabek tells the tale of her mother's extraordinary tale

By ALICE HARDESTY

Anyone who loves music, fine acting, or just a good story, must be sure to see The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through June 29 at Portland Center Stage. People who saw it a year ago are coming back to get another dose of heroism set to Grieg, Chopin, and Rachmaninov, in a one-woman show expertly played and acted by Mona Golabek.

I had recently read Golabek’s book and I was eager to interview her for Oregon Arts Watch. Her book, The Children of Willesden Lane, tells the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, who, as a 14 year-old, escaped the terrors of Nazism and managed to develop her musical career despite incredible obstacles. Children like Lisa fled Hitler on the Kindertransport — trains that carried Jewish children from Germany and Austria to safety in England. The English, especially the Quakers, were very kind to the children, but were suffering their own deprivations and could not offer them much beyond subsistence. Lisa Jura’s story and her daughter’s portrayal of it provide inspiration in an otherwise gloomy time.

Mona Golabek in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

I caught Golabek at a momentary lull in her busy schedule. I turned on the speaker- phone and propped up my digital recorder, acknowledging that we’d be fine as long as my cat didn’t knock them over. (I knew she had a soft spot for animals.)

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Solstice!

Here comes summer. Here comes summer art. Take off your shoes, put on your swimsuit, and dive right in.

Raise a glass, if you’re of a mind, to summer, which according to the wise old heads of The Old Farmer’s Almanac officially begins at 9:24 Pacific Daylight Time this evening – Tuesday, June 20. If you’re reading this on the East Coast you’ll need to wait until 12:24 on Wednesday morning for the solstice to kick in.

That makes it high time to start thinking about summer arts, too.

The eclectic Siletz Bay Music Festival in and around Lincoln City on the Oregon coast opens Wednesday with some Mendelssohn and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and continues through July 4 with concerts ranging from classics to rock violin to swing jazz and cabaret.

Chamber Music Northwest kicks off its summer season in Portland on Monday evening, June 26, with a program of music by Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach (plus a little Bach), and continues through July 30. The opener’s a good introduction to this year’s celebration of women composers – and that ties in neatly to Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s swiftly approaching program of free performances June 29-30 in the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater, featuring works by three women choreographers. For a deeper look, see Jamuna Chiarini’s interview with Helen Simoneau, one of the three, in DanceWatch Weekly.

Falstaff (K. T. Vogt) bemoans his difficulties wooing Mistresses Ford and Page, unaware that he’s speaking to Master Ford (Rex Young) in disguise. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The granddaddy of Oregon summer festivals, Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, continues full steam ahead through October with eleven plays moving in and out of repertory during the season. Sir John Falstaff, that great gross night, makes a big splash, making appearances in all three plays in which he’s a character. For more on that, read Suzi Steffen’s Five questions for the Falstaffs, an interview with festival actors K.T. Vogt and G. Valmont Thomas, who between them cover all of the big guy’s bases.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sunny days

Punched-up Mahler, the Yo Yo Ma of ukulele, the dubious stand of "Virginia Woolf," Vanport tales, tap dance legends, and more

ArtsWatch World Headquarters has moved temporarily to the front porch, where the sun is shining and the computer is juiced up and the cat is staring down the squirrel and the squirrel is chattering back and the crows are cawing the play-by-play. With the temperature heading for a balmy 82, visions of summer festivals are dancing in our heads. The Oregon Bach Festival. Chamber Music Northwest. The Astoria Music Festival. The Britt Festivals. The (continuing) Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more.

Emil Orlik, portrait of Gustav Mahler, drypoint on vellum, 11.5 x 7.9 inches, 1902; Galerie Bessenge/Wikimedia Commons

Not that it’s been all sunshine and lollipops in Portland, even with Monday’s surprise impersonation of a mid-August day. In the evening as we drove toward Schnitzer Hall for the final performance of the Oregon Symphony’s final classical concert of the season, Mahler’s still-astonishing Symphony No. 2, a barricade of fire trucks and police cars just north of Burnside Street rerouted us several blocks: a massive power outage had hit a long swath of downtown, and among many other disruptions, nearly all the traffic lights were out. Fortunately the Schnitzer kept its power (the nearby Portland Art Museum didn’t, and was forced to close on Tuesday while repairs were being done), and the orchestra proceeded to pretty much blow the roof off the joint. Conductor Carlos Kalmar, over roughly eighty muscular minutes, punched up the big moments, and with large choir, several soloists, a bevy of brass, and more kettle drums than you could shake a passel of sticks at, there were a lot of big moments to punch up. Mahler’s swaggering masterwork, which premiered in 1895, is among other things a grand mythical and actual counterpoint of violently competing forces, and it was his genius (a genius that the Oregon Symphony’s leader and musicians convincingly conveyed) to somehow bring those competing forces into a united and coherent whole. The whole thing reminded me at times of our current deep cultural/political divide, which threatens never to reunite, and got me to wondering, half-idly: Might Mahler be available for office in 2020?

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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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ArtsWatch Weekly: Media Blitzen

A pair of premieres at Center Stage, dance and theater openings, Brett Campbell's weekly music picks, Christopher Rauschenberg & more

It’s a busy weekend at the Armory, where Portland Center Stage hangs its hat: world-premiere opening nights Friday for Wild and Reckless, the new concert/play from the band Blitzen Trapper, and Saturday for Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Both will be playing on the Main Stage, in repertory.

We haven’t (of course) seen either show yet, so we’ll quote the company on what’s up with Wild and Reckless: It “traces the unforgettable tale of two kids on the run, in a futuristic vision of Portland’s past. Evoking a bygone era of Portland, this sci-fi love story features a rock-and-roll score that pairs unreleased songs with favorites from the band’s catalog, including Black River Killer and Astronaut.” And what, precisely, is a futuristic vision of Portland’s past? Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy tossing a coin in spacesuits to name the city? Probably not. But tune in Friday, or anytime through April 30, to find out.

Eric Earley as The Narrator and Leif Norby as The Dealer in “Wild and Reckless.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Lauren Weedman we know a little better from her smart and edgy previous one-woman shows at Center Stage and elsewhere. She could run a clinic on how to grab and hold an audience’s attention: She can be funny, and she can be fierce, and she has the focus of a hawk hunting rabbits in an open field. This newest show, also through April 30, homes in on heartbreak and how to mend it, and arrives with big hair, tight jeans, and a passel of country tunes. Plus, a backup band.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: step into spring

Portland and Oregon leap toward spring with a teeming tumble of theater, dance, and music

It’s almost spring, and arts events are popping up like tulip scapes in a Portland rain. So let’s get right down to what’s looking like a very busy week.

We’ll start with:

THE PLAY (OR TWO OR THREE)’S THE THING:

“Lydia,” opening Friday at Milagro Theatre. Photo: Russell J Young

Lydia at Milagro. This play by the talented Octavio Solis (El Paso Blue; Gibraltar) is a family tale with touches of magical realism about a girl who’s been disabled in an accident and her caretaker, Lydia, who is the only person she can communicate with. El Teatro Campesino veteran Kinan Valdez directs. Through April 8.

Cabaret White at Wilf’s Restaurant & Bar. Musical director and pianist extraordinaire Darcy White, who operated the popular Cabaret Chanteuse with singer Gretchen Rumbaugh at Tony Starlight’s, is back with a new series, this time at Wilf’s in the Amtrak station below the Broadway Bridge. The new cabaret kicks off Monday, March 20, with singers Amy Jo Halliday, Dan Murphy, Lauri Jones, and Malia Tippets. Let the good times roll.

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