portland state university

‘The Lady Aoi’ and ‘Revenge of the 47 Loyal Samurai’: Noh meets noir, kabuki goes to college

Imago Theater’s production of Mishima’s play is a tight, nuanced production involving ancient roots and modern sensibility 

In 2012’s Black LizardImago Theatre director Jerry Mouawad winningly merged the “physical theatre” of his famous teacher, French actor, mime and teacher Jacques Lecoq, with another stylized theatrical form, kabuki. Despite their differences, the combination worked because both forms tell stories through movement, gesture and design more than dialogue and narrative.

The source for that colorful spoof was a Yukio Mishima play drawn from a 1930s Japanese pulp novel that was in turn inspired by American film noir and pulp fiction. As I wrote then, what distinguished that show wasn’t the pulpy story so much as “the clever, layered way the creators combine evocative non-realistic action, movement, scenic and sound design.”

'The Lady Aoi' runs through March 27 at Portland's Imago Theatre. Composite graphic: David Deide.

‘The Lady Aoi’ runs through March 27 at Portland’s Imago Theatre. Composite graphic: David Deide.

That goes double for Mouawad’s second Japanese-tinged production. The Lady Aoi shares with its predecessor a Mishima source (his 1954 modern noh play by that title, which in turn was inspired by a character from the classic millennium-old Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji); dramaturgy by Portland State University Japanese studies professor Lawrence Kominz, who specializes in the study and staging of Japanese theater; touches of humor; the excellent composer John Berendzen; Mouawad’s inimitable scenic sensibility; and even a leading man, the redoubtable Matt DiBiasio.

Yet though both succeed on the basis of their production rather than their respective stories, the two shows deliver quite different emotional impacts. If the colorful, eventful Black Lizard veered close to 1960s Batman (around the time Mishima wrote his version), the less convoluted, more austere, and ultimately more chilling Lady Aoi is closer to Dark Knight Batman, or even more, early ‘60s Twilight Zone, a haunting modern ghost story that’s a triumph of subtlety and atmosphere.


Dance Weekly: Ballet and postmodern dance

Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" continues and postmodern dance debuts

This weekend’s eclectic mix of ballet and postmodern performances helps us see where we have come from in dance and where the investigation into contemporary dance practices are going.

This is the second weekend of James Canfield’s “Romeo and Juliet” with Oregon Ballet Theatre, and for more insight into the artistic processes you can listen to an interview with Canfield about “Romeo and Juliet” and with Nicolo Fonte about his upcoming piece “Beautiful Decay” on OPB here.

Bay Area choreographer and performance artist Keith Hennessy will be giving a lecture at Portland State University and performance of “Bear/Skin” at Studio 2 through Portland Institute For Contemporary Art (PICA). Hennessy describes “Bear/Skin” as a “dance that is politically motivated by the tension between killer cops and virgin sacrifice, between indigenous culture and modernist appropriation. It has (almost) nothing to do with gay bears and everything to do with “The Rite of Spring,” teddy bear shamanism, the reconstruction of ritual bear dances, action movies, suicide economics, and the poetry of springtime.”

For more insight into Hennessy and “Bear/Skin,” check out his interview by Gia Kourlas in Time Out New York.

Performances this week

You Must Work in the Garden of Eden
by Jackie Davis
Presented by Night Lights
6:30 pm March 3
North side of RACC offices, 411 NW Park Avenue
You Must Work in the Garden of Eden by Jackie Davis is an avant-garde dance/Super-8 film performance that “displays the beauty of everyday routine and the necessity of interpersonal support as two foundations for building the lives we dream of living. A visual and auditory pattern of stylized actions, the film investigates daily habits and the profound effects these often subconscious choices have on shaping individual and community cultures. With this site-specific performance, Davis explores conversations and questions pertaining to our collective work and existence”

Night Lights is a monthly series produced by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) in conjunction with The Hollywood Theatre, on the First Thursday of every month, in the Pearl District, that features projection artists on the North Wall of the RACC offices (411 NW Park Ave.).

Keith Hennessy in "Bear/Skin". Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Keith Hennessy in “Bear/Skin”. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Keith Hennessy: PSU MFA Studio Lectures Series
7 pm, March 3
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall Room 75
Bear/Skin (Performance)
Keith Hennessy
Presented by PICA
March 4-5
Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St
Hennessy is a San Francisco-based dancer, choreographer, and performance artist regarded as a pioneer of queer and AIDS-themed expressionist dance. Hennessy is known for nonlinear performance collages that combine dance, speaking, singing, and physical and visual imagery, and for improvised performances that often undermine the performer-observer barrier.

If you are interested in furthering your Hennessy experience, he will be teaching a workshop on March 12th from 1-5pm, at University of Washington’s Dance Department’s Meany Hall. Check out the Velocity Dance’s website for more information.

Xuan Cheng as "Juliet" and Peter Franc as "Romeo" with choreographer James Canfield (in the background) in rehearsal for Oregon Ballet Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Blaine Truitt.

Xuan Cheng as “Juliet” and Peter Franc as “Romeo” with choreographer James Canfield (in the background) in rehearsal for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Blaine Truitt.

Romeo and Juliet
James Canfield/Sergei Prokofiev
Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 27-March 5
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Young love, underage sex, teen suicide and Crips vs. Bloods family rivalry factor into how choreographer and former OBT Artistic Director James Canfield defines his “Romeo and Juliet” in his interview with Arts Watcher Marty Hughley for Artslandia.

What’s different about Canfield’s version is his investment in the development of the characters and their relationships with each other, giving the work dimension and depth. And of course there is always beautiful dancing, chiffon and Prokofiev, performed every night by the live OBT orchestra.

Zinzi Minott, Sharita Towne, Amento Abioto, Dead Thoroughbred: Sidony O’Neal and Keyon Gaskin
LACUNA, 5040 SE Milwaukie Ave
7 pm March 6
An evening of performance, sound, and video featuring London-based dancer/choreographer Zinzi Minott, video artists Sharita Towne, sound artist Amento Abioto, and Dead Thoroughbred made up of Sidony O’Neal (writer, dramaturg and performance artist) and well-known Portland dance artist Keyon Gaskin.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Later in March

Dance Wire Dance Passport: March 13-May 31
March 11, PDX Contemporary Ballet with Northwest Piano Trio
March 10-12, Kyle Abraham presented by WhiteBird.
March 13, Dance Film Day, an afternoon of dance films and discussion, co-presented by dance artists and writer Jamuna Chiarini and Performance Works NW.
March 14, workshop and lecture demonstration with Kyle Abraham at Reed College presented by WhiteBird.
March 17, Louder Than Words, NorthWest Dance Project
March 19-April 3, Butoh College: classes, performances and community dialogue. Presented by Water in the desert.
March 25, New Expressive Works/Studio-2. Residency artists to be represented are Catherine Egan, Lane Hunter, Linda K. Johnson and Ruth Nelson.

Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce: mysteries in the wilderness

The exhibition 'Eyeshine' combines the work of Ryan Pierce and Wendy Given that grew out of a shared Signal Fire Outpost residency


Eyeshine is the first of a series of exhibitions that Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce are presenting around the subjects of wildness and the night. In the bright and airy Autzen Gallery at Portland State University, the artists reflect and touch upon these and other interests that stem from the natural world.

The idea for Eyeshine came together as Given and Pierce hosted this past summer’s Signal Fire Outpost Residency—an intensive residency program set on public land. Their discussions, usually at night after full and active days, wandered around such topics as wilderness, animal and plant imagery, nocturnal life, and the embodiment of mysticism.

'Eyeshine' features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by  Matt Blum

‘Eyeshine’ features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by Matt Blum

Though both artists are inspired by nature, their work doesn’t idealize the natural world, and neither takes on romantic notions of the untrammeled landscape. Rather, both Given and Pierce are concerned with nature in its present condition through an historic lens—a contentious landscape, rife with the consequences of modernity.


National Choir Festival review: Choral cornucopia

National Collegiate Choral Organization conference bestows a wide range of vocal beauty on Portland

Photos by Chase Gilley

Last weekend was a high note for the choral community of Portland, Oregon, and the collegiate choirs of this country. For the first time in history, Portland played host to a national music convention: the biennial meeting of National Collegiate Choral Organization. This year, Portland State University brought it to our city. This national choir festival brought some of the finest choirs, collegiate or otherwise, to be found in the country. With thoughtful initiatives in choral literature, beautiful tone, and outstanding stylistic choices, they helped make a rainy weekend shine.

University of Louisville Cardinal Singers.

University of Louisville Cardinal Singers.

Perhaps the most striking concerts were the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers and the University of North Texas Collegium Musicum, nearly polar opposites in program content, and in some ways, style. The Louisville choir, directed by Dr. Kent Hatteberg, offered a wide palette of color and style (within the limitations of the disappointing venue at Portland’s First Congregational Church): Renaissance Palestrina, to newly minted Penderecki, but a softer, much less dissonant version of the composer than we knew two decades ago. Their “hit” was the Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds’ ultra-dramatic A Soldier’s Mother’s Lullaby, commissioned by the University of Louisville this year. According to the composer (as excerpted from PSU choral studies director Ethan Sperry’s program notes): “Prayers and mothers’ sung lullabies have no frontiers, and they do reach God’s heart and the souls of the wounded. Sing your lullabies, sing your prayers forever!” This was a powerful statement about mourning and hope, with the texts by Wilfred Owen and Jack Whalen, reflected in Esenvalds’ vivid writing, “capturing the vivid horrors of war, and the unsettling truths about the fates of the young men fighting in it” (see above).

University of North Texas.

University of North Texas Collegium Singers.

Dr. Richard Sparks’s fine Collegium Singers from University of North Texas sang a program of early music, including John Taverner’s “Sanctus” from Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, and two Baroque motets: the Deutsches of Heinrich Schutz, and the famous Komm Jesu Komm, of J.S. Bach. The Schutz was clean clear, and stylish. The double choir motet was etched beautifully in the language of Bach, each choir pivoting by turns from homophonic echoing of one another, to fugal statements. Early music groups abounded at the conference: two, Juilliard 415 (a reference to using the tuning conventions prior to the 1800s), and the Yale Camerata, under the direction of David Hill, were the closing program Saturday night, but I was not able to hear that program.

Local Vocals

Portland State University cut a wide swath throughout this conference. Not only were Dr. Ethan Sperry and the School of Music the conference hosts, but the PSU Man Choir, Vox Femina, and Chamber Choir performed for packed audiences. Saturday at First United Methodist, the PSU orchestra, prepared by Ken Selden, performed with panache under the direction of Norwegian conductor Grete Pedersen, acclaimed on several continents for her CD recordings and live performances of convincing and brilliantly styled music. Ms. Pedersen and the combined choirs groups offered a compelling and satisfying rendition of Joseph Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. The orchestra was stellar, the soloists were excellent, and combined choirs were wonderfully forthcoming with Pedersen’s creative interpretation. This is all the more creditable as the choral forces were not the renowned Chamber Choir but the two aforementioned male and female choirs. The B-team gave an A-team performance. The entire ensemble, under Pedersen’s stimulating direction, shaped phrases and defined articulations and ornaments more clearly than this writer has heard them in any previous performance.

The previous evening, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Chamber Choir itself impressed with a group of four Slavic appetizers (all based on Lenten motifs) from Rodion Shchedrin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alfred Schnittke, and Georgy Sviridov, all composers who deserve to be heard more widely. Here is the PSU Chamber Choir singing Inexpressible Wonder by Georgy Sviridov live at the conference.

Ethan Sperry led the PSU Chamber Choir and Orchestra at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Ethan Sperry led the PSU Chamber Choir and Orchestra at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

But the entrée of that evening was the glorious Passion and Resurrection by, once again, Eriks Esenvalds, all of 38 years old! This music is destined to be a classic. The composer was present for this (as he was for Louisville), and presumably had given at least some valuable input to the performers. Eschewing the traditional Gospel setting of the Passion, the composer uses eclectic sources from the Byzantine liturgy, the Stabat Mater, and passages from Job and the book of Psalms.

The musical style ranges from the Renaissance (!), using sections of a motet by Cristobal de Morales, sung by a vocal quartet; a string orchestra, portraying a jarring change of key against what’s come before in the quartet’s singing; then, the soprano soloist, clad in a brilliant white gown, and representing Mary Magdalene, walks slowly the entire length of the Cathedral, singing as she perhaps repents her own sins.

Finally the choir enters, and here Esenvalds looks back dramatically at the “turba” choruses of Bach and Schutz (meaning “crowd choruses” almost always used in Passion music), as the choir shifts from one dramatic role to another: the turbulent crowd of persecutors, the worshipping masses, and finally, the choir taking on as a whole the voice of Jesus, as they ask God to forgive the people who are killing Him.

Here is audio of The Heaven’s Flock: music by Eriks Esenvalds, text by former Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen, performed by the PSU Chamber Choir and the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, Ethan Sperry conducting.


National Choral Conference: College choir champions convene

PSU event brings some of the nation's finest collegiate choruses to perform in Portland for the first time.


Some of the nation’s finest college choirs perform in Portland’s largest choral event ever. On November 12-14, over 500 college choral singers and 300 college choir conductors will descend on the city for the 10th anniversary conference of the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). The conference includes six performances — all open to the public — as well as master classes, interest sessions, and panel discussions that are open to anyone who chooses to register for the entire conference.

Grete-Pedersen. Photo: Ole Kaland.

Grete Pedersen. Photo: Ole Kaland.

More 100 college choirs applied by blind tape audition to perform at this conference. The 10 best groups that were accepted will perform thematic programs 25 minutes in length for normal choirs and 50 minutes for headline choirs. Concertgoers should expect to hear the best of the best from around our country. Most of the choirs will be conducted by their own directors, but some will be conducted by our two headline guest conductors: Simon Carrington, founding member of the King’s Singers and Professor Emeritus from Yale University, and Grete Pedersen, founding conductor of the Norwegian Soloists Choir and world-renowned scholar on the music of Franz Joseph Haydn.

Here’s a walkthrough of the concerts and summary of other events for any Portlanders interested in crashing some or all of our conference.


Sweet farewell: celebrating Jack Featheringill

The life of the legendary Portland teacher and Broadway hoofer, who died last month, will be celebrated at Center Stage

Jack in his Broadway days, from his files. Show and partner unknown.

Jack in his Broadway days, from his files. Show and partner unknown.

In my rambles through Portland’s South Park Blocks over the many years I worked downtown I encountered a lot of fellow walkers who claimed the place at least partly as their own. Considering the neighborhood – the Oregon Historical Society, Portland Art Museum, Portland State University and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall are among the institutions cozying up to the tree-lined avenues – it’s not surprising that several of those strollers were pretty interesting people.

I often bumped into Terence O’Donnell, the trim and tweedy historian who wrote the terrific memoir “Garden of the Brave in War,” his recollections of his 15 years of living in Iran. Tom Vaughan, the legendary boss of the historical society. Gordon Gilkey, the equally legendary and famously crusty curator of prints and drawings at the art museum. Whenever I stopped to chat with one of these people – or with a particular old panhandler, an argumentative-verging-on-abusive Korea vet with whom I struck up a wary friendship until, one day, he simply disappeared for good – I learned something.


Photo: Gary Gumanow/2010

Photo: Gary Gumanow/2010

Jack Featheringill was one of that walking crowd of fascinating figures, too, especially after he retired from his 30-odd years of teaching at Portland State and had a little more time on his hands. I’d ask Jack what he was up to and every now and again he’d break into a particularly wide smile in response. “Off to New York next week,” he’d say. “Got to catch up with my beloved City Ballet.”

What few people in Portland knew was that Jack had good reason for that passion. In his young days as a Broadway hoofer he’d danced for George Balanchine and a lot of other legends. Look him up online – he danced under the name Jack Leigh – and you’ll see he had a hand (and two feet) in a lot of important Broadway history. He danced or sang or both in, among others, “On Your Toes,” “Li’l Abner,” “Ziegfeld Follies of 1957,” “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and the lovely, underappreciated musical “She Loves Me.” He was a River City resident in the original “Music Man,” and danced with Marian the Librarian in the movie version. He danced with Ethel Merman and Judy Garland. He also did a lot of stage managing, and he cast the original Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Not that you’d hear him talk much about it. He was proud of those days, but he didn’t dwell on them. In Portland he was known as a great teacher, an innovative director, an entrepreneur within the constraints of a public university system. He made PSU’s theater department a center for summer stock, with a long run at the Coaster Theatre in Cannon Beach and, later, with a string of vibrant summer shows at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall. He knew art and he knew entertainment, and he was adept at finding that sweet spot where the two come together and kiss. Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, Jean Anouilh, Georges Feydeau – his tastes were broad and sophisticated. For more than 30 years he was an essential figure on the Portland theater scene, insisting on professional standards and encouraging the best from his students. Many of them – those who didn’t move on elsewhere – in turn became stalwarts of the Portland stage. They’re still here, acting with or directing or teaching a new generation.

Jack died on July 3 of this year, a day after undergoing open heart surgery, and he’s left a big hole in a lot of people’s lives. He was 81. You can read his obituary here. I would wish him more trips to see City Ballet, more cocktails with old friends, more promising students to poke and prod into shape, more happy reminiscences of a life well led. Failing in those things, I’ll be at Portland Center Stage at 7 o’clock Monday night, August 26, for the city’s celebration of Jack’s life. Hope to see you there. Jack was a remarkable man. He deserves a remarkable farewell.


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Opera: PSU springs a Puccini surprise

Lightness, froth, and a touch of tragedy in the melodic and little-known 'La Rondine'

Tonight and tomorrow night (Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4) are your final chances to see “La Rondine,” this year’s production of the Portland State University opera program, and if you get the chance it’s worth the trip. Getting student opera right isn’t easy (getting ANY opera right isn’t easy) but PSU’s bright production of this bittersweet froth of a romantic comedy on the skids provides plenty of theatrical eye candy, and if the musical performances don’t always match the staging, they prove once again that the school’s program provides a consistently good launching pad for young singers. The blend of professional and student talent in the annual productions is usually an eye-opener.

La Rondine“La Rondine” is one of Puccini’s lesser-known operas despite its waterfall of lush melody – he himself was dissatisfied with the story, and kept tinkering with it after its premiere in 1917, altering the ending more than once and at one point even killing off his fallen heroine, though that’s not the ending used here, and thank goodness. The play’s an odd blend of light and dark, wanting to be almost an operetta but succumbing to a streak of odd moralizing and sadly separating two lovers who obviously are meant to be together: she has a soiled past, and cannot stain her young lover’s reputation. That decision comes a little late, considering that they’ve already run off together to a life of blissful sin in the countryside. Never mind. The music overcomes the moralizing, and if the “fallen woman” motif seems more like unintended self-parody than near-tragedy, well, times have changed.

“La Rondine” continues the student company’s adventurous programming, which in recent years has also included the likes of Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” and Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” I imagine those choices have something to do with what roles are appropriate for developing voices. They might also reflect the tastes of program director Christine Meadows, who was a regular for several seasons during the heyday of New York City Opera, a company that revels in theatricality and accessibility to broader audiences. Having people like Meadows, Metropolitan Opera (and Portland Opera) regular Richard Zeller, Angela Niederloh and Pamela South available as vocal teachers testifies to the program’s high standards.

This production’s standout is unquestionably rising-star tenor Zach Borichevsky, a visiting teacher and guest artist this year, as Ruggero, the young man from the country who comes to Paris and falls under the spell of the enchanting sparrow, Magda de Civry. She holds court in the home of her jaded lover, Rambaldo, who on Tuesday night got a deft and dryly funny performance from master’s student Max Moreno. Once Magda and Ruggero eye each other … well, you can guess. Borichevsky, who’s improbably tall, has an engaging command of the stage and sings with warmth, power, and admirable precision. As Magda, recent PSU alum Anna Viemeister has a strong and warm voice but hasn’t yet developed the precise control that the role calls for. The makings are there, though, and that’s the point of the program. Among the supporting cast, Hannah Consenz is a bright-voiced comic knockout as Magda’s feisty maid Lisette.

Stage director Jon Kretzu, for many years a mainstay at Artists Repertory Theatre until leaving recently to jump full-time into the freelance pool, brings a bright comic edge to the acting, resetting the action smoothly into the 1950s with a lush Douglas Sirk approach. And the designs, which fill the cozy Lincoln Performance Hall stage without overstuffing it, are first-rate: lighting by veteran Peter West, chic costumes by Jessica Bobillot, and a set by Carey Wong that cleverly adapts a large spiraling staircase to a different location for each of the three acts. I’ve always liked the way Wong, a resident designer for Portland Opera many years ago before setting out on an international career, approaches his projects: his sets invariably have a vivid, almost hyperrealistic clarity that revels in the artificiality of the theater and is also stage-smart, providing clear playing areas.

Not just the singers but also the orchestra members are students, and while you can tell it’s a student orchestra, it’s a good student orchestra, responding well under Ken Selden’s direction.

I was puzzled by one thing, particularly since the back section of the hall on Tuesday night was mostly empty: while reduced-price tickets were available for PSU students and faculty, there was no student rate for high school kids, who ended up paying full adult fare. The policy seems short-sighted. Younger students (I had a particularly discerning one in tow) are the future audiences and performers of the opera world, and a welcoming gesture might even be a good recruiting tool for the university. Besides, empty seats don’t help anyone. Better all of fifteen dollars than none of twenty-six.


  • Remaining performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, at Lincoln Performance Hall on the PSU campus. Ticket information is here.
  •  Angela Allen wrote a good behind-the-scenes preview for ArtsWatch. Read it here.
  • James McQuillen wrote an insightful review for The Oregonian. Read it here.


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