A poem to catch a writing breeze

Sharp-shinned hawks, chromolithograph, 1908, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook/Wikimedia CommonsBy Laura Grimes

I’ve been blog quiet much too long. I can’t explain these things, but just accept them. My writer brain has languished. I’ve seen glimpses of it, fragments, but capturing a cohesive sense has been a struggle.

For me, poetry often serves as a toddling way back to recovery, a voice for the broken. Not broken as in destroyed, or sad, though sometimes that can be the case, too, but in this instance, I consider it more a voice for the misshapen. It’s a bunch of puzzle pieces that need realigning. Again, I don’t question these things, I’m just grateful.

I thought I lost my poetry touch a few years ago. I never realized it was leaving, it just wasn’t there anymore and it took me a while to notice it was gone, but by then it was too late. So I’m surprised now by its sudden return, unannounced and unbidden, like a shadowed figure seeking shelter from a storm who shows up wet on my doorstep smelling of the natural order of things. Irresistible, really. But why?

Read the rest of this entry »

R.I.P.: Doc Watson, American original

The inimitable Doc Watson died today at age 89. He was an American original, partly by being a true American traditionalist. I love his music and my idea, at least, of who he was. I wrote the following piece on him for The Oregonian, where it ran on June 1, 1997. I’d change a few things if I were writing it today, but it’s still worth a look if you knew Doc’s music, or if you didn’t but wish you had:

By Bob Hicks

On Father’s Day, the deep past visits Portland. And maybe, as popular music seeks a way out of its morass of superstardom, the future will too. Because try as we might to pretend it never happened, the past is part of us, and it shapes what we will be.

docwatsonThank goodness Doc Watson is helping to carry it.

American music rarely sounds better than when Watson plays it. His easy-gliding voice is as fresh and sweet as the first bite of a mountain apple, and he is very likely the finest, most influential flat-top guitarist of his era.

He is, in short, a legend. But as far as popular musical consciousness goes, he is also, like the grand tradition of American optimism that he represents, in danger of fading away.

Semiretired since his son and partner Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985, Watson is about to make his first Portland appearance in eight years. On June 15, two days after opening this year’s Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, he’ll play a barbecue picnic at Oaks Amusement Park. And he will carry on his aging and unassuming shoulders the strength and possibilities of time itself.

At 74, Watson is a bridge back to the sounds and ideals from which we sprang: Irish-Scottish folk ballads, African-American field songs, Delta blues, mountain-fiddling tunes from Saturday-night dances and back-porch gatherings, age-old lullabies, church songs, Civil War stories, railroad songs, even Tin Pan Alley tunes and rockabilly.

Good music comes from someplace, and Watson’s is redolent of community — of people who share experiences, outlooks, territories. The specific someplace most important in the forming of his music is the Southern hill country that produced scratch farmers, cotton pickers, coal miners and string bands.

Read the rest of this entry »

Link: Dancing down the mountain

By Bob Hicks

A long time ago Portland dancer and choreographer Jim McGinn worked deep inside the mine shafts running into the mountain near Leadville, Colorado. It was hard and dangerous work, claustrophobic and stultifying. He never forgot.

jamb-photo-3-top-to-bottom-chase-hamilton-dana-detweiler-credit-lauriel-schumanSo he made a dance about it. His contemporary troupe TopShakeDance has been performing it at Conduit, and has two shows left: Friday and Saturday, May 24-25, 8 o’clock each night. I saw the show on Thursday night and posted this story, Jambin’ underground: TopShakeDance digs deep, on Oregon ArtsWatch.

An excerpt:

I spent the evening, for the most part, simply feeling the interplay between performers and sound, concentrating on the essential musicality of dance, which often comes with stories attached but at its deepest level doesn’t really need them, because, like music, dance is essentially unexplainable. Only afterwards did I read the program notes and discover the story that inspired McGinn. In a way that was a good way to go, because it gave me two experiences: the first, essentially emotional and existential; the second, reflective and intellectual. Put ’em together and you get a sense of how the human animal works.

Chase Hamilton and Dana Detweiler in “Jamb.” Photo: Lauriel Schuman

Link: A theatrical theory on theories

By Bob Hicks

Today I posted Theater: Hard Times for big theories on Oregon ArtsWatch – a little theorizing on the failure of theories as expressed by Voltaire in Candide (as adapted in the Leonard Bernstein musical at Portland Opera) and Charles Dickens in Hard Times (as adapted by playwright Stephen Jeffreys and performed at CoHo Theatre).

Camille Cettina in "Hard Times." Photo: Gary NormanThe grand theorizers tried by their creators and found wanting are the libertine Dr. Pangloss in Candide and the earnest schoolmaster Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times. You might find their viewpoints familiar.

A couple of excerpts:

*

“You can’t walk around the art world, let alone the culture at large, without bumping into a theory or twelve. Essential to science, where they’re part of a continuing process of discovery, they tend to harden into dogma in the cultural, political and religious realms. In art circles people sometimes forget that theories work best when they explain what’s happening in art, not when they try to drive how it’s being made. And when applied rigorously to something as unpredictable and emotional as human beings, theories can create havoc. Ask B.F. Skinner’s kids. Ask Dickens and Voltaire.”

*

“Gradgrind may be something of a fool, but he’s no Pangloss, adopting a handy theory as an excuse for libertinism. Gradgrind’s public-spirited and wants to be generous: he just gets it wrong. He begins with the Utilitarian tenet that society’s main goal is “the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people” – a not unreasonable response to the industrial revolution that created a few big winners and a multitude of losers (sound familiar?) as it wrenched Europe away from its agrarian roots – and extends it to a belief that reason, and reason alone, will improve the average person’s lot.”

Inset: Camille Cettina in “Hard Times.” Photo: Gary Norman.

Link: movies and dance, BFF

Jonathan Krebs (top) and Jamey Hampton. Photo courtesy BodyVox.

By Bob Hicks

The other day I posted this essay, BodyVox cuts to the Hollywood chase, on Oregon ArtsWatch. It’s about BodyVox dance’s cannily amusing ode to the movies, The Cutting Room, which continues through May 19. In the piece, I dive into the pool where film, dance and music swim around in existential, essentially nonverbal waters, and I try not to sink. An excerpt:

What The Cutting Room achieves is to distill the essence of movie storytelling without weighting it down with any actual story. And it has fun doing it. It’s a situational comedy, a comedy of mood and ritual trappings. “Stella!” a voice cries; or, “I’ll have what she’s having”; or “I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”; and we all know what the scene is and where, in Hollywood dreamland, we are. It’s as comfortable and comforting as reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

Photo courtesy BodyVox: Jonathan Krebs (top) and Jamey Hampton.

Link: Peter Pan town, all grown up?

By Bob Hicks

Portland, a city at last? It’s just possible that Peter Pan is growing up.

storm_505t25xscLast weekend I saw three plays – the premiere of The Storm in the Barn at Oregon Children’s Theatre; Next to Normal at Artists Rep; and The Bridge, an adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, at Cerimon House. The experience led to this post, What if we woke up and found we’re a city?, on Oregon Arts Watch.

In the post, I discover myself wandering amid “an unruly flowering of culture, often in surprising places.” An excerpt:

“It’s easy to poke fun at it, Portlandia-style. And in the not-so-grand Portland tradition it’s still being done on a broken shoestring. To be clear: Portland isn’t New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, despite a lot of hopeful hype. For one thing, those cities actually put their money where their mouths are. Plus, they’re simply bigger, and size does make a difference. Yet there’s little denying: In spite of ourselves, we’re in the midst of a cultural revolution. And the seeds are blowing all over the place.

“Simple fact: It’s impossible for any one person to keep up with all the theater happening in town. Can’t be done. That alone suggests the end of township and the beginning of city status: Cities are places that are too big to be known. In a real city, no matter how well you know it, you’re always also a stranger. And that can be exciting.”

*

Photo by Owen Carey: Jack Clevenger in “The Storm in the Barn”

OBT’s ‘Chromatic Quartet,’ Take 2

OBT performs the world premiere of Matyash Mrozewski's "The Lost Dance." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Art Scatter’s chief correspondent, Martha Ullman West, keeps a sharp and steady eye on the dance world for a variety of publications. A week ago she reviewed the opening of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Chromatic Quartet” program for The Oregonian. (Art Scatter’s Bob Hicks followed with this take on Oregon Arts Watch.) Then, on Friday night, Ullman West returned to the Newmark Theatre to see what a week’s experience and some different casting had done to the show. Sometimes, quite a bit. Here’s her report.

*

By Martha Ullman West

Just as you think you can’t stand to see Lambarena again, ever, Yuka Iino dances the lead female role with such charm, such energy, such abandon and such pleasure, you want to see her do it again.

Grace Shibley and Brett Bauer in Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." Photo: Blaine Truitt CovertI had fully intended to leave the Newmark Theatre at the second intermission Friday night, having watched many companies (well, three) perform a ballet I don’t think really works. But I was curious to see how convincingly Iino and Chauncey Parsons would de-classicize themselves in Val Caniparoli’s blending of tribal dance and ballet. In movement that is antithetical to classical epaulement, Iino was terrific, Parsons had the right energy, and Yang Zou’s undulating shoulders looked like they’d been oiled at the joint.

Read the rest of this entry »

Foodie Diaries: palette on a plate

Vincent Van Gogh, "Marguerite Gachet in the Garden," Oil on Canvas. Auvers-sur-Oise: June, 1890. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Art Scatter regulars will remember essayist Trisha Pancio Mead’s recent struggle with the concept of kale. Her gardening roots run deeper yet: thanks in a roundabout way to Barbara Walters and Keanu Reeves, she’s a budding artist of the side yard plot. Read on to see how the plot thickens – and savor the garden-fresh recipes at the end.

*

By Trisha Pancio Mead

The pea shoots are up in my garden. The collards and rainbow chard and arugula seedlings are finally gaining the upper hand against the hordes of slugs that have been decimating them this particularly wet spring. The watermelon radishes are popping out little heart shaped leaves and the “cosmic purple” carrots are sitting patiently in their packets for the next sunny day.

Our garden plan this spring is a painter’s palette of unusual hues, heirloom textures and pickle-able curiosities. Golden beets. Red and white speckled cranberry beans. Giant picturesque turban squash. It’s an artist’s garden and a foodie garden, focused on the rare, the expensive, the edible and the beautiful.

I couldn’t be more delighted by it. I find myself out there every morning and every evening, tucking a few more eggshells around some vulnerable seedlings, checking the progress of the dill sprouts, and dreaming of the day, someday soon, when I can pass breezily by the produce section on my weekly grocery trip, rolling my eyeballs at the “local, sustainable” sticker on the tomatoes and announcing to anyone in ear shot that everything in my garden salad will be sourced from my OWN BACKYARD.

It wasn’t always this way.

Read the rest of this entry »

OBT Next: schooling the audience

By Martha Ullman West

The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre delivered a promising and rewarding evening of ballet on Thursday night. It repeats on Sunday, and it’s  well worth seeing even if you’ve no little hostage-to-fortune performing on the Newmark stage.

sobt_asp2012The evening began with a clean, musical performance of Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15; Mozart’s gorgeous score, in a piano reduction, was played elegantly by David Saffert.  As a curtain-raiser, Divertimento works well for professional companies, too: the solos of the Theme and Variations show off the skills of individual dancers, and the group sections – the opening Allegro and closing Allegro Molto reveal a cohesive corps de ballet. Clearly, SOBT is training dancers to feed the company, men and women both.  I was particularly taken by the dancing of Jordan Kindell, a company apprentice, in this and everything else in which he danced, as well as Chloe Shelby in the First Variation.

If Divertimento 15 shows off the pre-professional and upper-level dancers, Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka, with Ring Master Kevin Poe flicking the whip (thank God) rather than cracking it, gives an excellent indication of the various levels of training, from the tallest kid in blue or green to the littlest one in pink. This was followed by a tidy accounting of an excerpt from Trey McIntyre’s Curupira, a percussive dance with the pointe shoes providing the music, much as they do in Dennis Spaight’s Crayola.

Read the rest of this entry »

Holy Ghosts: the serpent made ‘em do it

ghosts2-470x210Gary Norman

By Bob Hicks

Today I posted an essay, Serpents, true believers and ‘Holy Ghosts’, on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about Romulus Linney’s remarkable 1970 old-time religion drama, which is still fresh and vivid in light of the rise of the fundamentalist right, and worth seeing not just because it’s rousingly good entertainment but also because it’s the farthest thing from a predictable diatribe: it’s funny and sympathetic and engaging, and then every now and again it reminds you that some pretty strange stuff’s going down. Beth Harper’s production for Portland Actors Conservatory is a … well, a revelation.

An excerpt:

“Music is at the soul of the revivalist spirit that haunts Holy Ghosts, and poisonous snakes, the successful handling of which signifies faith and glory to the true believers of the theatrical congregation, are in its grip. Linney’s play is Southern Gothic, and from a rationalist perspective its characters are as nutty as a Truman Capote fruitcake – who are these people, and why are they doing this insane stuff? – but they also follow a rigorous logic of the heart. The craziest thing about the play is how it gets inside fanaticism and allows you to understand and even sympathize with it, or at least with the people who turn to it for solace. …

“Blue state urban bubble-dwellers really ought to see this play, and not to poke fun at the red-state rubes, although the drama has some very funny scenes, but to get inside some pretty interesting skin and begin to understand the culture wars from a different perspective. Among these fervidly holy men and women ‘value politics’ isn’t a matter of partisan tactics but of everyday life. And don’t think you’ll always know what the values are …”

a Portland-centric arts and culture blog