PoMo's Guide to Spring's World-Class Arts Events

Once, Portlanders had to travel to New York or LA for top-shelf dance, music, visual arts, and theater. As this season’s lineup reveals, now we’re the destination.

Edited by Aaron Scott With Jonathan Frochtzwajg and Nathan Tucker February 27, 2014 Published in the March 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Dance: Feet for Radio

Public-radio icon Ira Glass shows off his new moves.

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Ira Glass backed by Monica Bill Barnes (left) and Anna Bass

Many of us know This American Life radio host Ira Glass by his voice—that nasal, wry, halting, excitable voice that stumbles so comfortingly into some 3.1 million pairs of ears each week. If you’ve seen the TV series on Showtime, you also know him by his glasses. But it’s unlikely you have any idea how he dances. 

Three acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall—June 21

That’s about to change. In June, Glass will grace the Schnitz with his new live show, Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host. He’s quick to point out no one listens to TAL and thinks, “If only they had some dancers”—but nonetheless, he’s touring with the artistic director and namesake of Monica Bill Barnes & Company, as well as one of her dancers, Anna Bass. We’re holding out hope for jazz hands.

Radio and dance: not exactly an obvious marriage. How did this come about?

I saw Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company perform and had this experience that I never have at a dance show: it reminded me of our radio show. They were documenting small, very relatable human moments—moments of awkwardness, that feeling of the world getting better right this second. At the same time, they were very aggressively out for fun. That combination is what I shoot for in our radio show.

So we invented a thing where I would tell stories and they would dance. That turned out to be enormously hilarious to us. We put together an 11-minute piece, and through a fluke my cousin Philip Glass asked me to be part of a fundraiser for the Tibet House at Carnegie Hall. I’d never performed anywhere for anyone, and we premiered at Carnegie Hall. And we killed. We totally killed. 

Since Carnegie Hall it’s been a steady progression downward to less prestigious theaters.

In terms of things people fear, dancing in public is right up there with speaking in public. Were you nervous?

Truthfully, we don’t talk about me dancing in the publicity of the show, so I will not confirm or deny. Mostly it’s me talking while they dance. 

OK, what about dancing in Yoko Ono’s music video for “Bad Dancer”? 

I did end up in that. There’s no denying that. When you get a call from Yoko Ono’s people saying Yoko Ono has a new music video and they want you to be in it, who says no? I know I’m a bad dancer. I’m in my 50s. I’ve never been athletic. I don’t have any illusions about it at all. I am an enthusiastic and bad dancer.

TAL has now passed the 500-episode mark. Do you ever get bored? Does being in a live show reinvigorate things for you?

I never get bored. That said, it’s super fun doing something you haven’t done before. We have props, there are lighting cues I have to hit, there are costume changes. It’s like, “I’m in a show! We’re putting on a show!” The only experience I’ve had with this is in high school, so that’s a lot of fun. We’re hoping to do a Broadway run this summer.

In a dance-off between public-radio hosts—you know, you, Terry Gross, Peter Sagal, Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne—who would win?

Everyone you’re naming, I could beat. I would be scared of that Ari Shapiro. I know that he can sing, so he probably can dance. The only threat is Ari Shapiro. 

Read our extended interview with Ira Glass...


Visual Arts: Fresh Eyes

Portland’s homegrown biennial makes a national play.

Amanda Hunt, curator of the Portland2014 Biennial.

Artist Evan La Londe is a magician. Or at least that’s how Amanda Hunt, the curator of Disjecta’s Portland2014 Biennial, explains his current artistic process, which involves making paper pulp and then casting it on objects or in molds to create ghostly, physical echoes—a 3-D photograph, if you will.

“‘Magician’ is not to be taken lightly,” Hunt qualifies, her curly hair poking out of a bright red beanie during a visit to his small studio on SE Holgate Boulevard. “There’s a real rigor.”

“The sleight of hand is very literal for me,” says La Londe. “I am thinking of paper as film recording a surface.”

A recent graduate of Portland State University’s MFA program, La Londe has already attracted notice by pushing the edge of film photography with photograms, a hands-on process that manipulates photo paper without a camera. His paper casts are another step in this experimentation, and they will see their first light at the biennial. 

Started in 2010, Disjecta’s Portland Biennial was an attempt to carry on the tradition of giving regional artists a professional platform that the Portland Art Museum offered from 1949 to 2006 with its Oregon Biennial. The third iteration this year features works by 15 artists and collaboratives, from emerging names like La Londe to Whitney Biennial veteran Jessica Jackson Hutchins to groups like Publication Studios. 

“My goal was to curate a survey of what I found to be the strongest work being produced in Oregon,” says Hunt, “and to provide a larger exhibition platform for lesser-known artists as much as possible.”

Evan La Londe’s Untitled (Chimes)

Hunt is an emerging star herself. With an international résumé, the 29-year-old took over the curatorial chair at the influential Los Angeles contemporary arts center LAXART in 2011 and has played significant roles in other large exhibitions such as Los Angeles’s first biennial, Made in L.A. 2012. Perhaps more important, she is also the first non-Oregonian to curate the biennial.

“Amanda brings sensibilities from, arguably, the three most distinct art capitals of the world, in New York, Los Angeles, and London,” says Disjecta director Bryan Suereth. “It’s not just us talking about ourselves to ourselves. We are holding our artists up for scrutiny on the national stage, inviting critique and response.”

To arrive at her snapshot of Oregon, Hunt reviewed more than 300 portfolios and made some 65 studio visits, while also consulting artists and curators based elsewhere. When asked what struck her about the work being made here, she returned to La Londe’s handmade paper constructions, as well as artists making their own clay or binding their own books. While the art world elsewhere increasingly turns to digital tools, she says, what sets us apart is “the total presence of the hand.”


Music: The Lost Score

In April, vocal ensemble Cappella Romana performs the world premiere of Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week, the last major sacred work composed in Russia before Stalin cracked down on religious art. “You don’t find a piece of this scale—in terms of its scope and ambition—in the 1920s,” says artistic director Alexander Lingas. So how exactly did such a work disappear for 88 years? We trace the unlikely steps through the first bars of Passion Week’s piano reduction.



Pink Martini and the von Trapps, Dream a Little Dream
The ensemble teams up with the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp—plus Wayne Newton, zookeeper Jack Hanna, and more. It’s like the Justice League of Camp! Mar 4 release; Apr 11–12 with Oregon Symphony

Ages and Ages, Divisionary
The affable septet’s sophomore effort continues the group vocals, handclaps, and infectious grooves that made the debut so catchy, but something slightly darker lurks beneath. Read our preview of the albumMar 25 release; Mar 1 at Mississippi Studios

Black Prairie, Fortune
The group’s usual dizzying survey of Americana has reeled in the bluegrass, klezmer, and Italian film score influences to land more clearly on country, highlighting Annalisa Tornfelt’s sweetly crooning voice. Apr 22 release; May 2 at Aladdin Theater

Musée Mécanique, From Shores of Sleep
In a city where “folk” gets hyphenated with every genre label, this chamber-folk group distinguishes itself by taking time to perfect their lushly orchestrated songs—it’s been five years since their last record. May 6 release (Ed Note: It has since been pushed back to August 26.)


Books & Talks: Death Row Daydreamer

Rene Denfeld’s anticipated debut Novel finds magic in the solitary cell.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.”  

So begins Portland writer Rene Denfeld’s debut novel, The Enchanted, which Harper releases this month after winning a six-publisher auction. For the speaker, a death-row prisoner who’s the novel’s narrator, the enchantment is literal. Fantastical beings populate the crumbling, violent penitentiary where he is incarcerated: small men in the walls, creatures called “flibber-gibbets” in the crematorium, golden horses below the ground. But for “the lady,” a nameless private investigator who often visits the prison as part of her job probing death-penalty cases, the “magic” is something more ineffable: a glimmer of humanity and joy in the most unexpected of eyes, and the possibility of redemption in the unlikeliest of places. 

The men on death row “can see the magic just like us,” she tells the prison priest. “I think your God would understand that.”

Certainly, Denfeld does. Like “the lady,” the journalist and author of three nonfiction books works by day as a death-penalty investigator, applying her investigative-reporting skills to uncovering the “why” of unspeakable crimes to save convicts from walking the last mile. Not always, but most of the time, she finds it.  

“I have not had a case that hasn’t been marked with extreme poverty, abuse, or neglect,” says Denfeld, an expert in fetal-alcohol disorders, cognitive impairments, and drug effects. “Our culture is enamored with the mythology of the brilliant sociopath, the Hannibal Lecters, but in my experience, that’s really rare.”  

The petite 46-year-old is no stranger to adverse circumstances. Following a “very difficult” North Portland upbringing in a biracial family marked by mental illness and suicide, she dropped out and left home at age 15. It was “a blessing, in a way,” she reflects. “Whether in my writing, or in my work with men on death row, or with my kids”—Denfeld has adopted three children from foster care—“I think my background has made me comfortable dealing with traumatic histories.” 

It has also granted her the ability to see the light in the darkness. In The Enchanted, Denfeld tells the somber story of York, who has waived his right to appeal his death sentence, and “the lady,” who has been hired by anti-death-penalty activists to find mitigating factors in his case. Summoning comparisons with the work of Katherine Dunn and Ken Kesey, the novel has already started to rack up glowing reviews. (Dunn herself called it “a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyric tenderness.”) 

“We talk so much about the terrible things people do to each other, but sometimes we don’t talk about the beauty that can occur even in those circumstances,” Denfeld says. The Enchanted is an unflinching look at men who’ve done repulsive things, a magical-realist tale, and an argument for the existence of the soul—all at once, and without contradiction.

Spring Releases from Local Authors

Justin Hocking, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld
In his refereshing memoir, this local indie publishing darling struggles to relocate from Colorado to New York City and finally finds solace in surfing. Feb 25 release; Feb 26 at Powell’s 

Ariel Gore, The End of Eve
Having made a name for herself writing about motherhood (see Hip Mama), Gore explores the other side in her poignant memoir about moving to Santa Fe to care for her difficult, cancer-afflicted mother. Mar 1 release; Mar 3 at Powell’s

Tom Spanbauer, I Loved You More
Spanbauer follows three artists and the complicated love between them in a novel that spans 25 years and the US continent. Cheryl Strayed calls it a “beautiful masterpiece.” Apr 1 release; Apr 1 at Powell’s

Brian Doyle, The Plover
The seven-time Oregon Book Award–finalist writer’s sophomore novel spins a fantastically zany yarn about an Oregon captain who sails into the sunset alone, only to find camaraderie in the unlikeliest of places. Apr 8 release; Apr 8 at Powell's


Theater: Rocking the Boat

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Bill Rauch mashes up Pirates, pop music, and Pagliacci.

Every year, some 125,000 people flock to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In 1988 Bill Rauch was one of those people, never expecting that two decades later he would take over as artistic director. Under his guidance, the festival has continued its dedication to Shakespeare while expanding its commitment to world premieres, non-Western plays, and classic musicals. This March, Rauch directs Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston on Broadway in the OSF-commissioned All the Way [Ed. Note: The play received Tony nomination for Best Play and Best Actor, in addition to a slew of other award nominations.]. Then in May, he returns to restage 2011’s sold-out The Pirates of Penzance with the Portland Opera.

"My parents took me to see theater as a child, but a real turning point was in seventh grade on a school trip to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I got so excited by the production and also so frustrated that my classmates felt that Shakespeare’s language was too difficult. So with seventh-grade hubris, I rewrote the entire play into contemporary English. The next year, my teacher invited me to stage my version of the play with that year’s seventh graders.

After graduating from college, I cofounded Cornerstone Theater. We toured small towns all over the country and put on plays with people who lived in those communities. It was life-changing work for everyone involved. Part of why I fell in love with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was it combined the natural beauty and rural setting of those early Cornerstone towns, the new work I was so passionate about, the classic plays I had studied in college, and the biggest acting company in the country. 

We try to find an OSF-specific way to reinvent a classic musical every season. Pirates of Penzance was suggested by a member of the company, and I listened and got swept away by the energy and joyful silliness. Gilbert and Sullivan were brilliant pastiche artists. In that spirit, we occasionally bend or interpolate a brief musical phrase. For instance, the Pirate King in his anthem briefly morphs into a Sinatra-esque big band sound and then snaps right back into the traditional G&S arrangement.

We are very much trying to capture the spirit of what we created in Ashland for Portland Opera audiences. Some of the “grace notes,” as we call the interpolated musical interludes, will be opera-based as opposed to pop culture–based. But none of the zaniness is getting dialed back, because of course Pirates is all about the zany!"

Shakespeare University

You don’t have to go to Ashland for Shakespeare. The Complete Works Project—an effort to produce every Shakespearean play in Portland over a two-year span—kicks off this season with works ranging from traditional to conceptual. 

  • King Lear: Northwest Classical Theatre Company—Feb 28–Mar 30
  • Lear (an adaptation): Bag&Baggage—Mar 6–23
  • Hamlet: Post5—Mar 28–May 4
  • Othello: Portland Center Stage Apr 5–May 11


Spring Arts Calendar

Cirque du Soleil's Totem

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

Mar 4
White Bird: The most important contemporary dance company in Asia comes to Portland for a show that promises sheer, breathtaking spectacle—and three-and-a-half tons of rice! (Read our review)

March Music Moderne
Mar 7–16
This year’s festival features 32 events spanning 67 composers, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony stretched to 24 hours.

Hilary Hahn
Mar 8–10
Oregon Symphony: The Grammy-winning violinist returns to put her chops to work in service of Danish great Carl Nielsen’s Concerto for Violin.

Sonia Sotomayor
Mar 11
Literary Arts: Capping Multnomah County Library’s Everybody Reads campaign, the Supreme Court justice shares her inspiring memoir, My
Beloved World

Mar 27–May 4
Cirque du Soleil brings back its blue-and-yellow big top for this latest cavalcade, described as “somewhere between science and legend.”

Mar 28–Apr 19
Third Rail Rep: The theater company flirts with its first musical in this two-person romance about trying desperately not to fall in love. “It’s super-funny, romantic, sexy, and foul-mouthed,” says Isaac Lamb, one of the show’s two actors. What more do you need?

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Apr 1
The standard-bearers for revivalist soul come through town on a comeback of sorts: their tour and fifth album were postponed after Jones was diagnosed with cancer.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Apr 2
White Bird: The men in tutus return to Portland for one night of works by Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, and, inevitably, their tongue-in-slipper versions of Dying Swan and Swan Lake. 

Julia Alvarez
Apr 3
Literary Arts: Widely considered one of the most significant Latina writers of her generation, Alvarez pens vibrant prose style that plunges into issues of identity and culture.

Director’s Choice
Apr 3–5
Northwest Dance Project: To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, Artistic Director Sarah Slipper selects the best works from the past decade, including dances by Patrick Delcroix, Ihsan Rustem, and Slipper herself.

The Quality of Life
Apr 8–May 11
Artists Rep: Involving the death of a child, terminal cancer, a burned-down house, and the reality of vastly differing values, Jane Anderson’s drama’s title, well, speaks for itself.

Soul’d Out Festival
Apr 10–20
This annual festival brings to town national and local acts in genres ranging from R&B to jazz to hip-hop, including Little Dragon.

The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden at Portland Art Museum

Vanessa Renwick
Apr 14–May 17
Art Gym: The veteran NW artist covers the gallery’s large windows with colored gels in the shapes of seven birds, which combine with videos of Vaux’s swifts and geese for the full Renwick experience.

Apr 17–26
Oregon Ballet Theatre: To honor retiring dancer Alison Roper, OBT revives Matjash Mrozewski’s gorgeously sultry The Lost Dance and premieres new works from Nacho Duato and Helen Pickett.

Maria de Buenos Aires
Apr 25
Third Angle New Music Ensemble: This seductive, surreal tango opera by modern master Ástor Piazzolla is about a woman who becomes a prostitute in the Argentine capital.

Apr 29
Portland’s reigning high school poets go head to head in an epic spoken word battle to take home the citywide crown.

After the Revolution
Apr 30–June 1
Portland Playhouse: This play—about a daughter who defends her famously blacklisted (and perhaps guilty) grandfather—is the first Portland production of one of New York’s hottest young playwrights, Amy Herzog.

Garrick Ohlsson
May 4
Portland Piano International: The first and only American pianist to have won the prestigious International Chopin Competition.

Fashioning Cascadia
May 9–Oct 11
Museum of Contemporary Craft: With local designers continuing to rule Project Runway, the city can add fashion to our cultural badges for food and music. This show explores the craft of the region’s pattern makers and scissor wielders.

Dan Attoe
May 23–July 6
Fourteen30:  Despite solo shows around the world, local painter Dan Attoe has never had one here—until now. His humorous takes on red-blooded American iconography, from strippers to rural settings, barrel deep into our psyche.

Lizzie: The Musical
May 24–June 29
Portland Center Stage: We can’t believe there hasn’t already been a macabre rock musical about Ms. Borden, the infamous, ax-yielding poster child for ungrateful youth. Catch the West Coast premiere before it takes a whack at Broadway.

The Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show
May 28
South African singer Belinda Davids stars in this big-budget tribute to the late iconic pop diva. Yours won’t be the only tears during “I Will Always Love You.”

Buried Child
May 29–June 15
Profile Theatre: Simultaneously comedic and gloomy, Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer winner tells the story of a beyond-dysfunctional midwestern farm family.

Giasone and the Argonauts
May 30–June 7
Opera Theater Oregon mixes the highbrow and the low to “make opera safe for America.” This time it resets the rarely staged Francesco Cavalli opera Giasone to the iconic 1963 fantasy film Jason and the Argonauts. They share source material, after all.


June 10–15
A Dublin street performer is set to relinquish his dream when a young woman falls in love with his songs, igniting a romance too strong for just words—or just one Tony (it scored eight, plus a Grammy).

The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden
June 14–Sept 21
Portland Art Museum More than 100 works of art that have long called the famed Tuileries home leave Paris, many for the first time.

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