Fall Arts Guide 2011: Bring On the Rain

Dayglo landscapes, feral children, killer choruses and more art to keep you sane this fall.

The day is coming, not long from now, when you will have to go inside. This idyllic September warmth will end and the clouds will return, and we will all begin to fortify ourselves against the long, dark November of the soul. And what will we do with ourselves through the short, grim days that await us? Why, patronize the arts, my friend. Here are four artists whose work we think will light a fire in your heart to keep you warm right through winter.

Visual Arts – Adam Sorenson's fantastical landscape paintings

Classical and World Music – Ethan Sperry's choral renaissance

Theater – Seth Nehil's musical horror flick

Dance – Chunky Move gets graceful

With his fantastical landscape paintings, Adam Sorensen is on the cusp of breakout success.

For artists who have made it in Oregon—and by almost any criteria Adam Sorensen has—the next question is: Can success here lead to success outside the Portland bubble? For Sorensen, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. The 35-year-old painter is an overnight success more than a decade in the making, with artistic irons in the fire both locally and nationally. 

Sorensen's new show at the Portland Art Museum, APEX: Adam Sorensen, showcases six new oil paintings, among them the largest painting of his career. That work, a behemoth called Tabernacle, is nearly 7 feet high and 10 feet wide: a fantastical mountain landscape with no human beings in sight, the peaks and rolling hills dotted with glowing rocks, the valleys limpid with waterfalls, rivers and lakes. It's an Edenic paradise in danger of being discovered and despoiled. You can easily picture a real-estate developer sizing up the scene: "Ah, put a strip mall over here, a condo tower there, a Macaroni Grill in the valley, and parking lots everywhere!" The looming threat of exploitation lends the vistas a sense of the sinister. (A small portion of the painting appears on the cover of this issue.)

"The colors I use have all these bright and joyful connotations," Sorensen says, "but overall, the paintings don't give off a sunny feeling. There's a sort of eeriness that comes through."

Sorensen's gallerist, Jane Beebe of PDX Contemporary Art, sums up Tabernacle more dramatically: "It's operatic! When you see it, you'll faint!"

Born in Chicago, the artist grew up in Gettysburg, Pa., eventually moving to upstate New York to study art at Alfred University. In 1999 he followed two fellow Alfred alums to Portland, attracted to the accessibility of the art scene and the proximity to the majestic Cascades, which fuel his work. After being represented by Elizabeth Leach for several years, he moved to PDX Contemporary, where he works a day job as gallery assistant. This past year, his work has become noticeably more visible outside Oregon, with an exhibition in San Antonio, representation in Seattle at the Jim Harris Gallery, and a major piece sold last September to the Boise Art Museum. He is also a finalist for a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, named after the late abstract expressionist.

"I've definitely had the opportunity to concentrate more lately," he says. "It's gotten more serious. I feel like I'm finally an established regional artist, and now, the next opportunity exists outside the Northwest." He pauses with a modesty that belies his upward trajectory, then adds, "We'll see how that works." RICHARD SPEER.

SEE IT: APEX: Adam Sorensen at Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., 226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org. Closes Jan. 1, 2012.

More Visual Arts

Ellen George at PDX Contemporary Art

Polymer clay, glass, watercolors, stickpins, silk ribbons—these are just a few of the media that sculptor Ellen George uses in her fanciful, endlessly inventive works. George has a gift for creating visually poetic allegories that toy with the lines between abstraction, representation and symbolism. You can’t always put your finger on what individual pieces “mean,” but they always speak in a language that somehow the soul understands. 925 NW Flanders St., pdxcontemporaryart.com. Nov. 1-26.

Body Gesture at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

It has been four decades and counting since the feminist movement barrelled into the American mainstream and empowered women to perform acts of political theater (bra-burning, anyone?) and more meaningful achievements such as breaking through the glass ceiling. Body Gesture spotlights art across a variety of media by an array of feminist artists. Hannah Wilke, Andrea Bowers, Alice Neel and Martha Rosler show us how far women have come since the 1970s and how much work toward equality remains. 417 NW 9th Ave., elizabethleach.com. Nov. 3-Dec. 31.

Jim Riswold at Augen Gallery

Photographer Jim Riswold combines impeccable technique with a wryly mischievous irreverence. Who else could use Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ as subject matter with equal aplomb and still stay on the discreet side of good taste? For his next outing at Augen, Riswold tackles World War I. Appropriately for an artist whose titles are at least half the fun, this show is entitled The War to End All Wars that Didn't End All Wars. 716 NW Davis St., augengallery.com. Nov. 3-26.


The Chorus King
Ethan Sperry is shaking up Portland’s singers.

The concert and reunion were conceived and executed by PSU's new director of choral studies, Ethan Sperry, who was also recently named to succeed another Portland choral legend, Gil Seeley, as director of the Oregon Repertory Singers. Sperry's accomplishments in his first year at PSU include a marvelous series of tributes to choral composer Morten Lauridsen, adding new choirs and beefing up the existing ones. His successes, along with those of other new choirs, herald a resurgence of Portland's choral scene.

At PSU, Sperry's students not only demonstrate vocal achievements rarely heard in college choirs, they also forge an emotional connection to audiences. "I've seen a lot of classical concerts where the musicians are delivering technique and not delivering the music," Sperry says. "The audience picks up on that. Part of the reason classical music seems stuffy is that they're just hitting the notes." He wants his choirs to transcend that "cultural stigma" and show that "experimental and edgy" choral music "shares a lot with what Portland and Northwest artists enjoy. " 

Although he insists on technical mastery, Sperry also invests considerable time helping singers understand and elucidate the meaning composers are trying to convey. He encourages emotional responses that bring music to life. 

"Most people go to concerts because they want to have fun and have an emotional connection with the music or with the performers," he explains. "Our goal is to communicate with the audience and give them an emotional experience. Getting the notes right helps, but that's not the goal of the performance. There's always another note you can get just right. If your goal in concert is to communicate and share, then you can be really happy with what you accomplished." BRETT CAMPBELL.

HEAR IT: Oregon Repertory Singers welcomes Sperry at Renewal, at 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 15, at Lincoln Hall at PSU, 1620 SE Park Ave., and 7:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 16, at First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St. Tickets at 230-0652.

More Classical and World Music

Oregon Symphony, Dawn Upshaw 

One of the most compelling and adventurous singers alive returns to join the orchestra in Benjamin Britten's The Illuminations and American songs and music by Gershwin and Walton. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, orsymphony.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 1. $25-$90.

Fear No Music presents A Piano Riot!

Multiple pianos and percussion combine in music by contemporary South African/California composer Shaun Naidoo, Lutoslawski and the four-piano version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., fearnomusic.org. 8 pm Sunday, Oct. 9. Ticket price TBA.

Third Angle, One Mississippi

In late 2009, the experimentalist/postminimalist New York composer Eve Beglarian spent more than four months paddling and pedaling down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans, talking to and performing for people who live along the way, recording the sounds she heard and writing music that reflected the journey. The Northwest's finest new music ensemble and the superb musicians of Eugene's Beta Collide will play it, plus a new work, Third Angle, commissioned from Beglarian. Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St., thirdangle.org. 7:30 pm Friday, Oct. 21. $30.

Portland Chamber Orchestra presents Halloween Monsterbash

The ensemble celebrates Halloween with the Northwest premiere of German composer HK Gruber's wild "pandemonium for singer and ensemble," Frankenstein!!, plus the world premiere of electronica composer Duncan Neilson's animation-enhanced The Monster, which tells the Frankenstein story from the monster's perspective. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., portlandchamberorchestra.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 22. $15-$20.

So Percussion

Friends of Chamber Music brings the New York ensemble back to town for an early celebration of John Cage's centenary. Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 Woodstock Blvd., focm.org, 7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 24. $14-$40.


Bumps in the Night

Seth Nehil's alien soundscapes meet nightmarish video in Children's Games.

Nehil, a composer of the musique concrète school, makes a regular habit of striking and manipulating found objects and instruments, chopping up the resulting noises and recombining them into intricate recordings that sound, to my ears, like Gregorian monks rehearsing inside mechanical anthills. The sounds on his most recent album, Knives, came from "leather, blown pipes, ice shards, signal generator, drum kit, drum machine, clapping, breaking glass, bowed acoustic guitar, plucked and bowed hammer dulcimer, Fender Rhodes, snapping twigs, piano, feedback, stones, and field recordings of freezing rain on plastic, a rushing stream, a market in Kyoto," among other sources, according to the liner notes. This is a man who likes listening.


Children’s Games

"I find that often a project is conceived in an instant," Nehil said. Specifically, Children's Games emerged from a single issue of The New York Times, in which he says he read both a review of Piers Dudgeon's Neverland: J. M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan and a piece on runaway teenagers living on the outskirts of Medford. These stories, combined with Nehil's fascination with François Truffaut's film The Wild Child and Pieter Bruegel's painting "Children's Games," have percolated over the course of the past two years into a dark pseudo-narrative about a feral child, captured and trained by a scientist, who finds himself caught in a "cinematic nightmare."

The soundtrack to the nightmare is music composed by Nehil for a six-voice improvisational chorus and an electric noise band, and by Golden Retriever's Matt Carlson for a violin-viola-synthesizer trio, along with some of Nehil's usual robo-insect-angel recordings. Nehil himself will sing with the chorus, through what he calls a "broken Radio Shack microphone plugged into a distortion pedal." The sum of it all should be thoroughly unsettling. "I've been listening to the way the voice is used in horror films, which is often grunting and screaming and shouting," Nehil said. "I think we have a desire to hear those kind of things. We legitimize it though putting it in horror films. It has a reason there, so we feel OK." We suspect Children's Games will leave us feeling anything but OK. BEN WATERHOUSE.

SEE IT: Children's Games at the Mouth Studio, 810 SE Belmont St., sethnehil.artdocuments.org. Friday-Sunday, Oct. 28-30 and Nov. 4-6. Ticket price TBD.

More Theater


Portland Center Stage's advance publicity for its big fall musical has focused on director Chris Coleman's gimmick—the cast, with the exception of "Persian" peddler Ali Hakim, is all black. While some superfans may find the idea unsettling, I don't think it will change the spirit of the show. Coleman could have cast only obese Japanese cosplayers, but the strangeness of the concept would still be outweighed by the central weirdness of Oscar Hammerstein's plot. If you pay attention to Oklahoma!—but who pays attention to musicals?—you'll find a dark, unsettling story of absurdist sexual politics. Coleman's cast, almost all newcomers to PCS, have impressive résumés. Barring egregious directorial error, it should be a great show. Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700, pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, Sept. 20-Oct. 30, with alternating Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances. $44-$69, $25 students.

No Man's Land

Artists Rep brings back genuine famous person William Hurt for his fourth show with the Portland company, this time with his son in tow, in a production of Harold Pinter's strange play about a pair of heavy-drinking old men (played by Hurt and Artists Rep's artistic director, Allen Nause) who engage in a sort of mnemonic combat, trading at least partially invented memories and lamenting the general decline of things. It's a comedy, but not a hopeful one. Hurt's particular brand of grumbling should be well suited to the role of Spooner. Portland favorite Tim True is also in the cast. Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278, artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, Oct. 4-Nov. 6. $25-$60.

The Pain and the Itch

Third Rail Rep's first production of the season is a brutal comedy by Bruce Norris about a very unpleasant Thanksgiving dinner with a family of self-righteous NPR-listener types: a young couple, their non-speaking daughter, his condescending mother and drunken-doctor brother and the brother's Russian girlfriend. And a taxi driver, Mr. Hadid, whose life they turn upside down. Third Rail has a history of excellent productions of very funny plays about very mean people. Given the strength of the cast—Valerie Stevens, Damon Kupper, Jacklyn Maddux, Amy Beth Frankel, Duffy Epstein and John San Nicholas—this one should be no exception. Winningstad Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 235-1101, thirdrailrep.org. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, Oct. 14-30. $29.50-$38.50.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Defunkt Theatre excels at producing the sort of plays no company that had to worry about getting butts in seats would touch. Plays, like Mac Wellman's Crowtet, that divide audiences into camps: bored, confused, afraid. So it seems strange, given the company's obscure and challenging history, that defunkt should tackle a classic of such stature as Mamet's 1984 real-estate drama. There must be a twist, you think, and of course there is: Defunkt has cast women in the lead men's roles. Interesting! What's next? Alec Baldwin in The Skriker? The Back Door Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 418-2960. 8 pm Thursdays-Sundays, Oct. 14-Nov. 19. $20.


Give Up the Chunk

Chunky Move gets graceful.

When Gideon Obarzanek founded the Melbourne, Australia-based dance company Chunky Move in 1995, the name seemed fitting. "My movement, compared to other companies, seemed quite brutal," he says. 

But the name tells only part of the story: Along with movement that he describes as "animalistic, extending the body into a creaturelike state," Obarzanek makes dances with mechanical precision, steps that shift the body in unexpected ways and productions with characters, narrative and storytelling. Over time, he has become known for theatrical and visually striking multimedia work. We saw why when the company made its White Bird debut in 2004 with Tense Dave, which featured simultaneous narratives unspooling on a revolving set, and again in 2009, when the troupe returned with Two Faced Bastard, in which the dancers played rough with each other and the furniture. 

 On its third Portland visit, as part of a White Bird series, Chunky Move will launch the North American premiere of Connected, wherein Obarzanek links these elements through a single set piece: an enormous undulating "wave" sculpture, created by Berkeley sculptor Reuben Margolin. It's suspended over the stage by wires and looks like the controls of a giant, unmanned puppet. The five dancers in the piece become attached to it—literally—and as they move in and around the sculpture they form increasingly complex relationships with it and each other. 

Margolin, whose specialty is nature-inspired kinetic sculptures, had never worked with dancers before but was intrigued by the idea. "The human body is so dynamic and expressive, and thinking about how to work with this range of movement is what made this collaboration both exciting and challenging," he says. "Gideon wanted to build the sculpture onstage, and so I designed magnetic joints, so that the dancers could snap the paper elements together as part of the performance."

Despite the logistical challenges of bodies and wires and long-distance collaborating, Obarzanek calls the results "beautiful." "Even though there's a lot of mathematics, it's a very human experience, a human work," he says. "We're really trying to show the relationship between moving bodies and kinetic sculpture and how one influences the other, and how we look at the human body through an inanimate object." Production elements meet offstage as well: Connected's sound (which includes recordings of gallery guards expressing their views on art) is linked to a lighting console through a computer, so, Obarzanek says, "Often, the music controls the lighting, so you get a sense of what the sound looks like." Connected is a radical creation—nothing chunky about it. HEATHER WISNER. 

SEE IT: White Bird presents Chunky Move at Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave., 245-1600, whitebird.org. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 20-22. $20-$30.

More Dance

Fill Your Dance Card

Fall in Portland has always meant a performance crush, as local dance groups stage overlapping events. This year, some of these folks have smartly packaged their shows together as Fill Your Dance Card, a punch card, available in the lobbies of participating organizations, that earns prizes for each show you attend: See two shows by two organizations, get a $20 gift certificate for a local restaurant; see three shows, get another $20; see four or more and you're entered to win dinner, a show and a hotel stay. 

It's an appetizing offer—you've gotta eat, after all—in an already tasty dance season: BodyVox is up first, with Horizontal Leanings, a moving exploration of community and culture (Sept. 29-Oct. 15, bodyvox.com). White Bird follows with the shape-shifting, perennially popular Pilobolus (Oct. 5, whitebird.org), while Portland's Polaris Dance Theatre stages iChange, a contemporary piece on interpersonal relationships (Oct. 5-7, polarisdance.org). And bobbevey offers the multimedia piece Palace of Crystal (Oct. 7-9 and 14-16, bobbevy.com). Oregon Ballet Theatre opens 2011-12 with visiting choreographer Nicolo Fonte's vision of the Russian carnival ballet Petrouchka and OBT artistic director Christopher Stowell's take on the story Carmen; OBT's orchestra plays the Stravinsky and Bizet scores live (Oct. 8-15, obt.org). A few blocks away, White Bird welcomes the West Coast debut of Israel's Vertigo Dance Company (Oct. 13-15, whitebird.org). That same weekend, the Northwest Dance Project offers its New Now Wow! program of contemporary-ballet world premieres (Oct. 14-15, nwdanceproject.org). Finally comes Australia's Chunky Move (see above).

La Luna Nueva Festival

Miracle Theatre Group celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month in sabroso style: The Evolution of Latino Hip Hop from Latin Groove PDX Productions traces the history of the genre from African dance (7:30 and 9:30 pm Thursday, Sept. 29; $15-$17). Los Dedos Bailan, Las Cuerdas Cantan ("Fingers Dance, Strings Sing") features dancer Laura Onizuka with Latin fusion musicians Toshi Onizuka, Al Martin and Catarina New (7:30 pm Friday, Sept. 30; $20-$23). At Fusion Flamenco: Travesuras ("Pranks"), flamenco dancers Antonio Arrebola and Jason Martínez are accompanied by guitarist Ricardo Diaz and singer José Cortes (7:30 and 9:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 1; $25-$28). El Centro Milagro, 525 SE Stark St., 236-7253, milagro.org. 

Imago Theatre, Zugzwang

What kind of information can you convey to modern audiences without words? Imago Theatre cofounder Jerry Mouawad created his Opera Beyond Words series to find out. These abstract performances tell stories through theater, dance and movement. Mouawad's fifth production, Zugzwang, is about a man whose risky gamble in a poker game leads to an adventure with both his enemies and his entourage. Dancer-choreographer Gregg Bielemeier stars as the protagonist Rafifi; Imago cofounder Carol Triffle and dancer-choreographer Keyon Gaskin, among others, join in. Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave., 231-9581, ticketswest.com. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, Sept. 29-Oct. 22. $10-$12. 

Bobbevy, Palace of Crystal

Wild visuals, theatrical costuming and bold dancing—you can expect all of these in a performance by bobbevy, the dance company formerly known as Hot Little Hands. Performed by skilled local movers Richard Decker, Jessica Hightower and Keely McIntyre, this new multimedia piece pits idealism and the desire for happiness against an uncaring reality. The physicality of Dernovsek's choreography is set against an installation by Stein, video by artist John Bacone and original music by Ash Black Bufflo. The Mouth Studio, 810 SE Belmont St., 913-8959, bobbevy.com. 8 pm Fridays-Sundays, Oct. 7-16. $12-$15.

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