Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

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Cleanse your holiday palate with ‘The Santaland Diaries’ at Oregon Contemporary Theatre

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Colin Law as an elf named Crumpet. Photo courtesy Oregon Contemporary Theatre

Tired of “A Christmas Carol”? Seen one too many productions of the “The Nutcracker”?  Had it up to here with “White Christmas”?

Oregon Contemporary Theatre has the remedy through December 11 in the form of “The Santaland Diaries,” a stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ wonderfully sardonic and perhaps fanciful take on working as a Christmas elf named Crumpet at Macy’s department store during the holidays in New York. Originally penned as an essay, the work established Sedaris as a major voice in American humor after he read it aloud on NPR’s Morning Edition  in 1992. It was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello in 1996.

Actor Colin Law, who performed the one-man (or should we say “one-elf”) show at OCT in 2010 and 2011 while studying theater at the University of Oregon — he now lives in the Midwest, having just finished an MFA at Illinois State University — carries this hour-long performance along with considerable comic energy, starting with the desperate New York job search that leads him to a classified ad for a job that involves dressing up as an elf and talking to children and their often overbearing parents.

 

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Between Law’s physical animation — he pinballs around the Santaland set like a figure skater on speed — and Sedaris’s caustically funny writing, “Santaland” keeps moving and keeps the laughter flowing. A fine moment comes when Law belts out “Away in a Manger” in Billy Holiday style to vex a particularly irritating Santa.

That there aren’t any belly laughs in the show isn’t the fault of Law or of director Craig Willis. Sedaris’ essay relied for its success on dry humor and deadpan delivery from a detached observer. Adapting “The Santaland Diaries” into a one-man play required turning that observer into the character who’s being observed, losing much of the deadpan wit.

Never mind that. If you’ve never read the essay — or even if you have — it’s deadly funny material, and works as a great antidote to too much holiday sap. Even on its third run in town, the show is still packing people in, so get your tickets early at OCTheatre.org. Just be sure to leave the little kids at home.

 

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Snow Queen 5: Two dancers from Eugene Ballet’s corps de ballet

Sara Stockwell and Isaac Jones

Sara Stockwell and Isaac Jones

The hierarchy of traditional ballet divides dancers into principals – the stars of the show – and corps de ballet dancers, the ones who get the supportive roles.

That’s not true of a small company like Eugene Ballet, which mixes corps dancers – which it calls “company dancers” – into top roles for many of its productions.

Two young company members who will be performing in the ballet’s new Snow Queen when it opens here in April are Sara Stockwell and Isaac Jones, both dedicated dancers at the beginning of promising careers.

“What’s so great about Eugene Ballet is that being a small company, the company dancers can be highlighted in principal roles,” Isaac says. “Though there are some rankings, company dancers still do principal and soloists roles, and sometimes principals will be a part of corp work. (Artistic director) Toni (Pimble) really gives all her dancers opportunities to be in the spotlight, and that has really been a blessing. To experience corps work in some shows and soloist/principal roles in others has given me a lot of room to grow.”

With nearly a quarter million dollars in funding from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment, the Snow Queen will be an all-new production, with a new score, created by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, new costumes, by Jonna Hayden, and new set, by Nadya Geras-Carson.

Both Midwesterners, Sara and Isaac each began their ballet training at what the dance world derisively calls “Dolly Dinkle” schools, which, to put it most charitably, means a small school that is more suited to recreational dancers than to aspiring professionals. Both young dancers are smart and ambitious, and both convinced their supportive parents that serious ballet study was more important, at least at this point in their lives, than college.

And both, unusually, managed to land jobs in Eugene without an in-person audition.

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I met Sara and Isaac for coffee one morning last week to learn about their careers, their families and what they hope to do in “Snow Queen.” The pair of them were just back from a performance of EBC’s annual “Nutcracker” in Corvallis, and were headed out on the road again a few days later for 30 more performances around the West of the perennial holiday favorite.

A native of Rochester, Minnesota, Sara, 23, is beginning her sixth season with the ballet. The daughter of a computer programmer and a mother who home-schooled two children, Sara – at least by family lore – fell in love with ballet at the age of two when she happened to see “Hans Christian Andersen,” the 1952 Danny Kaye movie, on television. She announced right then she wanted to be a ballerina.

“I watched the movie again recently,” Sara said. “When I was two I must have been enamored by the costumes and sets; the spectacle of it all was enchanting and I wanted to be at the center of it!”

Sara begged her parents for ballet lessons until they finally enrolled her in a class that was half ballet and half tumbling.

When she was 10 she was in her first “Nutcracker,” in the starring role of Clara. An experienced male dancer brought into the show saw her technique and suggested to Sara that she needed a better ballet school.

Two years later she auditioned for a professional intensive program at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Manitoba – and was accepted – and then put the school off for a year because she thought, at 12, she was too young. At that point her parents asked which she wanted to do – college or ballet?

“I was like, ‘This!’” she said. They agreed to help her out with ballet.

The Royal Winnipeg program marked a turning point for her with its military-style precision and discipline. “It was so very different,” she said. “That was the first time I really understood what ballet really is.”

It was also sometimes over-the-top. “After four years it was so competitive and so intense I saw a lot of burnout.”

Sara told her mom she needed a change, left the ballet program in Winnipeg, and, at the age of 17, headed for New York City, where she found a new teacher, and endured round after round of cattle-call auditions. Along the way she sent an audition tape to Eugene Ballet, having heard of the company because a several alums of the Royal Winnipeg were working here.

She was offered a job here based on the tape and on recommendations from instructors.

“It was harder than I thought it would be,” she said of her first impression of the Eugene company. “I thought, because I had gone to schools that were so intense, there was no way it could be more intense. But it was: The sheer number of shows and the amount of dancing!”

“In hindsight,”she said, “I don’t think I would’ve burned out had I stayed, but I’m grateful to have experienced life in New York City and happy with where I am now.”

She started out dancing in Romeo and Juliet that season; her roles here have included Summer Fairy in Cinderella and Petit Cygnets in Swan Lake. She has also danced in Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain, Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade, Sarah Ebert’s Arráncate and Toni Pimble’s “White Teeth, Black Thoughts” from Zoot Suit Riot. Last season she was featured the White Cat and Fairy of Tenderness in The Sleeping Beauty.

A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Isaac, 21, is the son of a quality director and a medical coder. “They put me in dance when I was six because they had put me in Little League, and I hated it,” he says.

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That early support from his parents has been unwavering, he said, despite many possible traps. “Being a dancer, being gay – that was all very relaxed,” Isaac says. “My parents were like, ‘This is what you want to do. You can go to college when you’re older.’ They were both supportive of anything I wanted to do. They try to come to as many of my shows here as they can.”

Like Sara, he started at a local ballet school that wasn’t exactly top rated. He was eventually hired at Sarasota Ballet in Florida and worked a season there.

A former Eugene Ballet dancer working in Sarasota suggested he send an audition video to Eugene. Isaac did, and soon the friend pulled him aside and said, “They’re interested.” To his considerable surprise, a couple hours later Pimble emailed Isaac a contract to sign – again, based on the tape and on recommendations.

He showed up for work here September 20, 2013. “My first show was Peter Pan. I was a pirate, and a fish.”

The ballet company in Sarasota was a bit old school, Isaac says, with sometimes impossible expectations of its dancers. So when he came to Eugene he was on edge.

“I remember walking in the first day, terrified. What was this going to be like? And right away, all the dancers walked up and introduced themselves. They allow you to grow here in healthy ways. This is my fourth season, and I’m still happy!”

He played the evil Cousin Kevin in the ballet’s production of Pimble’s Tommy the Ballet, based on the Who’s rock opera, in 2015. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a show,” he says.

Other roles he’s danced here include Solo Boy in Septime Webre’s Fluctuating Hemlines and Herr Drosselmeyer and Trepak in The Nutcracker. Last season he danced Puss in Boots in The Sleeping Beauty and Tom Buchanan in Pimble’s The Great Gatsby. He was also featured in Amy Seiwert’s White Noise.

When Isaac first heard of plans for the new Snow Queen production, he feared the worst. “Our first thought was, oh my god, we’re doing ‘Frozen,’ the ballet.”

But word trickled down that the new production would be nothing like the Disney version, and even the most skeptical dancers were won over.

Meanwhile, both Isaac and Sara are still waiting to find out exactly what their roles will be in the new Snow Queen. Based on advance publicity they have an idea what their roles will be, but can’t be certain.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I know what I’m going to be doing in April next season (2018),” he says. “But I still don’t know yet what I’m doing in April of this season!”

 

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This is the fifth story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment. See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble; Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson; Part Three, on composer Kenji Bunch; and Part Four, on costumer Jonna Hayden.

“The Snow Queen” will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene.

A fluffy ‘Willy Wonka’ rings in the holidays at Actors Cabaret

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Want to immerse yourself in chocolate for Christmas? You might do worse than take in “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka,” a lighter-than-marshmallow musical that premiered in 2004 based on Dahl’s 1964 kids’ book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and on the 1971 Gene Wilder movie that followed. A local production of the musical opened downtown tonight at Actors Cabaret, which is — mercifully — substituting it for yet another version of “A Christmas Carol” on this year’s holiday calendar.

Directed and designed by Joe Zingo, this is the kind of show ACE does best: fun, light, frothy and a little camp. Zingo knows how to make the most of a community theater cast, kids and all, not to mention a community theater production budget, and this “Willy” moves breathlessly and delightfully along, right from the opening number (“Pure Imagination”) by Tony Joyner as the weirdly dark chocolate magnate Willy Wonka.

In the story, the world’s imagination is set afire when Wonka announces that he’s slipped five golden tickets into Wonka chocolate bars, entitling their lucky recipients to a tour of his secretive chocolate factory — and a lifetime supply of his chocolate.

This sets in motion Dahl’s wonderfully caustic look at over-entitled children and their clueless parents — the winners of the golden tickets — from the unforgettable Veruca Salt, played here to spoiled perfection by Emily Westlund, to the gum-chewing southerner Violet Beauregard, played by Jane Brinkley. Orion Van Buskirk is a perfectly piggish Agustus Gloop, and  Manny Longnight is delightfully irritating as the tech-absorbed Mike Teavee.

The hero of the tale, of course, is the modest Charlie Bucket, played with grownup grace and poise — and with a heck of a singing voice, too — by Samuel Rose.

Yes, the show has some adults, too. Bruce McCarthy does a star turn as Veruca Salt’s self-absorbed father, and Tom Grimsley steals much of the end of the show as Grandpa Joe, who hauls himself out of the bed he shares with Charlie’s other three grandparents to join young Charlie on the factory tour.

The music is familiar and fun. Zingo’s sets and costumes are sparkling, and the traditionally over-the-top Christmas decorations at ACE turn the entire theater into a work of fevered imagination.

Go see this, and maybe even reserve dinner at the theater with your show. The whole package makes a great holiday night out.

“Willy Wonka” runs through December17. Find out more at ActorsCabaret.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Wyoming, and that election, tonight’s symphony was a sumptuous version of heaven.

The view from Mezzanine Center F 209

The view of five young composers from Mezzanine Center F 209

OK, I’m back from Wyoming. It’s taken me a week and some to readjust to being home — first, because I loved spending an entire month doing nothing but hiking in the Wyoming mountains and making art in a studio at the wonderful Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, but also because I happened to fly back home on election night, and landed in Eugene at the stroke of midnight to discover I had entered some kind of parallel universe I had never imagined inhabiting.

But tonight’s Eugene Symphony concert went a long ways toward restoring sanity.

The program featured pianist Stephen Hough, a British keyboard celeb (composer, performer, poet, MacArthur genius grant recipient), who turned out one of the best piano concertos I’ve ever  heard performed. Hough’s rendition of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, Op. 37, wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t dramatic. What it offered instead was a steady, reserved brilliance that went on and on without a break for more than half an hour.

I may have been swayed by the seats I got at the Hult’s Silva Hall — just about dead center on the mezzanine — which, in that very uneven hall, offered the best and most seamless blend I’ve heard there of piano and orchestra. But I don’t think it was just acoustic perfection. Hough’s playing was eerily right at every single moment, without his showing the least strain. It was like he could kick out perfect Beethoven in his sleep.

I wanted to talk with him, but Hough was too big a fish to land for an interview, despite my best efforts. He saves his energy for talking, it seems, to outlets like the New York Times and The Economist.

The concert opened with a piece called Ode to the Future: Variations on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ which was put together by five young — very young, as in high school age — Oregon composers. The five — Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta, Wesley Coleman, Cayla Bleoaja and Katie Palka — each worked out a variation on the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The five short movements were then combined and performed together as a single piece.

How do I put this, so Eugene Symphony understands. DO THIS MORE! Do this at every concert! Play more new music, not just by high schoolers but by college undergraduates just exploring music for the first time and by grad students looking at it as a career. We have a music school here. There should be new music on every single concert program!

OK. End of lecture.

The evening concluded with Shostakovich’s symphony No.11, a very brooding, intense, Russian piece that’s, sadly, terribly appropriate to today’s world a full century and some after it was written.

I was able to tuck back into my seat and be taken to  place where suffering is universal, and accepted, and where the president to be just seems another distraction from all the beauty that is out there, if only we can look and listen.

 

 

 

 

 

A letter from the ranch in Wyoming: A month-long residency at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts

Near Medicine Bow Peak.

Near Medicine Bow Peak.

Every day, for the last three weeks, I’ve gotten up at dawn, eaten a quick breakfast, packed a small lunch, and headed out for eight to ten miles of hiking and photographing in the high sagebrush country of southern Wyoming. Then I come back, settle in to a private studio for the afternoon, and work until dinner on hand-coloring photos, painting them at an easel for the first time in my life instead of on a drafting table.

All this time I’ve been holed up at a luxury dude ranch in southern Wyoming with five other artists – all more accomplished than I, by far – at the posh Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts.

Part of Brush Creek Ranch, a 15,000-acre, $1,000-$1,500 a night resort that caters to some fraction of the one percent, the art foundation has been in existence for five years. The ranch is where Girls star Allison Williams was married last year to much notice in the celebrity press.

Like other arts residencies around the country and the world, Brush Creek Foundation offers a quiet place to live and work, in extraordinary surroundings, for perhaps 50 artists each year. For free. Did I say for free? Artists and art lovers tend to complain about a lack of support for the arts in the U.S. Well, this is support.

At work in my studio.

At work in my studio.

When I arrived three weeks ago, I was picked up in Laramie – the closest commercial airport – and shuttled some 70 miles across southern Wyoming’s mountain and sagebrush country to my own little piece of Paradise: a small hotel style bedroom in a log building next to a second log building where I’ve got my private art studio, complete with high ceilings, a sink, a big wooden easel, desk, tables and basic supplies. And a great view of the rimrock outside.

I’ve never worked in a studio this spacious or elegant. Best of all, like all four visual art studios here, it comes with a Barcalounger, perfect for afternoon or evening naps and other deep inspired contemplation.

The only question I’ve got is, why have I never done this kind of thing before?

The other five artists here with me for the month are all easterners, oddly enough: Three New Yorkers, a Bostonian and a French Canadian.

New York performance artist Pat Oleszko on Open Studios day.

New York performance artist Pat Oleszko on Open Studios day.

Among us we are two photographers, two orchestral composers, a novelist and a performance artist who was once arrested in Rome for impersonating the Pope (as part of an art project, natch).

Four of us are in our 60s. Two are, ahem, younger. We get along amazingly well, considering we eat every dinner and many lunches together, and we see few other people day to day. The other artists tell stories about residencies wrecked by the occasional misfit. None of that has happened here. It’s a serious, good-humored group of actual adults. We’ve gotten together once to watch a presidential debate, and a few of us took a high-altitude hike near Medicine Bow Peak the other day. One resident, photographer and ceramicist Warren Mather, rented a car for the month, and has been generous with rides to town.

The weather has been spectacular. We got four inches of snow one day early on, but it all melted off in a couple more days, leaving us to enjoy sunny warm afternoons and cool evenings, sometimes spent around a fire pit well stocked with cut and split logs.

But mostly we work. Brush Creek offers what is called a “no expectations” residency, which means just that. No obligation on our part to do anything in particular at all. You can work, you can hike, you can take naps. You can present your work to the other artists (which we have all done) or not. No one judges.

Dinner.

Dinner.

And you can just breathe the clean Wyoming air each morning and think, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

The biggest artistic challenge I’ve faced is this: Since I decided to fly here, rather than drive 1,100 miles and back in uncertain weather, I don’t have my computer printer. So each day I shoot and edit photos, but can’t print them; instead I work on a stack of old black and white photographs I shipped to myself ahead of time via UPS. So I’m photographing Wyoming and painting Oregon each day. I’ll live, somehow.

No one seems to take days off. What would be the point?

Dinners and lunches have been catered by a Peruvian chef named Monika, whose husband Alejandro also works in the main lodge kitchen. Our meals have been opulent, night after night, almost to a fault. Monika and Alejandro finished their contract for the season the other night, so we celebrated with a full-on prime rib dinner with the works, leaving everyone stunned and satiated.

Pre-dinner cocktail hour by the firepit.

Pre-dinner cocktail hour by the firepit.

The first resident to present his work to us was Jerome Kitzke, a New York composer who has performed all over the world. Tall, rangy and gray haired, with a long pony tail, he spends his days holed up in a cabin here called The Schoolhouse, which I guess used to be one; now it’s restored, looks a bit like a church inside, and sports one of the best 9-foot Steinway grand pianos I’ve heard played. (The other music studio has a Bösendorfer.)

One evening early on, Jerome invited us to the The Schoolhouse to hear him play a piano setting he wrote perhaps 15 years ago to Allen Ginsberg’s 1953 poem “The Green Automobile.” The poem is perfect for here, about an imagined road trip taken from New York to the West by Ginsberg to see Neal Cassady.

With a week to go before returning to Oregon, I find myself picking up the pace of photography, painting and just plain thinking. It’s hard in real life to find time like this to work on anything, and I don’t plan to lose a moment.

An abandoned cabin up a sagebrush draw on the ranch.

An abandoned cabin up a sagebrush draw on the ranch.

Eugene Art Talk is back. Well, it’s in Wyoming for another week and a half.

_bk32555After some deep technical difficulties – finally, I believe, resolved! – Eugene Art Talk is back online and fully functional.

The site’s been down for the better part of two weeks, and I’ve gotten behind on a few things.

One of the difficulties in handling the web maintenance has been that I am in rural Wyoming, enjoying a month-long artist residency at the spectacular Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. The scenery here is incredibly wonderful, and the chance to work with and around five other artists has been astonishing, but the internet connection at the ranch is a bit, ah slow. So it’s been hard to stay in touch.

Though I’m not in town covering events right now (oh, how I missed the symphony’s Mahler concert), I do have a couple things to write about from here in the wild west.

First is this residency itself. I haven’t done anything like this in my life, and have plenty to say about the experience.

Second is the arrival of The Eugene Review, a new website dedicated to covering the arts in town., with stories by a number of familiar writers. Hurrah!

Finally, I may pull myself out of a disheartening funk and try to write something coherent about the incredible jury verdict in the Malheur occupation. What were they possibly thinking?

Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience. I’ll be back in Eugene and following the arts scene on, of all days, Election Day.

Richard P. Haugland, 1943-2016

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Richard P. Haugland, a major financial supporter of Eugene arts organizations, died last night in Thailand after a battle with brain cancer, according to his friends at the Eugene Ballet. He was 73.

With his wife, Rosaria, Haugland was a founder of the Eugene hi-tech business Molecular Probes. With the profits from that company, the couple created charitable foundations that have given large gifts to Eugene Ballet as well as to Oregon Contemporary Theatre and Eugene Opera, among other organizations.

“I first got to know them when their daughter, Marina, studied ballet at our school over 30 years ago,” Eugene Ballet Artistic Director Toni Pimble said today. “He was a very generous, kind and thoughtful man whose philanthropic gifts spread far beyond Eugene. His generous soul touched all who knew him. He will be sincerely missed.”

The Hauglands supported the ballet in its early years and, more recently, gave more substantial gifts that enabled the organization to purchase the building that became the Midtown Art Center on South Willamette Street.

Later he offered funding to Pimble and the company to create a new children’s ballet, and the result was 2013’s “Mowgli, the Jungle Book Ballet.” Pleased with what he saw at the premiere, he immediately offered to support a second new show.

With a $200,000 grant from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation, the ballet is currently at work on an all-new production of “The Snow Queen,” which will premiere here in April.

“We are so very sad that Richard will not see the results of his support for this second work,” Pimble said.

In recent years, Haugland lived in Thailand, where he supported – both financially and with hands-on work – needy children and orphans.

“Eugene is fortunate that he and Rosaria chose to grow their company here and to simultaneously play major roles in the growth of several of Eugene’s arts groups,” said Craig Willis, artistic director of Oregon Contemporary Theatre. “What I find even more inspiring was his dedication to improving the lives of AIDS orphans in Thailand. He so clearly loved these children and found joy in enriching the lives of people who might otherwise be cast-offs.”

 

 

Consider Yourself going out to see Oliver! at The Shedd

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That old stalwart Oliver! presents a special challenge for theater: It has a whole lot of kids in the cast.

The production that runs through October 2 at The Shedd as part of the Shedd Theatricals series must have 20 kids on stage at the same time, acting, singing and dancing — and they pull it off with verve and style.

Oliver himself, played here by a young lady named Kenady Conforth, is right on top of the role. Conforth has a sweet young soprano that’s perfect for songs like “Where is Love” and “Who Will Buy.”

Adapted from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, the musical — with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, for whom it would be his best known work — opened in London’s West End in 1960 and got to Broadway in 1963. It was made into a 1968 film that took several Oscars. With its rough and tumble rags to riches story, the play has been pretty much in continuous production somewhere in the world for more than half a century.

The Shedd show, directed by Peg Major, with music direction by Robert Ashens and choreography by Caitlin Christopher, is a fine production with occasional moments of glory.

The first of those comes in the Act I, when Oliver, who has been causing problems at the orphanage, is sold to the undertakers, the Sowerberrys, played here as goth Addams Family figures by Matthew Woodward and by Christopher herself. Christopher, who danced for two seasons with Ballet Fantastique, glides onto the stage like a tall, raven-black puppet, an amazing sight. The audience sighed.

She could have stolen the show at that moment, but then Lynnea Barry, as the bad guy Bill Syke’s girl Nancy, sings the desperately sad “As Long as He Needs me” to close out Act II, her sheer power and loveliness overcoming contemporary issues of sensitivity to domestic abuse (she’s got a black eye from Bill as she’s singing).

And then there’s Sykes himself, played powerfully by Ward Fairbairn, who I last saw as the creepy vice principal in Cottage Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Ffinally there’s Fagin, the over-the-hill shyster thief who runs the gang of young thieves into which Oliver is inducted. Tom Wilson’s got this one down; his Fagin is softer and sweeter then I recall ever seeing, a man who has lived a life of vice and is now confronting his destiny with humor and grace. He also sings a treat.

All in all, a great show. Go see it.

 

 

 

 

 

Eugene Symphony opens its season with Webern, Schumann and Brahms — and oh, that cello!

Joshua Roman

Joshua Roman

Young cellist Joshua Roman turned in a dutiful performance of Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor tonight at the Hult Center to help conductor Danail Rachev and the orchestra open the 51st season for the Eugene Symphony. Truth be told, the concerto was better than dutiful; it was lovely and moving. But then, amid thundering applause, he came back for an encore to play a brief virtuosic solo — it probably does have a name, but I didn’t catch it — that had him playing the upright cello like a guitar. (Update Friday: It’s called “Julie-O” and it’s by Mark Summer,  original cellist and co-founder of Turtle Island String Quartet.)

Roman strummed and plucked and fretted and pulled the sound of Spanish guitar out of the instrument, with a whiff or two of American blues, before switching to the bow again and delivering a lush, lyrical melody that could pass for the sound track from a Ken Burns film. The audience went wild, and a friend leaned over and said, “He played the Schumann for his parents. He’s playing this for himself!”

It was a fun evening all around. Rachev, who is leaving the orchestra after this season wraps up, opened the concert with a Passacaglia by Anton Webern that started off sounding like startled cats and then grew and grew into a clanging, clamorous climax. The Schumann filled out the first half of the program, which wrapped up after intermission with Johannes Brahms’ fourth symphony, a big, warm, rich piece with rousing Beethovenish endings to three of its four movements.

Tonight’s crowd seemed to have more than the usual opening-night energy. That may be in part because it’s Rachev’s final season, and the orchestra — following its usual practice of the past two decades, is bringing in three finalists for the job of music director and conductor to play regular subscription concerts this season. They were chosen from about 250 applicants from more than 40 countries around the globe — yes, the Eugene Symphony’s reputation is that big.

Those three finalists are:

  • Dina Gilbert, assistant conductor of the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal in Canada. She’ll conduct on Dec. 8.
  • Ryan McAdmas, a symphonic, opera and new music conductor who previously worked as apprentice conductor to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. He’ll conduct on Jan. 26.
  • Francesco Lecce-Chong, assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. He’ll conduct on March 16.

 

 

 

 

 

Snow Queen 4: Jonna Hayden on costuming a fairy tale ballet

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

“‘The Snow Queen’ is the ultimate challenge,” says Eugene costume designer Jonna Hayden. “Every costumer out there wants to do ‘Snow Queen.’”

And now, after nearly a lifetime of designing and stitching, Hayden is at last creating some 60 original costumes for Eugene Ballet’s all-new production of “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The show will make its world premiere at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene on April 8 and 9.

Funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment, the show will also use newly commissioned music from Portland composer Kenji Bunch, new sets by Eugene designer Nadya Geras-Carson and new choreography by Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble.

For Hayden, her career really began one night when she was a little girl watching “The King and I” on television.

“It was the ball scene,” she recalls. “Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. I had never seen anything so magical!”

Jonna was six or seven years old then, growing up in a Navy family. Her mother was a tailor who made ball gowns for the officers’ wives. Inspired by the movie, Jonna began to collect scraps of fabric and made little outfits for her troll dolls. She was dazzled by Deborah Kerr’s gown.

Cut ahead a few years. When she was 15, she attended OryCon, the science fiction/fantasy convention that still runs each year in Portland. She discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism. She started making her own costumes, and has never looked back.

“I wasn’t really sure I could make it my life,” she says. “But I knew when I got out of high school that this was what I wanted to do.” She headed for the University of Oregon, where she studied theater, business and art history, but was too busy with life and work to graduate.

She’s honed her skills over decades of designing and sewing everything – she loves to stitch – from costumes for stage shows to bridal gowns for elaborate weddings.

“I made wedding dresses for 10 years,” she says. “I got the reputation for telling the mothers, are you the one wearing the dress?”

Hayden takes a similarly no-nonsense approach to design for the stage. However much a costume might flash or dazzle from the point of view of the audience, it has to work flawlessly for the performer inside it.

“I am all about fit,” she says. “If the performer is thinking about her costume, she’s not able to perform.”

Hayden began working with Eugene Opera 10 years ago when it mounted its game-changing production – the show bailed the opera out of a difficult financial situation – of “The Pirates of Penzance,” directed by Mark Beudert.

“Mary Mikkelsen called me one day for help,” she said. “‘Can you come in and just make the policemen?’”

She later designed “Faust” and “La Boheme,” and she designed the opera’s splendid “Nixon in China,” giving Pat Nixon a mint green coat instead of a red one, as the actual first lady wore. That interpretation upset some purists.

“I will not do Life magazine,” Hayden says. “People think they know Pat Nixon. You wouldn’t believe the pushback I got from some people. But I was dressing the character, not copying the coat.”

Opera has its own requirements for costumes.

“Everything is bigger in opera,” she says. “It’s 40 feet to the front row. Colors are brighter. Patterns are bigger. And, the big thing is, they have to be able to sing. So a corset has to be tight at certain points and not at others.”

Ballet is different. “Ballet is all about movement,” she says. “I can’t really make a costume unless I know what they’re going to be doing in it. Doing a ballet costume requires understanding of skeletal structure.” It also requires close consultation with dancers, she says. “I want the dancers to come to me with any problems. Any problems at all.”

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

Hayden got her introduction as a designer for Eugene Ballet working on “Mowgli,” the ballet’s 2013 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” also supported by Richard Haugland.

“That was a radical departure for me in terms of how I work with color, shape and texture,” she says.

After “Mowgli,” Haugland told the ballet he’d like to fund another new show. That was the beginning of “Snow Queen.”

“A year and a half ago, Toni sent me an email with an outline of ‘Snow Queen.’ ‘You in?’ it said.”

Hayden thought about it for a couple days, and said yes.

She is basing much of her “Snow Queen” design on the work of the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, former head designer for Givenchy. His early fashion work established him as an enfant terrible for his use of dark, exotic and primitivist imagery. McQueen once described himself as a “romantic schizophrenic.”

McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 40, had also worked as a stitcher, Hayden says, giving them common ground.

“His technical skill for fit, for shape, for line, is mind boggling,” Hayden says. “He made wild, disturbing, amazing things. He has done more to push fashion than any other designer. His work always had a sharp edge and a philosophical side.”

The McQueen sensibility will be used for the Snow Queen characters in the ballet, inhabitants of the icy cold world of evil.

“The ice world all comes from Alexander McQueen,” Hayden says. “Everything from the warm world is all curvilinear, Pre-Raphaelite. Not angular and sharp.”

In Hayden’s west Eugene studio, she has racks and racks of costumes, with dancer’s names pinned to their shoulders, in the process of being tried on and fitted and adjusted. Some glitter with an icy look. Some are being built of butterfly images printed on silk, and painstakingly stitched together. Some are covered with black feathers. All have to be washable. Dancers sweat, a lot, on stage.

All need to be finished by her deadline of Jan. 30.

One of the first things Hayden did after taking on the job and establishing basic design ideas for the costumes was go for a wild shopping spree with Pimble in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles. The trip, she says, was sheer delight.

“That’s like the Powell’s of fabric,” she says. “We were looking at fabric that was $175 a yard….”

Jonna Hayden in her costume shop while woking on Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet.

This is the fourth story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment. See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble; Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson; and Part Three, on composer Kenji Bunch.

“The Snow Queen” will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene.

See more at EugeneBallet.com.

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