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ArtsWatch Weekly: Revel without a Claus

Commedia Christmas, O’Connor & Ives, Nutcracker, Imago’s new Belle, Milagro’s Posada, more “Messiah,” Kurosawa Dreams, and more

This year’s dragon, not red as in the picture here from 2014 but a bright scaly green, was sitting in a little storage corner outside Portland Revels’ offices in the Artists Repertory Theatre creative hub one day last week, waiting patiently for assembly. It was in two pieces: a hind portion stretched over a large backpack, with room for levers, and a gangly top, again with movable parts, which when occupied by puppeteer Shuhe Hawkins will stretch giraffe-like perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the stage. It is a lovely creature all in all, and that fabled dragon-slayer St. George really ought to be ashamed.

Taggin’ with the dragon, in the 2014 Revels. Portland Revels photo

It’s Revels time again – this year’s Christmas Revels runs for eight performances Friday through December 21 at St. Mary’s Academy downtown – and for Bruce Hostetler, newly settled in as artistic director after about five years of working with and directing the annual winter solstice show, that means settling into the hundreds of details at hand while he’s also thinking about bigger things. If you don’t know about Revels – which is in its 22nd year in Portland, and began in 1975 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – it’s a grand and genuinely family get-together of singing, dancing, storytelling, mumming, and playing old-time instruments that is rooted in Celtic customs but regularly roams the earth, making connections with other cultures’ solstice traditions. Santa Claus? That’s somebody else’s tale.

Commedia Italiana, the new show, drops down to Renaissance Venice, where the Doge, bored with his official duties, has run off to join a commedia dell’arte troupe. Meanwhile, it’s festival time, and the festival bigwigs want only “high” art. The defiantly low-art commedia troupe wants in on the action, and, as Hostetler puts it, “decides the best way is to just crash it.” A 30-plus-member adult chorus; a 16-member children’s choir; a period band with fiddler, recorder, lutes, cello, and the like; the venerable Portland Brass Quintet; a circle of Morris dancers (this year, with an all-women’s sword team); and of course, one tall dragon ensue. The Morris dancers, Hostetler says, are more integrated into the action than usual: “They’re actually part of the story.”

Hostetler and executive director Jenny Stadler are also looking to expand the Revels’ reach to other seasons – a summer solstice show, Stadler says, more from the company’s ViVoce women’s chorus, more collaborations with the likes of taiko drummers and Cuban dancers. And the company’s getting more deeply involved with kids’ programs, which this month will include Commedia Bambini, a scaled-back version of this year’s Revels for kids ages 2 to 7, playing December 28-29 in the Brunish Theater of Portland’5 Centers for the Performing Arts. In the meantime, there’s this thing in Venice with the commedia dell’arte players. Advance word is, things don’t look so hot for Arlecchino.

Christmas Revels 2016: commedia hijinks. Portland Revels photo




BelloVoci. Artists Rep continues its music-in-the-theater series with this holiday concert by the harmonizing trio of Matthew Hayward, Tim Suenkel and Norman Wilson, under the direction of music-theater maestro Rick Lewis. Tuesday through Thursday.


Handel’s Messiah Plus. It’s Portland Chamber Orchestra and the choir Resonance Ensemble’s turn to take on Handel’s great oratorio in four concerts at various locations around town Wednesday through Sunday. They’ll do Part One of Messiah on a program that will also include music by Bach, Poulenc, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and seasonal songs by Hugo Alfvén, and several arranged by Ward Swingle of the Swingle Singers, plus a Latvian folk song: another of PCO’s typically eclectic programs.


Jess Zoller in “Complicated Women” at Performance Works NW.

Katie Scherman’s Complicated Women. Scherman, a resident artist at Performance Works NW, unveils a piece about “the collective experience of being a woman,” which she and fellow dancers Jess Zoller and Faith Morrison will perform, exploring “narcissism, vulnerability, obsession, grace, self sabotage, and power.” Thursday through Sunday at PWNW.


God’s Country. The times have circled around for Steven Dietz’s potent docudrama about the American white supremacist movement, a play that premiered in 1988 at Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre. The Reading Parlor will present an informal reading of the play at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the Eastern Studio at Artists Repertory Theatre. It’s free.


Posada Milagro, an all-ages celebration on Sunday. Milagro Theatre photo

Posada Milagro. The Hispanic cultural center’s 14th annual free community seasonal celebration is on Sunday, and Christa Morletti McIntyre has the lowdown.


An Appalachian Christmas: traditions converging. When fiddle king Mark O’Connor and his family band take the stage at the Schnitz on Wednesday night, Oregon Symphony principal cellist Nancy Ives will be with them. Ives, whose great-grandfather was a cousin of the great American composer Charles Ives, writes for ArtsWatch about playing with the genre-hopping virtuoso O’Connor, the interweaving of musical traditions, and discovering her own musical roots: “I realized that I did indeed have a cultural heritage: American.”

Mark O’Connor Family Band performs “An Appalachian Christmas” Wednesday night. Photo: All Classical Portland