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April 8, 2016 12:00 AM

The capacity crowd at Beall Hall Friday night was only satisfied after not one, but two standing ovations for Joan Szymko’s new work “Shadow & Light”, performed beautifully by the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Eugene Concert Orchestra and soloists Marietta Simpson, Sarah Joanne Davis and Brendan Tuohy, under the direction of artistic director and conductor Diane Retallack. 

            Portland-based Szymko has created something tangibly warm and accessible, giving voice to the duality between caretaking and caregiving, between receiving support, and losing a loved one, to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

            Subtly, with dignity, the artist combs through dialogue and poems, disparate threads that tie together thematically into three distinct phases of the disease and its effects:

            Part I: The Cloud of Forgetting, explores the brash realization that something is amiss, as patient delves into the cacophony of the diagnostic whorl, and is confronted with the cold realization that Alzheimer’s has settled into his or her life.

            Spoken dialogue, voiced by Lexy Wellman and Robert Killen, is cached within the lush score. These lines, trapped in amber, arrest the listener with their honesty. Bassist Milo Fultz offers counterpoint to the language, humanizing and elevating it with a kind of approachability and ease.

            In “Memory Aids”, Mezzo-soprano Mariette Simpson’s haunting, reserved portrayal of a woman who clings to the routines of daily life in order to appear normal, enough, is unforgettable.

            Part 2: Uncontainable Night, delves into the pain of losing, slowly, bit by bit, memory, relationships, independence. It’s about fear, yes, and the exquisite strength it takes to hang on every single day. And in “Sundowning” – a section about the fears and challenges of looking after someone when they have begun to need greater care, when they’ve begun to wander restless in the night, confused, is heart wrenching, with tenor Brendan Tuohy and soprano Sarah Davis voicing the caregiver’s desperate plea for just a little respite.

            Szymko has created a work here that is more than a piece of music. It has a theatrical quality, as it weaves together, seemingly effortlessly, language ranging from quotes from patients and their loved ones, to poems by Emily Dickinson, Ranier Maria Rilke, to Corinthians.   

            Part III: I and Thou transcends, richly exposing the warm embrace within the not knowing, within the stillness of love that persists without words, without cognitive networks.

            In “Love Bears All Things”, cellist David Straka is a triumph in a solo that brings everything home.

            Musically, the work is cinematic and lush, enjoyable. For average audiences, our access to contemporary classical music is through film scores, and “Shadow & Light” bears that rewarding countenance that draws us in.

            Szymko has captured here the deep, persistent love a mother feels for her child, and translates it to the shifting, gravelly terrain of coping with a loved one’s unraveling brain.

            Underneath that work, the day-to-day, the challenges, there is hope, and real beauty: What’s left behind, she finds, is the purity of connection, the elegant, elusive parasympathetic offerings between people who simply love each other, even if they can’t remember who, what, where or why.


            This piece should be played everywhere.



April 4, 2016 04:22 PM

The world lost a beautiful, warm, generous, mischievous, wickedly smart and delightfully cantankerous soul the night of Saturday, April 2, when Oregon artist Rick Bartow passed away after battling congenital heart failure. He was 69. At EW, our hearts are full of sorrow. Bartow will be remembered for his mastery of color and gesture, and his spirited and unflinching work — paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture, found in museums and collections around the globe.

Words like “genius” and “fearless” are terms thrown around perhaps too casually in this world, but Bartow was both. I won’t pretend to know Bartow intimately after spending just one splendid day with him at his home and studios in Newport, and after long chats on the phone, a year ago, but I know enough to say that he didn’t give a shit what the world thought of him or his art, which made both all the more beautiful and urgent.

This is the artist who, when the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art opened the stunning and largest-ever retrospective on Bartow’s work a year ago this month, opted to play guitar with his band downstairs instead of hobnobbing in the gallery. Bartow had expressed to me several times he didn’t go in for any “woo-woo” crap — anything stinking of pretension or pomp and circumstance.

As his beloved friend and agent of more than two decades Charles Froelick told me last April: “He could give a rat’s ass about fame or what people think.”

Bartow’s death is not unexpected. He had survived numerous strokes — having to relearn how to walk, talk and paint — along with heart issues, PTSD (stemming from his stint in Vietnam) and addiction. There were tragedies, too, such as losing his wife to cancer when she was 50 among other heartbreaks. When we met a year ago, the artist was beginning to go blind in one eye, and he himself was skeptical how much longer he could go on creating.

Word is that Bartow was still creating up to a week before his death, which makes sense, as that is how he processed life, how he beat his demons.

“Work — that’s the only thing,” Bartow told me in March 2015. “That’s the only way. Work. Work. Do what you can, as long as you can, because I don’t see anything outside of it. My place to have fun is work; to get out of pain, working.”

Bartow is survived by daughter Lily and son Booker, as well as siblings, his community in Wiyot and Newport, and a planet-full of artists. Thank you, Rick Bartow, for everything you taught and brought the world. Read the EW profile of the artist, “Teeth & Bones: Into the beautiful tormented world of artist Rick Bartow."

While the JSMA-curated exhibit Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain is long gone from the UO museum, it continues to make the rounds around the country, currently on view at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, through April 30. Then it will head to North Dakota and New Mexico before returning to the Pacific Northwest in 2017, on view at Washington State University Museum of Art in Pullman Jan. 20- March 11.

Debbie Williamson, JSMA communications manager, says that while most of the museum’s Bartow works are with the traveling exhibit, they plan are planning to install at least one of his works in memorial of the artist. Details TBA, but check the JSMA site or Facebook page for updates. The details of a memorial for Bartow are also TBA.

April 4, 2016 10:15 AM

Betroffenheit, the collaboration between Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre, presented by Whitebird Dance at the Newmark Theatre in Portland Saturday night, pushed at odd angles through territory that at times felt dank, or prickly, hot and then cold. The audience was at times arrested, cajoled, invigorated and perhaps browbeaten. This was not namby-pamby dance for its own sake, nor was it theater alone, but a hybridization that, though not consistently successful, whatever that means, was at least doing something new.

            Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young, the work plumbed the traumatic history and personal experience of Mr Young, who wrote the work, and who also served as the piece’s lead performer. Young has an affable, inviting style, a naturalism onstage, inviting the audience into his fettered, tortured world, a place ripe with imagination and the nuances of failures and failing.

            As choreographer and director, Pite extracts the ironic, bullying gestalt from Classical forms, teasing out the sinister rhythms in a jazzy turnout or a seemingly innocuous tap dance routine. Her vision juxtaposes crusty sideshow entertainers with the salty walls of some institution (maybe it’s the protagonist’s mind? Ah, art…) and the language around recovery and “healing”.

            The effort brought out plenty of food for thought, and was expertly performed. Kidd Pivot’s dancers are uniformly strong, infusing each moment with clarity and determination. Tiffany Tregarthen’s reptilian deep knee bends, and her disjointed, broken carriage, Golum-like, are haunting with or without the tiny clown hat. (The clown hat sends it over the top.) Jermaine Spivey is also electric as Young’s “co-host” counterpart.

            Perhaps the closeness to the source material rendered the editing process a challenge, but too often, ideas pooled into eddies, or followed little rivulets until they lost momentum. This pacing seemed more a challenge from the theatrical side, as if the stage would repeatedly swell up with water, only to drain away. I wanted to see the heightened pressure of continual growth, deeper and more thorough exploration. 

April 1, 2016 12:45 PM

Eugene School District 4J is circulating an online survey aimed at parents, staff and community members. 4J seeks input on "what is working well, what could be improved and priorities for the future of 4J schools." The district says that 1,750 people have already taken the survey.

Information collected from the anonymous survey will be used to construct a strategic vision for 4J, "a roadmap for the next few years," according to the district. The survey is available in English and Spanish.

Among other questions, the survey asks "As a community, what do we want our public schools and school district to provide for our students?" and gives a list of priorities, including, "Extracurricular programs, such as clubs, sports and student organizations," "highly qualified teachers and staff," "higher graduation rates," "quality, up-to-date curriculum materials," "higher test scores"and more. The survey also offers a write-in option.

Find the survey here and learn more about it at 4J's website. Access closes Sunday, April 3.

March 30, 2016 10:29 AM

Lane County Commissioner and Republican Senate Candidate Faye Stewart repeated racist stereotypes about refugees at a March 10 Republican candidate forum at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

He accused Vietnamese refugeees "years ago" of eating dogs and starting fires in their apartment complex in Portland. You can see the video here.

As orginally reported on The Daily Caller, Stewart said, "“And when I say that, you know our government housed them in buildings in the Portland area, my understanding and what ended up happening was is [sic] they didn’t know how to heat their homes. What did they do? They started a fire in the middle of their living room in an apartment complex."

He continued with,  “Or when they needed something to eat, they went to their natural ways of doing it by harvesting people’s dogs and cats, their pets because their culture and their lifestyle didn’t mix with ours.” 

The video does not show to what question Stewart was responding. 

Immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia came to the U.S. in large numbers in the late 1970s and early '80s. As with the current Syrian refugees the immigrants were often met with racism, rumors and stereotyping, and in particular they were accused of eating local pets. 

As Florence Baer writes in her article, "Give Me... Your Huddled Masses: Anti-Vietnamese Refugee Lore and the Image of the Limited Good," accusing outsiders of eating improper food is a common way of showing that immigrants are not "like us" and are taking advantage of the "limited good" available in the U.S. and "stealing" what is rightfully ours.

There are some Asian cultures that do consume dog, however the legend of immigrants stealing American pets is not based on reality. 

Faye Stewart and several other candidates are running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden in the 2016 election.



The R-G reports Stewart has apologized for his remarks in response to a question on his "views on how the United States should handle Syrian refugees who are fleeing their war-torn Middle East country."

The daily calls the remarks "heavily edited" and provides the full remarks:

"That’s a difficult deal to address. First of all, I’m compassionate and want to help people. But … we need to understand that we need to help people appropriately and also we need to not jeopardize ourselves and our citizens in the process.

“And history is a pretty good tale of this. We took in some refugees, I believe it was some Vietnamese refugees, into this state years ago, and it created a huge problem because their culture and their lifestyle didn’t mix with ours. And when I say that, you know our government housed them in buildings in the Portland area, my understanding and what ended up happening was is (sic) they didn’t know how to heat their homes. What did they do? They started a fire in the middle of their living room in an apartment complex. Or when they needed something to eat, they went to their natural ways of doing it by harvesting people’s dogs and cats, their pets.

“And so what we need to do is we need to make sure when we do help people we do it appropriately. I question why can’t we go over and help them in their native land and protect them there? Why do we need to bring them here and potentially jeopardize the citizens’ lives here? If we do bring them here then we need to make sure that we do it appropriately so it doesn’t negatively impact.

“We have people today that want to kill us because of who we are. And we need to make sure we don’t jeopardize the citizens in the process. And we have a huge responsibility in trying to figure out what is the right way to help people and protect them in their time of turbulence, and then hopefully get them back to where they can live stably in their country. So I don’t have a perfect plan. I”m compassionate, but what we do need to do is make sure we don’t impact our citizens’ lives and their safety in whatever we do.”

March 22, 2016 03:28 PM

Story in The New York Times this week about birders returning to the embattled Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

March 22, 2016 01:35 PM

Good old NY Post comes up with another great cover....