DanceWatch Weekly: Dance film, dance text and actual dance

We open the post-eclipse, pre-school window and find dance film, dance discussion and real dance: Tango, Flamenco, modern.

We have now entered the post-eclipse and pre-school window, and I am feeling the impulse to go out there and grab the last little bit of freedom and sunshine that’s left. I have run away to the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas—and the sweltering desert heat—to celebrate my summer’s end. What will you do?

If you’re in Portland right now, might I suggest a dance film festival? Raucous dancing by WolfBird Dance? Or a romantic evening of Tango by moonlight, or a trip to Spain with Espacio Flamenco Portland at Bar Vivant? Or maybe you’re in the mood for something really really big such as Cirque Du Soleil’s performance of Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities. Or maybe you would prefer to wind down with something a little quieter and more intellectually focused—a reading group discussion with the dance artist of Physical Education, say. Well, it’s all there waiting for you. What will you choose?

Performances this week!

Portland Dance Film Fest August 24-September 6. Photo courtesy of Portland Dance Film Fest.

Portland Dance Film Fest (PDFF)
Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
Presented by NW Dance Project, Dance Wire, Bad Hands Studio, and Design By Goats
August 24-September 6
SubRosa Dance Collective members Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans, have curated a massive, five-day dance film festival, spanning two weekends (and several locations), that will screen dance films from around the globe.

The festival begins Thursday with an opening night celebration that includes a mini-screening, an interactive dance for film creation in real time, food, drinks and “danceable jams.” It continues with three separate, curated evenings of dance films (each evening lasting approximately one hour), and concludes with a panel discussion featuring several Portland filmmakers. Check out Portland Dance Film Fest’s website for screening times, film descriptions, interviews with select filmmakers, and more.

The deep-sea creatures of Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo by Martin Girard shootstudio.ca.

Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities
Cirque Du Soleil
August 24-October 8
This fantastical big top performance draws the viewer into the mysterious curio cabinet of an ambitious inventor who defies the laws of science, reinventing the world around him. Out of his cabinet comes a wacky cast of characters: quirky robots, underwater creatures, a human accordion and contortionist sea creatures. What is “visible becomes invisible, perspectives are transformed, and the world is literally turned upside down.”

Where To Wear What Hat by WolfBird Dance. Photo courtesy of WoldBird Dance.

Where To Wear What Hat
WolfBird Dance
Choreography by Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones
August 25-September 3
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont
Commenting on society’s constraints on women from the 1950s until now, choreographers Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones juxtapose iconographic ‘50s imagery with displays of force in both humorous and disconcerting ways to demonstrate the power and strength of women.

DiPronio and Jones have been working together since their student days at the University of South Florida and are interested in creating in collaborative environments and abandoning all conventions.

Flamenco Friday #4
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and Bar Vivant
7 pm August 25
Bar Vivant, 2225 E Burnside St
FREE. All ages.
Espacio Flamenco Portland and Bar Vivant close out the summer’s Flamenco Friday nights with performances by Flamenco dancer Lillie Last, accompanied by singers Randa BenAziz, Montserrat Andreys, and Kelley Dodd, guitarist Brenna McDonald and percussionist Nick Hutcheson. Let the sights, sounds, and tastes of Spain transport you.

Photo from Director Park Tango 2011. Photo by Claude Lavaiano.

Director Park Tango 2017
Produced by the Portland Tango Community
6 pm August 25
Director Park, 815 SW Park Ave
Free and open to the public, Tango dancers and musicians from California and Oregon will converge on Director Park in downtown Portland for one magical evening of dance classes, Tango dancing, and live music. Check out the Facebook event page for updated performer info and class times.

Physical Education Reading Group: De-Canon UNA Closing Event
Hosted by UNA Gallery and De-Canon: A Visibility Project
3 pm August 26
328 NW Broadway Ave. #117
In contemplation of the question “What lies {beyond/under/within} language for you?” De-Canon: A Visibility Project and Physical Education, a Portland collective made up of dance artist keyon gaskin, Taka Yamamoto, Allie Hankins, and Lu Yim, have chosen reading materials to help ponder this question. This open forum discussion will be the closing event for De-Canon’s pop-up library installation at UNA. All are welcome.

De-Canon is a “pop-up library” and web resource project that will showcase literary art by writers/artists of color. “Our goal is to put forth an alternative literary “canon” — or multiple canons — that are inclusive, diverse, and multi-storied in their approach to representation. De-Canon wishes to challenge existing ideas of what constitutes the North American literary canon, especially in our current culture.”

Reading materials are available on De-Canon’s website.

ArtsWatch Weekly: barking mad

Biting into September's shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Ethnic Non-Specific, West African drumming & dance, more

Here we are in the Dog Days of Summer, and we pretty much know what the phrase means: that hot and often muggy stretch of August that seems to last forever, when the sun saps energy and the whole world seems to lag. But where did the saying come from?

Maybe from the rising of the dog star, Sirius – a period, as Wikipedia describes it, that “Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” Not to mention this week’s Dog Days interloper, the lunar blotting-out of the sun. The story ambles down from Zeus to Achilles, Hector, Seneca, and Pliny, on into the medical lore of the early modern age and even the Age of Reason: The Clavis Calendria of 1813 declares that in the Dog Days “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, Quinto raged with anger, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

It’s their time: “Pierrepont Edward Lacy and His Dog, Gun,” attributed to Milton W. Hopkins, 1835-36, oil on canvas, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

All of which, frankly, has us looking forward to September, which in the cultural world (maybe as a carryover from the traditional school calendar) is the true time of fresh beginnings. Theater seasons begin to kick in. The dance calendar gets busy. The Oregon Symphony gets ready to swing into action again. TBA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual Time-Based Art festival, overtakes the city Sept. 7-17.

Continues…

Music Notes

Wrapping up recent news in Oregon music

Every so often, when the live music schedule slacks off a bit, we wrap up news in various provinces of Oregon’s vibrant music scene. Many of the items originally appeared on ArtsWatch’s Facebook page, which you should follow to keep up with the happenings in Oregon arts and ArtsWatch.

Laurels

The Portland State University Chamber Choir, which has been featured often in these news wraps and elsewhere on ArtsWatch, continues to bring the state international acclaim. Last month, it became the first American choir ever to compete in Asia’s largest choral festival, the Bali International Choral Festival, which featured over 100 choirs. And it won the Grand Prix. The Chamber Choir won two categories: Music of Religions and Gospels & Spirituals, earning the highest score in the entire festival for the latter.

According to PSU’s press release, during the ten day trip, the Chamber Choir toured cultural sites, visited a program to alleviate poverty and sang at a charity concert to raise money for homeless youth. The choir also joined two Indonesian choirs to sing opera chorus at a gala for Catharina Leimena, Indonesia’s first opera star. The group also apparently spontaneously rehearsed one of its pieces in the Shanghai Airport, drawing international attention.

This is the second international competition that the Chamber Choir has won in recent years. In 2013 they were the first American choir to win the Grand Prix at the Seghizzi International Competition for Choral Singing, held in Italy.

Ethan Sperry and PSU Chamber Choir won the big prize at the Bali International Choral Festival.

Last week, the choir released its new CD, The Doors of Heaven, which immediately landed  at #1 on Amazon Classical, #1 on iTunes Classical, and debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical chart — the first university choir to chart. It’s the first recording made by an American choir exclusively devoted to the music of one of the world’s hottest choral composers, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds. We’ll be telling you more about it before the choir’s November CD release concerts in Portland.

Sperry was just named recipient of the first Portland Professorship, a new program that allows donors to name and fund termed PSU faculty positions.The first Portland Professorship position was recently created with a gift from longtime major PSU donor Robert Stoll of the Stoll Berne law firm.

Continues…

Chamber Music Northwest review: back to Bach

After an unprecedented exploration of contemporary music, festival finale goes Bach to basics with the Brandenburg concertos

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

After five weeks of coffee talks and panel discussions, old new music, new new music, new old music, and old new music made new again, it was a relief to settle into familiar old Lincoln Hall for an evening of familiar old Johann Sebastian Bach. On July 30th, Chamber Music Northwest closed out its 47th season, gathering its motley cast of virtuosi for a well-balanced and thoroughly satisfying performance of all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

Before the music started, CMNW Artistic Director and clarinetist David Shifrin expressed his thanks to the performers, composers, audiences, donors, and sponsors, with “a very special thanks to J.S. Bach for organizing this program and gift-wrapping it for us.” Shifrin explained that the 20 musicians taking the stage that Sunday afternoon would be playing Bach’s music “just as he wrote it, except I will be playing the trumpet part on Eb clarinet, and the viola da gamba will be cello. We think he would like it this way.”

Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin (front right) played clarinet in one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. Photo: Tom Emerson.

I think we can make a case that: 1. Shifrin’s caveats notwithstanding, there are still deep aspects of this performance — intonation, instrument construction, venue acoustics, and so on — that are definitely not just as Bach wrote it; 2. That Bach’s music, like the plays of Shakespeare, seems to have some vital quality which allows it to be endlessly adapted and reinterpreted with what so far seems to be an inexhaustible variety of results.

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Classical Indian dance on eclipse weekend

Sweta Ravisankar and Subashini Ganesan bring classical Indian dance to the city

This weekend, Portland is graced with two classical Indian dance performances, the closing performances of the musical Gypsy, and a three-day event with dance company I Moving Lab.

Between the barrage of news, the major cultural shifts happening, and the constant political upheaval, I am comforted and inspired by the artists in our midst. Despite any bumps in the road they may encounter, they persist.

This week I am particularly inspired by Sweta Ravisankar, a Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam performer, teacher, and choreographer, from Mumbai, India. I first saw her perform in Jayanti Raman’s Anubhava at Lincoln Hall in 2015. Ravisankar is a striking performer and a pleasure to watch.

Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam performer Sweta Ravisankar. Photo courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

Not only is Ravisankar a dancer/teacher/choreographer/musician, she is also pursuing her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at OHSU, holds a Master’s Degree in Bharatanatyam and Biology, maintains dance schools (Sarada Kala Nilayam) in San Jose, California, and Hillsboro, Oregon, and travels the world performing. If ever you needed inspiration to follow your various passions in life, Ravisankar is it!

For those who don’t know, Bharatanatyam is the name of a style of South Indian classical dance. Nattuvangam is the rhythmic instrument played in the background of Bharatanatyam performances and is made of two metal cymbals—one of iron and the other of brass.

Ravisankar will be presenting Laya Bhavam: An Amalgamation of Rhythm in Dance and Percussion at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Auditorium, this Saturday evening at 6 pm. The performance is in collaboration with her musician father, Sri. S Ravisankar, who will accompany the performance on mridangam (a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum) alongside a full Indian orchestra. Additionally, her father heads a bhajan group, Sukrutha Brahmam Bhajan Mandali, based in Mumbai, India, that toured throughout the U.S. last spring.

In discussing the performance concept, through an email exchange, Ravisankar said, “Layam, as we all know, is the rhythm. Bhavam represents the emotions created. Both of these together, let us experience and appreciate how the rhythm is so seamlessly integrated in all the things around us. Both Layam and Bhavam complement each other as brain and heart.”

Ravisankar attributes her success in both careers to the support of her family and teachers who all work together to make her “dance journey” happen. Her father accompanies her musically, her mother manages all of her programs, and her sister hosts and introduces her at each performance. It was at her mother’s insistence that her father begin playing for her Bharatanatyam concerts, having previously only accompanied singers.

This father-daughter relationship inspires Ravisankar’s work. She likens their creative back-and-forth process together like that of “making a pot in the ancient times. You keep adding water and shaping the pot better and better ‘til it is complete.”

Performances this week

Photo of dancer Deanna Olsen White with Kelly Sina observing, in Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Gypsy. Photo by Sam Ortega.

Gypsy
Broadway Rose Theatre Company
August 3-20
Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard
Closing this weekend is Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Gypsy, directed and choreographed by late great American choreographer Jerome Robbins, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical is loosely based on the memoirs of the American queen of striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee, and the aspirations of her stage mamma from hell.

Although Gypsy is not a dance-centric show, Robbins carefully re-created accurate depictions of the era’s vaudeville and burlesque dance styles for famous scenes such as “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” when three strippers tell Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) that she doesn’t actually need talent, just an idea.

Laya-Bhavam: An Amalgamation of Rhythm in Dance and Percussion
Presented by Sarada Kala Nilayam/Sweta Ravisankar
6 pm August 19
Portland Community College Rock Creek Auditorium, 17705 NW Springville Road
See above

Photo courtesy of I Moving Lab.

NA’LÅ’LA (Give Life)
Dåkot-ta and I Moving Lab
6:00 pm August 19
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St., in the WYSE Building. Use the doors located on the South side of the building.

Celebrating the coming eclipse through music and dance, contemporary Māori choreographer and scholar Jack Gray, in collaboration with hip hop dancer, sound artist, and scholar Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho will present I LAND (in) Multnomah, an interdisciplinary performance that weaves their ancestral lineages from Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Guåhan, Guam, with rap, dance, and video.

Interested in decolonizing theater practices and drawing on indigenous relationships with the natural world, I LAND (in) Multnomah is a three-day series that begins Thursday, August 17, with a potluck, dance/movement workshops indoors and outdoors on the 18, and a final performance on the evening of the 19. Check out the I LAND (in) Multnomah website for the full schedule of events and please RSVP.

Classical Indian Dance & Music at the Portland Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Subashini Ganesan.

Classical Indian Dance & Music at the Portland Art Museum
Program curated by Subashini Ganesan, artistic director of New Expressive Works and Natya Leela Academy
2 pm August 20
Portland Art Museum, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Avenue
FREE as part of the Miller Family Free Day

In celebration of the classical Indian Arts—dance, music, painting, and poetry—and in honor of Northwest architect and conservationist John Yeon’s collection of Indian Paintings at the Portland Art Museum, vocalist Mini Jairaj, mridangam player Hari, and dancers from Natya Leela Academy, Anjali School of Dance, Nartana Kuchipudi, and Kalabharathi School of Dance will contextualize Indian art through performance, as part of the Miller Family Free Day events.

Coming up next week

August
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil
August 25-September 3, Where To Wear What Hat, WolfBird Dance

Montavilla Jazz Festival: turning crisis into community

This weekend's festival shows how arts can help build community in an unaffordable city

by DOUGLAS DETRICK

With rents and property values continuing to rise astronomically in Portland, the affordability of physical space and the role that space plays in the arts ecosystem is coming into sharp focus. The space is sorely needed, yet many arts organizations with limited budgets can’t afford it.

The affordability crisis is a reflection of Portland’s growing pains, but instead of just complaining about the problem, perhaps our arts community can see this crisis as an opportunity. With some creative problem solving, we can help to make Portland a better place to live and also make it a better place to perform and experience the arts.

Portland drum legend Alan Jones performed at last year’s Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Kathryn Elsesser.

This is indeed a crisis, though it’s not unique. Even a quick study of the city’s history will reveal other crises in the past, especially the challenges that people of color have faced when seeking housing in the days of redlining, after the Vanport flood of 1948, and up to the present. But even as poorer Portlanders struggle in an increasingly expensive housing market, there are encouraging signs that the arts community is waking up to its power as a force for positive change in our neighborhoods. This weekend’s Montavilla Jazz Festival is one of them.

Continues…

“We cannot fight old power in old power terms only. The way we can do it is by creating another whole structure that touches every aspect of our existence, at the same time as we are resisting.” — Audre Lorde in an “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich” (1979)

What are the literary works that have defined the educational experiences in the U.S.? Which authors continue to shape the thinking and writing of those entrenched in this country’s educational systems and academic institutions? De-Canon, a newly launched project in Portland started by literary artists and educators Dao Strom and Neil Aitken, is turning a critical eye on popular understanding of this country’s literary canon—bridging the idea of a site-specific “library” with digital resources, visual art, and performative practices, all centered on literary artists of color.  

De-Canon at UNA Gallery

Questions of educational pedagogy have fueled the organizer’s drive to offer an alternative to the hierarchy of western literature. “Courses, and even workshops (practice-oriented workshops), are consciously or unconsciously built around the assumption that there’s only a western canon to have a conversation around,” explains Aitken. Gesturing to his and many of his fellow writers’ shared experience, he notes, “When we sit in an MFA workshop or someone teaches us the craft of writing, the texts that they reference are almost always exclusively white male writers, with a handful of white female writers. And it ignores generations, hundreds of years, even millennia of other aesthetic work that’s out there. And it also ignores contemporary writers of color.”

With aspirations to “create a forum in which many voices contribute to the defining–or un-defining–of the literary canon,” De-Canon was launched with funding from Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s granting program, the Precipice Fund. In addition to a website of literary resources and an archive of dialogue between writers of color, De-Canon is also taking physical shape this August in the form of a pop-up library at UNA Gallery that will host a slew of cultural programming. Library open hours are 12-5 pm Saturdays and Sundays through August 26th.  

According to Aitken, the foundation for De-Canon began to emerge in 2015 after Wordstock, Portland’s major book festival. “Portland’s literary spaces can be very, very white,” notes Aitken, nodding to the lack of local POC writers at the festival that year. Shortly afterward, a group of writers of color began meeting and found that a common theme surfaced.

“In those home-based conversations, this type of a conversation would come up often, about both people sharing their experiences in university programs and writing workshops, and frequently feeling silenced or excluded from a discussion about literature, or being told that their experiences or their stories didn’t fit within what other people were writing about,” says Aitken. “So the question then becomes, well where are those stories? Why are we not exposed to other people who write from a world of experience that’s more in line with ours?”

A deeper dive into the field reveals that there are plenty of writers with other modes of sharing their stories and with a range of lived experiences—more than could ever fit in one syllabus, or even multiple syllabi—and many working on a local level in Portland. The idea of multiplicity emerges as a recurring theme in the organizers’ efforts to put together an entire library. This self-made space for building community is not trying to “replace” the Western canon, but instead, it offers numerous canons for people to interact with and think about on their own terms.

It is important for the organizers not to assume a position of authority in presenting de-canon(s), and this is reflected in the setup of texts within the library. “We’re not dictating ‘this is exclusively for this type of thing; This is exclusively for that’,” shares Aitken. “That part of the exhibit is an invitation to anyone there to move things around, to reform what goes into a box or a canon, and think about it differently. What fits together, what doesn’t fit together, for them?”

Art by Sam Roxas-Chua, featured as part of De-Canon’s pop-up library exhibition at UNA Gallery

While plenty of books can be found in De-Canon’s pop-up library exhibit, Strom explains, “We’re loosely interpreting ‘literary arts’ or ‘literary expression’ as something that can happen not just through words on the page or through books but also through other forms, like oral, or image text, or music, or visual [forms].” As a practitioner of hybrid literary forms herself, Strom also elaborates on the hybrid focus, remarking, “You know, that square with text on the page is not necessarily the only shape that we can receive stories or experience through.”

De-Canon’s inclusion of hybrid forms of literary art also reflects an effort to unlearn or subvert the authority of language, particularly the English language, which Strom describes as a “language of colonization, war, and dominance”—a language that many writers of color use, but that is not always the primary language of their culture. Aitken explains that one’s relationship to a language might differ, “whether they’ve grown up in a household where English is not the only language, or maybe it’s the second or third language, or [maybe] they’ve grown up where English, for multiple generations, has been the language, even though everyone around you assumes that it’s not.”

This critical lens on the English language is coupled with an impetus to move away from the tropes and narratives it perpetuates—a societal consciousness of categorization. For Strom, this includes tropes in Asian American “ethnic” literature, such as “food and family, immigrant stories that herald triumph of the spirit or redemptive themes, assimilation narratives…the unacknowledged expectation of gratitude that is wanted of the immigrant tale, which silently reinforces white savior/America as land of rescue complexes.”

“I think that all of us are trying to write beyond that,” Strom continues, “if you speak to any writer of color, most of them are reaching beyond particular tropes.”

But even as the organizers work to move away from tropes, they find themselves having to confront categories as a way to deepen and grow their understanding of the intersecting, overlapping, and expanding canons within the project. Aitken describes “the tension between the project goals of being very flexible with terms and definitions…and then the very practical side of bookkeeping, of trying to track what we’ve actually ordered, and whether or not we’re representing genres, representing different populations of people. It’s like they run at odds with each other, and yet they’re both necessary.”

Strom follows this with her own insightful interpretation of this organizing work. “I guess it develops empathy between people, like to be able to admit that you don’t know something, so you can open yourself up to listening, which, especially right now, seems like a practice to try to engage in,” she says. “And I think it’s hard because then, yes, things aren’t definite…you come in contact with your own discomfort.”

In terms of De-Canon’s aspirations into 2018, both organizers dream of a space where De-Canon can be housed permanently, something well overdue as a local cultural resource. However, for now, the act of coming together to create spaces for the POC literary community in Portland and, as Strom puts it, “a context for the work that we’re doing”—this is vital, and it includes an investment of work in the virtual world as well. “If we profile Portland as part of the website, we were thinking that could be something that could happen in other places,” she continues.

“We don’t have the power to change everything that happens out there,” muses Aitken, “but what we do have is the power to call attention to different things that we see.” This includes a host of literary artists of color in Portland, many of whom are highlighted by De-Canon in their programming at UNA Gallery this month.  

For more unlearning and de-canonization, please see the numerous resources and full schedule of remaining events on De-Canon’s website—the next event, De-Canon {Music+Poetry}, is August 19th; the Unlearning Podcast by Béalleka, one of De-Canon’s presenters; and Strom’s upcoming performance with Samiya Bashir, in collaboration with Shayla Lawson, as part of Time-Based Arts Festival. To take a deeper dive, join Physical Education for Reading Group August 26th, 3-5 pm at UNA Gallery (remember to do your reading beforehand!).