After 20 years, Conduit is on the move

Evicted from the Pythian Building, the dance nonprofit is looking for a new home

After nearly 20 years in the beautiful 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building in downtown Portland, Conduit Dance is leaving its old homestead, evicted by its landlord Nia Technique. Nia had been instrumental in helping Conduit weather economic problems in 2010, but on Tuesday, it informed the nonprofit that it had a week to leave the premises, according to Tere Mathern, Conduit’s artistic director. On March 18, Conduit’s run in the Pythian will be history.

Nia had given Conduit a verbal notice to leave in early February, according to Mathern. “We thought they said we could take time to plan an exit strategy,” Mathern said. But after some discussions, the hammer dropped Tuesday. “The email came, and I literally cried,” Mathern said. “The timing of it, the quickness, seemed overwhelming.”

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

Conduit had been planning to move anyway, because the space wasn’t large enough for the nonprofit Conduit to succeed financially. But finding space—Mathern figures Conduit needs room for two dance studios, storage space and an office—takes time. Now, Mathern figures that Conduit will have to find temporary quarters to keep things going while it tries to find a more permanent space. It’s holding a community meeting at 7:30 Monday night (March 16) to rally support for its next move, including help in locating the 4,000 square feet or more it will need.

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Conduit is a Portland modern dance institution. When it was founded by Mary Oslund and Linda K. Johnson in August 1995, the city’s dance community had been cast adrift after the closing of the dance department at Portland State University. The new studio started as a cooperative, with Michael Menger, the late Keith Goodman, and Gregg Bielemeier joining Oslund and Johnson in using the studio for classes, rehearsals and performances. Gradually, it moved toward becoming more of a community resource, used by many independent choreographers in the same ways, and Conduit is now a nonprofit.

Those of us who follow modern dance locally have a multitude of memories from performances at Conduit. The studio is intimate, but its high ceilings and large windows can make it seem light and airy, too, and performances seemed almost in your lap, especially if you arrived late and had to sit on the floor in front of the first row of seats. I saw terrific dances and terrific dancing at Conduit over the years, much of it coming from the very loose companies of dancers that assembled around Oslund and Mathern. And yes, occasionally I worried that a dancer wouldn’t be able to stop in time and come careening into me. They never did.

But this isn’t a eulogy for Conduit. Mathern, the Conduit board and staff, and the Conduit community are determined to keep the nonprofit going, Mathern said. It’s just a matter of finding a space. And Conduit isn’t alone: at this point, Oregon Ballet Theatre is also looking for a new home, and three other companies have just found and/or moved into new digs—AWOL, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris.

Still, I’ll miss the long climb to the 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building, a rite of passage made by dancers, choreographers and modern dance fans for two decades.

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