Jamuna Chiarini

 

DanceWatch Weekly: Erik Kaiel comes home

A Jefferson High grad returns home, BodyVox intersects with the Imani Winds, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre and so much more

Choreographer Erik Kaiel and his dance company Arch8, now based in the Netherlands, will be performing in his hometown of Portland for the first time since Kaiel graduated from Jefferson High School’s dance program in 1990.

After leaving Jeff, he spent a decade in New York City making dances in subway stations, sculpture gardens, empty swimming pools, city streets, and on stages, too. In 2003 he moved to the Netherlands where he is now the artistic director of Arch8 and Crosstown Den Haag, a choreographic fellow at Danslab, and a faculty member at the Artez Dance Academy in Arnhem. In 2010 he won both the Dutch national prize for choreographic talent and the No Ballet competition in Germany.

Presented by Boom Arts, Arch8 will dance an award-winning quartet, choreographed by Kaiel in 2012, called Tetris, a work specifically made for children inspired by the 1980s video game of the same name.

Erik Kaiel’s Tetris performed by his company Arch8. Photo courtesy of Arch8.

Tetris, the dance, uses everyday movement like walking, sitting, standing, traditional dance, complex partnering and acrobatics to mimic the game’s objective—to stack and fit different block configurations into an existing block structure to create a connected line of blocks across the screen. The dance aims to explore our connections with each other, with the larger world, how we build languages of intimacy and our private inner worlds. It’s meant for “the kids who can’t sit still, for the ones who like to climb the walls, and those who can imagine further than they can see,” it says in the dance’s description. If the description is the qualifier for who will enjoy the dance, then it’s a dance for pretty much for everyone, as far as I’m concerned.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Nine-dance week

The week in dance from Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" to OBT's Man/Woman and far, far beyond

There are nine dance performances this week beginning with the Original Bad Unkl Sistas (a performing duo made up of Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto, at the Headwaters Theatre) and ending with Degenerate Art Ensemble (from Seattle next Wednesday, also appearing at the Headwaters). Both are part of the Butoh College Performance Series: The Future is Female (and trans and queer and in celebration of all ages, all bodies, all genders, all colors), curated by Water in the Desert artistic director Mizu Desierto. In between, we have a full range of seven dance offerings from smaller, experimental works, to large scale, time-tested, historical dances that have been seen by audiences around the world. There is something for everyone. Check below for details and enjoy!

Performances this week

The Original Bad Unkl Sistas Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto. Photo courtesy of Mizu Desierto.

Original Bad Unkl Sistas
Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto
Presented by Water in the Desert
8 pm April 18
Butoh College student performance/offering
7 pm April 22
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #4
This improvised duet by Portland dance-theatre artist, co-founder and artistic director of Water in the Desert, Mizu Desierto, alongside long-time collaborator, founder and artistic director of Bad Unkl Sista, Anastazia Aranaga, will follow a minimal structure, take imaginative pathways, and will be full of surprises. This performance is part of Butoh College 2018. Desierto and Aranaga will also offer a workshop titled Original//Freedom which “will be full of unknowns, delicate presence, deep stillness, rampant chaos, visceral intimacy & care.”

Emily Parker and Christopher Kaiser performing Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid,” one of five ballets presented in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s MAN/WOMAN, April 12 – 24, 2018 at the Newmark Theatre. Photo by James McGrew

Man/Woman
Oregon Ballet Theatre, Artistic Director Kevin Irving
Choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, and Jiří Kylián
April 19-21
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Curated by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director Kevin Irving, this program of five ballets juxtaposes all-female ballets against all-male ballets exploring gender stereotypes.

Last week I interviewed Irving about whether or not classical ballet can catch up with contemporary values and be something that future generations will want to support. “We’re not the entire conversation,” he said. “We can only be a contribution to the conversation, incomplete, but hopefully insightful and maybe even revelatory in some ways.” You can read our entire conversation here and Heather Wisner review of Man/Woman here.

The program includes: The Dying Swan, a solo for a female dancer by Michel Fokine, staged by Lisa Sundstrom; a new commissioned work called Fluidity Of Steel by Brooklyn-based Darrell Grand Moultrie for an all-men ensemble; Left Unsaid by Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte for both men and women; Drifted in a Deeper Land for another all-men ensemble, by former Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director James Canfield; and Falling Angels, and all-women dance by Jiří Kylián.

push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs and dancer Briley Jozwiak. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Early
push/FOLD
Music and choreography by Samuel Hobbs
April 19-28
A-WOL Warehouse, 513 NE Schuyler St.
Following the performances on April 19 and 28, Dance Wire founder and director Emily Running will facilitate a Q&A with the push/FOLD artists.

Featuring an original score and choreography by push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs, this evening-length/world premier combines Hobbs’ eclectic background in dance, partnering, martial arts, athletics, and Visceral Movement Theory™, a somatic theory rooted in the anatomy and kinesiology of the organs. The work, developed from a 2014 duet, will be performed in the round by dancers Jessica Evans, Briley Jozwiak, Holly Shaw, and Samuel Hobbs.

Hobbs performanced professionally with Lauren Edson, Lindsey Matheis, Éowyn Emerald & Dancers, Minh Tran & Co., BodyVox, and Rainbow Dance Theatre, and has shown his choreography throughout the Pacific Northwest. He also works as a Licensed Manual Therapist and Software Developer.

Pictured left to right; Patsy Morris, Jana Zahler, Lisa Greco. Photo courtesy of Jana Zahler.

In layers
Choreography by Jana Kristi Zahler
April 20-21
Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Using visceral and sensory motifs, dance, music, and visual art, collaborators Jana Zahler, Charlie Stellar, Patsy Morris, Kia Metzler, and Lisa Greco will explore the theory of Core Energetics—a somatic-spiritual-psychotherapy developed by Dr. John C. Pierrakos in the 1970s. The theory says that we are psychosomatic beings, that we have the ability to heal ourselves, and that the body’s energy can become blocked from its inability to express emotions. In order to break through our “mask” and work through our “defensive layers,” physical exercise is prescribed to bring awareness back to the authentic, emotional self.

My Turn: A Claire Underwood Story. Photo courtesy of TriptheDark Dance Company.

My Turn: A Claire Underwood Story
TriptheDark Dance Company, Ellen Margolis and Diana Schultz
April 20-28
Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie
In collaboration with Portland playwright Ellen Margolis, TriptheDark Dance Company combines dance, theatre, and puppetry to discuss communication breakdowns in politics. Through the fictional character Claire Underwood from the Netflix series House of Cards, My Turn, reveals Congress’s struggle to work together to defeat corruption.

My Turn will be performed in the newly renovated, two-story, 4,554 square foot Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie, Oregon.

The students of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo by Yi Yin.

Oregon Ballet Theatre School’s Annual Performance
April 21-22
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
The students of Oregon Ballet Theatre will perform two different programs on two separate nights.
The April 21 program includes: Valse Fantaisie by George Balanchine with music by Mikhail Glinka; Don Quixote Vision Scene After Marius Petipa with music by Ludwig Minkus; and A Grand Etude by Oregon Ballet Theatre school faculty to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The April 22nd program includes: Satanella pas de deux , After Marius Petipa/Cesare Pugni, after a theme by Niccolò Paganini, Accidental Signals by Nicolo Fonte to music by Benjamin Britten.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green and Jamar Roberts. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Presented by White Bird
April 24-25
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
America’s first multicultural modern dance company, formed in 1958 by celebrated choreographer Alvin Ailey, will perform two different programs both culminating in a performance of Revelations; Ailey’s 1960 work that explores joy and grief using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs, and the blues. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater now directed by Robert Battle, was formed to preserve African-American culture and give opportunity to African American dancers.

April 24th program: Stack-up, choreography by Talley Beatty in 1982; rE-volution, Dream, choreographed by Hope Boykin in 2016; and Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1960.

April 25th program: Untitled America, choreographed by Kyle Abraham in 2016; The Golden Section, choreographed by Twyla Tharp in 1983; Ella, choreography by Robert Battle in 2008, premiered by the Ailey Company in 2016; and Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1960.

Imani Winds returns to Chamber Music Northwest this week and will perform with BodyVox Dance Company.

In Motion with BodyVox-The Wind and the Wild
BodyVox and Imani Winds
April 24-25
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St.
In town this week for a series of concerts, dance performances and educational and outreach programs, Imani Winds, a classical wind ensemble, and artist-in-residence at Chamber Music Northwest (ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell has the full scoop), will perform in a combined program with BodyVox dance company at Revolution Hall. The program includes BodyVox dances Sideshow, S.O.S., a trio of dances set to Chopin, and two Mitchell Rose/BodyVox films, Unleashed and Treadmill Softly. In 2013, dance critic Martha Ullman West reviewed their first collaboration in Chambered nautilus: BodyVox’s unsinkable classic which you can read here.

Haruko “Crow” Nishimura of Degenerate Art Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Water in the Desert.

Degenerate Art Ensemble/Haruko “Crow” Nishimura + Joshua Kohl
Presented by Water in the Desert
8 pm April 25
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #4
7 pm April 29, Degenerate Art Ensemble: Student Performance/Offering
Degenerate Art Ensemble (DAE), based in Seattle, will perform a duet as part of the Butoh College performance series presented by Water in the Desert. DAE creates performances inspired by punk, comics, cinema, nightmares, and fairy tales driven by their own style of live music and dance/theatre. The ensemble is made up of dancer / vocalist / choreographer Haruko Crow Nishimura and composer / music director/ conductor, Joshua Kohl.

Upcoming Performances

April
April 26-28, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert
April 26-28, Early, push/FOLD, Music and choreography by Samuel Hobbs
April 27-28, My Turn: A Claire Underwood Story, TriptheDark Dance Company, Ellen Margolis and Diana Schultz
April 27-29, Junior Artist Generator Annual Performance, BodyVox
April 27-29, Tetris, Arch8 (Netherlands), artistic director Erik Kaiel
April 27-29, Uprise, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola
April 29, Degenerate Art Ensemble: Student Performance/Offering, Presented by Water in the Desert

May
May 4-5, Reed Spring Dance Concert
May 4-4, The Space Between, Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 4-5, Let Alone, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest (HDDT/NW)
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 11-13, Alice in Wonderland, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 12, Feria de Portland, Espacio Flamenco Portland
May 14, Noontime Showcase: OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 17-20, CRANE, The Holding Project, directed by Amy Leona Havin
May 18, The “B” Project, Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

DanceWatch Weekly: Kevin Irving on Man/Woman

As the ballet world's treatment of women receives overdue scrutiny, Oregon Ballet Theatre's new program highlights gender stereotypes

Man/Woman, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s program of five ballets that juxtapose all-female ballets and all-male ballets to explore gender stereotypes, opens tonight.

The program includes The Dying Swan, a solo for a female dancer by Michel Fokine; a new commissioned work called Fluidity Of Steel by Brooklyn-based Darrell Grand Moultrie for all men; Left Unsaid by Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte for both men and women; Drifted in a Deeper Land for all men by former Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director James Canfield; and Falling Angels for all women by Jiří Kylián.

OBT dancer Kelsie Nobriga rehearsing Jiří-Kylián’s Falling Angels for MAN/WOMAN April 12-24. Photo by Yi-Yin.

I have been wondering out loud in previous DanceWatch columns about whether or not classical ballet can catch up with contemporary values and be something that future generations will want to support. Classical ballet is historically a racist, hierarchical, patriarchal system, that has narrowly defined dancers by their skin color, body types, gender, age, perpetuates stereotypical narratives, and, ironically, the majority of ballet choreographers and artistic directors are men, even though women make up the majority of the artists in the industry.

Ballet culture has improved considerably since its early days, but it still has a bit of a ways to go. When Oregon Ballet Theatre announced on Facebook last season that it was presenting a program of five dances choreographed by five men that would explore gender stereotypes, I was stunned and wondered out loud in the comments section how it was possible for men to choreograph dances about a woman’s experience. And, where were the women choreographers in this conversation to boot? Well, it turns out that they are gathered in OBT’s next program in May.

When I spoke with OBT artistic director Kevin Irving this past week at OBT’s studios, he said that it was important to him to address the problematic issues within classical ballet narratives that perpetuate stereotypes, but also to find a way to maintain the heritage of classical ballet.

OBT dancers rehearsing Darrell Grand Moultrie’s world premiere, Fluidity Of Steel, one of five ballets presented in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s MAN/WOMAN, April 12 – 24, 2018 at the Newmark Theatre. Photo by Yi Yin.

“The base of classical ballet includes a lot of beauty, a lot of fine, wonderful, enjoyable work but some are really problematic works that can be seen as perpetuating stereotypes that are not so applicable to the world we live in,” Irving said. “I’m conscious of our responsibility to not ignore it.”

Irving began thinking about putting this program together two years ago in response to the Bathroom Bill legislation being considered in North Carolina that dictated bathroom usage based on a person’s assigned gender at birth.

Since then, the conversation about the treatment of women in the society as a whole, in the arts, and in ballet has exploded, embracing many more issues and points of view than Irving could address in one program. “We’re not the entire conversation,” he said. “We can only be a contribution to the conversation, incomplete, but hopefully insightful and maybe even revelatory in some ways.”

“I think an argument can be made that gender roles in classical ballet can be as restrictive for men as they are for women,” he continued. “Even if the experience of being a dancer, in my opinion, is typically harder for a woman than it is for a man…I wanted the audience to have an experience of what was it like to see these representations unchallenged and then challenged.”

OBT dancers rehearsing Nicolo Fonte’s Left Unsaid for MAN/WOMAN April 12-24. Photo by Yi-Yin.

Man/Woman begins with The Dying Swan, a solo made famous by ballerina Anna Pavlova that depicts the last moments of a swan’s life. Instead of seeing the ballerina (performed by OBT dancers Jacqueline Straughan, Ansa Capizzi, Jessica Lind, and Eva Burton) as a weak, frail, dying figure, Irving wants to shine light on the “the amount of strength, determination, triumph against the odds, and sheer force of will that it takes to be that dying swan.” “I think that’s an interesting story, that duality of the dying swan, which on the surface seems pitiable but yet it’s anything but for the people who have to perform it.”

Offering a contrasting view of the female dancer, Falling Angels choreographed in 1989 for Nederlands Dans Theater by Jiří Kylián, explores the human obsession with perfection and closes the program. This contemporary work for eight women is a driving, rhythmic piece to a Steve Reich score that was inspired by the percussion rituals of Ghana.

Next is a world premier by Moultrie for seven male dancers that explores an alternative view of maledom questioning the ways society allows men to express emotions and show physical affection. This work developed from a trio of men in tutus from his previous work for the company, Instinctual Confidence, back in 2015.

Continuing the male perspective, Drifted in a Deeper Land, choreographed by OBT founding artistic director James Canfield in 1990, highlights the feelings of helplessness, loss, and frustration felt during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Irving felt that it was important to embed a connection to the company’s history within the program.

OBT’s Emily Parker and Avery Reiner. Photo by Christopher Peddecord.

Left Unsaid by Nicolo Fonte, one of Fonte’s most popular works was inspired by Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials and is the only piece in the program for both men and women. The ballet focuses on the dualities present in all of us, that pull us in opposing directions. The work originally premiered on Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2009.

Man/Woman looks to be a strong program with fantastic dancing and some poignant messages. But, if you’re still hankering for women choreographers you won’t have to wait long. Closer, OBT’s final program of the season, brings back Helen Simoneau’s Departures from last summer’s Choreography XX program and presents new works by company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc from May 23-June 3.

Performances this week

Contact Dance Film Festival
Presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
7:00 pm April 12, NY Export: Opus Jazz and Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave
9:00 pm April 14, NY Export: Opus Jazz & Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave
7:30 pm April 12 and 14, Dancing Over Borders, BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
7:30 pm April 13, Dance@30fps, Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
4 pm, April 14, Dance@30fps, Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.

Teaming up with the Northwest Film Center, BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton and long-time collaborator Mitchell Rose have curated a festival of dance films that cover the gamut in voices, topics, and disciplines from around the world.

The festival includes three programs. The first is a double bill featuring NY Export: Opus Jazz, a remake of a 1958 Jerome Robbins’ ballet to the jazz score of Robert Prince, and Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow, a documentary about the history of Jacob’s Pillow narrated by choreographer Bill T. Jones. The program screens at Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.

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DanceWatch Weekly: My vacation to Japan

You can go to Japan, or you can go to Butoh College here at home and catch Stephen Petronio, too

I have just returned from a week in Japan, and I am in an elated, exhausted, jet lagged, watery, impermanent state of being neither here nor there. My mind is still navigating Japan, but I am physically back in the beautiful, blossoming spring of Portland.

In Japan it’s also spring, and everywhere you look there are cherry trees in full bloom with cascading pink flowers and countless people posing for photos under them. This past weekend in Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of Kyoto, spring appreciations/celebrations were in full swing. The Hozu River, which runs from the mountains down into Kyoto, is lined with cherry trees. Large families with young girls dressed in colorful kimonos were strolling in the warm air along the banks, taking pictures under the trees, shopping, eating ice cream, and socializing into the wee hours of the evening. It was idyllic.

I don’t think I have ever experienced, appreciated, or even noticed spring in quite this way before. The slowed down pace, the appreciation of the trees, of nature, of seasons, the color of the blossoms, the attention to family and tradition; it was all so beautiful and put me in a gooey, honey-like, euphoric state.

In Tokyo I was extremely lucky to get a last-minute ticket to see a tea ceremony, dance, and music performance by Kyoto’s renowned Geiko/Geisha and Maiko (Geisha in training) called Miyako Odori, a spring dance performance that has been performed annually since 1872. The geisha are consummate performers and hostesses who dedicate their lives to perfecting the performing arts. Becoming a geisha was the first respectable profession for women in Japan and should never be confused with prostitution.

Miyako Odori. Photo courtesy of Goin’ Japanesque!

The hour-long performance was a compilation of six dances celebrating Japan’s seasons while introducing us to famous places and beautiful locations throughout Kyoto—like the mountains, streams, and temples. There were 60 performers in all, live music and singing, lavishly designed sets and lighting, and gorgeous colorful silk kimonos for days. The movements were delicate, graceful, exacting, with not a finger out of place. The experience made me fall in love with ritual all over again and understand its importance in daily life.

In contrast to this elaborate classical experience was a Butoh class I took in Kyoto with choreographer Ima Tenko. Tenko directs her own, three-person company called Butoh Company Kiraza and was a member of Byakkosha, an acclaimed Butoh company that ran for 14 years and broke up in 1994. Tenko’s company performs every Thursday to a small audience of eight or nine; sadly I was not able to see them perform. But, I did take class with her in her studio that she rents in a Korean section of Kyoto that used to be mens’ garment factory before the war. Referring to time periods in relation to the war is common in Japan. Posted on the inside of the door to her studio is a poster of ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, performing The Rite of Spring.

Butoh dancer Ima Tenko performing Hisoku. Photo courtesy of Ima Tenko.

Even though she and I had language barrier issues, I still felt like I fully understood what she was saying. Movement speaks volumes, you know. It was almost like I could hear her speaking in English in my head even though she wasn’t. I found that her warm up exercises were familiar as they were based on modern and postmodern dance, and her themes of humans in nature are universal. We even did a sumo exercise, practiced the Butoh walks, which are based in Noh Theatre, and on the way Japanese people walk, and we scrunched up our faces and shuffled around like bent old ladies at the end of class to fully understand the experience of authentic movement embodiment.

I thought as a Westerner that going to Japan to take Butoh would be a completely unfamiliar experience, but it wasn’t. Even though I live 5,000 miles away, and I am not a regular Butoh practitioner, I still felt a connection with Tenko’s movement history because of the modern dance lineages that we are both tied into from our training that connect us all world wide. It was pretty cool.

And with that I offer you this week’s performances, some of which are Butoh based.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Katie Scherman on having it all

Before leaving town for Japan, choreographer Katie Scherman presents a concert of collected works on her experience of being female

Today is the first day of spring. It’s bright and sunny but cold, and I am meditating on the movement style and choreography of dance artist and BodyVox artist-in-residence Katie Scherman. Scherman’s company, Katie Scherman + Artists, an all female cast collected from Portland, Seattle, New York City, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, will debut three works this week at BodyVoxAssez, Complicated Women, and To Have it All (a world premiere in collaboration with composer and pianist Michael Wall). The works show Scherman’s evolution as a choreographer and explore the complexities of what it means to be female, including what it means “to have it all.”

When I watch Katie Scherman dance I see a fern delicately but forcefully unfurling its fronds in every direction. When Scherman dances, she is a container of contradictory/opposing forces and I can see her “working it out” in real time. Her movements are smooth and silky, but powerful, heavy and large. They can also be small, detailed, and delicate, and she seamlessly/effortlessly transitions between highs and lows, sometimes appearing to move in all directions at once. Strong technique is present, but it doesn’t overshadow the movement. These are the forces present in her choreography as well.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Sarah Slipper choreographs ‘Hedda’

NW Dance Project debuts two new dances about lying, including Sarah Slipper's version of "Hedda Gabler"

It’s all about liars these days. Recognizing them, calling them out, keeping them in check. It’s the new reality. What truth is, has shifted for some, but truth is fact, it doesn’t shift. Only the shifty shift. And, this week’s two premieres from NW Dance Project dig deep into liar psychology. The first is Hedda by NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper, and the second, Flamingo 37 by Ballet BC resident choreographer Cayetano Soto.

Hedda is based on the play Hedda Gabler written in 1890 by Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen’s work at the time was groundbreaking because it explored the realities of the human condition through everyday topics and everyday people. Hedda Gabler tells the story of a restricted Victorian housewife, bored and trapped in a loveless marriage to a very boring man. Her only entertainment is in the manipulation of others.

NW Dance Project studio rehearsal for Sarah Slipper’s Hedda. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert. Photo features Kody Jauron, William Couture, Elijah Labay, Anthony Pucci, and Franco Nieto.

Slipper’s Hedda is a deep examination of Ibsen’s text and the character Hedda told through dance, music, and theatre. On Monday I was able to sit down with Slipper and discuss her process in creating Hedda, her history in dance and theater, and what it’s like to be a choreographer in today’s world. That conversation unfolds below.

Flamingo 37 is about liars, Soto told me in his rehearsal last week. “Flamingo” is the name he gives liars and 37 is the number of times a particular individual in his life has lied to him. “Good liars, they make a living, the liars are the fighters,” he said. “They are the ones that survive. If you’re not a liar you won’t survive in this world…If you’re going to be a liar, be a good one.”

That may sound a bit dark, but Soto is anything but. Originally from Barcelona, Soto is like the bubbles in champagne: light, energetic, and off the wall. His energy is contagious. This is his third work for the company: the first was Not Yet in 2007 and the second was Last But Not Least in 2008. Since 2015 Soto has been the resident choreographer at Ballet BC, and he creates ballets on dance companies worldwide. Next week he’ll be in Germany.

Cayetano Soto rehearsing NW Dance Project dancers Andrea Parson and Kody Jauron for his new work Flamingo 37. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Flamingo 37 is really a party in disguise. The dancing takes places on a gigantic, round, white shag carpet to the crooning of Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, Tito Puente, Dean Martin and others.

The dancers are dressed in pink kilts, black shirts and black socks with rhinestone tiaras adorning their heads. The contemporary ballet choreography is coquettish, technical and quick, theatrical, witty, and over-the-top with plenty of flamingo motifs to satisfy.

For Soto, the principles of his work are “to be generous, to be the best that you can be, to not lie, and to be honest.” When talking about the dancers he said, “I’m giving you (the dancers) space to have the possibility to reach another level with your artistry. I don’t want them to be a copy; they have to find their own way to express my movement. I think we are doing it; it’s hard.”

NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper rehearsing Katherine Disenhof and Lindsey McGill for her new work Hedda. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Interview with Sarah Slipper

Why did you choose the story of Hedda?

I love stories that feature women, his (Ibsen’s) women are quite strong. I just thought she’s such an interesting character, I love that. there’s so much conflict going on within the play and I like using conflict both physically and then emotionally and literally. It provides me some dynamics in choreography to create pressure, to feel the tension or to feel the expansion in the breath. She’s a nasty character, she’s manipulative, she’s destructive, it’s all about her. But I love her for some reason…

How do you translate a play into a dance piece?

This one is particularly hard because so much of it is in the brilliance of the text. The subtly, the innuendo, it’s all in the words. Also some of the action, some of the back story, and some of what you don’t see on the stage is built into the text. So if I even followed the text, you wouldn’t know what the hell is happening, right?

I mostly tried to take the language of Ibsen and transform it into a feeling, physically, choreographically, so I wouldn’t have to say everything literally. I am following kind of the path of the play, but so it’s not so wildly off. I took some of the offstage stuff and tried to bring it onstage. So what was said in words that happened last night, we kind of get a glimmer of what happened last night, danced out. Or, this happened 10 years ago, so I did a little bit of that to help make sense of it all. Hopefully you feel some of the tension built up between all the characters. There are a lot of triangles in the play—it’s really built on triangles. Louis, who built the set, built it as a triangle.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Jessica Lang and Jesús Carmona

Two White Bird concerts and a South Asian American cultural festival highlight the week in dance

Two White Bird shows—New York-based Jessica Lang Dance Company and Compañia Jesús Carmona from Barcelona—bookend this week’s performance schedule. Both choreographers defy categorization, and their hybrid choreographies draw heavily on lighting and visual elements to craft their story.

Jessica Lang, artistic director of Jessica Lang Dance, decided six months into dancing for Twyla Tharp that she wanted something else. She realized that there was a discrepancy between the variety that her dance education, which had culminated at Julliard provided, and her real life as a professional dancer— “you don’t keep changing what you’re doing,” she said in an interview with Liz Johnston for Dallas’s D Magazine in 2013. “You keep repeating what you’re doing. And I am not a repetitive person in that respect…”

After Tharp’s tour came to a natural end after a year and a half (because you don’t quit a Tharp tour six months in), Lang entered her choreography into Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s first choreographic competition, and she was one of two winners. The other was Robert Battle, now the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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