DANCE

Dancing Chopin’s Preludes for fun and (aesthetic) profit

Northwest Dance Project and Chamber Music Northwest combine for a smart and witty take on Chopin

As I type these words I am listening to Frederic Chopin’s Preludes, a recent recording by Grigory Sokolov. He just concluded the fourth one—somber, beautiful, and recognizable to many of us because it is played so much on sad occasions, including Chopin’s own funeral. And then it is supplanted by the fifth, a light and airy romp that lasts less than 40 seconds, which is in turn succeeded by another melancholy piece, also played at Chopin’s funeral. The Preludes are like that—restlessly cycling through major and minor keys, one moment cheery and the next despairing.

Chopin concluded the composition of the Preludes in the winter of 1837-38 in Majorca, where had moved with his companion, the novelist George Sand, and then promptly fallen ill. The Preludes are related miniatures, many under a minute long, not really introductions to other pieces themselves. Chopin often played them in sets of three or four at his concerts, though these days it’s common to play the entire set at once, a display of both the range of Chopin’s musical intelligence and passion and the pianist’s ability to discover what they have to say.

So, yes, Chopin’s Preludes: They figured centrally in the collaboration between Chamber Music Northwest and the Northwest Dance Project this weekend at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, in a program called “Summer Splendors,” a title both vague and misleading. Well, not the “Summer” part, but the implication of “Splendors” is something rarified and fluffy, maybe neo-classical, certainly “elevated” in the worst sense of that word. Which doesn’t describe the music at all, because it’s so accessible.

NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong and company in the world premiere of Lucas Crandall's "Preludes  1-6"/Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong and company in the world premiere of Lucas Crandall’s “Preludes 1-6″/Blaine Truitt Covert

And it doesn’t describe the dance, either. Yes, we’re just now getting around to the dance. Choreographed by Lucas Crandall (Preludes 1-6), Sarah Slipper (Northwest Dance Project’s artistic director, Preludes 7-13), Tracey Durbin (14-18), and Rachel Erdos (Preludes 19-24) and danced by Northwest Dance Project’s team of dancers, the movement interpretation of the Preludes was surprising, witty, engaging, and all the way to funny. Instead of following the “feeling” of each of the Preludes, the choreographers had fun with them. Some of the more sorrowful ones had the broadest slapstick.

The music was supplied by Chamber Music Northwest’s pianist Yekwon Sunwoo, a young Korean-born musician whose exploration of the Preludes here was keen and intense—quite beautiful. Situated off to the side of the stage, he even became part of the dances at times, at one point shooing off Andrea Parson’s advances, because, hey, I’m busy here!

It was that sort of dance. The choreographers used whatever whatever was at hand, and we knew who had made what dance because the dancers made a humorous event of placing a large placard in the stand whenever the choreographer for the next section changed. Dance that knew it was onstage and determined to have some fun along the way.

Not all fun, of course. Crandall, who has worked with the Dance Project before and has spent most of his career between Nederlands Dance Theater and Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago, used the slower pieces to feature his skill assembling dancers in carefully composed tableaux, from which they fell away in deep abdominal collapses among other things. He used Ching Ching Wong to good effect, both her quickness and the radiance she can project in a pose, arms outstretched for the universe to pour in. And I liked the slow Prelude during which she was held aloft by the men, dropping yellow roses as they proceeded across the stage, roses gathered again as that Prelude ended.

NW Dance Project dancers (and Princess Grace Award winners) Viktor Usov and Andrea Parson in the world premiere of Sarah Slipper's "Preludes  7-13"/Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project dancers (and Princess Grace Award winners) Viktor Usov and Andrea Parson in the world premiere of Sarah Slipper’s “Preludes 7-13″/Blaine Truitt Covert

Slipper had the homecourt advantage of working with these dancers constantly, and she used it to make a series of delightful comic responses to Chopin that, yes, got all the way to slapstick at times. Comedy is hard—the gags take a lot of rehearsal to get just right— and you need the right sort of spirit to pull it off. Which she had in Parson, who has an attractive Puckishness, which she used to torture Viktor Usov, who was determined to get her attention and then her, um, affection. Their extended kiss dance—well, let’s just say it was a combination of silly and incredibly athletic and possibly dangerous to teeth, jaws and noses.

Tracey Durbin has been a fixture in Portland’s dance scene for a long time, and she has worked with Northwest Dance Project before. Here, she continued both the hijinks and duet form of Slipper and the passion of Crandall, a nice trick, in her set of Preludes. Durbin’s Preludes were full of athletic dancing, too, high energy and demanding, difficult to manage for the dancers while keeping the little stories they told in the forefront.

In her concluding Preludes, Rachel Erdos choreographed the very first unison paper airplane folding section I’ve ever seen. Following the roses, the airplanes were yellow. And again, the mood was light, even when the Preludes weren’t. This was not a problem, though: The contemporary response to Romantic angst tends to be to make light of it, after all, and if you can do it with a wink, then the audience won’t think you are desecrating Chopin, which you aren’t. An amusing section of pushes and shoves was followed by one that played off a shower of confetti (yellow, of course) that tumbled from above the stage, through Jeff Forbes brilliant (as usual) lighting design, all to one of Chopin’s lightest and quickest Preludes. As the confetti fell, each piece caught the light and as it descended closer to the stage floor projected a shadow below, tumbling and tumbling, yellow paper rushing to meet its darker twin.

NW Dance Project dancers in the world premiere of Rachel Erdos' "Preludes  19-24"/Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project dancers in the world premiere of Rachel Erdos’ “Preludes 19-24″/Blaine Truitt Covert

These Chopin Preludes dances avoided an attempt to make movement that translated the music directly, instead creating a parallel sphere that mirrored the richness and delight of the music rather than the notes. And that was tremendously satisfying.

The dance portion of the program was preceded by two other Chopin pieces (or rather sections of pieces) for the duo of Yekwon Sunwoo and cellist Peter Wiley. Wiley is a fabulous musician, but he didn’t get the stage time he deserved here. I agree with music writer James McQuillen that these two pieces belonged on another program: No need to stuff our ears, eyes and minds with more than the Preludes offered.

Chamber Music Northwest has embraced collaboration in its summer festival along with other innovations. This one felt more deeply integrated than usual, perhaps because Yekwon Sunwoo rehearsed with the dancers for a week before opening night. And the stage interventions (lighting, airplanes, confetti, roses, placards demarcating the choreographic responsibilities) helped create that sense, too. So, three cheers all around.

Summer Splendors concludes with a 4 pm performance Sunday, June 28, at Lincoln Hall.

SubRosa dances the issues in the culture

SubRosa Dance Collective's concert at the Headwaters dives into some crucial cultural issues and tropes

On Saturday night at The Headwater Theater down by the railroad tracks, the curtains opened on SubRosa Dance Collective last weekend. I found myself looking down onto the small stage at a group of four women dressed in cosmically decorated leggings, sexy short tops and purposefully garish wigs, writhing around in an exaggerated and suggestive way on the floor. I felt like I was looking down into a lion pit, or maybe we were the lions and they were the lambs? Objectification of course.

Guest artist Kate Rafter, artistic director of her own company, Automal, choreographed the dance, “What Is The Sound Of One A$$ Cheek Clapping?”, and the program notes took a shot at explaining what we were seeing: “When Portland dancers meet new people, new people immediately ask ‘So You’re a dancer? For what strip club?’ When women get pissed at The Man, sometimes they lash out at each other instead. No thanks. Out with the male Gaze, in with the Preggo Gaze! Lacan: Thanks for getting the ball rolling, dude. Welfare state: Bring it on. Twerkin: Not for everybody.”

I can’t speak to the last part of that statement, but as a dancer myself, I can attest to the importance of making this distinction right away when meeting a new guy about what kind of dance you do. This scenario happens over and over again. Some men really love to drag this conversation out for their enjoyment; it’s uncomfortable, annoying, degrading and predictable. I wish they would stop, and so does Rafter apparently.

SubRosa Dance Collective performs Kate Rafter's “What Is The Sound Of One A$$ Cheek Clapping?”/Photo Credit: Design By Goats. 2015.

SubRosa Dance Collective performs Kate Rafter’s “What Is The Sound Of One A$$ Cheek Clapping?”/Photo Credit: Design By Goats. 2015.

The rest of the dance went like this. Hip-hop music starts, dancers form into a group with their backs to the audience while sitting on their legs. They “twerk.” which just means their hips are moving side to side. For the record this is nowhere near what real twerking looks like. I’ll call it pseudo-twerking. As they are sitting, dancer Tia Palomino walks in and around them gazing down at them from her “pedestal.” She is wearing a full-length beige skirt and a bra top exposing her beautiful, and very real, pregnant belly. Her character is the know-it-all Earth Mama who is here to save the day. One by one she touches each “twerking” girl, who in response, “repents” takes off her wig, hands it to Palomino, and goes off to do some “real” dancing. I get it. They are not strippers, they are “real” dancers.

It’s meant to be satire, and though the ideas and images aren’t fully formed, maybe that was the point.

Continues…

Weekend Dance: It’s all about community

Collaborations with students from China, between major arts groups, between disciplines highlight this week in dance

I have been thinking a lot about community lately, what it means, why I want it, how to change it for the better. We collect around ideas and values and create communities with like minded people, big, small, micro and sometimes solo. Energy and ideas move differently when you have a community of people to bounce them off of. That’s what we have this week, collections of people around ideas—politics, poetry, history, culture, collaboration, music—and it’s rich.

ICONS
Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater
A Performance Works NW/Alembic Co-Production
June 26-28
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
An evening of dance and live music guided by the poetry of Maya Angelou, touching on cultural icons from “sacred to secular, historic to fantasized, and political to social” with choreography by Oluyinka Akinjiola, Uriah Boyd, and Jamie Minkus. Guest artists include Donna Mation and Kemba Shannon with live music by Jeff Burres, Simon Lucas, and Andy Sterling.

Northwest Dance Project in rehearsal./

Northwest Dance Project in rehearsal./

Summer Splendors with Chamber Music Northwest
NW Dance Project
June 26-28
Lincoln Hall, PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave.
Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo of Chamber Music Northwest in collaboration with contemporary choreographers Sarah Slipper, Lucas Crandall, Rachel Erdos and Tracey Durbin, will perform Chopin’s complete Preludes. This will likely one of the top events of Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival.

SubRosa Dance Collective
June 26-28
The Headwaters Theater, 55 NE Farragut
SubRosa Dance Collective is a contemporary dance company comprising seven eclectic, multi-talented women dancer/choreographers (one collaborates long distance from Japan). Formed in 2011, they work in dance, film, photography and live performing and have self-produced and performed in dance festivals throughout Portland. SubRosa strives to showcase how a “village” of artists can do so much more together, in tandem, in communication, and in support of and with each other.

The Collective, Carlyn Hudson, Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh & Zahra Banzi with guest artist Kate Rafter, Artistic Director of Automal, will delve into the world of self-criticism, “peering in at our shortcomings, our perceived gritty-bits of self that often lay like dim pools, untouched, mirroring a rendering of ourselves that is often fearsome and cold.”

Themes within the concert range from “the sometimes sadness of twerking” in Kate Rafter’s piece, “What is the Sound of One Ass-Cheek Clapping,” to an examination of the experience of women in the military by Cerrin Lathrop called “Good Citizen.”

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get a taste of baked goods in the air wafting over the train tracks to the Headwater theater from the Nabisco factory next door while you wait in line.

Hand2Mouth Crystal Anniversary Party
8 pm, June 27
Shaking The Tree Theatre & Studio, 823 SE Grant St
Theater/performance company Hand2Mouth celebrates its 15th anniversary with a gala hosted by Live Wire’s Jason Rouse with performances by Action/Adventure Theatre, Holcombe Waller, Joaquin Lopez, Liminal,Linda Austin, Pepper Pepper, Push Leg, Seth Nehil and Electric Meat Parade.

Emily Schultz of Moxie Contemporary Ballet/Photo by Lindsay Hille

Emily Schultz of Moxie Contemporary Ballet/Photo by Lindsay Hille

Moxie Contemporary Ballet Grand Opening
June 27
Studio Performance 9:30 am
Grand Opening Reception 11:00am-1:00pm
Moxie Contemporary Ballet School, 7504 SW Bridgeport Rd.
Moxie Contemporary Ballet, directed by Gina Candland, is the new kid in town. After the debut at the Newmark Theater two weeks ago with the program a la mode , they are ready to debut their new school and company home. This Saturday will be the grand opening with a one-hour studio demonstration performance by students at the school and a short performance of three pieces by the company. A reception will follow with light snacks and refreshments, raffle and a Bounce House for the kids.

MOXIE’s mission is to fuse classical athleticism with innovative, artistically fashion forward repertoire from guest artists around the world.

Pure Surface + À reading
6 pm June 28
Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny
Curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, Pure Surface is a performance series interested in encouraging cross-disciplinary practice and performance by bringing together movement, text and film in the spirit of improvised collaboration. Each month a new group of artists is brought together in the intimate, open air setting of Valentine’s, and performance is made.

This months artists are Taka Yamamoto (dance), Sidony O’Neal (poetry) and Jesse Mejia (film) with readings by Josh Lubin and Jen Coleman. “Walking and parading we mix the surface of the earth, though we might intend that march’s purpose as ordination. Color marks exchange. It is border-work. Mixture is our calling.” (Lisa Robertson, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture).

The Shanghai Children’s Palace
Hosted by Polaris Dance Theater
10:30 am July 2
Art & Communication Academy, 11375 SW Center St in Beaverton.
Polaris Dance Theater, in a cultural exchange with Shanghai Children’s Palace Child Welfare Institute of Shanghai, China, will be hosting the group of 42 girls, ages 10 – 12, from Shanghai, China, for three days of dance classes and city tours, culminating at the end with a public performance.

Dance Weekend: SubRosa and ‘Sea of Dreams’

SubRosa explores self-criticism while Night Flight Aerial & Circus Arts goes underwater

Summer is finally here and with it the inevitable slowing down of the performance season.

Actually that isn’t true at all.

The summer part is, but not the slowing down part. I am happy to report that the dance offerings just keep pouring in. The creative juices in Portland aren’t slowing down anytime soon, even if it is hot outside. And of course the best place to be if you do need cooling off, is inside a theater. So really this is a weekly public service announcement to help you stay cool, because tickets to a performance are much cheaper than buying AC.

This weekend SubRosa Dance Collective will be collecting at the Headwaters Theater in North Portland showcasing an eclectic mix of ideas to movement. And fantasy will play out in Sea of Dreams with Night Flight Aerial & Circus Arts.

nightfall

Save the date: Diaspora Dance Theatre’s ICONS, featuring choreography by Oluyinka Akinjiola, Uriah Boyd and Jamie Minkus, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production, and NW Dance Project’s Summer Splendors with Chamber Music Northwest will both be happening next weekend starting on the 26th.

Sea of Dreams, An Underwater Circus
Night Flight Aerial & Circus Arts
June 19-20
Alberta Rose Theater, 300 NE Alberta St
In this nautical adventure, Night Flight, an aerial and circus arts company, creates a magical, underwater fantasy adventure, with mystical mermaids, electrifying eels, creepy creatures of the deep, shimmering dancing lobsters and drowned sailors seeking lost treasure. The perfect watery illusion to keep you cool.

SubRosa Dance Collective
June 19-28
Headwaters Theater, 55 NE Farragut St., Suite 9
SubRosa Dance Collective is a contemporary dance company comprising seven eclectic, multi-talented women dancer/choreographers (0ne collaborates long distance from Japan). Formed in 2011, they work in dance, film, photography and live performing and have self-produced and performed in dance festivals throughout Portland. SubRosa strives to showcase how a “village” of artists can do so much more together, in tandem, in communication, and in support of and with each other.

SubRosa Dance Collective will be in action this weekend./Courtesy SubRosa

SubRosa Dance Collective will be in action this weekend./Courtesy SubRosa

The Collective, Carlyn Hudson, Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh & Zahra Banzi with guest artist Kate Rafter, Artistic Director of Automal, will delve into the world of self-criticism, “peering in at our shortcomings, our perceived gritty-bits of self that often lay like dim pools, untouched, mirroring a rendering of ourselves that is often fearsome and cold.”

Themes within the concert range from “the sometimes sadness of twerking” in Kate Rafter’s piece, “What is the Sound of One Ass-Cheek Clapping,” to an examination of the experience of women in the military by Cerrin Lathrop called “Good Citizen.”

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get a taste of baked goods in the air wafting over the train tracks to the Headwaters Theater from the Nabisco factory next door while you wait in line.

Dance weekend: PSU’s student show, another leg and a hoopoe

The student choreographer show at PSU, another leg of Linda Austin's epic (Un)Made, and 'The Conference of the Birds'

Everything in life is fair game for choreography—life, death, love, hate, all of it. You learn so much about the choreographers around you, just by watching their dances. Dance is an expression of the inner workings of a person’s soul. All those emotions, thoughts and questions that you cannot put into words come out in movement form.

I saw the PSU Dance Department performance, Catalyst, last night, and the dancers may not be so refined in their technique and form just yet, but I was moved by their enthusiasm, support of one another and their love of movement. I also wondered if any of what I saw last night might be a spark to ignite some creative endeavor for them in the future. How are they going to take this performance experience into their future lives? Even if they don’t become professional dancers the experience of making a dance, teaching it to others, staging it and performing it are invaluable experiences and translate into so many other areas. As cheesy as it sounds, they are our future and it’s valuable for us to see what they have to say.

Catalyst
Presented by PSU’s Dance Program Students
7:30 pm June 9-10
Lincoln Hall, PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave.
PSU’s Dance program, under the direction of Tere Mathern, will present 12 new works by the program’s student choreographers. Their imaginative choreographic investigations range from hummingbirds to feminism and hip-hop to Shakespeare.

Linda Austin started the Solo Relay as part of her dance investigation, "(Un)Made"/Jeff Forbes

Linda Austin started the Solo Relay as part of her dance investigation, “(Un)Made”/Jeff Forbes

(Un)Made Solo Relay Leg #4: Nancy Ellis & Robert Tyree
June 12-13
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Leg #4 belongs to Nancy Ellis and Robert Tyree. Come see what they have remembered, misremembered and adapted from witnessing versions by Matthew Shyka and Linda K. Johnson, in Leg #3, of this solo relay project series. The Solo Relay is part of a larger, long term project called (Un)Made directed by Linda Austin. I have watched the process from the very beginning, and it has been a deeply thought-provoking experience.

Conference of the Birds through Classical Indian Dance
Presented by Natya Leela Academy
2 & 5 pm, June 13
Lincoln Hall, PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave.
“The Conference of the Birds” or “Speech of the Birds” is a poem, by 12th Century Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Atta, that tells a story of the birds of the world gathering together to choose a king and are instructed by the wisest bird, a hoopoe, to look for Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird similar to a Phoenix, to be their king. Simorgh is a symbol for God, and the journey is a metaphor for their search for enlightenment. The birds each represent different states of human consciousness, and once they arrive at their destination, all they find is a lake and see their own reflections. The poem will be interpreted by 18 students, ages 5 to 45, of the Natya Leela Academy, a Bharatanatyam Dance School directed by Subashini Ganesan.

Improvisation is the root of all movement invention. Some dance artists solidify steps they have worked for many hours in the studio to create; others prefer to leave it open to chance in the performance setting enjoying the freedom of possibilities. That is not to say that they too haven’t spent many hours in the studio inventing movement, because they have.

Composing while dancing or improvising will be happening en masse here in Portland starting on Thursday at Disjecta at The Improvisation Summit 2015. On the flip side, this week also offers a slightly more traditional approach to dance, with the debut of Moxie Contemporary Ballet Company, featuring guest companies Muddy Feet and Happydog.

On Sunday as the temperatures here in Portland soar into the 90s, PSU’s Dance in Film course will present “12 Variations,” which showcases an array of diverse, evocative, dance films.

“Improvisation is more about the thrill that comes from not knowing what it will be in the next moment or the next time. That dare is its lure.” Melinda Buckwalter, Composing While Dancing

Continues…

Portland dance companies on the move hither and yon

Oregon Ballet Theatre, Polaris and Conduit are relocating from their long-time home bases

As Portland continues through a cycle of redevelopment fed by an influx of new residents, a good economy and a hot real estate market, Portland art organizations have found their grasp on studios in the central core to be looser than maybe they hoped. Those that own property, such as Oregon Ballet Theatre, have been able to cash in, but renters have faced the necessity and expense of finding new homes. Polaris Dance Theatre, for example, has just announced that it has found new digs, and Conduit, evicted suddenly in March, is in the process of locating space, too.

We don’t have much we can add to Oregon Ballet Theatre’s announcement that it was intending to close the sale of its current building in Southeast Portland and move to a new South Waterfront location by the end of the year. The initial press release was pretty vague, and though we’ve heard a few additional things, nothing approaching “official” or “confirmed.”

The sale will allow the city’s biggest dance company to pay off its accumulated debts and set up “a protected reserve fund, not utilized for day to day operations of OBT, but for the future capital needs of the organization,” as the press release put it. The company didn’t announce how much that fund would amount to, though we’ve heard some numbers batted about in the neighborhood of $4 million. Feel free to disregard that number completely, because it was speculative. When and if OBT tells us how much exactly—and presumably the company won’t know until the sale closes—we’ll let you know.

Continues…

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