DANCE

DanceWatch Weekly: The spaces we move through

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with castles: their architecture; their scale; their permanence; their connections to history; their construction; their inhabitants. Castles are lasting, tangible creations, unlike dance pieces, which are fleeting. But they share some commonalities.

I recently had a conversation with someone about how being a dancemaker is similar to being an architect. I explained that when constructing a dance, a choreographer considers the same things that an architect might: style, time, space, design, scale, etc. Like architects, dancemakers create work in collaboration with other skilled artists and craftspeople, using the materials at their disposal. Architects and choreographers experiment as they work, and their creations often reflect their surroundings and culture. (I’m even more aware of the dance-architecture relationship now that I’m studying Odissi, a classical Indian dance form partially derived from relief sculptures, found on temple walls, that depicted movement.)

Ultimately, architects and choreographers both create structures that organize bodies in space. This week’s dance events do that too, removing barriers and bridging divides in the process.

The Oregon Dance Education Organization, for example, is creating an infrastructure of sorts with its conference Building Bridges, Connecting the Field. Dance can be divisive and competitive, so the conference is a welcome attempt to unite its different factions under one roof. The conference, staged in partnership with Portland Community College’s Dance Department, features BrainDance creative movement founder Anne Green Gilbert as keynote speaker. She will guide participants through a five-part dance class focused on building community through relationships and emphasizing skill development, choreography, and reflection. Additional presenters will include Terra Lyn Anderson, Sherrie Barr, Sarah Ebert, Laura Haney, Amy Werner, Sara Parker, and Mary L. Seereiter. Building Bridges will be held Saturday, January 19, at the PCC Sylvania campus. For more information, see oregondeo.org.

DanceAbility in performance. Photo courtesy of DanceAbility.

Eugene’s DanceAbility International, a program that Alito Alessi and Karen Nelson created in the 1980s to connect people with and without disabilities through movement classes, events, and teacher trainings, is one of 10 international programs selected to participate in the 2019 Zero Project Impact Transfer Program in Austria. The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program, which promotes solutions to the problems that people with disabilities face, prepares organizations to develop their programs into business models for worldwide application. Connie Vandarakis, vice president of DanceAbility’s board of directors, issued a statement on what selection means for the organization: “This opportunity has helped us shift our organization from an arts initiative program to a social entrepreneur program. One cannot overestimate the potential of being selected for the Zero Project and the Impact Transfer Program. The impact will magnify the DanceAbility methodology all over the world.”

Northern California Ballet, which lost its dance studio and costumes in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California this fall, is rebuilding with help from Eugene Ballet. The two companies have had a longstanding relationship ever since 2001, when Eugene Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Martin began guest teaching and dancing for NCB; since then, many Eugene Ballet dancers have participated in NCB programs as instructors and guest artists. This year, Eugene Ballet director Toni Pimble packed up and sent her company’s Nutcracker sets and costumes to NCB, which will perform the ballet January 18-20 in Oroville, California.

A window onto the choreographic process opens during a low-key work-in-progress show from dance artists Joanna Furnans (Chicago), Hope Goldman (Seattle), Allie Hankins (Portland), and Linda Austin (Portland). The show is held 3-5pm Saturday, January 19 at Flock Dance Center. Donations are welcome at the door and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

How does dance translate to a one-dimensional format? You have two opportunities to find out: the nine international dance films that won awards at the 2018 Portland Dance Film Fest will screen January 19 at the Clinton Street Theater. And the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow is back with La Bayadère on January 20. Presented by Fathom Events, La Bayadère, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to music by Leon Minkus, tells the tragic tale of temple dancer Nikiya and her doomed love affair with the warrior Solor.

Finally, two dance-centric productions created largely by female artists and artists of color continue this week. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show plays January 19 at The Vault, in Hillsboro. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February

February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Is Portland the newest dance destination?

Recent transplants tell us why they moved to Portland to choreograph and perform  

By BETH WHELAN

The other day, I stumbled across the Oregonian article  “13 reasons to leave Portland and go back to where you came from.” Quick flashback to 14 months ago: Me, squeezing everything I owned into my car and trekking across the country to Portland, where my only local connection was a rented Craigslist room. In 2017, Oregon was rated the second most popular state for relocation, and Portlanders have been experiencing the effects of that migration for the past decade, including skyrocketing real-estate costs and traffic congestion. As one of the transplants, I hear you, Portland! There are drawbacks to everyone realizing what a gem this city is and abruptly moving here.

But there are benefits, too, including the growth of Portland’s dance community. I moved here because I felt I could have it all: a full life within and outside of dance in a right-sized city surrounded by natural beauty. Once I arrived, I was surprised to find so many recent transplants like myself; people with a passion to leave their creative mark on the place. Why pursue a dance career in Portland, though? I asked some of these new artists what brought them here, the differences they’ve found between Portland and the dance communities in their cities of origin, and what their experiences have been like. Here’s what they told me.

Continues…

‘Indian Music Now:’ navigating dual identities

Third Angle New Music presents dance-enhanced music by contemporary Indian-American composers

When Sarah Tiedemann was growing up in Hillsboro in the 1980s, the city looked quite different than it does now. Its residents were mostly white, its identity mostly derived from its agricultural heritage. Now, Hillsboro is Oregon’s fourth largest city, many of its residents work in tech-related fields, and many are people of color from India and nearby nations.

“I’ve seen Washington County … evolve into a more diverse and inclusive area,” Tiedemann, artistic director of Third Angle New Music, wrote on the ensemble’s blog. So when she was planning the ensemble’s 2018-19 season, which involved “giving voice to different parts of Portland, to people who might not have been heard” in contemporary classical music, Tiedemann included a concert that reflects those evolving identities in music.

Third Angle commissioned new music from composer Nina Shekhar.

Many immigrants and their families feel tugged between where they came from and where they are, between tradition and reinvention or innovation. For their next concert, Indian Music Now, Tiedemann and other Third Angle musicians will play music by four American composers of Indian heritage, all inspired by notions of dual identities, and including original Indian-inspired dance choreographed by Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini Ganesan.

Continues…

Welcome back, dance lovers, to a brand-new year of dance in Oregon.

DanceWatch 2019 opens with two dance-centric productions that promote the visibility of female artists and artists of color. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan performing at Ten Tiny Dances. Photo by Scott H. Forbes

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show opens January 10 at Portland’s New Expressive Works. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 10-19, Indian Music Now, Subashini Ganesan and Third Angle New Music
January 19, Building Bridges, Connecting the Field, Oregon Dance Education Organization
January 19, Award Winners Screening, Portland Dance Film Fest
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, Oleaje Flamenco at Tablao Artichoke, Espacio Flamenco Portland
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February

February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Hobbs Waters hasn’t conquered the world yet, but give him a minute.

Hobbs Waters is a pre-professional ballet student with Classical Ballet Academy in Sellwood. Photo by Rob Woodcox.

The 12-year-old Portland-based quadruple threat—he dances, plays trumpet and cello, creates fine art pieces, and runs his own arts business, called City Troll—took a breather just before the holidays at the book-lined Stacks Coffeehouse in North Portland. Wearing black-and-white checkered overalls, his feet splayed into a modified balletic third position, Waters shared his artistic ambitions and his plans for what will be a busy 2019.

This January, he’s heading to the Youth America Grand Prix and New York City Dance Alliance regional competitions in Seattle and Vancouver, respectively, followed by the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in Dallas. The clock is ticking: along with rehearsing the solo variations and group pieces he’ll perform at those events, he’s selling his abstract paintings, pen-and-ink illustrations, and the T-shirts he silkscreens through City Troll to help fund his journey.

Waters sells his artwork to help fund his dance pursuits. Image courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Waters, who chose his own first name based on his love of tigers (in particular, the title character of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes strip), the arts aren’t so much a hobby as a way of life. He and mom AJ McCreary, herself a painter and photographer, have embraced Unschooling, a form of homeschooling that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means of education. And Waters, the only 12-year-old I’ve met with his own resume and artist statement, has been doing his homework: unlike many youngsters who focus on a single genre, he is conversant in multiple arts and arts entrepreneurship, naming the painter Basquiat as well as Cuban dancer Osiel Gouneo as inspirations.

Of his many pursuits, dance is dearest to Waters’ heart. He began studying five years ago; three years ago, he got more serious, enrolling in Classical Ballet Academy’s pre-professional program. Though he takes contemporary, modern, and hip-hop classes, his primary love is ballet as an outlet for what he describes as “self-expression and freedom”; he intends to pursue a ballet career. In student productions, he has danced Beauty and the Beast’s Beast, the Nutcracker’s Rat King, and, in this year’s CBA Nutcracker, a porcelain doll and a corps member in the Arabian divertissement. Last year, he entered the pressure-cooker competition arena, attending YAGP and NYCDA and auditioning for summer intensives through IABD.

Waters intends to pursue a professional ballet career. Photo courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Founded 30 years ago, the IABD conference draws a diverse group of arts administrators, choreographers, dance companies, students, and teachers to a weekend of panels, performances, and auditions. Its mission is greater racial inclusivity in the dance industry; ballet, in particular, has been criticized for its homogeneity. “There are minority teachers from around the world,” McCreary says of the conference. “It’s an opportunity to meet dancers who are doing big things in the industry, and to meet people who are paving the way” for young black and brown dancers.

Waters acknowledges that he has experienced racist behavior in the ballet world, although he is reluctant to elaborate, saying only that “being around other students who look more like me” is an aspect of the conference he especially appreciates. The appreciation appears to be mutual: at last year’s conference auditions, 13 institutions accepted him into their summer programs. He chose an intensive at Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, although he also studied with Nashville Ballet and New Orleans School of Ballet.

Continues…

What a kick! Dance that moved us

2018 in Review, Part 4: Dance that turned our thinking inside out and took us places where we'd never been before

Sure, we love big jumps and fast turns, but that’s not what makes the best dancing. The best dancing is the kind that takes us places we’ve never been before, or turns our thinking inside out.

Some of Oregon ArtsWatch’s best dance writing this year did that, too. Collectively, the OAW dance team—the writers covering dance, that is; don’t book us for your holiday party just yet—has decades’ worth of writing, research, and performing experience, as well as the burning desire to produce insightful and inspired coverage of dance in all its forms.



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Lucky us: we had so much to do in 2018 that we can’t revisit it all here. Instead, we’re sampling some of the moments, big and small, that especially moved us this year:

 


Odissi Dance Conpany’s Artistic Director Aparupa Chatterjee with the ODC repertoire: Tanvi Prasad, Divya Srinivasa, Divya chowdhary, Swati yarlagadda, and Ramyani Roy. Photo: Sarathy Jayakumar

Embracing Odissi in the age of Trump

The 2016 U.S. presidential election continued to galvanize artistic action two years after the fact. “Since Donald Trump took office, I have been watching and admiring artists all around the world react to his words and policies and have been wondering how I should respond myself,” Jamuna Chiarini mused. “I think that my choice to step away from my Western dance practices and focus solely on Odissi is my response. The more degraded American culture gets, the less interested I am in being a part of it.”

Chiarini’s piece explored Odissi’s technical and cultural assets and illustrated why it particularly appeals to her in this degraded day and age: “Some dances in the Odissi repertoire aren’t even taught until a dancer reaches 40, because it’s believed that younger dancers don’t yet have the emotional depth and life experience to properly express what the dance is about. Odissi also doesn’t have strict rules on body shape and size as Western dance culture does. What is considered beautiful is much broader in Indian dance culture.”

Continues…

Portland embraces Odissi Indian dance at first festival

One of India’s eight classical dance forms, Odissi is not often performed locally. Extraordinary performances made the case for changing that.

This fall, Portland, Oregon, saw its first-ever Odissi dance festival, and it was extraordinary. The 8th Kelucharan Guna Keertanam (it has been offered previously in major Indian and U.S. cities), was produced as a fundraiser for, and in partnership with, the Pratham Education Foundation. Directed by Odissi dancer and choreographer Aparupa Chatterjee, it paid homage to the late Shri Kelucharan Mohapatra, the legendary Indian classical dancer, guru, and exponent of Odissi dance, credited with helping revive and popularize this ancient form in the 20th century. The festival, held Sept. 23, featured Mohapatra’s son, Ratikant Mohapatra; Chatterjee and her Texas-based ensemble, the Odissi Dance Company; and Washington State’s Urvasi Dance Ensemble, directed by Ratna Roy.

Because Odissi is deeply rooted in Jagannath culture and Hindu religious practices, using a church as a performance venue made sense. The Portland program took place downtown in the First Congregational United Church of Christ. This beautiful, 1800s-era Venetian Gothic church has stained glass windows, a bell tower, and an elaborate pipe organ, encased in finely carved dark wood, that reaches up toward the domed ceiling. This backdrop rivaled the majesty of the Odissi dance tradition itself.

Odissi Dance Conpany’s Artistic Director Aparupa Chatterjee with Tanvi Prasad, Divya Srinivasa, Divya Chowdhary, Swati Yarlagadda, and Ramyani Roy. Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

One of India’s eight classical dance forms, Odissi originated in India’s eastern state of Odisha and draws from the Mahari temple dance tradition, the Gotipua tradition (male dancers who dress as women), and the Bandha Nritya and Chau martial arts traditions. It also draws on information gleaned from the relief sculptures on temple walls and from Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit text on the performing arts written by Bharata Muni sometime between 200 BCE and 500 CE.

After India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, there was a movement to revive Indian cultural traditions that had been suppressed and even criminalized by the British during their reign. Although Odissi had existed long before, it was formalized in the 1950s by a group of Orissan artists called the Jayantika.

Odissi as we now know it combines emotional expression with intricate footwork, sculptural poses, and storytelling. In Odissi, every part of the body is involved in the dance, from the eyes to the toes, and all the parts move independently. Odissi has two stances, chaukha and tribhangi, upon which all of the dances are built. Chauka is a wide, deeply bent, turned-out position, very similar to ballet’s second position. Tribhangi means “three parts break” and consists of bends at the neck, waist and knee, creating an S curve in the body. There are 10 steps each in chauka and tribhangi that correspond to the number of beats in each step.

ODC presented six dances, performed by Chatterjee and dancers Aswati Nandakumar, Divya Chowdhary, Divya Srinivasa, Ramyani Roy, Sadrita Mondal, Swati Yarlagadda, Tanvi Prasad, Veena Surya, and Yashaswini Raghuram. Dances included two works by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra: Dashavatar, a depiction of Lord Vishnu’s ten avatars, and Vande Mataram, an invocation and tribute to mother India. Ratikant Mohapatra’s Patadeep Pallavi and Natangi were both pure technical dance without narrative. Chatterjee’s Jo bajhe Hari Ko Sada described Krishna or god as the ultimate goal of one’s life, and her work with Ratikant Mohapatra, Ye Ho Vithala, described Krishna’s beauty.

Odissi Dance Company dancers Divya Srinivasa, Yashaswini Raghuram, Swati Yarlagadda, Ramyani Roy, Tanvi Prasad, Aswati Nandakumar, and Veena Surya. Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

Because of the synchronicity in their movements and form, you might assume that the ODC dancers live near each other and practice together often. But they all live in different states around the U.S. They learn from Chatterjee, practice daily on their own, and rehearse together several times a week online. Considering that most Odissi dance is performed solo, it’s a powerful experience to see an idea multiplied by a full company: it makes statements and ideas that much stronger. The choreography, which felt fresh and new but stayed true to traditional Odissi vocabulary, is a credit to the continued efforts of Chatterjee and Ratikant Mohapatra to contemporize Odissi. It played with patterns, formations, and relationships, creating tableaux that brought to life the stories and personalities of Hindu mythology.

ODC performed together seamlessly as a company; the choreography, in fact, isn’t intended to draw attention to any one individual. But I will say that my eye was often drawn to Chatterjee, an exceptional dancer and mesmerizing performer. She fully embodies the form and expresses an array of emotions while she dances. For her, performing seems as natural as breathing. I also enjoyed Chowdhary, whose serene facial expressions and soft lyrical movements, juxtaposed with her grounded presence, made for a dynamic performance. Raghuram is also an exceptional performer whose movements are quick and strong as well as soft and lyrical, sometimes reminding me of a hummingbird.

Odissi dancer Ratikant Mohapatra in “Shabari.” Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

Ratikant Mohapatra choreographed and performed the solo Shabari, about a woman who, after a lifetime of waiting, finally meets Lord Rama. Mohapatra’s quiet, introspective, unadorned performance moved me to tears. His expressions and gestures very clearly depicted Shabari’s longing and love for Lord Rama. I was amazed that such a “simple” dance could so powerfully transcend time and geography to communicate so effectively.

The Urvasi Dance Ensemble performed two works; Bandha Thali Sthayi, which combines three Odissi dance styles (Sthayi, Bandha, Thali), and Shakti, a depiction of primal female power inspired by Roy’s research of the Yogini and Shakti temples in Odisha. The choreography is by Roy and Guru Pankaj Charan Das, and is derived from the Mahari temple dancer tradition. Guru Pankaj Charan Das was the adopted son of an original mahari and was one of the dance gurus who helped reconstruct and popularize Odissi. The performers–Marissa Betz-Zall, Moria Chappell, Sukanya Nanda, Douglas Ridings, Jamie Lynn Colley, Ashlesha Mishra, Megha Mishra, and Suma Mondal–wore red-and-black Odissi costumes, a nice visual counterbalance to ODC’s brighter, jeweled-toned costumes.

Urvasi Dance Ensemble’s Moria Chappell, Douglas Ridings and Marissa Betz-Zall. Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

Toward the end of Bandha Thali Sthayi, the Urvasi dancers broke from the dancing and collected the medium-sized brass plates they had entered with; these held two smaller plates and two candles. After splitting into two lines, the three dancers in the back row balanced the smaller plates on their hands while spinning on their knees. Ridings and Chappell, in the front row, performed headstands on the plates while slowly moving their legs in and out of splits in the air. Viewers were so wowed by Urvasi’s acrobatic skills that they jumped out of their seats and rushed toward the stage to take pictures.

Shakti was no less resplendent, with intense energy, spinning knee crawls, yogic hand balances, dramatic backbends, and a tableau depicting the multi-armed warrior goddess Durga; another form of the goddess Shakti. In a dramatic moment, Ridings, lying with his back on the floor, held Chappell above him by her shoulders and hips in a flying warrior yoga pose, her arms outstretched, back arched, and legs pointed toward the sky in a diamond.

Urvasi Dance Ensemble’s  Moria Chappell and Douglas Ridings. Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

Odissi dance demands athletic rigor, grace, emotional and spiritual investment, and strong technique. (Full disclosure: I study Odissi dance with ODC member Yashaswini Raghuram). In Odissi, the dancer is the personification of the music. Whenever I watch an Odissi dancer, I imagine that I am seeing the sounds of the instruments emanating from the movements of the dancer’s body. I see the drum when the dancer’s feet strike the floor; the softer, more melodic sounds of the flute and the tanpura when the torso and arms move; and the metallic ding of the rhythmic brass cymbals when a dancer’s head moves side to side, causing the jhumka earrings to sway.

I hope this festival will continue here in Portland, grow to include more styles of Odissi dance, partner with other cultural organizations to create new audiences, and match the variety and popularity of established Indian dance festivals like New York’s Erasing Borders and Drive East.