DANCE

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.

Fresh, vibrant, still the ‘Nutcracker’

Oregon Ballet Theatre brings a sparkling musical vitality to its newest run of "The Nutcracker." Now, let's talk about Tea and Coffee.

Oregon Ballet Theatre has opened its current run of George Balanchine’s ®The Nutcracker at the Keller Auditorium with a meticulously detailed, swiftly paced, high-energy performance of a ballet that can be a chore for people like me to watch. And I say that as a critic, but also as a grandmother, dedicated to instilling in my grandchildren the notion that live performance is much more exciting than anything they might see on their ubiquitous screens. Which means I’ve seen more Nutcrackers than I can count, never mind remember, in forty years of watching dance professionally; this particular production at least a dozen times.

Much of the energy of Saturday afternoon’s unofficial opening of this 19-performance run—the official opening was Saturday night, with a different, and I daresay equally good, cast—can be attributed to the orchestra. Under the experienced baton of OBT Music Director Niel De Ponte it played Tchaikovsky’s complex if familiar score with new freshness, and an accelerated tempo for the ballet’s Christmas Eve festivities that made them as effervescent as a glass of Veuve Clicquot.

Chauncey Parsons as Cavalier and Xuan Cheng as Sugarplum Fairy in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2017 “Nutcracker.” Cheng will dance Sugar Plum to Brian Simcoe’s Cavalier in performances this year. Parsons is dancing his final Cavalier with Ansa Capizzi as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo: James McGrew

This is far from always the case: When Balanchine premiered his Nutcracker in a slightly different version in 1954, an unnamed poet commented that the party scene was “so deliciously boring [I] could see it again and again.”

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Wolf Tales: Howl about it?

NW Dance Project goes deep into the mythological woods with a loose and lightly fractured show of tales choreographed by the dancers

Hey, there, Little Red Riding Hood. What’s goin’ down in the neighborhood?

Wolf Tales, the droll and sweetly macabre new program from NW Dance Project that ends its brief run at Lincoln Performance Hall on Saturday night, is something of a case of mistaken self-identity. Nobody seems to know who anybody is at any particular time, even and perhaps especially themselves, since the characters in this mythic wood seem to be going through some downright werewolfian transformations. Joseph Campbell might call what’s happening a Hero’s Journey, but no need to get all hoity-toity about it: Let’s just call it a collection of fractured fairy tales.

A passel of Hoods: William Couture, Franco Nieto, Kody Jauron, Anthony Pucci, and Kevin Pajarillaga in Andrea Parson’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” Photo: Brian Truitt Covert

This is the slot in NDP’s season that’s usually turned over to the dancers to create, and in this case, rather than making a series of independent short pieces, they’ve stitched the thing together to create a narrative arc. A lot of dance companies do dancer-created shows, either on their seasons or as side projects, and good or bad, it’s usually an interesting and revealing sort of program to see. What might the dancers do on their own? Who has interesting choreographic ideas? How might it differ from the company’s usual style?

On those counts, Wolf Tales delivers a pretty high payoff. I wouldn’t call it high art. I would call it a kick in the pants. The show has a looseness, a frivolity, that doesn’t always show up in the company’s more earnest works. Freed from being the vessels of someone else’s choreographic imagination, it seems, dancers just want to have fun. And if the show could be a little tighter, the fun’s infectious.

Katherine Disenhof in Kody Jauron’s “Snow White,” with Andrea Parson in the shadows. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Each of the five linked pieces is based on a well-known folk tale adapted and choreographed by one of the dancers. Company veteran Andrea Parson sets the table with a Little Red Riding Hood inhabited by multiple Reds, multiple Wolves, a fair amount of howling, and a soundtrack built around Li’l Red Riding Hood, Laura Gibson’s catchily pensive 2012 cover that skips the leering and captures the yearning in Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s 1966 hit. Colleen Loverde prowls the stage as a sort of neo-Grimm narrator, introducing characters and bringing home the evening’s theme: Things are not as they seem.

Snow White follows, in nicely turned choreography by Kody Jauron that features Parson as a wind-up mechanical toy of a heroine, Katherine Disenhof as a manipulating witch, and, of course, a shiny red apple.

Colleen Loverde in Anthony Pucci’s “Chicken Little.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Then it’s off to Anthony Pucci’s high-camp, farcical Chicken Little, in which Disenhof, Loverde, Parson, and Franco Nieto (as the cool-operator, Snidely Whiplash-style manipulator) squawk about the stage like, well, chickens with their heads cut off at the possibility of a natural (or unnatural) disaster. It segues into Nieto’s The Three Little Pigs, a piece built on bricks and huffs and puffs and yearning and desire: can a young pig and a young wolf find true love and happiness, or will society keep them forever apart? There are echoes here of that infamous wall in The Fantasticks.

Jauron returns to choreograph the rousing and satisfying finale, The Ugly Ducking, which brings the entire company onstage and, browbeaten duckling slowly revealed in all his swanlike glory, completes the transformation. Goodness, Little Red Riding Hood, how did we get from there to here?

Katherine Disenhof, William Couture, Andrea Parson and Kevin Pararillaga in Kody Jauron’s “Ugly Duckling.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

After some retirements and movings-on and a couple of additions, NW Dance Project’s company has emerged as a tight-knit, talented group of eight – Jauron, Parson, Nieto, Loverde, Disenhof, Pucci, William Couture, and Kevin Pararillaga – who know each other’s styles and possibilities and work easily together. They’ve emerged, you might say, from something similar but not quite the same.

Some lovely design work helps pull the whole thing together: costumes by Alexa Stark, a silken-white forest of mystical trees conceived by the choreographers and executed by production manager Thyra Hartshorn, and some spectacular lighting by Jeff Forbes that shifts seamlessly with the seasons and moods.

In the meantime, there’s one final performance of Wolf Tales. If you make it there on Saturday night, you’ll probably laugh. Who knows? You might even howl.

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NW Dance Project’s Wolf Tales concludes with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Lincoln Performance Hall on the Portland State University campus. Ticket information here.

Colleen Loverde in Anthony Pucci’s “Chicken Little.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Ballet dreams: stage for students

Young stars shine at Oregon International Ballet Academy and The Portland Ballet. Look for more in Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker."

This is the season of visions and dreams and hope, whether symbolized by Hanukkah candles, Kwanzaa feasts, Christmas trees, fairies in snowy or summery forests, or budding dancers who stand at the barre in their various schools, doing their pliés and tendus and frappés over and over and over again as they dream of performing grand jetés and multiple fouettés while the audience gasps and cheers.

The young dancers get their first crack at this in ballet school shows: the littlest in roles made just for them, the most advanced in the same principal roles that, if they succeed in becoming professional dancers, they will one day perform in New York, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, you name it.

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Bunnies in OIBA’s “Nutcracker,” hopping to the tune of Mother Ginger. Photo: Jingzi Zhao

I THOUGHT ABOUT ALL THIS as I watched three school show performances last month, all three at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall. The first was the Oregon International Ballet Academy’s The Nutcracker, staged after Petipa by Ye Li, former Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer, and his wife, Xuan Cheng, currently OBT’s prima ballerina, on Saturday, November 17.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dance Lights Up December’s Darkness

The week's DanceWatch covers a month of dance from "Wolf Tales" to a trio of Nutcrackers and so much more.

Happy holidays, happy solstice, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, and happy New Year. I’m saying all that now because THIS DanceWatch Weekly will be the last one of 2018. I know, I’m sad too, but don’t worry: DanceWatch will return again in 2019 with a look at the musical The Lion King, featuring choreography by Garth Fagan. It opens in Eugene January 9.

Before we go our separate ways to enjoy our seasonal celebrations, let’s take a moment to reflect.

This was a busy year for dance in Oregon and for DanceWatch, as well as for ArtsWatch’s incredible team of dance writers: Martha Ullman West, Bob Hicks, Barry Johnson, Heather Wisner, Nim Wunnan, Gary Ferrington, and Elizabeth Whelan, who tried hard to cover it all. As one of the relatively rare sources of dance writing in the U.S., ArtsWatch is a valuable platform; I’m grateful for it, and for the company of such talented writers. If you would like to read ArtsWatch’s coverage of dance in 2018, begin here and click through.

December, dark and magical, brings festive dance performances of all kinds, beginning with NW Dance Project’s Wolf Tales, a remix of fables and fairy tales choreographed by the company dancers: expect lots of surprising twists and turns. Wolf Tales runs December 6-8 and features NW Dance Project executive director Scott Lewis’s world-famous warm wassail served up in the lobby after each show.

This 2016 photo of Linda Austin Dance performing “The last bell rings for you” serves as a prompt at the December 9 STREWN fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NorthWest.

On December 9, for one night only, Performance Works NorthWest will present Strewn, a party to celebrate 18 years of experimental dance and performance held in the Performance Works NorthWest space, to keep the space affordable for artists, and to help sustain programming such as the Alembic artist residencies, various co-productions, and Linda Austin Dance. Two performances, at 7 and 9pm, feature seven outstanding multi-discipline performances by an amazing lineup of Portland artists. The performances are inspired by archival photos of past PWNW performances, and the evening will include a raffle, refreshments, and a karaoke after-party at 9pm.

Other attractions this month include Robin Lane’s holiday spectacular, held December 14-16 at the Alberta Rose Theatre and brimming with musical, acrobatic, and theatrical glory. DO JUMP physical theatre and 3 LEG TORSO perform; Pepe Raphael (of Pepe & the Bottle Blondes) and Jenny Conlee-Drizos (of the Decemberists) make guest appearances. Milagro/Miracle Theatre Group’s Posada Milagro is a Latino Christmas celebration that includes crafts, Spanish storytelling, piñatas, food, and folkloric dance and music performances by Ballet Papalotl and Son Huitzilín; it’s held at the company’s home theater on Stark Street December 16. Espacio Flamenco celebrates the holiday flamenco style with Fiesta Navideña. Held December 16 at the Alberta Abbey, the event features performances of traditional holiday songs and dances by Espacio Flamenco students and the Espacio Flamenco Company.

Ballet Fantastique’s “Babes in Toyland” premieres December 8. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

In Eugene, the Emmy Award-winning television dance competition series So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018 comes to the Hult Center on December 8, featuring winning performers and choreography from the show’s 15th season. Babes in Toyland, a world premiere by Ballet Fantastique, runs December 14-16 at the Hult Center as well, and will be danced to Duke Ellington’s rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, played live by the Swing Shift Orchestra. The ballet, choreographed and produced by the mother-daughter artistic team of Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, is a reimagining of the original Babes in Toyland operetta that Victor Herbert composed as a Christmas-themed fairy-tale mashup; it debuted in 1903.

As for Nutcrackers, there are three: Oregon Ballet Theatre performs George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker December 8-26, the majority with live music live by the OBT orchestra. Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble and accompanied live by Orchestra Next, runs December 21-23. And the Bolshoi Ballet performs Yuri Grigorovich’s The Nutcracker (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa) live from Moscow in movie theaters near you on December 23.

BodyVox’s Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company performs December 14-15. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Student performances, which tend to be less expensive and shorter (great for the younger set) include The Reed College Winter Dance Concert, featuring student and faculty choreography; it runs December 8-9. Steps PDX Youth Program dancers perform excerpts from The Nutcracker, Land of the Sweets, featuring choreography by artistic director Kathryn Harden, ballet Mistress Olivia Ornelas, and instructors Lauren Smith and Jesus Rodales; the show is held December 15. And BodyVox’s pre-professional dance group, the Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company, performs works by BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland as well as pieces by a who’s who of up-and-coming Portland choreographers December 14-15.

That’s a wrap. We’ll bring you more Oregon dance events in the new year.

Fearless Flyer

Dancer Olivia Ancona’s path from Portland to ‘Suspiria’

Olivia Ancona has collected plenty of passport stamps in her journey from Portland stages to the silver screen. A student and performer with The Portland Ballet, Jefferson Dancers, and Northwest Dance Project in the mid-2000s, Ancona plays the dancer Marketa in Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of the 1977 horror movie, which is set in a dance school and company run by (spoiler alert!) witches. Besides performing in the film, Ancona served as a dance coach for stars Dakota Johnson and Mia Goth.

We caught up with Ancona while she was settling into her new digs in Berlin, and got her take on her early career, her time performing internationally with companies including Batsheva and Tanztheater Wuppertal, the Suspiria experience, and the real horrors that professional dancers can face.

Oregon Arts Watch: Where are you now? What are you doing currently?

Olivia Ancona: I’m in Berlin where I’m based, although just came from Wuppertal, in the north of Germany, having spent the past month guest-dancing for Tanztheater Wuppertal | Pina Bausch.

I’m putting my suitcases down for a couple of months after several years of nomadic living and freelancing. I will teach a workshop in the city alongside my partner, Scott Jennings, a member of the Pina Bausch company, and in January will prepare to set the work of Israeli choreographer/L-E-V artistic director Sharon Eyal at Konzert Theater Bern, a contemporary company in Switzerland.

Describe your trajectory from Portland to present.

I returned to Portland in eighth grade after living abroad with my family in London; my experience with The London Children’s Ballet solidified my desire to be a part of new creations and to perform. Upon our return, I continued my classical training at The Portland Ballet for three years. However, pointe work became too painful and I was told I had pre-arthritis in my feet and should probably stop dancing. I had no plans to listen to doctors’ recommendations and sought out other platforms for movement and training, auditioning for the Jefferson Dancers. This pre-professional program gave me the opportunity to rehearse in a variety of styles and to perform numerous times a year.

I saw the Batsheva Dance Company for the first time in Portland through White Bird and I fell in love with the company. The dancers were like no others I’d seen before—individualistic and unique but with the skills of superheroes. Their agility and passion really spoke to me. I decide to pursue dancing with the company; I applied to the Juilliard School with an essay about Batsheva!  I was able to work with Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin [at] Juilliard, and I attended summer courses with him in Tel Aviv.

At the end of my junior year, Ohad invited me to join the Batsheva Ensemble, the junior company which most dancers [join] before entering the main company. After two years, I left as a founding dancer of L-E-V with Israeli/Batsheva choreographer Sharon Eyal … [I did a] half-year tour in Europe for Belgian creator Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his troupe, Eastman.

Despite feeling artistically fulfilled with these freelance projects, I craved some stability, and after two years with L-E-V, took a soloist position at the Royal Swedish Ballet as one of the contemporary members. But before long, I returned to Batsheva’s main company, where I had the opportunity to create with Ohad Naharin and Roy Assaf.

Olivia Ancona in “Mr. Gaga,” the documentary about former Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

After almost three years working full time for institutions, I was hungry for freelance opportunities and a creative world beyond Israel. Although I had never worked with [choreographer] Damien Jalet prior to Suspiria, he had spent years collaborating with Sidi Larbi, and had seen me perform, which was my link to participating in the film. Beginning in the fall of ’16, hours after my last show with Batsheva, I caught a flight to Milan and was immersed in preparation, research, coaching Dakota, acting, and dancing in Suspiria for about four months. After this intense experience, I returned briefly to the States. I spent six months teaching Gaga workshops in the U.S. and Europe and returned to Juilliard as one of the choreographers in their summer intensive.

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Good news: the Oregon dance scene is thriving, as evidenced by the 12 performances you’ll find in this week’s column. And here’s another positive development: after an exhaustive national search, Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council has appointed a new executive director: Madison Cario, whose career was inspired in part by a contemporary dance performance. Cario, whose first day at RACC will be Jan. 14, 2019, has more than 20 years’ professional experience as an artist, presenter, producer, and arts leader, and we are so, very, very pleased by the news. Welcome, Cario! To learn more, check out RACC’s full release here.

Over the next two weeks, DanceWatch will be taking a much-needed holiday break and will return bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on December 5. But until then, let’s talk about this week’s dance offerings, starting with Perceiving the Constant, Jessica Hightower’s new contemporary work for three dancers.

When I moved to Portland about eight years ago, a big creative surge within the dance community seemed to be ebbing (perhaps as a side effect of the 2008 economic collapse). I never got to meet many well-regarded local dance artists or see their work, despite having heard a lot about it–and them.

Hightower was lucky enough to dance with many of these people and companies: bobbevy, Keely McIntyre, Oslund+Co/Dance, Tere Mathern, and Top Shake Dance, to name a few. When I asked Hightower via email how these artists influenced her work, she said, “Everyone you mentioned has stayed with me to some degree as I make new work. Specifically, Mary Oslund, whose work really honored each dancer’s strengths; she didn’t shy away from movement that might be considered quirky and strange. I carry these ideas with me in each new work I create. She is a huge inspiration to me.”

Perceiving the Constant, which Hightower performs with Dorinda Holler and long-time artistic partner Keely McIntyre, is set to an original score composed by Ash Black Bufflo’s Jay Clarke, and examines the passage of time.

In the early research stages of the work, Hightower asked both her 4-year-old daughter, Ari, and her 95-year-old grandfather about how they experienced time.

“When I talk to Ari about time,” Hightower said, noting that she was paraphrasing her young daughter’s answers, “she will say things like, ‘It will allow me to grow up,’ and ‘I don’t know what it is about, but it’s nothing to worry about.’ She naturally has a very loose sense of how long she sleeps, is at school, has been alive, etcetera. I find her lack of giving time control over her life, from simply being so young, to be both beautiful and heartbreaking.”

When she spoke with her grandfather, his response was, “When you get to be my age, you start living in the past.” “Obviously not the experience every 95-year-old has,” Hightower said, “but I found the very different conversations I had with both of them were rich sources of movement inspiration.”

Hightower’s complex choreography is based in ballet technique, overlaid with detailed gestures; the movement is arranged in trios, duets, and solos. “As a dancer/choreographer, I wanted to create a highly physical work that wove in the feeling of fragility that all of our lives have, and the quick pace at which they pass,” she said. “For me it’s the very crux of existence.”

Asked how she turned abstract ideas like time and aging into movement, she said, “I often start with a simple hand or arm gesture–my work is very hand-detail oriented–that I feel reflects the specific idea I am looking to develop, and then a phrase will grow from there. Specifically, I worked with ideas of time feeling slow, or wanting it to feel slow, and having one dancer walking very slowly, seemingly unaware of the other two, who were circling around them in a frenzy of movement. I would get into the studio on my own, and ask my body, ‘OK, how would you move if you felt you were living in the past/living just from memories?’ Solo and phrase work was developed this way, and then expanded into duets and trios. Each of my dancers and myself are in different decades in our lives, which, through discussions as a group, unearthed some beautiful concepts to work with. As a 34-year-old, I still feel like I have some control over time. I certainly know on some level I don’t, but for survival’s sake, I cling to that.”

Perceiving the Constant opens Friday, November 16 at New Expressive Works. At press time, Friday’s show was nearly sold out, but there were tickets available for the Saturday and Sunday shows.

Performances this week

Dance students at Willamette University. Photo courtesy of Michele Ainza.

Future Voices
Willamette University Theatre Department
November 15-17
Willamette University, Pelton Theatre, 289 12th St. SE, Salem
Michele Ainza, the newly appointed artistic director of dance at Willamette University, presents work showcasing the next generation of choreographers from Willamette and Chemeketa Community College. The program also includes work by Willamette University alumnus Genevieve Gahagan and Western Oregon University adjunct professor Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner. Among the evening’s themes are the body as narrative, the passage of time, and aspirations for (and doubts about) the future.

Ainza is a dance and somatics educator and the artistic director of Michele Ainza Dance (MAD), a Portland-based contemporary dance troupe that focuses on the deconstruction and abstraction of social and political issues through idiosyncratic movement material. Ainza has taught at Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, Fresno City College and Mexico’s University of Veracruz.

Polaris Dance Theatre dancer Xena Guitron. Photo by BMAC Photography.

¿LISTEN?
ELa FaLa Collective and Polaris Dance Theatre
November 16-17
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
The two-act concert ¿LISTEN? features work by Polaris Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Guitron and Brazilian choreographer Barbara Lima, artistic director of the new Portland-based ELa FaLa Collective. Lima, whose work aims to bridge art, technology, culture, education, and science, will present a solo that expresses her frustrations and deep sadness as well as her power as a woman fighting to survive during this tumultuous time. Guitron presents a multimedia commentary on the political landscape and calls for kindness, unity and love; he will invite the audience to join the dancers on stage in the final moments of the dance.

Dancers Keely McIntyre, Dorinda Holler, and Jessica Hightower in “Perceiving The Constant” by Jessica Hightower. Photo by Meghann Mary Gilligan.

Perceiving The Constant
Jessica Hightower
November 16-18
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont
See above.

“Miranda” by 11: Dance Co. Photo courtesy of 11: Dance Co.

Reed Arts Week: Sensation
November 15-18
Reed College Performing Arts Building, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
FREE

In the Sensation-themed Reed Arts Week, viewers are encouraged to experience art not just through sight, but through all their senses. Both student and professional artists will appropriate the Reed College campus as stage for dance, poetry readings, theatrical and performance works, live music, and visual art.

The two-day program includes work by olfactory artist Maki Ueda; poet Marty McConnell; fashion designer Eda Yorulmazoglu; animator Eric Dyer; artist Stephanie Gervais; poet Esther Belin; photographer Parker Day; 11:Dance Co.; photographer DJ Meisner; and musical performers Marquii and DJ Manny Petty. Below are some of the weekend’s dance/movement highlights.

Miranda
11: Dance Co
Choreography by Bb DeLano in collaboration with company dancers
8:30 pm November 15
Performing Arts Building, Performance Lab, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Workshop with 11:Dance Co 7:30 pm November 18, Performing Arts Building, Dance Studio, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.

If the disintegration of everything is inevitable, is there any hope? This is the question that 11: Dance Co. poses in its new work, Miranda. 11: Dance Co. is a multi-disciplinary dance company that fuses urban and classical movement. It presents experimental, sometimes dark, often satirical performance art that explores how contemporary culture influences the human condition

Working 1
Reed College Dance Troupe
Created and produced by Morgan Meister and Hannah Jensvold
5 pm November 17
Performing Arts Building, Performance Lab, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

This three-part work, which draws from improvisational prompts and the Gaga technique created by former Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin, encourages both viewers and dancers to rely on senses other than sight to understand dance.

Five
Abigail Amit
2 pm November 18
Performing Arts Building, Black Box Rehearsal Room, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
A transcendent performance piece incorporating audio/visual work and tap dancing.

Same As It Ever Was
Reed Dance 335
3 pm November 18
Performing Arts Building Atrium, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
In this movement-based exploration of the senses, student dancers guide viewers around Reed’s campus to past protest sites. Prior to the tour, viewers should meet the dancers in the Performing Arts Building Atrium.

Dancers of Automal. Photo by Bill Starr.

Automal
Guest artists with Lili St Anne
Produced by The Old Church
8 pm November 17
The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave.

Portland dance company Automal, directed by choreographer Kate Rafter, will perform new, original dance works to several songs by Portland folk-rock band Lili St Anne. Automal is a small, project-based company specializing in dance, physical and site-specific immersive theater, and multimedia.

Oregon International Ballet Academy students rehearsing for “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Oregon International Ballet Academy.

The Nutcracker
Oregon International Ballet Academy and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony
Choreography by Xuan Cheng and Ye Li after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
7:30 pm November 17
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park

Oregon International Ballet Academy, directed by Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Xuan Cheng and her husband, former OBT soloist Ye Li, present its first full-length Nutcracker in collaboration with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. The production, adapted from Lev Ivanov’s and Marius Petipa’s original Nutcracker. features 50 student performers and parents as well as professional guest artists from OBT.

Flamenco dancer Emilio Ochando. Photo courtesy of Emilio Ochando.

Emilio Ochando
Hosted by Portland Flamenco Events
6:30 pm November 17, Harvest Wine Bar, 14559 Westlake Dr.
6:30 pm November 18, Oregon Ballet Theatre, 0720 SW Bancroft St.

Madrid-based flamenco dancer Emilio Ochando–who has performed with Ballet Nacional de España and Nuevo Ballet Español–will share Clásica Tradición, a work in progress featuring original music by flamenco fusion group Los Makarines. Ochando will discuss his creative process after the performance, followed by an informal Q & A session with viewers.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by John Clifford, performed by The Portland Ballet. Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Choreography John Clifford
The Portland Ballet and The PSU Orchestra, directed by Ken Selden
November 23-25
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park

In this streamlined adaptation of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, choreographed by Balanchine protégé John Clifford, fairies feud, mischief is made, and a royal wedding is celebrated. In this holiday weekend spectacular, 80 student dancers from The Portland Ballet will populate Shakespeare’s enchanted forest; guest artists Josh Murry-Hawkins, Skye Stouber, and Seth Parker join in, accompanied by the PSU Orchestra and two PSU student opera singers. Ken Selden conducts the Mendelssohn score. Fun fact: the cast includes three sets of identical twins.

Choreographer Ameila Unsicker. Photo credit: Crystal Amaya

OVATION
Presented by RAW: natural born artists
7 pm November 28
Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave.

For one night only, Portland choreographers Amelia Unsicker and Alexander Dones will each perform at a showcase featuring 50 Portland artists of all kinds, as part of RAW, an international organization that fashion designer Heidi Luerra developed in 2009 in Los Angeles to showcase emerging artists. Both Unsicker and Dones are Portland natives, and have extensive experience performing, choreographing, teaching, and advocating for the arts.

Dance Films

Bolshoi Ballet dancers in “Don Quixote.” Photo courtesy of Pathe Live.

Don Quixote
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
12:55 pm December 2
Click here for movie locations
Bolshoi principal dancers Ekaterina Krysanova and Semyon Chudin star in Cervantes’ classic tale of Don Quixote’s quest to find his ideal woman, Dulcinea. Accompanied by the Léon Minkus score, a colorful cast of characters, including toreadors, flamenco dancers, gypsies, and tree nymphs, help bring to the story to life.

The dancers of “Suspira.” Photo by Alessio Bolzoni/Amazon Studios/courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Suspiria
Directed by Luca Guadagnino with choreography by Damien Jalet
Released October 26
Click here for movie times and locations
In Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic, a young American dancer arrives in 1970s Berlin to audition for the world-renowned Helena Markos Dance Company and discovers that it’s run by a coven of witches. Choreographed by Belgian-French freelance choreographer Damien Jalet, this supernatural horror film stars Dakota Johnson as dancer Susie Bannion and Tilda Swinton as dance instructor Madame Blanc. Former Portland dancer Olivia Ancona (The Portland Ballet, NW Dance Project) makes an appearance as Marketa. The tale is haunted by dance legends Martha Graham, Mary Wigman, and Pina Bausch and “unleashes its witchy power through modern dance,” according to Gia Kourlas of The New York Times.

Misty Copeland in “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Walt Disney Pictures
Featuring Misty Copeland, Sergei Polunin, and Lil Buck
Opened in theaters November 2
Click here for movie times and locations
Warning: this is not a dance-centric film and it is not The Nutcracker as you know it. But it does feature choreography by Royal Ballet resident choreographer Liam Scarlett. and spectacular dancing by American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland (here dubbed Ballerina Princess), Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin (as the Cavalier), and street dancer Lil Buck as the Mouse King. Loosely based on Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker Ballet (which, in turn, is based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King), this is a Narnia-meets-Harry Potter-meets-Alice in Wonderland-style fantasy adventure tale. Morgan Freeman is Drosselmeyer, Helen Mirren is Mother Ginger, and young actress Mackenzie Foy is Clara, who travels to the so-called Fourth Realm to retrieve a key that will unlock a box containing a precious gift and restore harmony to an unstable land.

Upcoming Performances

December
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 9, Strewn, a fundraising party celebrating 18 years of Performance Works NW
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 16, Fiesta Flamenca Navideña, presented by Espacio Flamenco
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
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 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
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 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 29-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 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
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, Spring Performance, 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