Dance Weekend: Doing it with improv

Two improv duets form Fun/Fuck at Performance Works NW, and Pure Surface turns 1

This weekend brings us more hot weather (I’m not complaining, really I’m not) and a lull in the Portland performance scene, giving us a chance to hone in on the two dance performances that are happening this week. Pure Surface, a vehicle for the intersection of improvisation, dance, writing and film curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, celebrates its one year anniversary on Wednesday, and Fun/Fuck, a new dance performance piece created by Lucy Yim, Takahiro Yamamoto, Linda Austin and Karen Nelson, premieres Friday.

Lucy Yim, Takahiro Yamamoto, Linda Austin, Karen Nelson
8 pm, July 24
Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Ave

Fun/Fuck will be performed as two duets of the same score, exploring the shape and power of those two words, fun and fuck.

The project’s choreographic score—sometimes used as a tool in the choreographic process to help shape an idea or used like a musical score that replaces notes with dancers, ideas, sounds or objects—came to life during a residency on Vashon Island, Washington, hosted by renowned dance improvisation artist Karen Nelson. The score will provide the framework for the dance and everything in between will be improvised. It will get all fucked up, in the words of the dance, and should be lots of fun to watch.

I thought it would be interesting to talk to Yim and Yamamoto and hear about the ideas and creative processes that brought us Fun/Fuck. I emailed questions to Yim who was performing in Morelia, Mexico, with Austin,  and then she emailed the questions and her answers to Yamamoto, who sent them back to me. This is that conversation.


Weekend dance calendar: New, now, next

Risk/Reward's second round, a Butoh fundraiser and Pretty Creatives

“New, now and next,” I’ll call this weekend. Risk/Reward is in its second weekend of new experimental works, Butoh performers Meshi Chavez and Stephanie Lanckton have gathered a strong faction of the dance community to perform and help them raise money for a trip to Berlin, and new choreographers are getting their toes wet in the process of making choreography and working with dancers at Northwest Dance Project. It’s the full spectrum.

Save the date for Fun/Fuck!, a new work by choreographers Takahiro Yamamoto & Lucy Yim, Linda Austin and Karen Nelson exploring the shape and power of those two words, fun and fuck, on Friday July 24, at Performance Works NorthWest.

Festival of New Performance
July 17-19
Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St.
Featuring eight artists in two weekends, Risk/Reward is interested in blurring the boundaries between independent theater, music, dance, and performance art, encouraging creative risks, experimentation and bold investigation. Expect the unexpected. We’re now in Week Two.

Dani Tirrell performs at this weekend's edition of the Risk/Reward Festival./John Pai

Dani Tirrell performs at this weekend’s edition of the Risk/Reward Festival./John Pai

Week Two: Dani Tirrell, dance/Vogue, Seattle; Katie Piatt, improv comedy/performance art, Portland; Tim Smith-Stewart, theater, Seattle; Jessica Jobaris & General Magic, performance art/dance, Seattle.

Tracy Broyles performs in Bröllin Voyagé!: An Evening of Performance, Libations and Fundraising on Saturday./Jill Marie

Tracy Broyles performs in Bröllin Voyagé!: An Evening of Performance, Libations and Fundraising
on Saturday./Jill Marie

Bröllin Voyagé!: An Evening of Performance, Libations and Fundraising
7pm, July 18
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #9, Portland
Choreographers Meshi Chavez and Stephanie Lanckton, who are deep lovers and practitioners of the Butoh dance form, will be traveling across the pond to Germany where they will participate with master teachers of their craft at eX…it!, the 6th International Butoh Dance Exchange and Performance Festival.

As a fundraiser to raise money for their travel expenses, they will be throwing a raucous party, bringing together dancers, musicians, designers and creators. Featured performers will be Mizu Desierto, renowned Portland Butoh performer and Artistic Director of The Headwaters Theater and Water in the Desert; dancer/choreographer Tracy Broyles with composer Lisa DeGrace; Tahni Holt, choreographer and director of Flock and founder of Front, a newspaper devoted to the discussion of contemporary dance; and choreographer Jim McGinn with live musical performance by Joaquin Lopez.

LAUNCH from Northwest Dance Project on Vimeo.

Pretty Creatives Showing
Northwest Dance Project
7:30 pm, July 18
Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
Each year, Northwest Dance Project puts out a call looking for new, emerging choreographers in contemporary dance. Two choreographers are chosen, and they participate in a six-day residency and are given eighteen hours of rehearsal time to work with dancers in the Launch 10 program, a summer program consisting of pre-professional and professional dancers.

This year Yoshito Sakuraba and Banning Bouldin were chosen, and their new works for 38 dancers will debut at Lincoln Performance Hall this weekend.

Portland Dance Weekend: Festival City

Conduit's Dance+ and the Risk/Reward festivals plus a Ten Tiny Dances appearance

You will need a weekend to recover from your weekend and someone to schedule your itinerary if you plan to see everything that’s being offered. I wish I could lay out statistics on how many pieces and how many performers were performing this weekend, but I really can’t, I’ll just say it’s a lot. So get a babysitter and get going.

Dance + looks pretty good. I got a sneak peak the other night and Barry Johnson did too, and he wrote about it. The Reed theater is beautiful and the dances are fresh. Actually, almost all of the work being performed this weekend is new work. Wouldn’t you like to say you were there when so and so artist did that amazing thing? Yes, is the answer. See you there.


Conduit’s Dance+ Festival enters its fourth year in a discombobulated state, uprooted from its home in the Pythian Building in downtown Portland and relocated to Reed College’s spectacular Performing Arts Building, after Conduit was unceremoniously evicted by its landlord. Oregon’s laws governing landlord-tenant relationships are heavily weighted toward landlords, after all.

So, yes, discombobulated but still kicking! This year’s festival, July 8-11, is arranged in two programs, each of which play each night of the festival. I attended the dress rehearsal Tuesday night, and I can tell you that some fierce dancing is involved along with several solo performances, a dancing choir, and a Barbarian Princess.

The theme of Dance+ since its invention by Conduit artistic director Tere Mathern is collaboration. Some of these performances were more collaborative (the dancing choir!) than others, though it must be said that dance tends to be a collaborative enterprise, a lot like theater, combining costumes, lighting, music, sometimes the spoken word and sets, to movement. Not that it has to be, a solo danced in “silence” (John Cage taught us enough about the relativity of that word to demand the quotation marks) in a bare room or outdoors (which one of this year’s Dance+ performances manages, via video) can be a very powerful thing.

But I digress! I was alternately bemused, amused and moved by the seven dance works I saw, not equally, of course, though I’m going to deal with each of them in the same rapid-fire manner.

“Ready?” the soloist in the video I just mentioned, Barbara Tait, asks at one point toward the end of her dance. “Ready,” responds Eliza Larson, who is dancing in front of us in the well-appointed (and cool) studio at Reed College. She then starts to back away from us…


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.


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.

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.

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