Dances with words at Polaris

The Portland dance company builds an evening of dance pieces from text

There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Guitron, the artistic director of Polaris Dance Theater, is as passionate about written language as he is about dance.

Earlier this month (November 7-16) at Polaris’s home studio on SW Taylor St., Guitron debuted his new production Word, an evening of dance to spoken word, comprised of 15 dances including choreography by company dancers Kieraqmil Brinkley, Jocelyn Edelstein, Briley Neugebauer, M’liss Stephenson all performed to various works of different authors, poets and playwrights. All the readings were pre recorded with music mixed in, except for one.

In between pieces in the second half, company apprentice Valerie Grabill came to the edge of the stage and read to us from her ballet corrections notebook about her memory of a four-hour ballet class she had taken with Summer Lee Radigan, teacher and artistic director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. I don’t remember exactly what the notes were, but I do remember that her feelings were raw and that hearing about her experience was moving and inspirational. The audience stayed right with her, laughing and loving every moment of it.

Polaris performs "Words" in its home studio./Photograph courtesy of Polaris

Polaris performs “Words” in its home studio./Photograph courtesy of Polaris

Yes, this was a massive undertaking with a distinctly grassroots feeling. Not only was Guitron the main choreographer and the host of the show, but during the performance he ran the sound and moved scenery onstage as well.  For the performance the Polaris studio was converted into a black box theater seating roughly 100. Because of the number of dances and performers on stage (15 most of the time) this density, along with multiple large sheets of opaque plastic dissecting the space and the feeling of sameness throughout the show, made it difficult for me to differentiate between the pieces, and the ones that stood out were the pieces with fewer dancers in them. It was the space around them that made it possible for me to see them. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the dancing of the larger company: This is a very capable group of highly skilled contemporary dancers, after all.


It’s all a-Bout the competition

TopShakeDance's latest gives its audiences a ringside seat on the action, complete with dummy

Jim McGinn, founder and artistic director of Portland’s TopShakeDance, may be the most physically challenging choreographer in the city.  a-Bout, a piece for four dancers and a 70-pound, 5-foot-4-inch-tall wrestling “takedown” dummy named Chuck, is the latest of a series of pieces that take their choreographic impetus not from music or story, but from physical and emotional reaction to various natural environments and elements; most recently before this the very beautiful Float, which premiered at Conduit last year.

a-Bout, which opened at the A-WOL Dance Collective’s space on North Raymond on the 14th (I saw it this past Friday night, and its run is finished now) is a little different and a lot more conventional than Float and its predecessors, Jamb and Gust.  It is, however, equally hard and physical work to perform.  It contains many of  the components of 1960s post-modern dance, including pedestrian movement mixed with a tiny bit of ballet and the aggressive, competitive moves associated with such demanding sports as wrestling and  boxing, with a bit of roller derby racing thrown in. These are incorporated with the sculptural modern dance vocabulary McGinn has developed over the years.

Erin Zintek (left) and Aneesa Turner. Photo: Scooter Curl

Erin Zintek (left) and Aneesa Turner. Photo: Scooter Curl

Visually enhancing this mix are dramatic lighting by Chris Balo, costumes by Renaissance woman Heather Treadway, whose red fight promoter’s suit for McGinn I found particularly charming, and at one point in the 64-minute show, projections of cartoon balloons expressing such sentiments as “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  Spoken text,  and music composed by Loren Chasse, with whom McGinn has been collaborating for some time (his score for the 2012 Jamb was particularly felicitous) accompanied the dancing.

The piece is a series of duets, trios and quartets performed by Kelly Koltiska, Celeste Olivares, Aneesa Turner and Erin Zintek, with Chuck descending from the ceiling wrapped in canvas halfway through the show.  All of these dancers, tall, well-muscled Amazonian women, are new to TopShakeDance, the previous company members having departed for various personal and professional reasons. All four also are trained, modern dancers, with Zintek the most experienced, having danced professionally in David Dorfman and Charlotte Adams’ companies.  In a program note, she says she is “passionate about exploring movement in all forms,” and McGinn certainly gives her the opportunity to do just that.

McGinn’s choreography includes many simulated wrestling matches, duets involving lifts, tussling, lots of push and pull that borrows from Contact Improvisation from time to time, juxtaposed against skittering runs, and rapid little traveling steps: what a relief it is to attend a dance performance where the participants do more moving than posing. A duet by Kolitska and Zintek is quite charming; not so successful is a self-conscious little waltz (like two prize fighters in a clutch) danced by Kelly and Chuck.  And because I dislike watching such sports as wrestling and cage fighting, I found those sections of the piece that came closest to replicating them pretty unpleasant to watch.

McGinn is a conceptual artist, assisted in the concept for a-Bout by his wife, Jaime Bluhm. Lord knows, sports-themed dances are not new: August Bournonville did one about jockeys for the Royal Danish Ballet in the 19th century; Christopher Stowell programmed his father, Kent Stowell’s, prize-fighting pas de deux Duo Fantasy for the opening of his first season as artistic director of OBT; White Bird presented Emio Greco’s piece Rocco, which takes place in an actual boxing ring, last spring. McGinn’s take on the links between athletics and art are interesting, up to a point.  The piece is much too long and at times gets quite repetitious.  It is my hope that he takes his choreographic explorations to more interesting places next time, although far be it from me to tell an artist as talented as McGinn what to do.

In ‘The Word Hand’ dance leaves its mark

Linda Austin, Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins infuse words with movement and drawing

Dancer Linda Austin and visual artists Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins have created a 45-minute collaborative work, titled The Word Hand and performed at Austin’s space Performance Works NW, a dance that lives in the intersection of movement, sound and visual art. Exploring the walls, the floor and the ceiling, together they create a sacred space where there is no hierarchy of form.

They co-play, interplay and solo play with each other and their art forms. Playing with light, corridors of space, shades of white, grey and black and with an accent of red, we are invited into that particular creative state where you lose your sense of time and follow a creative thread to the end. The production concludes at 8 pm Saturday night, Oct. 25, at Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.

Linda Austin dances while Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins attack the wall./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

Linda Austin dances while Pat Boas and Linda Hutchins attack the wall./Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

As we enter the performance space at Performance Works Northwest, we are invited to pick up a piece of black charcoal chalk and draw a line across a large piece of paper attached to the wall. The chalk is oily and dry between my fingers, and when it meets the paper and I move across the space, I become aware that this evening will be sensorial. I’m excited to draw on the “wall,” and I can feel the texture of the paper and of the wall behind it as the bumpiness reverberates through my arm.


New Now Wow! – a shaft of light

In a trio of premieres, Minh Tran's light-hearted "Unexpected Turbulence" leavens a program's serious tones

Northwest Dance Project’s annual New Now Wow! season openers have in recent years been predictable in tone, showcases for dark new works about dark subjects, invariably well-performed by this company’s versatile dancers. This year’s opener–again, an evening of world premieres–contains plenty of darkness, but ends quite unexpectedly on a light-hearted, humorous note.

New Now Wow! inaugurated NWDP’s eleventh season on Thursday night at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall (it repeats Friday and Saturday evenings) with Yin Yue’s opaque Between Rise and Fall and concluded with Minh Tran’s Unexpected Turbulence. In between was Czech choreographer Jiri Pokorny’s very dark indeed At Some Hour You Return.


Dance preview: Allie Hankins channels her inner Nijinsky

"Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth" premieres this weekend

In the mid 1920s, Ida Rubinstein commissioned Maurice Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of Albéniz’s Iberia. Copyright issues, of all things, sent that plan sideways, and the world got Bolero instead. Rubinstein performed in the premiere of Bolero in 1928, when the future-choreographer Maurice Béjart was one year old. More than a decade earlier, she danced with the legendary Vaslav Nijinksy in the then-scandalous Scheherazade for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, for audiences that included Sarah Bernhard and Pablo Picasso. This is the same company that, with Nijinski’s help, altered the path of 20th century music and dance with their performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and the apocryphal “riot” caused by one of its first shows.

Béjart would reinterpret this work some 30 years later, cementing its influence as a modern work rather than a “new classic” to be lifelessly propped up by school drama departments. Then, in 1961, he reinterpreted Bolero, with the incredible Jorge Donn performing the male-solo variation. Ever aware of their influences, Béjart and Donn later paid homage to Nijinski in Nijinksi, Clown of God, in which Donn directly inhabited the role of the dancer who had influenced his career and the careers of countless other dancers in the 20th century. Donn reprised this role in 1990, just two years before his death from AIDS, by which time the innovative and genre-crossing techniques for which Béjart had often been criticized had become standard fare for contemporary dance.

Allie Hankins' "Like a Sun..." premieres Friday at Conduit.

Allie Hankins’ “Like a Sun…” premieres Friday at Conduit.

This is a thread that winds through 80 years of explosive innovation and exploration in not just dance, but every branch of modern art and the roots of postmodernity. If you tug on it, more connections and lines of influence become clear. If you need a map to follow it all, ask Allie Hankins. For the past three years, she’s wound herself up in these threads and the legacy of movements, choreography, and performance that they have created. On Friday, October 24, she and 80 pounds of crimson lycra will weave them all together for the first time in full at Conduit dance studio.


Dance review: Michael Clark knits together ballet and glam rock

It took a while, but the Brit choreographer finally gave us a glimpse of a parallel universe

In the parallel (and fictional) universe in which classical ballet emerged in the era of Studio 54 rather than Renaissance Italy, Michael Clark is without a doubt the star choreographer of that world. He’s the natural choice to unite pointe ballet with the music of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. Having studied in London in the mid-’70s, Clarke made his name as a bit of a wild child in genre-crossing collaborations with performance artists, fashion designers, directors such as Peter Greenaway and such musicians as Wire, Laibach, and perhaps most unforgettably with the Fall.

Artslandia-ORAWreviewKnown for mixing brash, inventive and downright sassy choreography with classical ballet vocabulary and the dancers with the chops to do it, Clark has seen his career move in this universe from provocative wunderkind to influential, established talent, just like Iggy Pop, Bowie, and Reed have.

In that parallel universe, I imagine that there are entire schools and sub-genres dedicated to opposing philosophies about how to properly interpret the lo-fi menace of classics like Heroin. We’d see as many seasonal productions of Ziggy Stardust as we do Swan Lake. This particular time in the history of popular music would melt into place with the dance, rather than sticking out as a conversation piece.

By the third act the Michael Clark Company finally opened the door for David Bowie./Photo by Jake Walters

By the third act the Michael Clark Company finally opened the door for David Bowie./Photo by Jake Walters

I would like to see that universe’s version of this show, which Clark’s company danced for White Bird this weekend. I credit Clark for inventing that universe and taking the first, Major-Tom like steps out into its cosmos. But we are in a universe where “the music of David Bowie” and just the idea of “the Velvet Underground” references a known aesthetic, an existing back catalogue, a certain time and place, and a relatively finite set of expectations—at least finite compared to the mythically-inventive days in which the material for the show was recorded. Bowie himself realizes this, and I wonder how much it weighs on Michael Clark regarding his own career.


Orchestra Next and Eugene Ballet: Creating The Total Dance Experience

Orchestra brings live music to dance, training to musicians, a complete experience to audiences.


When the Eugene Ballet Company performs Sergey Prokofiev’s 1944 ballet Cinderella at Eugene’s Hult Center next weekend, it will do so with live music provided by Orchestra Next, a Eugene-based ensemble founded by UO associate professor of music Brian McWhorter.

The Grand Ball with Yoshie Oshima as Cinderella, Brian Ruiz as Prince Charming. A guest (Isaac Jones) and stepsister Clarinda (Beth Maslinoff) look on. Photo: Toni Pimble.

Live music performances with the Eugene Ballet started three years ago when McWhorter learned from EBC Managing Director Riley Grannan that the 2012 production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker would use pre-recorded music as it had in past seasons. McWhorter proposed that he organize an orchestra to perform live with the ballet during its two-day run. Grannan and Artistic Director Toni Pimble agreed and the idea for the orchestra was born.

“We had to put things together very quickly — I think about three months or so,” McWhorter recalls. “There were all sorts of challenges that included getting all the principals on board, auditioning for the student positions, getting the website up and running, generating a buzz, making sure we had all the sheet music, getting insurance, arranging rehearsals, and, of course, raising all the money to pay everyone. The administrative team was just myself and (general manager) Sarah Viens … who continues to be an invaluable asset for the orchestra.”

McWhorter saw an opportunity to both benefit the ballet company by bringing its listeners live music, and to benefit local musicians by creating a long-needed training ensemble that bridges the experiential gap between student and professional musician. “The most iconic examples of training orchestras are the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and New World Symphony — but even these orchestras don’t provide the students the chance to regularly sit next to professionals,” McWhorter explains. “Orchestra Next does. And I think our collaboration with the Eugene Ballet makes us all the more unique.”


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