Dance Weekly: The drag stars have aligned

Pepper Pepper and Cherdonna Shinatra expand the limits of drag

You are in luck! This week the stars, drag stars that is, have aligned and will be performing right here in Portland. Those stars are Pepper Pepper, aka Kaj-anne Pepper, from Portland, who will be performing D.I.V.A Practice; and Cherdonna Shinatra, aka Jody Keuhner from Seattle, who will be performing Worth My Salt, presented by Risk/Reward.

Both artists are working at the intersection of dance and drag, but one is a man dressed as a drag queen and the other is a woman, dressed as a man, dressed as a drag queen. I won’t tell you who’s who. Shinatra is having an existential crisis while exploring femininity and gender inequality, while Pepper explores embodiment, identity and physicality.

Two weeks ago when D.I.V.A Practice first opened, I interviewed Pepper for ArtsWatch and asked him to talk about his piece: “An important element of D.I.V.A PRACTICE is the quest to know one’s worth, to dance between autonomy and a crippling co-dependency with the audience.”

This past week both Shinatra and Pepper were interviewed on OPB’s The State of Wonder by Producer Aaron Scott. They discussed drag clowning as a characteristic of the Northwest, the prevalence of misogyny in drag and many other pertinent things. The whole conversation is available for listening on OPB’s website.

Another great interview to learn more about Shinatra is A Fiendish Conversation with Jody Keuhner (Cherdonna Shinatra) by Seth Sommerfeld for the Seattle newspaper Seattle Met. Keuhner/Shinatra talks more about the modern dance side of her life and the creation of Shinatra as a character .

There is a lot of power in anonymity, like disappearing underneath elaborate costumes and makeup, it tends to make you feel braver than you normally would because no one can see YOU, enabling you to do and say things you normally wouldn’t. This weekends performances by Pepper and Shinatra will definitely frame conversations in new ways shedding light on difficult subjects in a funny, quirky way, with plenty of glitter, gigantic wigs and tons of eye makeup.

Performances this week


The Jefferson Dancers. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert 2016 and 40th Anniversary
April 27-30
The Newmark Theatre, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway Ave
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, the Jefferson Dancers, a Portland Public Schools dance training program and company based at Jefferson High School in North Portland, will be performing choreography by the faculty as well as sharing the stage with former Jefferson dancers.

The program will include a duet by Director Steve Gonzales and French exchange student Charlotte Faillard from 2001-02 on Friday and Saturday night as well a piece for the whole company by alums T.J. Yale, Kasia Wihelmi and Gerran Reese.

The breakdown of alumni performers by night

Wednesday night:Graduates from the 1980’s
Choreographers:Heather Fralia Borgens / Sara Mishler Martins / Andrea Stofiel
Dancers-Jennifer Allen 1986-1988 / Donna Buckmeyer Grobey 1984-1986 / Randy Davis 1981-1984 / Ron Eckert 1988-1989 / Heather Fralia Borgens 1987-1988 / Wendy Graybill Rogers 1987-1989 / Stephanie Hale Pinto 1987-1988 / Claire Leedy 1986-1989 / Dina Mehlhaff Radzwillowicz 1986-1988 / Sara Mishler Martins 1987-1989 / Kristina Cernin Musgrove 1984-1987 / Kim Reis 1984-1988 / Addam Stell 1988-1989 / Andrea Stofiel Thompson 1988-1989 / Sonia Warfel 1988-1989

Thursday night:Graduates from the 1990’s
Choreographers-Amy Bonaduce / Damon Keller / Tony Loupe / Damien Rice / Ashley Marostica
Dancers-Nora Aron 1998 / Racheal Banks (Smith) 1995-1997 / Amy Bonaduce 1994 / Lisa Grant 1988-1992 / Demetria “Bunky” Holden-Williams 1993-1996 / Damon Keller 1995-1998 / Tony Loupe 1989-1993 / Ashley Marostica-Thompson 1998 / Damien Rice 1994-1998 / Eric C. Smith 1990-1992

Friday night and Saturday matinee: 2000’s
Choreographer – Rachel Slater and Mykey Lopez
Dancers-Corinne (Craig) Cooksey 2003-2005 / Maddi Evans 2005-2007 / Jessa Freeman 2000-2001 / Aubrey Grajales 2007-2010 / Mykey Lopez 2002-2003 / Anna Lescher Fife 1999-2004 / Rebecca Palmer 2002-2003 / Rachel Slater 2002-2003

Saturday night: 20TEENS
Choreographed and performed by-Bryn Hlava 2010-2012 / Kentrel Wesson 2010-2012 / Mia O’Connor 2008-2012 / Sarah Gomez 2009-2012 / Quinlan Neilson 2009-2014

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.


Dance of the Dream Man: A Twin Peaks Story by TriptheDark. Photo courtesy of TriptheDark.

Dance of the Dream Man: A Twin Peaks Story
April 28-April 30
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut Street
With a script written by local playwright Ellen Margolis, TriptheDark, an indie Portland dance company, will harken back to the early days of Twin Peaks, a creepy David Lynch TV series from the early 1990’s, to explore lines from the original series and dig deeper into the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death. If you are unfamiliar with the series you can catch up on Wikipedia or the Twin Peaks fan page and follow the filming of the revival of the series.

TriptheDark, directed by Corinne deWaard and Stephanie Seaman, likes to perform in unusual venues as a way to reach non-traditional dance audiences and grow the appreciation of the art form.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

In The Heights
Stumptown Stages
April 27-May 1
Brunish Theatre, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway Ave
Over the course of three days in a predominantly Dominican-American neighborhood in the Washington Heights section of New York City, a community rallies together in a neighborhood struggle. Infused with Latin rhythms, dance and hip-hop lyrics, this Tony Award-winning musical is about chasing your dreams while remembering where you came from.


Pepper Pepper and Mr. E in D.I.V.A Practice. Photo courtesy of Pepper Pepper.

D.I.V.A Practice
A night of dance and contemporary drag by Pepper Pepper
April 29-May 1
N.E.W. Expressive Works/Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. #2
Choreographer and performance artist Kaj-anne Pepper, also known as Pepper Pepper, will perform alongside drag artist Mr. E to an original score by Cabiria Jones, exploring what it means to be fabulous in the face of uncertainty while questioning the significance of drag and gender in contemporary culture.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

Fuse—Portland Dance Portrait
The photography exhibit of Jingzi Zhao
April 1-May 1
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
For one month, Polaris will be hosting a sneak peek of “Fuse – Portland Dance Portrait,” a project by the photographer Jingzi Zhao. “Fuse” captures dancers on location, in historic landmarks, neighborhoods, and businesses around Portland, to showcase the beauty, culture and lifestyles of Portland.

Zhao’s larger body of work will be exhibited at the Multnomah Arts Center from October 7-25.

Jazz Through The Ages
Wild Rumpus Jazz Company
April 29-30
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave
In the manner of it’s namesake Wild Rumpus Jazz Co., co-founded by Kelsey Adams and Lucy Brush, is here to get the party started and bring jazz dance back to Portland. Its inaugural performance, “Jazz Through The Ages,” celebrates the rich history of jazz dance while having fun.

The history of jazz dance is rooted in African American vernacular dance and over time branched out into many different styles including tap, Broadway, funk, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean, Latin, Pop, club jazz, popping, B-boying, party dances and many more. A few notable jazz choreographers were Katherine Dunham, Jack Cole, Lester Horton and Bob Fosse. But there were many many more. Well known Portland jazz teachers and choreographers include Tracey Durbin and Mary Hunt.

cherdonna - worth my salt 2 (3 of 29) copy

Cherdonna Shinatra in WORTH MY SALT. Photo courtesy of Cherdonna Shinatra.

by Cherdonna Shinatra/Jody Kuehner
Presented by Risk/Reward
Apr 29-May 1
12 pm April 30, Workshop with Jody Kuehner at Flock Dance Center
Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave
See above.


Vitality Dance in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Vitality Dance.

(IN) significant-The Mundane and The Meaningful
Vitality Dance
4 pm April 30
New Expressive Works/Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. #2
Vitality Dance Collective, a vision of Kristina York, was created for adults dancers who dance, but don’t have the time to dedicate themselves full time to the art. The company acts as a collective, supporting the choreographic vision of all its members, and enjoys being not easily definable. They are about innovation, authenticity and fun.

Coming up next week and the week after

May 1-29, Chinese Dance for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Malik Pcr Delgado, Victoria Chen, and Jingzi Zhao
May 4, Malposa, White Bird Dance
May 5-7, Featuring works by Trey McIntyre, Gregg Bielemeier, Jason Davis, George Balanchine and Anne Mueller, The Portland Ballet’s Spring Concert
May 5-7, I Just Want One Tiny Thing, And I Talk Too Much, WolfBird Dance
May 6-8, From Within, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 9, Noontime Showcase: OBT2, Advanced students of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
May 10, Formosa Circus Art, The The Taiwanese Association of Greater Portland
May 12, WE’RE FROM HERE: 3 PDX dancers/film and performance, presented by KBOO Community Radio
May 12-21, Exposed, Polaris Dance Theatre
May 14, Props to Bellydance!, Ruby Beh and Co.
May 20-21, TRACES, Sara Naegelin and Mark Koenigsberg
May 20-21, HAVA | חוה, The Holding Project
May 20-22, Now Then: A Prologue, Allie Hankins

Linda Austin: Dancing inside everyday life

In "A head of time [solo]" Linda Austin continues to create dance from the movement and emotion of life

A head of time [solo], which she performed at Performance Works Northwest this weekend, transformed Linda Austin’s last ensemble piece into a solo act. First performed in 2012 with a nine-person cast featuring a who’s-who of Portland dance, Austin has performed the piece as a solo performance first in Mexico and once before in Portland. She presented it here not only to build support for her next ensemble piece, (Un)Made You, but also to coincide with the birthday of one of the dedicatees of the piece, her sister.

For those of us who missed the first run, an important but downplayed component of the show is that it was occasioned by the untimely deaths of Austin’s sister and nephew, both in 2011. When you consider all these threads of time winding around just the very dates of this performance, if it wasn’t about time, mortality, and the strangeness of being in the middle of it all, something would seem amiss.

Linda Austin in “A head of time [solo]”/Chelsea Petrakis

Linda Austin in “A head of time [solo]”/Chelsea Petrakis

Austin started the performance by instructing us what not to think of, which naturally planted these images firmly in our minds. She flubbed one of the lines, but responded to it with an unhurried tumble of beautiful nonsense sounds until the sentence got back on track. As she began to arrange the multicolored extension cords that would tie together many of the props, Austin declared further instructions and meditations on states of self, past moments, and habits of personality that either directly referenced childhood or at least carried the sense of comfortable weirdness that you can’t help but miss after growing up even a little.


Dance Weekly: Linda Austin for the win

"Beautiful Decay," DIVA Practice, "Pearl Dive Project" and so much more this week in Portland dance

This morning my husband posted a photo on my Facebook page of a person dressed in a suit holding a poster in front of her face that read “I am an artists, this does not mean that I will work for free, I have bills just like you. Thank you for understanding.”

Linda Austin, the co-director of Performance Works NorthWest understands that paying dancers is the right thing to do, which is why on Friday night she will be performing a solo adaptation of A head of time, to raise funds to pay the nine dancers in her new work, (Un)Made You, which will be performed in November at Shaking the Tree Theatre, part of a longer work called (Un)Made Solo Relay that unfolded over the past several years.

Austin also received a Challenge Grant from the James & Marion L. Miller Foundation. Miller will match new and increased donations up to $5000.

A head of time was an ensemble work that she made in 2012 that touched on (and was dedicated to) family members who had passed away ahead of their time. ArtsWatcher Bob Hicks saw the performance in 2012 and wrote about it affectionately for ArtsWatch. Martha Ullman West also weighed in on the performance in the comments section below the article. Both are very good reads and do a good job maybe helping a not-so-adept dance watcher understand how to look at abstract dance.

According to Austin, the solo will include a hammer, a balloon, video images, a ladder, extension cords and blankets. Weaving in the soundscape of Seth Nehil, Austin says she will form, re-form, dissolve and fragment our timescapes.

Austin and Jeff Forbes (Austin’s husband and a well-known lighting designer) recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of their space, Performance Works NorthWest, a community rehearsal and performance hall at Southeast 67th and Holgate. I interviewed Austin at the time of the anniversary celebration about her past, present and future.

I hope among the many entertainment possibilities available this weekend that you choose to fit in A head of time, one, because you are curious about Linda Austin the performer, and two, you think paying dancers for their hard work is a good thing too.


Age before (and beside) beauty

Nicolo Fonte's "Beautiful Decay" for Oregon Ballet Theatre eloquently reflects on youth and age

“Crabbèd age and youth cannot live together,” a poem attributed to William Shakespeare tells us.

That may be, but they sure as hell can dance together, and damned well, as sixtysomething guest artists Gregg Bielemeier, Susan Banyas and the energetic, fleet members of Oregon Ballet Theatre showed us Thursday night in the company premiere of  Nicolo Fonte’s  lovely ballet Beautiful Decay.

The evening-length work, originally made for Philadelphia’s BalletX, concludes the company’s twenty-sixth season with an eight-performance run at the Newmark Theatre, this weekend and next.

Guest artist Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier in "Beautiful Decay." Photo: Yi Yin

Guest artist Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier in “Beautiful Decay.” Photo: Yi Yin

From Act III of Bournonville’s Napoli, which was the second half of OBT’s fall opener,  to Balanchine’s Nutcracker and James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, this has been a season of story ballets, and Beautiful Decay not only carries a narrative thread tied to the life cycle and the (expletive deleted) aging process, it also includes some of the conventions to be found in what ballet historians often refer to as the big three: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty, all with music by Tchaikovsky. Beautiful Decay is set to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, contemporary composer Max Richter’s The Four Seasons Recomposed, and a few pop songs composed by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds.


Gregg Bielemeier and Susan Banyas talk about aging artfully

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Nicolo Fonte is working with two Portland dance legends on "Beautiful Decay"

Beautiful Decay, choreographed by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, features veteran Portland dancers Susan Banyas and Gregg Bielemeier as it explores the inevitability of time and its changes on the human body.

This piece seems like a significant step forward in the discussion of age in ballet, specifically, and in the culture, more generally. Our obsession with youth, I think, is hindering the full expression of the dance art, something that develops with age.

I caught up with Susan and Gregg three weeks ago to talk about their experiences inside Beautiful Decay.


Interview: Pepper Pepper explains D.I.V.A Practice

Kaj-anne Pepper talks about being Pepper Pepper and what it means to be a DIVA

Seen most recently last fall hosting Critical Mascara for PICA’s TBA festival, Kaj-anne Pepper, also known as Pepper Pepper, will be “stage diving right into our hearts with a daring spectacle of dance, glitter and drag” as Pepper says, Friday and Saturday nights at Zoomtopia. Pepper will be accompanied by drag artist Mr. E, and the two will be performing to a perfectly “fabulous” original score by Cabiria Jones.

Pepper is a Portland choreographer, drag artists and MC who mixes dance and drag to address difficult subjects. D.I.V.A. Practice, as Pepper calls his approach, means exploring what it means to be fabulous in the face of uncertainty while questioning the significance of drag and gender in contemporary culture.

I caught up with Pepper via email and asked him/her a few questions.


Dance Weekly: Divine dancing in various guises

All the dance you can possibly think of is happening right here, right now, this weekend.

Just because the weather has gotten dark again and the rain is back does not mean you get to crawl under the covers and stay there for the duration. There are important dance works being performed this weekend and you need to see them. They will NOT be projected on the underside of your blankets. This weekend offers 11 possible ways to connect with and view dance, with a little something for everyone.


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