Dance Weekly: FRONT and ‘Metamorphosis’

A dance newspaper publishes a new edition, and a new ballet company debuts

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and things are finally settling down just enough to make space for a new dance company in town, PDX Contemporary Ballet. The company will debut “Metamorphosis” on Friday night at Alberta Abbey in NE Portland.

Also significant this past week was the launch and distribution of FRONT, a Portland-based printed newspaper about contemporary dance started in 2010 by Portland dance artists Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, Alyssa Reed-Stuewe and Robert Tyree. FRONT is now edited and designed by Ross, Tyree and Justin Flood.

This issue is different from the others in that there is a special workshop component to the newspaper that helps people physically engage with the written material, and lots of questions are asked in the newspaper that other artists can take into their own work. The cover design is a fold-out poster with beautiful photos of Portland dance artists enveloped in curvy black and white grids.

FRONT invited five leading US-based choreographers to restate a period of artistic creation past into a series of questions now. The result is a publication with the spirit of a toolbox, through the lens of contemporary dance.

Poets, body-based creatives, lateral thinkers, sacred typographers and curious folk—let’s generate.

I was not able to attend the launch party and workshop this past weekend, so instead I sent Robert Tyree a barrage of questions about it, attempting to get a deeper understanding of the workshop, the paper and what FRONT is all about. That conversation is below.

Matt Fabric 2

PDX Contemporary Dance performer Matt Cichon. Photograph by Gregory Bartning.

But first this week’s performances:

PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 5-7
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St

PDX Contemporary Ballet, directed by Joanna Hardy, Briley Neugebauer, and Emily Schultz, came to be after the fall of Moxie Contemporary Ballet. The dancers regrouped, forged a partnership with Alberta Abbey and commissioned choreography from some untapped talent in Portland and from outside the city.

The choreographers were tasked with creating a new work for the company based on the concept of metamorphosis/transformation, a choice marking the significance of the dancers recent experiences of falling apart and reorganizing into something new.

The choreographers are Melissa St.Clair (Director of SOAR, a documentary on Kiera Brinkley -Polaris Dancer and her sister Uriah Boyd performer with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre), Melissa Franzosa (dancer with David Parsons Dance Company), M’liss Quinnly (Polaris Dance Theater) and the collaborative team of Lindsey Matheis (ex-NW Dance Project dancer) and Chris Peddecord (retired professional dancer and dance photographer).

Guest appearance by SubRosa Dance Collective.

PDX Contemporary Ballet performers are Alexandra Schooling, Briley Neugebauer, Abigail Parker, Matthew Cichon, Samantha Schilke, and Sari Hoke.

Project Warehouse
A-wol Dance Collective
516 NE Schuyler St

Awol’s yearly performance features an evening of aerial dancing, refreshments and art directed by Jen Livengood, Brandy Guthery, and Alicia Doerrie.

Artistry En Motion
LYFE Dance Company
8 pm February 6
The Winningstad Theatre, inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway

Director Durante Lambert will showcase his diverse choreographic talent on his grand company of 24 dancers. Lambert was a principal dancer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet under the artistic direction of Bruce Smith, and danced for the WNBA Portland Fire Jam Squad and the Portland Trail Blazers Hip Hop Squad.

New Expressive Works/An informal mid-residency performance
Choreographer Ruth Nelson
7 pm February 5
Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St #2

Choreographer Ruth Nelson will explore the world of compositional improvisation in this work in progress. Nelson was one of four choreographers chosen to be an artist-in-residence at Studio 2/New Expressive Works to create a new piece. Her collaborators are musician Tim Ribner and three dancers—Jana Zahler, Kelly Koltiska and Amanda Morse.

The final performance will be March 25th through the 27th and will feature choreographers Linda K. Johnson, Catherine Egan, and Lane Hunter.

Tamil Nadu Flood relief fundraiser
Bharatanatyam performance by students of
Kalabharathi School of Dance
1:30 pm February 6
Intel Jones Farm Conference Center, 2111 NE 25th Ave, Hillsboro

Eight Bharatanatyam dancers from the Kalabharathi School of Dance will perform to raise money to help the flood relief in Tamil Nadu. Those performers are Archita Harathi, Suhani Patel, Gauri Kambatla, Varsha Vasudevan, Sneha Menon, Anjali Panikar, Dhakshi Vannithamby and Keishi Vannithamby.

Coming up later this month

February 11-20, Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble
February 11-13 The University of Oregon’s Department of Dance Annual Faculty Concert
February 19-20, Cabaret Boris & Natasha
February 25, Visiting dance scholar Dr. Christina Rosa will present a public lecture: “Regarding the New Wave of African American Choreographers and Their Gesture of Interweaving.”
February 25-28, Edge Effects, Tere Mathern
Feb 26-27, Performance Works NorthWest, as part of our Alembic Co-Production Series, presents “GHOSTS” by Asaf Aharonson & Ruairí Donovan (Berlin)
“Snake Talk” by Abby Crain, Maryanna Lachman and Mara Poliak (Oakland)
Feb 27-March 5, Romeo and Juliet, Oregon Ballet Theatre


FRONT. Pictured: Kelly Rauer. Photo by Chris Lael Larson.

Interview with FRONT curator Robert Tyree

How did the party and workshop go? Did many people come?
The party and workshop felt rich and engaged. There were even a few new faces at the workshop, which is really great. That said, it did feel like we had capacity for a lot more folks. It was real nice to use FLOCK because it’s a meaningful location for FRONT as a project—since FLOCK is run by Tahni who has been a key person in FRONT’s development.

Could you share with me what the workshop was like and how you developed it and why?
The workshop was the first time we’ve ever held a workshop so directly intertwined with the content of the publication and the overall mission of the project. We’re interested in finding modes for activating content. FRONT is dedicated to artistic voices, processes and practices, so activating content in new ways is critical to us. We had a few movement and writing exercises, which is always a fascinating place to create from—in between modes of creation. We also had participants reformat a period of artistic practice or production past into a series of questions now. We tried to resurrect a period from the past in the form of live questions. That’s more or less the prompt we asked our Ed. 05 [FRONT] main contributors to reply to, so it was a nice tie in with the publication workshop attendees could later peruse.

We developed the workshop in part because this edition has the spirit of a toolbox, and the process of generating questions surely generates insights for anyone who follows through with it. There’s something so nice and liberating about the openness of making lists of questions.

What is the history behind the paper?
Five of us started the project back in 2010 or so—all performers involved in dance interested in making a print-based publication to self represent. We wanted the publication to be physically engaging, knew it wouldn’t have reviews or advertisements and would be by artists for artists.

I’ll speak for myself. I’ve always been interested in the politics of self-representation. I thought the existing print coverage of dance in Portland was not good enough. Arts writing is notoriously easy for journalism operations to cut, and dance is probably the most marginally covered form in print. When dance performances do get covered, it’s often by a theatre critic, and they apply a lens of narrative analysis that is entirely inappropriate to most performance. It’s mostly infuriating to read what’s written about performance. The writer often comes across as completely lost but wielding such a powerful authorial voice. I know I was driven to counter outside voices doing a real disservice to a form I cared about. One way to counter that perceived wrong was to create a big broadsheet newsprint publication filled with a multitude of voices and written registers from inside contemporary dance.

The first three editions were entirely funded by indie fundraiser events, performances and donations from supporters. We’ve never done online crowd funding (yet), but we had a series of performances called the Collision Series that involved contributors and people in the performance community we felt a connection with. We had two in the old Conduit space and one up at Disjecta. Those events were rad. I really loved the performances as things in and of themselves—and we raised enough to pay for publication! With editions four and five we’ve been fortunate to have funding support from Precipice Fund grants via PICA. Precipice is such an amazing recent factor to Portland’s art making scene.

Who started it? Who is running it now?
Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, Alyssa Reed-Stuewe and Robert Tyree. The five of us had the initial meetings. Tahni, Danielle, Noelle and Robert steered the project through the releases of editions 1–4. Noelle was our amazing designer for the first four editions. Since 2015, Danielle and Robert and Justin Flood have run the project. Justin is our new designer and collaborator, and that’s why this edition looks completely different!

What is its purpose? Who are you trying to reach? What is it about?
FRONT provides a platform where people in contemporary dance and performance can see a reflection of their art making in printed media. It’s one addition to the apparatus of consideration around contemporary dance and hopefully an inlet into thinking about the form. They’ve always been strategically beautiful objects hoping to invite people in. Danielle is also telling me: “Process over product, dialogue over reviews, for activating engagement with contemporary performance for both artists and those that are curious but not experienced.”

Why did you all decide to keep it a paper newspaper instead of going online?
Personally, I felt like the attention economy online was so over saturated that FRONT’s content might just get lost. We wanted to honor the voices of dance artists and putting things in print seemed the best way to secure a space for those voices. Also, I’m going to butcher something really interesting that our new designer Justin Flood said; he made the point that paper has been liberated from its role as a transmitter of information because that’s what the Internet does now. I love that. Do people look to paper media to provide accurate information these days? I don’t. There’s a special area that opens up for relationship with content that paper provides today. So that one new idea we’ve been batting around this past year.

Will some of the content ever go online?
Yes, we’re hoping to put all the content online later this year actually. Justin Flood is an amazing designer and I’m building my web design skill set. It’s a dreamy project that’ll operate real well on screens. There are costs to putting the content online that we need to meet, so we’re currently selling the full collection of back issues for the champions price of $100 to raise funds to secure the domain and hosting for FRONT content online for the next five years.

How do you all decide what the content is going to be? What is that process like?
We follow our curiosity as artists. The main contributors are people whose work we’ve seen and admire—voices we’d like to see have a print moment.

It being a Portland-based newspaper why don’t you have more Portland voices in it?
Around a quarter of each edition is Portland voices, which seems perfect to me. We’ve always tried to expand the conversation beyond Portland. It’s healthy to get out of the region. Essentially, if you pair content from Portland with that from NYC, California and some random European country you’re guaranteed that local voices will be in the heads of people who might never otherwise be exposed to them. If the ratio were more Portland heavy I just don’t think there’d be a broad enough relevance to the content. We feature some major gems in the paper and we nudge our own into those dialogues as well.

Where will readers be able to find the paper?
Mainly by ordering online at! We’ll for sure drop off some papers at PICA and there are some at our hero sister organizations FLOCK and Performance Works NorthWest. Whitman College has all the editions archived, and we’d love to hand over the back issues to some professional caretakers to ensure they’re accessible for a long time. We only have a handful of the first edition left and we’re very careful with those.

What are your plans for the paper in the future?
Mostly focusing on getting content online for the rest of the year. Next week we’re headed to LA to teach a workshop and do some performances for a release at Pieter. Last night, we got together and had a nice chat about a bunch of exciting ways to engage the content from Ed. 05 using different media and modes of presentation. The discussion last night convinced me that there’s a lot of potential there.

Eugene Ballet preview: Interactive Dialogue of Vibrating Frequencies

“White Noise” blends contemporary music, choreography, and projected imagery


Carmina Burana epitomizes the ballet/musical warhorse: it’s popular, tuneful, and looks backward, both to the 1230 manuscript and the medieval sound Carl Orff’s 1936 music evokes. To provide a dramatic contrast to that classic for their Feb. 13-14 performances at Eugene’s Hult Center, Eugene Ballet Company’s Artistic Director Toni Pimble chose a forward-looking new work: White Noise, a collaborative dance and interactive media performance created by San Francisco-based choreographer Amy Seiwert.

Seiwert’s White Noise Ballet. Photo: Scot Godman.

Seiwert’s ‘White Noise’ ballet. Photo: Scot Godman.

For Pimble, White Noise explores the look of dance in a new world — a world that combines contemporary music and choreography with computer technology and digital media. Choreographed by Seiwert with music by Zoë Keating and interactive video by Frieder Weiss, White Noise is “a courageous, cutting edge ballet working with new technology,” Pimble commented in an ArtsWatch interview. 


Herve Koubi’s trans-cultural spin

The French choreographer draws on many movement traditions to create a powerful dance experience

Before the performance of his La Compagnie Hervé Koubi in a packed Lincoln Hall began, Koubi asked to read a short prepared statement.

Perhaps aware of how irrepressibly French he looked and sounded, he apologized to the White Bird crowd for his uncertainty with English with an impish smile. His statement began on the point of how very French it was to be named Hervé and be from Cannes. Until his twenties, Hervé was as sure of his Frenchness as we Americans in the audience were. However, when asking his aging father for stories about his ancestors, he learned that his origins were very different. His taciturn father simply showed him a photograph of an Algerian man in traditional dress. This man only spoke Arabic, his father said, and so did the rest of his family and his ancestors.


La Compagnie Hervé Koubi performs 'What the Day Owes the Night'/

La Compagnie Hervé Koubi performs ‘What the Day Owes the Night’/

“He is your grandfather,” said Hervé’s father. That was how Hervé found out he was in fact French-Algerian. And origins and cultural fusion were two major themes in the intense and acrobatic dance, “What the Day Owes the Night,” that followed.


Dance Weekly: The Butoh Beat

Groovin' Greenhouse, a new FRONT page, La Compagnie Herve Koubi, and an interview with Meshi Chavez on "Being Moved"

This weekend is all about contemporary dance explorations. Groovin’ Greenhouse, the dance sibling of the Fertile Ground festival of new works, continues; the fifth edition of FRONT (a Portland-based dance newspaper curated by Justin Flood, Danielle Ross and Robert Tyree) releases with a party and a workshop; twelve French-Algerian men take the White Bird stage in What The Day Owes To The Night, which I hear is almost sold out; and I will be performing in Being Moved: All that I know Is Nothing, the culminating performance of a nine-week butoh workshop led by choreographer Meshi Chavez.

I became interested in learning butoh and making it a year-long study and writing project after I had reconstructive hip surgery in May. I have been dancing professionally for a long time, and was not willing to call it quits after this surgery. I was interested instead in finding new forms of expression that did not call on the extreme ranges of motion that contemporary dance requires, although I can still do them if need be. I have accumulated a lifetime of body knowledge, and I was interested in finding new ways to use it that didn’t cause me pain and were more sustainable throughout the rest of my life.

I have been circling around the idea of butoh for a while after seeing Meshi and Mizu Desierto perform over the past five years: both are major players in Portland’s butoh scene. I was curious about it and its practitioners, but couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was or what I was seeing. I could feel the freedom and range in their movement and expressions when I saw them dance, and I wanted that too.

Butoh, in my elementary understanding, was born in Japan from the aftermath of World War II by its founders, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, as a way to find a dance form that was not Western and not traditional Japanese but something of its own. It is also not the stereotype of ashen-white makeup, contorted body positions, or brutally slow glacial movement that so many people associate butoh with – rather, it is a way for the body to move or speak for itself through unconscious improvised movement.


Remembering Robert Huffman

Rehearsing with the longtime ballet pianist, who has died at 78, was like having a concert pianist and an inspiring artistic partner in the studio


The dance studios of Portland are dimmer, and more hushed, following the passing of Robert Huffman at age 78 on January 16 after a brief illness. Pianist, accompanist, performer, comedian, friend, confidant, mentor, and inspiration to many generations of dancers and teachers, Robert leaves us poorer, yet richer for the wisdom, characteristic wit, vibrancy and love that defined his life.

Nancy Davis, artistic director of The Portland Ballet (where Robert was principal accompanist since the school’s inception in 2001), considered him to be Russian at heart, and savored his playing of Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Khachaturian. Carol Shults, who taught classes with Robert at the piano since the mid-‘80s, will always think of him as French because of his delicious interpretations of Debussy. And Nick Jurica, a former TPB student now studying at Juilliard, says he learned to love and appreciate Ravel thanks to Robert’s music. Who knows how many other identities this one musician adopted with the countless dancers and teachers who experienced his accompaniment over the decades.

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet's "La Boutique." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet’s “La Boutique.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

The list of schools and companies where Robert worked includes every iteration of what is now Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Jefferson Dancers, Northwest Academy, and Whitman College. But his music reached much further than this region: an abbreviated roster of important ballet world figures who taught to Robert’s music includes Mark Morris, Keith Saunders, Trey McIntyre, Alonzo King, Melissa Hayden, Paul Sanasardo, Ed Kresley, Denise Dabrowski, Gelsey Kirkland, and Jacques D’Amboise.


Dance Weekly: The more we get together

Dance at Fertile Ground means Groovin' Greenhouse and more

By Jamuna Chiarini

Even in these tough economic times, it is amazing to me that artists of all kinds are flourishing, and my spirit is buoyed when I see large shared festivals—artists banding together to support each other and share resources. This is key. The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works and Groovin’ Greenhouse are great examples of this.

Fertile Ground, now in its 8th year, begins today and runs for 11 days, and presents works-in-progress and world premieres in dance, theatre, comedy, visual art and film all across Portland. Groovin Greenhouse, hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre, supplies much of the dance component.

According to Brett Campbell, Christa Morletti McIntyre, and Bob Hicks here at ArtsWatch, there are 160 performance taking place on more than 30 stages across the city. You can get the full scoop on what the festival looks like and has to offer from their report on “speed-dating-with-the-media night.”

Here on Dance Weekly I pulled out just the dance performances and elaborated.

Independently produced world premieres

Courtesy of The Tempos.

Courtesy of The Tempos. Photo by Geoffrey Squier Silver Photography.

Between Worlds
Echo Theater Company (Producer), The Circus Project,
and Tempos Contemporary Circus
January 22-31
Echo Theater, 1514 SE 37th Ave.

Featuring three full length works, this is a shared evening for three different Portland circus companies: Echo Theater Company, The Circus Project and Tempos Contemporary Circus. The topics range from Super Hero Old Folks to the seven deadly sins, incorporating aerial dance, acrobatics, dance, theatre, music and puppetry.

Alicia Cutaia, who is the co-director of “Sinners,” a piece she and her boyfriend circus artist Russ Stark created for The Circus Project, is also a dancer for BodyVox. She is the long-legged one with platinum blond hair who can turn for days. I have personally seen her in ballet class do just that.

Now in her second year with the company via Michigan, she also teaches at Conduit, The Circus Project and at BodyVox. She previously danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and Eisenhower Dance.

Not a lot of people know that Cutaia lives in both worlds. I spoke with Cutaia on the phone while she was assisting with last minute costume preparations to get the info on the dance.

“We put the seven deadly sins in pandora’s box. Pandora opens the box and all the sins come out. We created this little world with the seven sins and they are trying to take Pandora into that world.”

“Sinners,” a cast of 21, incorporates dance as much as all the circus arts. Through the lens of the jazz dance technique of Bob Fosse, color, fabric and fantasy, Cutaia has created a classic cabaret world for the sins to live in with a few minions to boot.

Courtesy of SubRosa.

Courtesy of SubRosa. Photo by Design by Goats.

SubRosa Dance Collective
January 22-31
Conduit Dance, 2505 SE 11th Ave. #120

How do you physically communicate the feelings of displacement? What is the emotional fallout for individuals and community? That is the question SubRosa has put to task. With rising rents, evictions, and lack of creative work spaces, this is the hot topic of the day and we are all affected.

SubRosa will present an immersive experience with some surprises, investigating these ideas in collaboration with Valerie Perczek, a multimedia artist, musician, videographer, and performer. For Perczek the root of her work is the theme of transformation and the belief that art forms provide the physical tools for reconnecting with intuition.

SubRosa is a dance collective made up of dancers Carlyn Hudson, Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino and Zahra Banzi.

Groovin’ Greenhouse Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre

M'Liss Stephenson in Tangled with Polaris Dance Theatre.

M’Liss Stephenson Quinnly in Tangled with Polaris Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Polaris Dance Theatre
Groovin’ Greenhouse
7:30 pm January 21
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th

Freshly installed in their new home built with their own hands, blood (just a few minor cuts and bruises, we hope) and sweat, Polaris Dance Theater will kick off Groovin’ Greenhouse, which they have curated and hosted for six years, with an evening of their own work by Artistic Director Robert Guitron. The new work focuses on illumination, shadows, love, loss, loneliness and the gifts we receive from others—an appropriate journey in this darkest of dark Portland winters.

Dancer M’Liss Stephenson Quinnly, who is a founding Polaris dancer, will be taking her final bow with Polaris this week. She is currently the rehearsal director for both the main company as well as the junior one. In addition to dancing, Quinnly is also a world-class synchronized swimmer, and those influences can be seen in her choreography.

While Quinnly was prepping for opening night I got her to give me the scoop on her future plans via email.

Are you really leaving Polaris? How did you meet Robert and begin dancing for Polaris?
Yes, it’s true, Groovin’ Greenhouse 2016 will be my final show as a Polaris dancer.
I came to meet Robert at the very first audition that Polaris held to build it’s company. An ad for the audition was brought to my attention by a friend of mine. It was only a few days away so I scrambled to find all my paperwork. I finally located my resume but could only find my mom’s old headshot! I figured it looked a lot like me so when the day came, I turned that in (it was at least a year before I told them that the headshot in my dancer file was my mom and not me)! I had no idea when I went to the audition that they were literally building their original cast. I was absolutely thrilled to receive the phone call asking me to work with them! We wore numbers during the audition back then, and for the first few weeks of me working with Polaris, I was referred to as number 74. That was the beginning of an amazing 14 years as a Polaris company member!

Do you have any favorite pieces or moments from your time with Polaris that you would like to share?
I have so many cherished moments over the years. One of my favorite pieces we have done is a piece that’s titled Change. The company refers to this piece as Lullaby, however, since that’s what it feels like to us. It’s sweet, kind and heartfelt. It’s about friendships and loved ones and can lull both the audience member and the dancer. It’s a piece that pulls at my heartstrings every time I perform it.

One of my favorite shows we have done is Tangled. As a full performance, it’s the most challenging show physically, mentally and emotionally. The pieces were each very athletic and demanding, but they were so amazingly beautiful and well-written that it was an honor to be asked by Robert to make it happen. As a company we fought through fatigue and mental barriers together. We pulled together closer than ever to support each other and not just to make it through it all but to do it justice and to perform it with everything we had because it’s what the work deserved. That level of company dedication and determination also gave us such a sense of pride and accomplishment once we had done it! It’s an experience I will always hold very dear.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m not ready to say that I’m done dancing for good. I feel like there is still more in me. However, I’m ready to move on to possible guest performances and to set more of my own choreography on companies throughout the Portland community. Being a contracted career dancer who works in the studio for one company has been what I worked my whole life for. I have been very fortunate in the career I have had and to have had the last 14 years of that career be with Polaris. It’s just time for me to find a whole new dance avenue. I’m not leaving Polaris on the whole though. I will still be the company’s rehearsal director, I’ll be teaching classes as well as continuing to be the director of the Polaris Jr. Company.

Polaris Dance Theatre and Polaris Junior Company
Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre’s Groovin Greenhouse
January 22-31
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th
Polaris’s Junior dance company directed by M’Liss Stephenson Quinnly-a pre professional dance company for dancers 14-18, will be performing three new works choreographed by Quinnly and guest choreographer Jocelyn Edelstein. You will not be disappointed by the energy, sincerity and the love of movement that this group exudes.

Portland Bellydance Guild and Polaris Dance Theatre
Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre’s Groovin Greenhouse
7:30 pm January 23
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th

Courtesy of Portland Belly Dance Guild. Photo by Phoebus-Foto.

Courtesy of Portland Belly Dance Guild. Photo by Phoebus-Foto.

The Portland Bellydance Guild is a membership organization made up of Portland Metro area performers, artisans, musicians, photographers, teachers, students, producers, and enthusiasts whose mission is to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation for dance and music rooted in the Middle-Eastern diaspora.

The Guild will present an eclectic mix of performers dancing an array of belly dancing styles from traditional to contemporary. The performers are Tiffany & Marlene, Claudia, Ashley López, Rachel Brice Gypsy Heart Tribal Bellydance troupe, Elena Villa, and Bevin Victoria.

NW Fusion and Polaris Dance Theatre
Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre’s Groovin Greenhouse
7:30 pm January 28
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th
Directed by former Broadway dancer Brad Hampton, who is originally from Canby Oregon, this 14-member, pre-professional troupe will perform small sections of works to be performed in full-length in April 2016.

A-WOL and Polaris Dance Theatre
Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre’s Groovin Greenhouse
7:30 pm January 29
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th
A-Wol, created in 2003 as a collective, mingles the worlds of dance and aerial. The company will be performing a new piece titled “Emergence,” about the process of coming into view after being concealed.

r:ad and Polaris Dance Theatre
Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre’s Groovin Greenhouse
7:30 pm January 30
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1826 NW 18th
Directed by dancer/choreographer Alexander Dones, r:ad will be presenting a work in process called” Soothsayer.” Inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Dones looks to explore the universal longing to understand where we came from, where we are and where we are going, and what it all means, if anything.

Dones is currently splitting his time between Portland and New York, where he dances for choreographer Doug Elkins and Cori Marquis + the Nines [IX].

Coming up later this month

CelloPointe, a father daughter chamber music and dance ensemble from Manhattan, will perform at part of Chamber Music Northwest Festival’s winter program on January 27.

La Compagnie Herve Koubi will be presented by White Bird Jan 28-30.

FRONT Ed. 05 Release & Workshop January 30.

“Being Moved-All that I know is nothing” choreographed by Butoh performer Meshi Chavez featuring performers Sara Alizadeh, Jamuna Chiarini, Lilly Lewis, Joe Mclaughlin, Mara Steen, Zebith Thalden, and Teresa Vanderkin, opens January 30-31.

Dance Weekly: Local dancers acquire frequent flyer miles

Portland dancers spread nationally, and Oluyinka Akinjiola talks about Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre

Portland dancers have been very busy already this year, making news both in town and in our far-flung colonies in New York and San Francisco. OK, so maybe we’re being a little Portland-centric here.

Dance artist Keyon Gaskin, a solo performer and one-fourth of the Portland performance collective Physical Education (P.E.), just finished a performance of his solo “it’s not a thing” at the American Realness Festival, a festival of contemporary performance that happens every January on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Gaskin performed the same solo here during PICA’s TBA Festival in September.

Physical education

Half of P.E. performing at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland. Photo by Garrick Imatani.

New York Times critic Siobhan Burke was moved by Gaskin’s performance: “One of Mr. Gaskin’s contentions sticks with me: that he is ‘performing for mostly white audiences,’ which describes the Realness audience. The festival addresses this, too, with a talk next weekend led by the scholar Thomas F. DeFrantz, who proposes that ‘the discourse of race in contemporary performance falls apart when whites try to understand black performance.’ Everyone should go.” (I interviewed Artistic Director Oluyinka Akinjiola of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre about some of the same issues, and you can see her contribution to the discussion below.)

Days later Gaskin joined the other members of P.E.—Lucy Yim, Allie Hankins and Taka Yamamoto—in San Francisco at the Fresh Festival to perform a group work in progress. And the group was recently interviewed by Anastasia Tuazon for the online magazine Temporary Art Review.

P.E. isn’t the only traveling ensemble. Northwest Dance Project will be performing “Yidam” by Ihsan Rustem at The Joyce theatre in New York this weekend as part of the American Dance Platform. They will be performing in the same program as Spectrum Dance Theatre from Seattle, directed by choreographer Donald Byrd.

Back home, Polaris Dance Theatre has finished construction of its new studio space at 1820 NW 18th Ave. just in time to host Groovin Greenhouse—a dance component of the Fertile Ground Festival, which starts January 21.

If you aren’t familiar with the Fertile Ground Festival now in its 8th year, you can listen to Dmae Roberts, the host of Stage and Studio on KBOO radio, as she gives us the scoop on the festival.

And Oregon Ballet Theatre launched a new competition this week called Choreography XX. The company is looking for original choreography by North American female choreographers, and the chosen women will be given the opportunity to create a new ballet on the company in the summer of 2017. The imbalance of male to female choreography for ballet companies is vast, and it will be interesting to see if this project has an effect.

"And Just Like That..." choreography by: Éowyn Emerald. Photo by David Krebs

“And Just Like That…”choreographed by: Éowyn Emerald. Photo by David Krebs

Éowyn Emerald & Dancers
Co-presented by Third Rail Repertory Theatre
January 14-16
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th St
The contemporary dance company, directed by long-time Portland dancer and choreographer Éowyn Emerald, will present six dances originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2014. The performance will feature dancers Jonathan Krebs, Éowyn Emerald, Josh Murry, and Holly Shaw.

Ancestry in Motion
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
January 15-17
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater is a dance and music ensemble directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens. Connecting the past to the present-from African roots to modern day Jazz and House to current political issues of police brutality through new choreography by Michael Galen, Dar Vejon Jones, Jamie Minkus, Oluyinka Akinjiola, features guest artist Okaidja Afroso and Rudy Slizewski.

Forever Tango
with guest artists Anna Trebunskaya and Dmitry Chaplin
7:30 pm January 15
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave
A choreographic collaboration between six dancing couple and director Luis Bravo that celebrates the passionate dance form of Argentine Tango. The couples will perform alongside a 1930’s style vocalist and an eight-piece orchestra, featuring the bandoneón—a type of concertina that is central to the sounds of Tango. Forever Tango originally debuted on Broadway and has been running since 1997.

Courtesy of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre.

Courtesy of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre.

This week via email I interviewed Artistic Director Oluyinka Akinjiola of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, prior to the company’s show this weekend. She talked about life, the company and working as a dance artist in Portland.

Where are you from originally?
I am originally from Albany, NY.

When did you move to Portland and why?
The first time I moved to Portland was in 2008. My husband was here already with his band TapWater from San Diego. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree and was offered an internship with the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) in North Portland. CIO is a social justice non-profit organizing for immigrant and refugee advocacy. CIO gave me the impetus to pursue social justice themes in dance.

How do you feel about being one of the few African American female choreographers in Portland?
Being one of few African American female choreographers is my experience in Portland and in many other places. As long as there is access and opportunity there will be more choreographers that look and dance like me. The challenge is greater for me in that I am trained in Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Guinean, Contemporary and Modern dance. While my choreography draws on all of these forms, my work is plainly labeled as “African,” just another way of saying “other.” Today there is still a higher value given to a Western European or Ballet aesthetic. In a recent conversation with other black choreographers in Portland, we discussed a common critique of our work being called “too presentational.” But that is part of the Africanist aesthetic and integral to connecting to ancestry and community. As long as the work of my colleagues and I are measured by Western European values and aesthetics, justice remains unserved.

Another challenge I face is that dance communities in Portland are not connected. Portland has rich Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Hip Hop, West African, ballet and modern dance communities. But these communities do not intersect and barely support each other. My work cannot fit in any of these categories—it encompasses them all. It’s all of these communities and dance forms that make me the dancer that I am and has made my experience as a dancer much richer. The challenge is to break the barriers between all of these communities and support each other with the same value. The quality is present, but the bridges just need to be made.

How would you like you and your work to be described or “labeled”?
I think if my work had to be labeled, I really like the idea of contemporary folklore. Contemporary allows the freedom of breaking away from traditional forms and blending dance techniques. Folklore for me refers to the connectedness to people, stories, history and ancestry.

You talked previously about the disconnect in our larger dance community. How do you imagine bridging the gaps?
One way that we are bridging these gaps with Rejoice! is through our collective diversity as dancers. Jamie toured with MarchFourth Marching Band; we both danced with Donna Oefinger’s Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music and dance company, Axé Didé; Michael performs with Popgogi and is invested in the house, street, and Brazilian dance community; DarVejon teaches at BodyVox and performs with Tere Mathern; I performed in the Beaverton Ten Tiny Dance festival, with BCC: Brown Hall and worked with Conduit. We are all invested in different dance communities in Portland, and we bring these different communities together at our shows and workshops.

The more dancers and creators interact with each other and broaden their range, the more community bridges we can make. Modern dancers should study Capoiera, or Afro-Cuban dancers should study ballet. The more mixing we do, the greater we can understand and support each other.

How was your semester teaching in New York? What did you glean from that experience that you are bringing back with you to Portland?
Teaching in a large dance department like SUNY the College at Brockport’s continues to be a great experience. I love teaching and the students are amazing, but teaching classes are just part of the job. Brockport has a strong emphasis on choreography, performing and concert productions. Like the schedule of professional dancers and choreographers, Brockport students and faculty are choreographing and rehearsing beyond a normal work day. As faculty we take on so many other roles in the department: we structure the curriculum of the dance program, support the students as both artists and scholars, mentor choreographers, advise research projects, perform with students in the community, and so much more. I am also the Artistic Director and choreographer for the Sankofa African Drum and Dance Ensemble, a touring student ensemble for the college. What I am gaining from this experience is how to be a stronger educator, mentor, and director. This experience is also making me to be a better leader for Rejoice!

Will you be teaching out of town on a regular basis? Are you able to make a living here in Portland with what it has to offer dance wise? What does that look like?
I hope I am not away from Portland for too much longer. I was offered another year as a Visiting Assistant Professor, but I am also maintaining my jobs in Portland in directing Rejoice and teaching as an artist-in-residence through the Right Brain Initiative. While my jobs in Portland are great supplements for my income, it is challenging to be solely an independent dance artist in Portland. Often dance artists have limited contracts, maybe including insurance, most often not. But so many dancers are surviving contract to contract or have income that is based on the amount of students that show up to classes.

Now that I have the experience of teaching full time at the College at Brockport, I see the value and eminent need of having dance departments available to dancers and educators. Right now a cycle is not being replenished. Great dancers are here, but they have to leave Portland to further their educations and careers. I had to leave Portland twice, first to pursue my MFA and now for full-time employment. We need these outlets for dancers to stay in Portland, so that they can further their education and artistry. The more we have these opportunities, the more they will grow.

How did Rejoice! form and when?
After I finished my MFA in 2014, I drove from Rochester, New York, back to Portland. On my drive Maya Angelou passed away and there were many interviews from her loved ones on the radio. So I became overwhelmed with a vision for my next choreography, to honor Maya Angelou. I pursued different avenues to bring this vision to life, but when I was selected for the New Expressive Works Residency at Studio 2 @ Zoomptopia, I knew I could make the work happen.

To choreograph the work I needed some powerful women, and there were two immediate women that came to mind, Jamie Minkus and Marisa Ferro, and two that serendipitously came into my life, Uriah Boyd and Sara Mohkami. The piece is now known as Phenomenally.

Phenomenally made us realize the work needed to continue. After my residency at Studio 2, I was selected by Linda Austin for the Alembic Co-production series. For this production I knew I wanted to bring phenomenal men into our company. With the addition of DarVejon Jones, Micahel Galen and Lin Lucas, the company felt complete and really good. Once we were all together we officially formed Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. Our first full company show was ICONS at Performance Works Northwest.

Is Rejoice! a multi-voice company or is it your vision?
I would have to say yes to both. We have many voices that allow our vision to be realized. I believe in an artistic community and environment that is collaborative. Everyone in Rejoice! has amazing and diverse strengths, and we complement each other so incredibly well. As a choreographer I prefer to create collaboratively with the dancers. When everyone is invested in the creative process with me, a higher purpose is served. A sense of ownership is shared allowing everyone to invest and engage with the work more. I think the traditional power structure of choreographer vs. dancer is shifting, and a new culture of collaboration within a dance company is becoming the norm.

How did you work with your collaborators while you were gone in planning/rehearsing/choreographing for this upcoming concert?
After ICONS in June, I had a clear idea for who should set work next on Rejoice! I wanted to maximize on the technical range and abilities of the company by having DarVejon, Michael and Jamie create the newest works for Rejoice. The three are trained in distinct techniques and have clear choreographic voices DJ richly embodies Katherine Dunham and Afro-Haitian technique, Michael is extremely well versed in House, other street dance and vernacular forms. Jamie, like myself, is richly trained in Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian dance technique.

Everyone in Rejoice was incredibly supportive of me going to Brockport and took on new roles to keep the company going, including organizing the rehearsal schedule, local performances, marketing, even grant writing. I feel really honored to have such a great group to rely on and trust in.

What are the plans for Rejoice! in the future?
Creating Rejoice! was like finding a diamond mine. We still have so much more to offer in the technical abilities we embody, from rhythm tap to Silvestre technique. I also have a large repertory from New York that I am continuing to set on Rejoice. A creative project we are currently drawn to is focused on the epidemic of mass incarceration and the communities that are systematically targeted. Between ICONS and Ancestry in Motion we have a large body of works to tour to new places.

Would you mind telling me something special about each company member that is not listed in their bio?
Well, first I have to mention that Marisa Ferro will not be on stage with us during Ancestry in Motion because her due date is one week after the show. So we will have a new addition to our family very soon. Jamie Minkus is an amazing creative partner for me and has taken on so much leadership while I’m away. Sara Mohki brings in a humble strength from her background of West African and folkloric dance into contemporary. DarVejon is a bright light and a beautiful spirit that is undeniable especially when you see him dance. Uriah has this peaceful yet incredibly captivating grace that knows no bounds. Michael’s physical and creative range transcends generational and technical barriers. Lin Lucas will be performing in a new capacity in Ancestry in Motion; his ability to embody and convey emotions is unparalleled. Chelsea Maricle is the newest addition to Rejoice!

Coming up later this month

Fertile Ground Festival of New Works will begin January 21, featuring 11 days of new work in theatre, music, and dance. This year’s festival will feature choreography by SubRosa Dance Collective, Portland Bellydance Guild, A-WOL Dance Collective, Polaris Dance Theatre, NW Dance Fusion, Echo Theatre Company Circus Arts and r: ad, a new dance company directed by Alexander Dones.

CelloPointe, a father daughter chamber music and dance ensemble from Manhattan, will perform at part of Chamber Music Northwest Festival’s winter program on January 27th.

La Compagnie Herve Koubi will be presented by White Bird Jan 28-30

“Being Moved-All that I know is nothing” choreographed by Butoh performer Meshi Chavez opens January 30-31.

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