This weekend is all about the evolution of dance and time travel. It begins back in 1963 with three Trisha Brown dances on film that will screen on a loop as part of TREES IN THE FOREST, a curated exhibit opening at Yale Union on Sunday. Brown is one of the founding members of the legendary Judson Dance Theatre in New York.
Then we will jump forward 50 or so years into the present day, revisiting Shakespeare through the eyes of BodyVox in Death and Delight, and see the newest generation’s take on dance with 11: Dance Co and their new evening-length show Cool Moves, Bro.
11:Dance Co founders Brittany DeLano (also known as Bb) and Huy Pham consider their creation a Neo-Fusion dance company—a new choreographic style that blends the street and classical worlds of dance. DeLano is the artistic director and Pham is the executive director. The performance will showcase new works by Northwest Dance Project dancer Ching-Ching Wong, William Jay (Chanti Darling) and Emma Portner, principle dancer and choreographer for Justin Bieber’s Purpose project.
In the midst of dress rehearsals and travel, I was able to catch up with Delano and Pham to ask them a few questions via email. Our conversation follows the week’s listings.
Performances this week
Death and Delight
BodyVox Dance Company
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest will team up for their eighth season to
present a double bill reimagining two of Shakespeare’s most popular stories: “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set to music by Sergei Prokofiev and Felix Mendelssohn, respectively. There will be lovers and fairies and mischief and madness BodyVox style, performed to the piano playing of Melvin Chen and Hilda Huang.
ArtsWatcher Bob Hicks in reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream wrote, “The dance has an endearingly goofy lightness of being that showcases BodyVox’s great gift of presenting serious emotional and cultural matters in buoyant comic tones.” For his full review click here.
Cool Moves, Bro
11: Dance Co
CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh St
TREES IN THE FOREST
A group show curated by Kari Rittenbach
July 23-September 2, 2016
Opening July 23, 4-6pm
Gallery hours Thursday-Sunday 3-6pm
Yale Union, 800 SE 10th Ave
Three videos of works by Trisha Brown—La Chanteuse (1963), Falling Duet (1968), and Spiral (1974)—will be shown on a loop at Yale Union as part of a curated festival by Kari Rittenbach. Rittenbach is a graduate of Yale University, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Whitney Independent Study Program and is a writer and independent curator based in New York.
The concept behind TREES IN THE FOREST: “Considering nature as a concept, structure, or formal subject, the exhibited works examine its cultural and social mediation, as well as “naturalized” systems of knowledge and power in the world at large. TREES IN THE FOREST takes an ecological approach to a disparate selection of recent art practices; it is an experimental survey of understudied territories in an era of routine environmental catastrophe.”
July 28-30, In My Own Space, POV Dance
July 29, Dog Day Dance: A Futuristic Variety Show, Produced by Ben Martens
July 29-31, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre NW at JAW Playwright Festival
July 4-6, Annual Fundraiser and No Stopping Performances, Heidi Duckler DTNW
August 4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 5-12, Interview with a Zombie, Top Shake Dance directed by Jim McGinn
September 8-18, TBA:16, PICA
Interview with 11: Dance Co
How are you reimagining the dance company model and why?
Pham: Speaking as a producer, the stage has shifted from live events to digital content. We’re simply moving it from the digital world back to putting butts in seats. To do that, our digital footprint acts as a driver to our shows versus to the classroom, which is what so many of our contemporaries are doing. A sustainable economy in dance cannot exist without fans.
DeLano: Our intention is to use the show as a vehicle for what happens in the studio. The show is never the end goal, it is only a way to get a bunch of people in a room that share a similar passion to explore what love and community look like as a verb. The work we do in rehearsals goes beyond moving bodies. The connections that are made during a season, even if they don’t last forever, are real and pure. In doing so the stories we present on stage can come from a truly vulnerable place because ego and fear are laid aside. The love that is fostered is palpable.
Aside from that, I also encourage the dancers to have autonomy over their process. I expect that they come into the project with a true passion for dance and with that comes work ethic. With the community-building work, I encourage them to pull for the other people in the room. Instead of showing up for me, they show up out of respect for the other company members. They work hard because they believe in each other’s potential for greatness, not because I demand it. Without this foundation the project would crumble. When dancers are able to take ownership and feel free, that is when true magic happens. I ask them to do some pretty scary stuff emotionally, but they trust myself and the other dancers enough to take that risk.
Why? I’m tired of dancers accepting abuse for stage time. I’m tired of people putting plastic feelings onstage and saying it’s authentic without doing any actual work to dig deep. I’m tired of people saying they want to work but really just wanting someone to validate where they are at that moment. I’m tired of the word “love” being tossed around like a pokeball. I’m tired of seeing dance suffer this slow, excruciating death.
How did your auditions go? How many dancers attended? How many did you take?
DeLano: Auditions were awesome! We do a lot of improv to see if people are down to get weird (because 11 is really just a big group of aliens that found their mother ship) and it got WEIRD. There were about 40 people in attendance, and we ended up taking 12, four company members to add to returning members and 8 apprentices.
Can you tell me about the pieces that will be performed in your upcoming show and the choreographers that made them?
DeLano: Originally the show was supposed to take a much darker tone. It stemmed from this conversation that I kept having about how art is dying and we have killed it. Huy found this concept called “the dark triad,” which are the traits that serial killers possess: ego, manipulation, narcissism. And those are the same traits that art killers have, too. But, as pieces started coming in, people took it much lighter. Most things ended up being really funny. So now it’s shaped into us making fun of ourselves. How seriously we take ourselves, how ferociously we love “art,” how cool we think we look.
There is a good mix of contemporary and hip-hop this year—all are very cut and dried. There is a complete absence of social commentary and emotion, and that is commentary itself. We want the audience to question the art that they are consuming.
How did Emma Portner hear about 11: Dance Co and come to Portland and choreograph for you?
Pham: I can speak on Emma. We talked a while ago—as both Bb and I are fans of her work—about collaborating. She was always down. Then, Parris Goebel, one of our other contemporaries who is MASSIVE in the hip-hop world, booked her for the Justin Bieber project.Twenty-plus million views later and she’s the world famous Emma Portner. Shared values still remain shared values, and having a break in her schedule, she messaged me and asked if she could come out to Portland to decompress. I set her up with a couple of workshops, we talked about the new show and setting a piece, and she was 100% about it. As far as hanging out and working together, Emma is great. She’s got crazy work ethic. I don’t know, most of our extended dance family feel like cousins. We just hung out at Bb and my apartment during off time and talked about life and work and random stuff. Emma, Erica Sobol, Toogie Barcelo, etc., they all look at Portland as a retreat.
How are you challenging perception through your choreography?
DeLano: We make our intentions very clear and very plain when building shows and choreography. There is this idea that if it isn’t abstract it isn’t art, and I simply just don’t agree. We are trying to communicate very particular ideas. In doing so we keep everything in layman’s terms in order to make things as relatable as possible. We want the audience to be able to apply these ideas and think about them in their everyday life. If they have to spend an entire piece trying to figure out what it’s about, that process becomes much more difficult. Don’t get me wrong—I love abstract work and I think that it is wholly necessary and beautiful. We just happen to have a very specific intention and with that comes being very blunt.
We also play a lot with sticky subjects that people don’t like talking about or seeing: gay relationships, gender, race, the dehumanizing of women’s bodies. It’s the way that we present these topics that challenge the audience’s perception. We don’t skew it as good or bad, just fact. The audience can then make up their own minds about the material being presented rather than being forced to choose in the moment. They can look at it from a new or different angle. They might see it in a way they haven’t before. For the first time it could be real and not just something on their timelines. We allow the audience to engage and explore topics in different ways so that they can come to their own conclusions. And hopefully, it will change the way they interact with the world around them.
How is Neo Fusion different from the contemporary dance style that has come out of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)?
Pham: SYTYCD is pretty traditional in my opinion. There are distinct categories and you operate within those lanes: here’s a hip-hop piece, now here’s a contemporary piece. What we’re trying to do is introduce a new category, one that puts the story first and pulls the best vocab to tell it. There aren’t really any boundaries. I think in doing that, we ultimately put the viewer first.