Dance Weekend: All for the intimacy

A benefit for TC Smith, New Expressive Works, Transcendentaerobicourage, more!

This is a week to celebrate the intimate side of Portland dance—small performance spaces and smaller groups of dancers, workshops, even a party and a benefit. That’s a week, in short, of what makes Portland dance imaginative and a continual work-in-progress.

SubRosa is having a party this weekend.

SubRosa is having a party this weekend.

New Expressive Works
7:30 pm, Friday March 27–Sunday March 29
Studio 2@Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St.
Movement artists Oluyinka Akinjiola, Jen Hackworth, Dawn Stoppiello, Takahiro Yamamoto as part of Studio 2@Zoomtopia’s New Expressive Works (N.E.W) artist residency, will be showcasing the culmination of their six-month studio residency/practice, in an evening length work in progress showing. N.E.W is in its 5th cycle and strives to support artistic excellence and the creation of new works of all genres of dance.

TC Smith Benefit and Celebration
7 pm  Monday, March 30
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
TC Smith, of Portland’s ShowDrape, was a long-time contributor and friend to Portland’s dance and theater community, passed away on December 30th, 2014, due to injuries sustained in a work related accident. There will be a gathering on March 30th at PSU’s Lincoln Hall to pay tribute to his life and generosity. Performances and media by: Linda Austin, The Boris & Natasha Dancers:  Brian Jennings, Bill Boese, Chris Rousseau, Jeff Forbes, Dora Gaskill, Summer Turpin, Dug Martell, Jessica Kelley, Vanessa Renwick, Do Jump, Pixie Dust and many more. There will be an open mic for toasts and tributes and a reception to follow.

Cuerpo Migrante/Migrant Body
7 pm Wednesday, April 1
Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
La Barabacoa Danza Contemporanea, in residence at PWNW from March 25-31st, is a dance group from Morelia, Mexico. Choreographer Isabel Nares and composer Jorge David García Castilla will present a body/sound/visual Installation: A hybrid intermedial movement process ending in a conversation with the artists.Their current project, Migrant Body/Cuerpo Migrante, is a platform for reflection and research on how migration between México and the United States affects the body. How does a migratory, mobilized body affect the zones and territories it enters? How does this body affect other bodies already residing in these locations? How do the newly-encountered zones and bodies transform the migratory, recently-displaced body?

8 pm Saturday, March 28
SubRosa Dance Collective, BodyVox, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
SubRosa Dance Collective, Design By Goats, Dylan Wilbur Media, & Peddecord Photo presents HOUSE | party a gala evening with live dancing, food, drinks, a silent auction and a special screening of ‘Living the Room’ dance for film. SubRosa is a contemporary dance collective featuring choreographers and dancers Carlyn Hudson, Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh & Zahra Banzi.

noon Saturday, March 28
Flock Dance Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97217
Portland-based Physical Education(PE) is comprised of dance and performance artists keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto. PE’s vision is to offer performance audiences, artists of all mediums, and curious individuals immersive modes through which to engage with dance and performance. On Saturday Hankins leads a new Transcendentaerobicourage class (all levels and abilities welcome) and cool down with an engaging artist’s talk with visiting visual artist Samantha Wall. Snacks and drinks provided.

“Transcendentaerobicourage is a movement based class for any and all levels and physicalities and mobilities and backgrounds. We will move, sweat, visualize, rest and consider our way to a state of self-appreciation and re(new)ed embodiment.”

9 pm Tuesday, March 31
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison
“An evening of performance featuring artists who are currently engaging ideas around identity, identification, and (ill)legitimacy, which includes but is not limited to, questioning and processing race, gender and sexuality. Following the performance will be a talk back and a Q+A.” Performers include Sidony O’Neal, Samiya Bashir, and Enrico D. Wey (NYC, Berlin).

White Bird: Dance as a satirical medium

Hillel Kogan's "We Love Arabs" parodies the Israeli artist

During Hillel Kogan’s We Love Arabs I was laughing out loud, doing my best to suppress actual snorting in the presence of others. And I wasn’t alone. All about me, gales of laughter were tumbling toward the Lincoln Hall stage where Kogan and Adi Boutrous were performing, the second half of White Bird’s New Israeli Voices in Dance program.

What were we laughing at? Well, yes, there was more than a smidgen of slapstick for starters and parodies of modern dance stylings. But the comedy went beyond the physical, or rather, the physical was entangled with the verbal. Kogan provided a running commentary, first of his “philosophy” of dance: “I feel wherever we are in space absolutely defines how we should move,” he says, as he does a rather extreme series of movements. And then during his interaction with Boutrous, who was summoned to help him deal with some particularly difficult space: “The space that is rejecting me belongs to an Arab.”

Adi Boutrous, left, and Hillel Kogan in "We Love Arabs"/Gadi Dagon

Adi Boutrous, left, and Hillel Kogan in “We Love Arabs”/Gadi Dagon

We know that this ground is difficult. Some might go all the way to “impossible” or “intractable” or “beyond help.” Others think the answer involves war, maybe even thermo-nuclear war. Never fear, I’m not going to go into all THAT here. Kogan knows he doesn’t need to, either. But in the course of “We Love Arabs” he manages to contribute useful observations about life these days in the Middle East in an entirely original way—using his “character,” a Leftish Jewish artist trying to make peace with his space.

Adi Boutrous and Hillel Kogan/Gadi Dagon

Adi Boutrous and Hillel Kogan/Gadi Dagon

Naturally, he’s unsparing of the artist, whose first act is to have Boutrous emblazon a star of David on his shirt and then to mark Boutrous’s forehead with a Crescent (or “croissant” as he calls it). Boutrous says simply: “I am Christian.” That doesn’t deflect Kogan. The rest of the dance establishes how deeply implanted the orthodoxies of “identity” are in Israeli society, the stereotypes and the rigidity, even among the creative Left. Which doesn’t sound funny at all until you see Kogan and Boutrous in action. Let’s just say that it contains more than a little sexual subtext and ends with more fun than a bowl of hummus has any right to provide. And you get the idea of how wonderfully both Kogan and Boutrous can move, even in support of satire.

I’m not much of a recommender, when it comes right down to it, because how could I possibly know what you’d like? But I’m having a hard time imagining an ArtsWatch reader who wouldn’t get a kick out of “We Love Arabs.” Seriously.

The evening started with Danielle Agami’s Exhibit B, a world premiere. Both Kogan and Agami have history with Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s leading modern dance company since its inception in 1964 (Martha Graham was one of the founders), and its artistic director Ohad Naharin. Exhibit B was commissioned by White Bird, its 32nd commission during its 17 years as the city’s leading dance presenter, a remarkable investment. It’s episodic, driven by Middle Eastern-inflected techno dance music by Omid Walizadeh, and illuminated by Portland lighting designer Jeff Forbes. The eight dancers in the company, Ate9 Dance Company, which now calls Los Angeles home, are all interesting—different shapes (from the long-limbed Micaela Taylor to more compactly assembled, powerful dancers), different personalities, different movement dynamics.

I found Exhibit B beguiling, with a gesture system that seemed vaguely Middle Eastern (fingers arranged just so, for example) and a mix of unison (“You know what unison means?” asks Kogan of Boutrous in the second half), solo and group dancing that clumps and dissolves fluidly. But it also had its disturbing moments. I’m thinking of an early section that began with a dancer throwing herself onto the stage floor from the wings, landing in a motionless heap, only to be dragged off the stage by another dancer. Over and over again. Agami understands the power of repetition, because several phrases and gestures remain in my head the morning after. So do the set of tableaux Agami creates at the end of the dance, a little lesson in how the still body can communicate a universe of ideas.

White Bird has introduced Israeli dance to Portland (they’ve had help: Northwest Dance Project, which also has a concert this weekend, has previously commissioned Agami, for example), and in the turmoil of the Middle East, even the latest election results (which in a way, Kogan skewers), that choreography and those dancers have given us insight and maybe even hope. If only the dancers, Israeli and Palestinian, ran things…

New Israeli Voices in Dance continues through Saturday night.

Before we begin with this week’s dance calendar, which is full of interesting concerts and events, led by White Bird’s New Israeli Voices and world premieres at the Northwest Dance Project, we bow our heads for a moment in memory of that fabulous 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building, which nurtured 20 years of Portland modern dance. Here’s to many more Conduit years, once a new space is found!

Hillel Kogan and Adi Boutrous in "We Love Arabs"/Gadi Dagon

Hillel Kogan and Adi Boutrous in “We Love Arabs”/Gadi Dagon

New Israeli Voices in Dance
March 19-21
White Bird Uncaged
Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU, 1620 S.W. Park Ave.

Much of the most eye-opening dance performances seen in Portland over the past decade have come by way of Israel, where a remarkably fertile choreographic imagination has grown, with a strong conceptual bent and flowerings of sometimes audacious theatricality. Hillel Kogan and Danielle Agami, whose work will be featured here, both have connections to the remarkable Batsheva Dance Company, the movement’s taproot.

Samantha Campbell and Elijah Labay in Sarah Slipper's "Casual Act." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Samantha Campbell and Elijah Labay in Sarah Slipper’s “Casual Act.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Louder Than Words
March 19-21
Northwest Dance Project, Newark Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Freshly off their tour to Germany, this versatile, high-powered contemporary dance company of eight will be performing the world premiere of State of Matter by newly appointed resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem. Also on the program Casual Act by NW Dance Project Artistic Director Sarah Slipper and Blue by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rehearsal director Lucas Crandall. Read Bob Hicks’ preview story.

Ilves Strauss

Ilves Strauss

Ilves Strauss
March 22-24
Workshops, Performance
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Seattle-based performance artist, writer, & mover in residence at Performance Works Northwest, Strauss will be working on adapting her solo Manifesto into a full-length work incorporating other performers. Manifesto will explore “topics of womanhood (what it takes to be a woman, what it means to be a woman who does not want children, what to do with those creative energies) and intertidal invertebrates (I have a long standing fascination with marine life) interweave, taking audience members on an engaging, genre blending stroll thru personal ruminations and aspirations.”

Physical Education
March 21
Reading Group Meetup
Flock, Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center, 8371 N Interstate Avenue, Studio 4
A recipient of PICA’s Precipice Fund, PE or Physical Education, is comprised of dance and performance artists keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto. “PE’s vision is to offer performance audiences, artists of all mediums, and curious individuals immersive modes through which to engage with dance and performance. They host monthly reading groups, lectures, curated performances, aerobics classes and dance parties in an effort to inspire critical dialogues between artists of varying disciplines and practices while deepening their sense of embodiment.”

Sarah Michelson
March 23
Artist-in-Residence Talk
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300
PICA hosts English-born, NY-based choreographer Sarah Michelson, for a five-day residency focusing on devotion and dance. Michelson, who is an award-winning choreographer interested in interdisciplinary collaborations, architecture and upending audience conceptions, will share the ideas and research surrounding her ongoing multi-year project with PICA Artistic Director Angela Mattox in an artist talk with a reception to follow.

NW Dance Project: new home, new show, high hopes

The Portland company moves into a sparkling new space, hires a rising star resident choreographer, and gets ready to rock the Newmark

March is busting out all over for Northwest Dance Project.

  • Fresh from a sold-out tour of Germany with stops in Neuss and at Aachen’s Schrittmacher Just Dance! festival, the rising contemporary company is about to embark on Louder Than Words, a home-stand program of three works running Thursday through Saturday at Portland’s downtown Newmark Theatre.
  • It’s just hired its first resident choreographer, London-born Ihsan Rustem, whose new piece Yidam is part of Louder Than Words, and whose earlier works with the company have been major hits.
  • And on March 30, when its spring classes begin, it’ll officially open its new home space, a refurbished 1940s industrial classic a couple of blocks north of Burnside in Northeast Portland. The 8,500-square-foot building, at 211 Northeast 10th Avenue, is in the midst of a rapidly revitalizing slice of the inner East Side, within a warm whiff of the giant Franz bread factory, and in easy walking distance of Imago Theatre and the elevated restaurant Noble Rot, with its sweeping view across the Willamette River to downtown.

The new building is a huge leap forward for the dance project, especially at a time when other Portland dance companies are under the gun to find new spaces fast. After 20 years in downtown’s Pythian Building, Conduit has been evicted and is scrambling to find an immediate alternative space. Polaris is also losing, to redevelopment, its small building near Artists Rep and the Hotel DeLuxe, and is in negotiations for a new space. And Oregon Ballet Theatre, which last fall sold its school and studio building to an apartment developer to help ease its long-term debt, has been searching for a very big and reasonably priced alternative space – not an easy thing to find – that it will need by this fall. The process is made more complex for everyone, Polaris’s artistic director Robert Guitron says, because spaces that work for dance are often also ideal for indoor marijuana farms, and with legalization, small-scale industrial pot grows are sprouting up all over.

Samantha Campbell and Elijah Labay in Sarah Slipper's "Casual Act." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Samantha Campbell and Elijah Labay in “Casual Act.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Northwest Dance Project’s dancers, who had been in temporary residence in studios at Portland State University since last summer, already are using the new building at 211 N.E. 10th Avenue for rehearsal, even as workers are still finishing lobby, office, and other spaces. I visited the new space on Monday afternoon of this week, after a morning fog had lifted, and the early-spring sun was bathing the 3,200-square-foot main studio with soft natural light. It’s a long, sparkling-white, clean-lined single-story building, with generous stretches of metal-paned windows and an arch to the roof where the open space soars high to the rafters. The building’s more utilitarian than art deco, but it shares deco’s belief in simple elegance, and is a handsome example of its architectural type.

Executive director Scott Lewis, who’s spent months overseeing, negotiating, and raising money for the project (he stayed home while the company was touring in Germany), met me at the front entry, a gleaming glass portal that, he quickly pointed out, replaces an old rolling garage door. He’s learned about alarm systems, and building codes, and pouring concrete, and requirements for the length and rise of ramps in hallways. “I’ve felt like a general contractor,” he said ruefully but, on this end of things, with a smile of obvious satisfaction. “You have no idea how consuming this thing’s been. I’d wake up in the middle of the night worrying about things like how to make the floor heights match.”

The project will cost about $700,000, including some reserve funds, he said, and the majority is in hand. Even with a bit of work still to be done, the interior is sparkling – a dream space for a small resident and touring company, as inviting and adaptable as BodyVox’s dance center in Northwest Portland. It’s a huge upgrade from NDP’s former space off the Mississippi strip in North Portland, an attractive but cramped studio that gave rise to some fine intimate performances but was inadequate in most other ways. The 10th Avenue building has a lot of amenities the Mississippi space couldn’t begin to touch: a welcoming lobby space, a small kitchen, changing rooms, a walk-in shower for the dancers, a big office and conference space, lots of storage, expansive restrooms, lots of windows for natural light. The main studio and a smaller second studio that will be used for classes have banks of south-facing windows that will let in light and warmth in the winter months, and can be shaded during the summer. Everything, from the hallways to the door openings to the water dispenser, is ADA-compliant. And perhaps best of all, NDP has a long-term commitment ­– a 10-year lease with a five-year renewal option. Lewis saw other spaces that offered two-year deals, but he turned them down, he said: It wouldn’t have made sense to spend this kind of money on a short-term deal.

Unlike BodyVox, whose remodeled industrial space has become hugely popular and is used constantly for performances, NDP isn’t planning to perform in its new studio, at least for now. Instead, it’ll be a home space for the company, the way Oregon Ballet Theatre’s old space in inner Southeast was: a place for rehearsals, classes, offices, meetings, storage, and the regular business of the company. NDP has had success performing in spaces such as the Newmark, Lincoln Performance Hall, and the Vestas Building. The building’s larger studio is plenty big enough for performances, although its large dance floor leaves a relatively narrow strip for audience risers. But artistic director Sarah Slipper doesn’t want to move too fast, if at all, on adding performances there: Everyone’s new to the building, she points out, and it’ll take at least a year to get to really know the space.

After that, who knows? One thing’s obvious. Even in its not-quite-finished state, it’s already starting to feel like home.

The main studio during construction. Courtesy Northwest Dance Project.

The main studio during construction. Courtesy Northwest Dance Project.


Ihsan Rustem, the company’s newly named resident choreographer, wandered into the studio while Slipper was rehearsing her piece on this week’s program, a remounting of 2013’s Casual Act. Rustem is a muscular, compact man with an easy grace, soft humor, and startling eyes. A rising star internationally, he’s a native Londoner with Turkish roots, and his 2012 piece for NDP, Mother Tongue, grew out of a visit to Istanbul, Turkey, which, he said at time, “is my motherland, but a land I had never lived in. … I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and belonging in the realization that this is where I come from.” Reviewing the premiere of Mother Tongue, I wrote that it “seems a model of contemporary choreography – a piece very much of its own time but also fiercely focused and sure of itself. It doesn’t meander, it doesn’t settle for the first idea. Like all good dances, it cuts through space with a conviction that this is the only possible way this particular piece could be.”



Rustem’s dance career included stops at Ballet Theatre Munich, the Netherlands’ Introdans, Bern Ballet, and Switzerland’s Tanz Luzerner Theater, among others. His first produced work of choreography, Twist of Fate, came in 2009 for Bern Ballet’s choreographic workshop.

The next year, Slipper invited him to create a piece for NDP, and an extraordinarily fruitful partnership began. That piece was State of Matter, which became an international hit: It won the Audience Choice Award at the 2011 International Competition for Choreographers in Hannover, Germany, and the 2011 Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest in England, and was performed by Northwest Dance Project’s dancers in London in 2012 as part of the Cultural Olympiad. It also marked the fully professional beginning of what has become a busy choreographic career in Europe and at such North American centers as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “I got my start here,” he said Monday. “The first check I ever received as a choreographer, Sarah gave me.”

The news of his appointment was still fresh on Monday, and Rustem still seemed sky-high. He had a meeting with Slipper, he said, expecting a brief check-in about a couple of passages in his new dance Yidam. Instead, she popped the residency question. He was shocked, and thrilled. It’s a three-year appointment, beginning this fall (he has several international commitments between now and then), and, like traveling to Istanbul, accepting the post feels like something of a homecoming. Over his five-year relationship with the company, he’s worked with all eight of NDP’s current dancers: “I know this company better than any other now.” During his three-year residency, he’ll work even more deeply with the dancers, and create at least one new work for NDP each year. For Rustem (and the dancers, who seemed hugely pleased), everything was still sinking in. “I might buy an apartment here,” he said, smiling widely. “Do you know of anything?”


Besides Slipper’s Casual Act and the world premiere of Rustem’s Yidam, which he suggested will be very different from his previous work for NPD, this week’s Louder Than Words program includes a remounting of Blue, a popular piece that Lucas Crandall created for NDP in 2008, and which the company also reprised in 2011. Crandall, yet another international dancemaker who’s made connections with NDP, is ballet master at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and among other stops, a former dancer and repetiteur at Nederlands Dans Theater.

I sat in for part of Slipper’s rehearsal of Casual Act and was struck, once again, by the focused work ethic and relaxed professionalism of the whole enterprise. Even Hank, dancer Franco Nieto’s boxer/bulldog and unofficial company mascot, seemed to know what was and wasn’t appropriate: he trolled the bystanders, looking for a pat or a scratch, but stayed rigorously away from the dance floor, where his person was working. The current company of eight dancers – Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Nieto, Andrea Parson, Ching Ching Wong, Julia Radick, and Viktor Usov – make up a highly skilled, athletic, and flexible team. Three of them (Parson in 2010, Nieto in 2012, Usov in 2014) are Princess Grace Award winners, and the dancing maintains that level across the board. These dancers know what they’re doing and are sure of their skills. They’ve performed internationally to acclaim. And now, at home, they have a space that works and opens new possibilities. The company’s had success touring in Canada, California, and Europe, and more touring seems a distinct possibility. “Oh, gosh, yeah,” Slipper said. “We’d love to tour a lot more.”

Rehearsing "Casual Act" on Monday in the new studio on 10th Avenue.

Rehearsing “Casual Act” on Monday in the new studio on 10th Avenue.

Slipper sat at the sidelines and took notes while the dancers went through Casual Act, moving slowly in and around the revolving set with its narrow door opening and wide window. Casual Act is a highly dramatic piece – not narrative, exactly, but drenched in emotion and hints of passions, betrayals, psychological twists and shouts. Dancers embrace and break apart, sometimes furtively. Sometimes, they climb the walls. The revolving stage and romantic entanglements suggest the emotional round-robin of Arthur Schnitzler’s fin-de-siècle play La Ronde. Against the drone of recorded music Slipper spoke softly, like a patient coach, with just enough volume to be heard. “Where’s your music cue?” she asked at one point. At another: “Easy. Let her walk.” The dancers are focused. They know each other, they know this material, they’re just keeping it in their muscles and bones. It’s languid and energetic at once, a strenuous, torso-stretching reverie.

Maybe, on this afternoon, it was a little too languid. “It feels slow today,” Nieto said during a break, and Slipper agreed. She pushed for something sharper: a key step backward didn’t seem sudden enough or big enough to convey the emotional impact, she noted.

The dancers understood. Just a few small adjustments to make, really. It would be fixed, well before Thursday’s opening. And in their sparkling new home on 10th Avenue, they had a place to fix it. Calm, confident, ready to bust out once again.


Louder Than Words will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21, at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland. Ticket information is here.










After 20 years, Conduit is on the move

Evicted from the Pythian Building, the dance nonprofit is looking for a new home

After nearly 20 years in the beautiful 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building in downtown Portland, Conduit Dance is leaving its old homestead, evicted by its landlord Nia Technique. Nia had been instrumental in helping Conduit weather economic problems in 2010, but on Tuesday, it informed the nonprofit that it had a week to leave the premises, according to Tere Mathern, Conduit’s artistic director. On March 18, Conduit’s run in the Pythian will be history.

Nia had given Conduit a verbal notice to leave in early February, according to Mathern. “We thought they said we could take time to plan an exit strategy,” Mathern said. But after some discussions, the hammer dropped Tuesday. “The email came, and I literally cried,” Mathern said. “The timing of it, the quickness, seemed overwhelming.”

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

Conduit had been planning to move anyway, because the space wasn’t large enough for the nonprofit Conduit to succeed financially. But finding space—Mathern figures Conduit needs room for two dance studios, storage space and an office—takes time. Now, Mathern figures that Conduit will have to find temporary quarters to keep things going while it tries to find a more permanent space. It’s holding a community meeting at 7:30 Monday night (March 16) to rally support for its next move, including help in locating the 4,000 square feet or more it will need.

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Conduit is a Portland modern dance institution. When it was founded by Mary Oslund and Linda K. Johnson in August 1995, the city’s dance community had been cast adrift after the closing of the dance department at Portland State University. The new studio started as a cooperative, with Michael Menger, the late Keith Goodman, and Gregg Bielemeier joining Oslund and Johnson in using the studio for classes, rehearsals and performances. Gradually, it moved toward becoming more of a community resource, used by many independent choreographers in the same ways, and Conduit is now a nonprofit.

Those of us who follow modern dance locally have a multitude of memories from performances at Conduit. The studio is intimate, but its high ceilings and large windows can make it seem light and airy, too, and performances seemed almost in your lap, especially if you arrived late and had to sit on the floor in front of the first row of seats. I saw terrific dances and terrific dancing at Conduit over the years, much of it coming from the very loose companies of dancers that assembled around Oslund and Mathern. And yes, occasionally I worried that a dancer wouldn’t be able to stop in time and come careening into me. They never did.

But this isn’t a eulogy for Conduit. Mathern, the Conduit board and staff, and the Conduit community are determined to keep the nonprofit going, Mathern said. It’s just a matter of finding a space. And Conduit isn’t alone: at this point, Oregon Ballet Theatre is also looking for a new home, and three other companies have just found and/or moved into new digs—AWOL, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris.

Still, I’ll miss the long climb to the 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building, a rite of passage made by dancers, choreographers and modern dance fans for two decades.

Dance Weekend: Linda Austin, WolfBird, AL Dancers

Linda Austin kicks off an epic solo project and other movement delights

If you are a dance fan and can’t get enough, full weekends like this one are the best. Starting on Friday night through Saturday, Linda Austin, the recent recipient of the  Regional Arts & Culture Council Performing Arts Fellowship will start the multi-concert (Un)Made: Solo Relay Series at Performance Works NW.  WolfBird Dance, an emerging contemporary dance company directed by Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones, also opens Friday and continues through Sunday evenings at Conduit. And Agnieszka Laska’s Dancers and Cascadia Composers combine forces to cap off the weekend on Sunday night at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

(Un)Made: Solo Relay Series
Stage one of a new multi-year project by Linda Austin
Beginning 8 pm March 13-14
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave, Portland
Like a great game of telephone, through a multi-year, multi-stage process, Linda Austin will explore the ideas of making, unmaking, transforming, transmitting and distilling of dance in a pass-along solo for 8-10 performers culminating in a community ensemble version of (Un)Made at the end of the cycle.

The slow build continues Fridays and Saturdays, the second weekend of each month at 8 pm.

March 13-14 Linda Austin
April 10-11 keyon gaskin + Jin Camou
May 8-9 Matthew Shyka + Linda K. Johnson
June 12-13 Nancy Ellis + Robert Tyree
July 10-11 Tahni Holt + Jen Hackworth
August 7-8 Special coda performance by 4 new performers! Details TBA

WolfBird Dance's "Your Idea of This"

WolfBird Dance’s “Your Idea of This”

Your Idea of This by WolfBird Dance
8 pm March 13-15
Conduit Dance, 918 SW Yamhill Street, Suite 401, 4th Floor,
This emerging contemporary dance company focusing on interdisciplinary collaboration and community, will be performing an interactive dance centered on six dancers, examining the fundamental themes of humanity; love, fear, humor and family drawn from their own experiences. “It is a look at fundamental themes of humanity, such as love, fear, humor, and relationships, and invites the audience to consider exactly how they perceive themselves and the world around them in light of these things.”

AL Dancers "Body Sung Electric"/Photo by Chris Leck

AL Dancers “Body Sung Electric”/Photo by Chris Leck

Agnieszka Laska Dancers (ALD) with Cascadia Composers
8 pm March 15
PSU Lincoln Performance Hall, Rm 175
Agnieszka Laska Dancers, a modern dance company with movement roots in the stylized forms of Martha Graham, Jose Limon, jazz andbBallet, will feature choreography by company members in collaboration with Cascadia Composers, using only music from regional composers. A lecture demonstration by Artistic Director Agnieszka Laska and Resident Composer/Technical Director Jack Gabel on their collaborative process will take place prior to the show.

Ballet 422: dancing on the screen

A fascinating documentary at Living Room Theaters traces the making of a New York City Ballet work by young choreographer Justin Peck

“We didn’t have money for anything,” Todd Bolender said in an interview about the making of his ballet Souvenirs.  Bolender was a founding member of New York City Ballet, in 1948; his Mother Goose, in which he also danced, was on the company’s inaugural program along with George Balanchine’s Orpheus.

I thought of Bolender and how much times have changed as I watched Ballet 422, the Frederick Wiseman-style film (National Gallery; La Danse) that documents the making of  NYCB resident choreographer Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, and much else. Ballet 422, directed by Jody Lee Lipes, is playing in Portland through March 19 at Living Room Theaters. The camera follows Peck over the two months it took to create the company’s 422nd new work (hence the title) since Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein established City Ballet more than sixty years ago.

Scene from "Ballet 422." Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures."

Scene from “Ballet 422.” Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.”

Peck was 25 in 2013, and dancing in the corps de ballet, when artistic director Peter Martins commissioned him to make Paz de la Jolla, effectively giving him one of the largest and best ballet companies in the world to play with.  I’m not just talking here about the 90-plus dancers. During the course of the film, we see Peck consulting with lighting designers, costume designers and makers, and others who gently educate him about what’s practical and what isn’t. Pianist Cameron Grant, who has been with the company since 1984, plays Bohuslav Martinu’s Sinfonietta de la Jolla for rehearsals; he is a magnificent pianist who plays for all of City Ballet’s piano ballets, and there are many.

Grant plays as if he loves the music, but the members of the orchestra, Peck and the film’s audience are told, do not: conductor Andrews Sill, the day before the premiere, asks Peck to give them some words of encouragement (which he pretty much fumbles through).  The camera pans on their elderly, unreceptive faces, and I remember that the orchestra didn’t always love the music Balanchine selected either.

The film begins with shots of the long corridors in the basement of the David H. Koch Theater, home base for City Ballet since 1964, but Lipes does not belabor the point the way Wiseman did in La Danse, his Paris Opera Ballet documentary; nor does he have any talking heads. This documentary shows, without telling, just what it takes to make a twenty-minute ballet, with three principal dancers and fifteen corps members, in slightly less than two months. That may seem like a long time, butthis company is rehearsing many ballets for its post-Nutcracker season, and Peck is dancing in a number of them.

Next, we see Peck taking company class, the dancers warming up beforehand; then, a rehearsal of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces, in which Peck is performing. After that, we get the first inkling of his choreographic process as, like a contemporary choreographer, he creates some movement on himself, after which we are shown him working with principal dancers Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck (no relation) and Amar Ramasar. Peck makes notes as these three beautiful dancers get the fast steps into their bodies. A dancer makes a couple of mistakes; Peck thinks they’re beautiful and incorporates them into the piece. Balanchine did this in Serenade, the first ballet he made on American soil, in 1935.

The camera follows Peck home to his apartment in Washington Heights, where he continues to work on the piece, listening to the music over and over, watching the movement on a laptop computer. We don’t see much of the contents of his living space, except for a piano and a large photograph of (I think) an unidentified composer, hanging above his desk.

One month before the premiere (we are told), costume shop staff are shown dyeing fabric in big clothes washers for, signs say, the “New Justin Peck.”  In the studio, rehearsing the dancers, Peck, in the argot of his generation, tells them, “It’s not like crispy enough.”  They do it again. “That’s super pretty,” he says.  This is a contemporary ballet that builds on the past, I think, as I watch a dancer performing perfectly centered fouettés (whip turns). Meanwhile, a costume maker is concerned about how well her skirt will move, “once she twirls.”  And Peck wants a lot of leg to show for another dancer, “because the lines are better.”

We are taken to dress rehearsal, where a section of the dance is filmed in an artificial blur, jarring in the context of the enlightening clarity of what came before. Peck gives notes, assisted by ballet master Albert Evans, who danced in the company for twenty-two years.  I’s are dotted, T’s, no doubt along with fingers, are crossed.  Peck remains startlingly calm throughout, making me wonder if any artistic tantrums were edited out. (In an interview with Sarah Kaufman published in the Washington Post, Lipes says not.)

Justin Peck in a scene from "Ballet 422." Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

Justin Peck in a scene from “Ballet 422.” Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

Showtime: and Peck is filmed walking toward the Koch Theater, going down the stairs to his dressing room, putting on a suit and tie, while the dancers are filmed putting on makeup, having their hair done.  Out in the house, we see little girls all dressed up to see the ballet (are they relatives of Peck, I wonder?), the musicians taking their places, dancers doing a barre backstage.  Peck works the lobby crowd and then slides into an aisle seat next to critic Mindy Aloff, who decades ago wrote incisive reviews in Portland for Willamette Week and edited the performance program magazine Encore.

Good grief, I thought, is she reviewing?  Turns out she was there as Peck’s guest. He had been her student, in 2008, a year after he joined City Ballet. He was taking classes at Columbia’s School of General Studies, and he enrolled in Aloff’s course in dance criticism at Barnard. From Aloff’s e-mail response to my questions:  “After his oral presentation comparing a film by Astaire and one by Gene Kelly, I asked him, casually, in front of the class, if he had ever choreographed–something about the way he spoke of images. He said, ‘No, should I?’ And I said that he might try, that I thought he might enjoy it. The next thing I knew, he’d become the choreographer in residence for NYCB.”

So she wasn’t reviewing, but Aloff’s delighted smile as she watched the premiere is a review Peck can take to the bank, although it would be difficult to replicate on a grant application, or in a press release.

Peck, too, is filmed watching his work on opening night, the camera providing the viewers with flashbacks of rehearsal vignettes, presumably going through the choreographer’s mind as he looked at  the finished work. We however, don’t get to do that, and while I understand that this is a post-modern film about process, and not the results of that process (I refuse to call a work of art a product), I would like to have seen how all those bits and pieces finally came together in a finished work.

We do see Peck taking his curtain calls, congratulating the dancers, and then wending his way back to his dressing room to put on makeup and costume for the next ballet on the program, Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH.  Ballet 422 concludes with a heart-stoppingly beautiful shot of Lincoln Center Plaza and then the credits roll.

I saw the film on Sunday afternoon at Living Room Theaters, in the company of many dance students and  professionals,  including Natasha Bar, who teaches at Portland Ballet and is the mother of Ellen Bar, a former City Ballet dancer, and one of the film’s producers. When the lights went up, she looked extremely pleased, and well she should have been. How pleasant to see a clearly informative film about ballet with none of the sturm and drang, not to mention pedantry, that have so frequently been the hallmarks of past cinematic treatments of the art form.



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