DANCE

‘Snow Queen’ review: Frozen journey

Though some tweaks are needed, premiere performance of Eugene Ballet's dazzling new original production of H.C. Andersen’s classic tale shows promise

by RACHAEL CARNES

After years of dreaming and ideation, Eugene Ballet’s The Snow Queen premiered last weekend, a dazzling spectacle of stagecraft that was most compelling in its moments of pure, unadorned dance.

Yuki Beppu as Gerda in Eugene Ballet’s ‘The Snow Queen.’

It’s the largest production in Eugene Ballet Company’s 38 years, featuring the longest commissioned score — by Portland composer Kenji Bunch — in Oregon’s history. Every bit of the artistic effort, from sets to costumes, props to animations, was labored over by more than 150 artists and designers from the Eugene community, under the vision of inimitable EBC Artistic Director Toni Pimble.

EBC clearly has poured its heart into this story about a girl name Gerda, whose friend Kay disappears one day, inspiring her to go on a mission to find him.

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: A ballet that might change your mind about ballet

Oregon Ballet Theatre closes its season with "Terra," White Bird's Che Malambo, Le Chic Le Freak and so much more

I had a realization on Saturday night at the Newmark Theatre while watching Helen Pickett’s ultra-bright, Gerbera daisy-inspired Petal, performed by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Ballet, like modern or contemporary dance, is experimental, too. And what I was seeing was Pickett’s experiment with time, space, form, color, sound, etc., within the context of classical ballet. She was making choreographic choices different from ballets norm. Depending on your own dance experience, that may sound strange or obvious, but all I’ve ever known of ballet was the classics like Swan Lake and Giselle, works that are tried, true, and proven to be “good” because they have withstood the test of time. Anything outside of those seemed to be considered “other” or “not-ballet.”

I realized that I expect perfection from ballet because that’s what ballet is, an embodiment of perfection and control over the body and its surroundings. Because of that, there is little room for imperfection and experimentation in the form, at least that’s what I’ve come to think, which isn’t really fair to ballet, is it? And where does that leave today’s classical ballet choreographers?

I also realized that I am attached to the formula of classical ballet, the linear storytelling, the gender stereotypes, the patriarchy, the unrealistic happy ending, etc. Even though I don’t love it, it’s what I’ve come to expect, it’s familiar, and yet I claim to be a liberal, modern woman. Go figure. I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago. Seeing Pickett’s work on the program, both Petal and Terra, completely disrupted my belief system surrounding classical ballet, and have in turn jump-started a series of internal questions that I would like to share with you here.

What defines classical ballet? Are the dancers still classical dancers even though they are performing contemporary work? Is that idea fluid? Can a dancer be both a classical and contemporary dancer? Is contemporary work changed by being performed by a classical company and vice versa? Will the definition of classical ballet change as we get further away from its inception, and more and more new ballets are created? How much has it already changed? Why is it so important for ballet companies to define what kind of ballet they do, when almost all of the ballet companies do both classical and contemporary work? Why do people have to define themselves against what they are not? Why does anyone try to define themselves at all? When do new classics get created? What will audiences in 100 years consider classical ballets? Will there be ballets created now that will be added to that roster? Was I seeing work this weekend that will stand the test of time and be considered a classic someday?

ArtsWatcher Martha Ullman West was at Terra opening night and gives her review here.

Terra, the final program of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2016-2017 Season of Giants concludes this weekend with three more performances, closing on Saturday night.

Other experimental works happening around Portland this weekend, include the touring production of the Jersey Boys, new works by XPOSED choreographers Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, Barbara Lima, and Jess Zoller at Polaris Dance Theatre, Butoh with Mari Osanai from Japan through the Butoh College Performance Series at The Headwaters Theatre, student performance at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Le Chic Le Freak (an ode to the Disco era by Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company), collaborations between dancers and musicians at Reed College and at New Expressive Works, and Che Malambo, the dancing Argentinian cowboys presented by White Bird.

Performances this week

Photo courtesy of Jersey Boys.

Jersey Boys
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
April 18-23
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
You can’t have musical theatre without dance, and Jersey Boys, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo, is no exception to that rule. This dancin’ in the aisles, sing-a-long trip down memory lane story follows the quick rise to fame of the 1960’s rock band, The Fours Seasons and includes familiar songs such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry,  Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Pacific Dance Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Pacific University Department of Theatre & Dance.

DanceWorks XIV
Pacific Dance Ensemble
Pacific University Department of Theatre & Dance
April 20-22
Tom Miles Theatre at Warner Hall, 2043 College Way, Forest Grove
Celebrating its 14th season, Pacific Dance Ensemble will feature choreography by dance department faculty members James Healey, Mary Hunt, Anita Mitchell, and artistic Director, Jennifer Camp and student choreographer Annalise Nilson.

Martina Chavez and Colby Parsons in Duacho’s “Jardi Tancat.” Photo: Emily Nash

Terra
Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-22
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Celebrating the warmth and earthiness of Mediterranean culture, ritualistic dance, and the return of spring, Oregon Ballet Theatre concludes its 2016-2017 Season of Giants with Terra, a program that features a world premiere by former William Forsythe dancer Helen Pickett, itself called Terra, and two dances by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato; Jardí Tancat, Duato’s first choreographed work from 1983 and El Naranjo (The Orange Tree), a sensuous pas de deux from a larger work called Gnawa.

Mysticism, Modernity, and Motion
Reed College Performing Arts
7 pm April 21
Reed College Performing Arts, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
Exploring themes of minimalism and pandiatonicism, the Reed College Chorus and Collegium Musicum, in collaboration with the Reed Dance Department, presents an evening of music and dance conducted by John K. Cox. The program includes music by by Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Erik Esenvalds, Philip Glass, Olivier Messiaen, David Lang, and Gustav Holst.

Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company in Le Chic Le Freak.

Le Chic Le Freak
Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company
April 21-22
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St
Celebrating the birth and evolution of Disco, Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company presents Le Chic Le Freak, a comedic and thought-provoking work that combines pole dancing, acrobatics, and dance in the vision of artistic director and company dancer Shannon Gee.

Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

XPOSED
Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, (Spain), Barbara Lima (Brazil), and Jess Zoller.
Polaris Dance Theatre
April 21-29
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave
Polaris Dance Theatre presents new dance works from choreographers Barbara Lima from Brazil, Spanish dance artists and current company member Gerard Regot, founding company member M’Liss Quinnly and artistic director of Polaris’s Junior and Neo companies, current company member Jessica Zoller, as well as two new works by artistic director Robert Guitron.

The works consider ideas of community, individualism against universalism, and politics, playing with energy, group dynamics and the architecture of the body and bodies.

Butoh dancer Mari Osanai. Photo courtesy of Mari Osanai.

P.S-1
Mari Osanai
Butoh College Performance Series
April 22
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NW Farragut St
Influenced by Tai Chi, Western dance methods, and traditional folk dances of Japan, Butoh dance artist Mari Osanai, from Aomori, Japan, finds connections between the mind, gravity’s influence on the body, and the body’s connection to the earth, in her dance research and performance.

Annual School Performance
The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
Choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper, and Anthony Jones
April 22-23
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
The annual showcase of The School of Oregon Ballet will feature Oregon Ballet School students and OBT2 dancers in works by George Balanchine, Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, former OBT dancer Alison Roper, and school director, Anthony Jones.

Jazz Collaborations at New Expressive Works.

Jazz Collaborations
Dayna Stephens, Tom Sandahl, Okropong, and Shape Theory Project
Co-produced by New Expressive Works (N.E.W.) and Loose Wig Jazz
7:30 pm April 23
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St (in the WYSE Building)
A collaborative evening between jazz tenor saxophonists and composer Dayna Stephens, guitarist Tom Sandahl, and musicians from the Obo Addy Legacy Project alongside dancers Amanda Morse, Kelly Koltiska, Ivy Farrell, Jana Zahler and Ruth Nelson from the Shape Theory Project led by Ruth Nelson.

Che Malambo presented by White Bird/Photo by Diane Smithers

Che Malambo
Presented by White Bird
April 25-26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Che Malambo is an all-male, Argentinian dance company that has adapted the dance style of the gaucho, or South American cowboy of the pampas, for the contemporary stage. Movements that were originally designed to emphasize agility, strength, and dexterity among the gauchos is now high-energy choreography featuring rhythmic footwork, drums, singing, and musical accompaniment.

Upcoming Performances

April
April 27-29, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, Hosted by the Jefferson Dancers
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 29, Yuko Kaseki, Butoh College Performance Series
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 29, Yuko Kaseki (Berlin), Butoh College Performance Series
May
May 4-7, Direct Path To Detour, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5, Alice Gosti showing and reception, Hosted by Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance
May 6, Place, Vitality Dance Collective
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Chickens and Cheese Pizza, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Critical Engagement Series with Lu Yim, hosted by Flock Dance Center/Tahni Holt
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 13, Feria de Portland, hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
May 13, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anjali School of Dance
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
July
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

‘Terra’ firma: OBT’s dancers shine

A ballet program of Nacho Duato and Helen Pickett, including the premiere of her "Terra" belongs to the company's performers

Xuan Cheng, Thomas Baker, Peter Franc, Michael Linsmeier, Avery Reiners, and Brian Simcoe, gazing upward, their mouths held open in a butoh-like silent scream, in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s Terra.

Jacqueline Straughan wrapping her long, beautiful legs around Franc’s bare torso in Nacho Duato’s El Naranjo.

Martina Chavez, bent double, skittering across the stage barefoot in Duato’s Jardi Tancat.

Emily Parker, metaphorically taking down Linsmeier and Franc with a flick of her pointe shoe aimed at the back of their knees in Pickett’s Petal.

The OBT company in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s “Terra.” Photo: James McGrew

For better or worse, these are some of the images – all of them of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers ( this show belongs to them) – I’ve been mulling over since Thursday night when the company opened its annual mixed repertory program at the Newmark Theater.

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Ballet closes with ‘Terra’

A busy weekend of dance also includes BodyVox, butoh, Flamenco and more

Celebrating the warmth and earthiness of Mediterranean culture, ritualistic dance, and the return of spring, as Oregon Ballet Theatre concludes its 2016-2017 Season of Giants with Terra, this weekend. The program features a world premiere by former William Forsythe dancer Helen Pickett, itself called Terra, and two dances by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato.

Pickett’s Terra is set to an original score by American Composer Jeff Beal, of House of Cards fame, and takes inspiration from indigenous cultures, contemporary ballet, and the writings of American mythologist Joseph Campbell. Another dance by Pickett, Petal, danced to the music of Philip Glass, is also on the program.

OBT’s artistic director, Kevin Irving, was principal rehearsal director of Duato’s Compania Nacional de Danza for eight years, and he will restage Duato’s first choreographic work ever, Jardí Tancat from 1983. The piece tells the story of hardworking Mediterranean farmers enduring the hardships of Mother Nature. The second dance, El Naranjo (The Orange Tree), is a sensuous pas de deux from a larger work called Gnawa.

A collection of one-nighters—Requiem of Flower by Butoh artists Ken Mai, an evening of flamenco with El Cuadro Pepe & Lillie, BodyVox at TEDxPortland, and Bridge the Gap, a cross-genre, community-building performance featuring a range of dance styles from Bollywhacking to Vogueing—also share the spring spotlight this weekend.

Jersey Boys, a touring musical about the ‘60’s vocal group The Fours Seasons and its rise to fame, opens on Tuesday.

Mark your calendars, it’s a full schedule!

Performances this week!

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Martina Chavez. Photo: James McGrew

Terra
Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-22
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway

See above info.

Butoh dancer Ken Mai. Photo courtesy of Ken Mai.

Requiem of Flower 鎮魂歌
Ken Mai (Helsinki)
Butoh College Performance Series
8 pm April 15
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NW Farragut St

A student of the butoh styles of Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata as well as German expressionist dance, Helsinki artist Ken Mai will perform Requiem of Flower, an ode to beauty in decay.

In speaking about the piece Ohno says,“The lifetime of a flower is fleeting. In only a brief period of days, the totality of the flower becomes as eternal as the cosmos, blossoming unabashedly into the most delicate, ephemeral and erotic expression. Shortly after, the pollen is diffused, absorbed and regenerated again for future descendants. There is no regret in its decay.”

Dance writer Wendy Perron wrote a great, comprehensive article called The Power of Stripping Down to Nothingness on the history of Butoh and its connection to the Western world for The New York Times in 1999. Perron says, “Butoh (shortened from ”ankoko butoh,” meaning ”dance of utter darkness”) grew out of the American occupation of Japan as an effort to resist the Westernization of Japanese culture. It drew on the ancient forms of Kabuki and Noh, especially in their embrace of the grotesque. Tatsumi Hijikata, the primary originator of butoh, was known for his transgressions into vulgarities and violence, as well as his meticulous, riveting dancing. The challenge of butoh is to reveal the nakedness of the soul as well as the nakedness of the body.” Click here for the full article.

Matt Wong Photography — with Pepe Raphael and Lillie Last.

Las Perlas: an evening of flamenco variety
El Cuadro Pepe & Lillie
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
8:00 pm April 15
The Echo Theater, 1515 SE 37th Ave

Spanish Flamenco singers Alfonso Cid from Sevilla and Pepe Raphael from Madrid, join forces with guitarist Brenna McDonald, Jed Miley and Mehdi Farjami and four dancers—Lillie Last, Laura Onizuka Christina Lorentz and Brenna McDonald—in this evening celebration of the Flamenco art form.

Flamenco is a folkloric tradition that combines song, dance, instrumentals (guitar mostly), hand clapping and finger snapping and originated in Andalusia in Spain. This art form is an amalgamation of centuries of cross-pollination among the many cultures that existed in Spain. Because it is a folkloric tradition and was passed down aurally until the mid-18th century, its history is imprecise, though it is thought to be greatly influenced by the Roma people, called Gitanos, who migrated from Rajasthan (Western India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, bringing with them tambourines, bells, castanets and a variety of songs and dances. The arm, hand and foot movements of Flamenco closely resemble those of classical Indian dance styles. These traditions combined with the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and Moors make up the Flamenco we see today.

The Flamenco dance (baile) can be characterized by the light graceful arm movements of the female dancer and the contrasting stomping foot drills of the man. It is intense, passionate, sexual and deeply emotional.

The song, (canto) which is the core of Flamenco, has three forms: grande or hondo (grand or deep) intense, profound, tragic in feeling and steeped with duende, which is the transformation of the musician by the depth of emotion; intermedio (intermediate), moderately serious; and pequeño (small), light, energetic songs of love.

The Spanish playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, who grew up in southern Spain and was greatly inspired and influenced by the Roma culture, spoke in depth about duende in his essay Theory and Play of the Duende, written in 1933.

Synesthesia by BodyVox. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Synesthesia-BodyVox
Spectrum, TEDx Portland
April 15
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St

Synaesthesia is the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.

Back in January ArtsWatcher Bob Hicks reviewed BodyVox’s concert Urban Meadow which featured Synesthesia. Hicks described the piece as “visual play” “set to a score by Ravel, in which the five performers pile together and move in front of a video camera that fragments their images like a kaleidoscope and projects them above the stage. The dancers are in essence dancing against themselves; viewers dart their eyes between the “real” performers and their larger projected selves, which are similar but transformed into something almost geometric.”

BodyVox Dance Company joins Portland’s large creative community in a performance of Synesthesia for TEDx Portland choreographed by BodyVox founder Ashley Roland.

Bridge the Gap
Kumari Suraj, Isaiah Esquire, Johnny Nuriel, Daniel Giron, DJ Prashant’s Jai Ho Dance Troupe, DonnaMation, Icon, SEPIATONIC
Presented by Sepiatonic
9 pm April 15
Paris Theatre, 6 SW 3rd Ave

This dance party/performance aims to cross-pollinate the different genres of Portland’s dance and electronic music scene by offering performances in voguing, waacking, belly dancing, popping, Bollywood, samba and burlesque. Performers include international Bollywhacking artist Kumari Suraj, boylesque dancers Isaiah Esquire and Johnny Nuriel, voguing artist Daniel Giron, Bollywood dancer DJ Prashant and his Jai Ho Dance Troupe, and street dancers DonnaMation and Icon, experts in popping and locking.

Jersey Boys
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
April 18-23
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St

You can’t have musical theatre without dance, and Jersey Boys is no exception to that rule. This dancin’ in the aisles, sing-a-long trip down memory lane story follows the quick rise to fame of the 1960’s rock band, The Fours Seasons and includes familiar songs such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo made his Broadway debut as a performer in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989, appeared in Guys and Dolls in 1992, Victor/Victoria in 1998 and Fosse in 1999.

That same year Trujillo choreographed Jersey Boys, he also had three other musicals up and running on Broadway: The Addams Family, Memphis and Next to Normal.

In an interview with Trujillo in 2010, director Christopher Ashley describes Trujillo as a perfectionist and a great editor in his choreographic process. “If a dance doesn’t “pay off” Trujillo is more than willing to dispense with it and move on. He’s a real perfectionist,” said Ashley. “He really does his homework. He walks in the door with a very complete idea of what it could be, and he also sees very clearly what’s in front of him. He’s kind of ruthless about throwing away things that don’t work, even if he thought of them.”

Maybe THIS is the secret to his choreographic success.

Performances next week

April 18-23, Jersey Boys, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
April 21-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre
April 22, Mari Osanai (Japan), Butoh College Performance Series
April 22-23, Annual School Performance, The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper and Anthony Jones
April 25-26, Che Malambo, Presented by White Bird

Upcoming Performances

April
April 27-29, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, Hosted by the Jefferson Dancers
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 29, Yuko Kaseki (Berlin), Butoh College Performance Series
May
May 4-7, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
July
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

‘Snow Queen’ part 7: Taking the stage

Eugene Ballet's original production premieres this weekend

Story and photos by BOB KEEFER

Editor’s note: Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer is tracking Eugene Ballet’s creation of a new version of The Snow Queen on his Eugene Art Talk blog. This is the concluding installment.

Eugene Ballet’s The Snow Queen is just about ready to freeze our hearts. The costumes are sewn. The set has been constructed. Lighting is being devised. And Toni Pimble, the ballet’s long-time artistic director, has completed her original choreography for the show, which makes its world premiere in two performances Saturday and Sunday (April 8 and 9) at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, this is a big deal arts event for a town like Eugene. Starting perhaps three years ago, the ballet pulled together more than a quarter million dollars in grants to create an all-new version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale (which, much simplified, forms the basis of Frozen). In the story, the evil Snow Queen kidnaps the young boy Kay, who is later rescued, after much adventure, by the girl Gerda, his friend.

Company dancer Victoria Harvey at a Snow Queen rehearsal

The grant money assembled by the ballet has gone for everything from the new sets and costumes, being designed and created here by Nadya Geras-Carson and Jonna Hayden, to the luscious score, by which is composed by Portland’s Kenji Bunch and is to be performed by Orchestra Next, the student/professional orchestra conducted by Brian McWhorter.

At 90 minutes in length, the score, the ballet reports, is the largest piece of orchestral music ever composed in Oregon.

We checked in with Pimble last week as she rehearsed her dancers and finished off the last bits of Snow Queen choreography with them. A co-founder with Riley Grannan of Eugene Ballet 39 years ago, Pimble has been working with her dancers as often as six days a week the last few months. She was determined to get the choreography nailed down, she said, by a full week before opening night.

“The dancers need a chance to grow into their roles,” Pimble explained. “So for the last week we can be refining it.”

Choreographing a new ballet to the original score the ballet commissioned from Bunch has been hard work — and that was on purpose, Pimble said. She didn’t want to create her new ballet to easy music.

Artistic director and choreographer Toni Pimble.

“The music has been pretty challenging, which is what we wanted,” she said. “At the same time it has to be accessible to the audience. The dancers are used to working with difficult music. Rite of Spring (which the ballet performed in 2012) is a great example of difficult music, and they are used to working with that.”

Pimble’s first step with her choreography was working with the dancers to create a crow scene (friendly crows are the allies of Gerda in her search for Kay). Pimble said she picked that one to start with because Bunch’s music for it was so complex.

She played me a bit of the music for that scene from the recording of the score by Orchestra Next. To be honest, I never could figure out where the beat was. Bunch, she said, had done research on crows while writing the music; he discovered they make two different calls at the same time. Bunch’s music is layered in complex ways, she said.

“I started with that scene because I was so worried about that music. I mean, I told him to make it hard. But oh, god.…”

But the dancers quickly got it. “It doesn’t sound random to us anymore,” Pimble said.

Untypically for classical ballet, which tends to open softly and quietly, Pimble’s Snow Queen starts with a bit of a bang — a big production number with lots of dancers filling the stage.

Principal dancer Danielle Tolmie practices her Snow Queen moves in the studio.

Principal dancer Danielle Tolmie, who has the icy role of the Snow Queen herself, said that first scene involves a great deal of sheer physical work as the dancers race around the stage. “It’s like the chase at the beginning of a James Bond movie,” she said. “That first scene is going to be very tiring. But to get to act evil is a fun experience.”

This is Tolmie’s ninth season dancing with the ballet. She started as an apprentice dancer, then put in four seasons in the corps before becoming a principal last season.

Dark, evil characters, the dancer said, are seldom portrayed in the ballet world by women. So Tolmie’s very happy to dance the Snow Queen, who steals and freezes the little boy Kay in this dark tale of love conquering evil.

“Most of the evil characters always go to men,” she said. “For a woman to get one is fun!”

This is the seventh and final story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment. See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble; Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson; Part Three, on composer Kenji Bunch,  Part Four, on costume designer Jonna Hayden, Part Five on dancers Isaac Jones and Sara Stockwell, and Part Six on recording the score, which is now available on CD from the company.

Eugene Ballet premieres The Snow Queen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

Bob Keefer is an arts writer and exhibiting photographer in Eugene, and arts editor of Eugene Weekly. You can see his work at EugeneArtTalk.com and at BobKeeferPhoto.com.

Want to read more about Oregon dance? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

DanceWatch Weekly: Zipping through dance history

An important new film about Portland dance history, Ronald K. Brown, Eugene Ballet and a Butoh series highlight the week in dance

Dance offerings this weekend zip around through history’s timeline and around the world, bringing us ballet from the early 19th century, to a film documenting Portland’s contemporary dance history, to newer contemporary dance works that combines cultural aesthetics in exploration of self and place.

Portland dance artist and filmmaker Eric Nordstrom has captured six decades of contemporary dance in Portland in his new film Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present. The film screens Thursday night at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium in partnership with the NW Film Center.

With the help of some of Portland’s most notable dance artists and writers, along with archival research, Nordstrom has been begun the process of chronicling the history and evolution of contemporary dance in Portland.

Back in June 2016 I interviewed Nordstrom prior to the screening of the film’s first iteration, and I thought I would share that conversation with you again here.

Also happening this weekend is the performance of three works by Brooklyn choreographer Ronald K. Brown and his dance company Evidence, presented by White Bird. Brown has been making work since 1987 that integrates traditional African and contemporary movement aesthetics.

From April 8-11 Brown and his company members will be teaching a series of workshops at Reed College on composition and dance technique, and will give a lecture demonstration on April 10. Space is limited so register soon.

Interview with Eric Nordstrom

What inspired you to make this film?

Having danced in Portland for a decade (with Oslund and Co., Keith V. Goodman, Linda K. Johnson, and POV Dance, among others), I feel like, before this project, my knowledge of the history of dance in Portland was limited. I was seeing a lot of new people moving to Portland with an interest in dance, and realized that most of them were even more unfamiliar with the history of Portland dance, and yet that they were—through their own practices—becoming part of a rich genealogy. I wanted to make this film to honor those who built the contemporary dance scene in Portland, and also for those of us who are currently dancing here to connect with the past.

How long have you been working on this project?

A year-and-a-half. The catalyst to start the groundwork for this film was receiving a RACC grant.

Where have you sourced the most information about Portland’s dance history?

I have worked in the archives at Reed College and Portland State University, which both contain rich materials in the forms of photographs of past performances, and press releases, course rosters, and other primary documents from when both colleges were central to the dance community in Portland and participated in the shaping of Portland Dance.

The most information has come from my one-on-one interviews with over thirty prominent figures from the history of contemporary dance in Portland. These include Vaunda Carter, Bonnie Merrill, Judy Patton, Nancy Matschek, and Gregg Bielemeier, among others. Many of the artists with whom I spoke had their own archives—old VHS tapes of their own performances, often relegated to closets or basements. Part of the goal of this film is to take this material, preserve it, and to centralize it. This is one part of the film about which I am especially excited.

With this film, I’m doing three things: 1. Gathering the information about Portland dance history through these interviews and this archival footage. 2. Preserving this information by recording the interviews and converting artists’ VHS videos to digital format. And 3. Coordinating with the PSU archives to house footage of some of the seminal performances referenced in the film, and some of the interviews in their entirety.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned from your research?

I was surprised to learn how the contemporary dance scene in Portland really stemmed from early programs at both PSU and Reed College. It made me realize how much of an impact university resources have on professional companies, and how professional companies can really influence education. This is certainly something to consider as PSU has just abolished its plans to reinstitute its Dance major—which was cut in 1994—and cut its only full time Dance faculty position; this position’s job was supposed to be to help grow the program back into a major. This feels like a real lost opportunity not just for students, but also the Portland dance community. It will be interesting to see what happens at Reed now that they—for the first time in the history of the college—have a Dance major starting in Fall 2016.

Also, I was fascinated to learn about Vaunda Carter’s PBS television show from the early 1970s. It was called Vaunda’s View and played after Sesame Street.

Another pleasure was hearing recollections about Keith Goodman and Jann Dryer, two very influential people in Portland dance who are now deceased. It was really touching to talk to friends and colleagues of both of these artists, and to hear how important their work was, and how they are missed.

The other thing that is crucial to mention is that during the time of making this film, Conduit—Portland’s longtime incubator for contemporary dance—was evicted from their space on the fourth floor of the Pythian Building, where they’d been for almost two decades. Then it was announced that Conduit is closing the doors of their new rental space in the Ford Building. Conduit has been around for 20 years, and has long been the center of Portland dance. Their shuttering is an indication of a changing landscape in Portland, and this event asks us if this changing landscape is for the better or worse for our city. This is a great moment to look back at Conduit, and I hope that this film honors the space and all of the people involved in making Conduit what is has been.

How did you get involved in dance for film?

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Spring Break dancing

Just because school's out doesn't mean the dancers aren't dancing

It’s spring break here in Portland, and I am living vicariously through all of you with a margarita in hand who have spent the week on a soft, warm, tropical beach somewhere. Yes, it’s finally happened: I have Rain Fatigue. We had one sunny day on Monday, and I was bouncing around like a puppy.

But, all of this relaxing and vacationing does not mean that Portland dancers are on a break too, by no means, because, you know, dancers never rest. Right? Well sometimes they do, but not this week, rain fatigue or not.

Skinner/Kirk’s Burn It Backwards repeats for a second weekend. Martha Ullman West reviewed for ArtsWatch (“What the company is dancing about this year is the many ways men relate to each other, or fail to, and also about American social and political norms”) and I previewed for the Oregonian, and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus goes inside the body continues as well.

In Conversation—photography and performance with dance artist Tracy Broyles along with musicians Adrian Hutapea and Lisa De Grace plays one night only at Blue Sky Gallery, and “Duality: Dance Ballet of India” by bharatnatyam choreographer Jayanthi Raman has a one-night stand as well.

On Saturday I will be hosting a free, informal showing of choreography by three Portland choreographers—Jana Zahler, WolfBird Dance (a Portland dance company directed by Selina Dipronio and Raven Jones) and myself. I have remounted my The Kitchen Sink, which debuted in November, with two new dancers, and we are headed to the Bay Area next week to perform in the Dance Up Close/East Bay festival, alongside Bay Area choreographer Abigail Hosein’s (ahdanco) and Tanya Chianese (ka.nei.see|collective). If you are interested in seeing dance in all of its developmental stages, this is the evening for you.

Closing out the weekend will be Shen Yun, a large scale dance production created in response to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and its destruction of ancient Chinese culture billed as “5000 years of chinese music and dance in one night.” The dancing, colors, costumes, lighting and virtual transport to another era are a perfect way to welcome spring.

Performances happening this week

Skinner/Kirk. Photo by Christopher Peddecord

Burn It Backwards
Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble
Presented by BodyVox
March 30-April1
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Add Martha review
Burn It Backwards is a new work from BodyVox Dance company founders Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk that combines five male dancers—Kirk, Skinner, James Healey, Chase Hamilton and Brent Luebbert, with the music of the late Portland singer, songwriter and musician Elliott Smith.

The work explores relationships: the bodies relationship to itself; to other dancers’ bodies; to the space around the body; and to the world at large. And it also looks into such concepts as ostracism and optimism through patterning, geometric shapes and physicality.

Photo courtesy of Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus.

Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus goes inside the body
Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus
March 31-April 1
Echo Theater, 1515 SE 37th Ave
Sir Cupcake, a gender-bending circus performer, is stranded in the future and his magic time-traveling pocket-watch had been sabotaged. His internal organs have been all mixed up and his heart has gone missing. The Queer Circus must travel inside Sir Cupcake’s body and put his organs back together and find his missing heart, in this performance/adventure featuring rope artist Kiebpoli “Black Acrobat” Calnek, from San Francisco, DieAna Dae and Box of Clowns, contortion by Meg Russell, and duo acrobatics by Ari and Ben, and more!

Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus celebrates queer and trans identities with storytelling and performances by queer and transgender people and their allies. The Saturday March 25 performance will be ASL interpreted and Audio Described (headsets provided). Echo Theater is wheelchair accessible and has a gender neutral bathroom.

The Kitchen Sink  by Jamuna Chiarini. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Informal showing of new work
Jamuna Chiarini, Jana Zahler and WolfBird Dance
6 pm April 1
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave

See above.

“Velvet” by Lauren Semivan at Blue Sky Gallery.

In Conversation- photography and performance
7 pm April 1
Blue Sky /Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts. 122 NW 8th Ave
In response and reflection to Lauren Semivan’s current photography exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery, Portland dance artist Tracy Broyles, musician Adrian Hutapea and musician Lisa De Grace will come together and recreate live, images and sensations from the photographs.

The 20-minute performance will be repeated six times over the course of 90 minutes, and the audience is invited to come and go as they like.

Duality: Dance Ballet of India
Presented by Rasika, Jayanthi Raman
4 pm April 1
Portland bharatnatyam choreographer Jayanthi Raman tells the story of Lalitha Ram, a young girl who moves from South India to Portland, Oregon, and finds herself straddling dual cultures. The performance will be supported by a visiting dancers from India and with the music of maestro U. Rajesh, featuring the voice of Bollywood singer Hariharan and percussionists Selvaganesh and S.V. Ramani.

Shen Yun
Presented by Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 4-5
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay Street
Shen Yun, or “the beauty of divine beings dancing,” is a production created in response to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and its destruction of ancient Chinese culture. Shen Yun was created in 2006 by a group of artists and Falun Dafa practitioners in New York City as a means to revive Chinese culture through dance, music and storytelling. Because Shen Yun does not abide by the Chinese Communist Party rules, the company has been harassed from its inception. Documentation of those experiences by the company are shared on their website under the heading “Challenges we face.”

Performances next week

April
April 6, Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, Eric Nordstrom
April 6-8, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Presented by White Bird
April 7-29, Butoh College Performance Series, Hosted by Water in the Desert
April 8-9, A Festival of Dance, NW Dance Theatre, choreography by Laura Haney, Maria Tucker, Leonid Shagalov, M’liss Stephenson and Erin Zintek.
April 8-9, The Snow Queen, Eugene Ballet Company
April 9, Spiral-a dance film by Amit Zinman, Portland Underground Film Festival
April 10, Noontime Showcase OBT2, Presented by Portland’5

Upcoming Performances

April 15, Episode III, dance film by Jin Camou and Julia Calabrese
April 15, Synesthesia, BodyVox, TEDx Portland
April 15, Bridge the Gap, Presented by Sepiatonic
April 13-22, Terra, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 14-16, New work by Jin Camou, Performance Works NW Alembic Co-Production
April 21-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre
April 22-23, Annual School Performance, The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper and Anthony Jones
April 25-26, Che Malambo, Presented by White Bird
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
May
May 4-7, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
July
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans