Rodin and the shape of dance

A dancer's tour through the Portland Art Museum's big Rodin exhibition reveals the movement in the metal

There are many ways to look at art, all kinds of art, depending on your experience, your history, your knowledge, your point of view and your passions. Personally, and professionally, I am always interested in the links between dance and visual art, which are many and varied and not always obvious.

So is Portland Art Museum docent Carol Shults, whose ballet expertise ranges from teaching it to lecturing on its history, and is a friend of mine. For several years she has been leading special tours of the museum’s collection, and when appropriate, visiting exhibitions, in a series titled “Dance and Movement in Art.” The most recent was the first Saturday in February, when she offered a glimpse – more than a glimpse – of the intersection of dance and sculpture, first with a piece in PAM’s permanent collection, then with a close look at several pieces in the exhibition Rodin: The Human Experience, selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections, on view until April 16.


Fujikasa Satoko, “Flow #1,” 2011, stoneware with matte white slip, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by The Asian Art Council, © Fujikasa Satoko, 2013.15.1

The tour began in the Schnitzer Family Gallery on the main floor, where modern choreographer Gregg Bielemeier performed his own fluid, meditative movement take on Flow #1. The abstract ceramic sculpture is part of a series of meticulously fashioned, delicately balanced pieces that Japanese contemporary sculptor Fujikasa Satoko conceived of when she was only thirty-one.


DanceWatch Weekly: Inside and outside the bubble

The Oregon dance scene extends beyond Portland, we are happy to report, and a ton's happening in town, too

When I lived on the East Coast, New Jersey specifically, it took about an hour-and-a-half of driving to get anywhere—to New York, Philadelphia, even to southern New Jersey. That was the norm, it was accepted, and we did it obediently, with occasional grumbling here and there. But I’m glad I did it because New Jersey did not offer the artistic communities, resources and variety that I craved. Don’t get me wrong, Jersey isn’t ALL bad, it does have the best pizza and bagels in the land, and it’s home to a magical place called Grounds For Sculpture, a 45-acre outdoor sculpture park, inhabited by a pride of peacocks.

Because of this experience, I was relieved when I arrived in Portland five years ago to discover that everything I wanted and needed was just 10-15 minutes away from home. But now, in the process of scouring the internet for dance performances, I am learning a lot about dance communities outside of Portland, and my original concept of Portland’s community has broadened to include them. I see these communities as opportunities for exchange and partnership, and a way to break out of the Portland bubble and connect to other dance communities. It’s time to get back in my car.


DanceWatch Weekly: Tech and the beauty of dance

The tech savvy Rainbow Dance Theatre and a great performance by Butoh artist Teresa Vanderkin lead to speculations about what makes great dance

It’s raining here in Portland, a steady stream of tiny droplets creating vertical lines over a backdrop of lush green trees, waving gently in the wind against the dark gray sky. It’s a beautiful, peaceful moment. I love how Portland’s gray skies, combined with the humidity, make colors pop. People who don’t know Portland winters think it’s ALL gray and dark, but they don’t realize that without the background gray, you wouldn’t see/appreciate the color.

Right now, because of the constant bombardment of bad news from the Trump administration, I am fatigued, full of feelings, and I am actively seeking out moments of beauty and connectivity as a salve.

Last weekend I found a few of those moments when I went to see Selfie by Rainbow Dance Theatre and Timsila & the Cypress Tree by Butoh choreographer Meshi Chavez, performed by the students of his nine-week Butoh Performance intensive, Being Moved.

Selfie by Rainbow Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Dance Theatre.

Selfie was choreographed by former Pilobolus dancer Darryl Thomas and former Merce Cunningham dancer Valerie Bergman for their company Rainbow Dance Theatre, which is based in Monmouth, Oregon. The dance explores the idea of self through the platform of technology and social media. They ask: Which part of us is the actually the self? The outer part, the inner part or the part we share with the world on social media?

As we entered the lobby at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, we were instructed by posters on the wall and the Rainbow Dance Theatre staff, to take photos of ourselves and text them to Once we got into the theatre, we could see our photos projected onto the scrim at the front of the stage along with hundreds of other selfies, in an orderly, side by side mosaic of multi-colored faces.

The dancing began behind this scrim, and as the dancers moved, the photos fell away, creating small frames, revealing more and more of the dancing bodies behind it.

In Selfie, an hour-long series of vignettes, the performers, through motion tracking technology, interacted with abstract, vibrantly colored, computerized images projected on the same scrim. The images included wavy red lines, circles, a giant head, and raining letters, to name a few.

The raining letters really grabbed me. From the top of the scrim, white letters cascaded down against a black background in five columns as a male dancer walked through them, carrying a push broom over his shoulder. As he “bumped” into the letters, they bounced off of him, spilling onto the floor, collecting into piles. Once he got to the other side of the stage, he turned around and swept the letters off, causing the letters to billow up into the air and float down like feathers.

There were several striking moments just like this throughout, but I didn’t feel like they were developed this well. It also wasn’t always clear to me what effect the dancers were having on the screen images and what the overall story was. The dancing, which was performed by a mix of professional dancers and dance students from Western Oregon University, combined acrobatics, contemporary dance and simple ballet steps overlaid with a circus-like performative attitude. Given the level of experimentation that the technology brought to the performance, the choreography seemed too simple and underdeveloped. Technology won the creativity challenge.

Selfie brought up a lot of questions for me around what makes “good” dancing and “good” performing. What is that thing that some performers and choreographers have that affects audiences so personally? How do they get it? Is circus and aerial work dance? Does all movement theatre fall under the category of dance? Is it just a range, a spectrum?

I polled my FaceBook friends this past week looking for the words to describe that intangible thing that we all feel when we see a special performance, but can’t easily describe.

Here’s the list of qualities that were described: heart, energetic presence, commitment, tension, awareness, authenticity, a relaxed and confident demeanor, grace, the ability to transport an audience beyond the immediate awareness of the body and present moment, the ability to transcend, to reveal and to show risk.

This leads me to Timsila & the Cypress Tree by Butoh choreographer Meshi Chavez.

Timsila & the Cypress Tree, performed at The Headwaters theatre, was also a series of small, interconnected stories with many beautiful tableaux moments. Its student performers cannot be looked at in the same light as a professional work, although Chavez makes lots of professional work as well. (For Suspended Moment, a Butoh work about the atrocities of atomic warfare coming this summer, Chavez is collaborating with visual artist Yukiyo Kawano, musician Lisa DeGrace and poet Allison Cobb.)

Teresa Vanderkin as the “Blue Woman” in Timsila & the Cypress Tree by Meshi Chavez. Photo by Greg Walters.

I can, though, talk about the performance of Teresa Vanderkin, who performed with the group and has been studying Butoh with Chavez for about seven years, and occasionally teaches for him when he is away. Vanderkin has that “thing,” that performance quality that is so hard to put into words. Her movement is never big or performative in anyway; she is relaxed onstage, deeply focused; she projects an emotional range, and she possesses an awareness and knowledge of her body that is sensitive, feeling, and porous. She can access any of these possibilities within her body at any time, to tell us a story and cause us to feel something. She is a captivating performer and deeply interesting to watch, for me.

In Timsila & the Cypress Tree she is the “Blue Woman,” a universal spirit character who breaks up the chaotic space with her directional, slow-moving walking, establishing order on the stage. When she performs, I watch her face, her hands, and her feet. All the parts are telling me something.

It isn’t enough to just be an empty moving body onstage, you have to fill it with something deep and knowing, about the body, life and the world—it’s a deep depth of body knowledge and experience performing, that makes a performance special.

This weekend, more rain, and more study on beauty of all kinds in performance.

Performances this week

Cuba Infused: Featuring Stories of Ochun the Goddess of Love
Donna Oefinger, Axé Didé music and Dance Company
February 10-12
Center Space, 420 SE 6th Ave
Directed by Donna Oefinger, owner of Center Space Studio in SE Portland, director of Axé Didé music and Dance Company, and teacher of dances from the African Diaspora, brings together dance and live music in this celebration of Cuban culture. This group of 20 performers, including Oluyinka Akinjiola, artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, Cuban master percussionist and singer Isidro Valor Perez, and Portland funk and soul musician Jans Ingber, from the band Motet, will perform an array of dances from Cuba, including the dance of Ochún, the powerful Orisha of love, guardian of fertility, and ruler of fresh waters-she is irresistible, her laughter is seductive, her dancing graceful, and her lips are sweet like honey.

Syniva Whitney/Gender Tender and Will Courtney from Seattle, will perform GUT, as part of Linda Austin’s Cabaret Boris & Natasha. Photo courtesy of Linda Austin.

Cabaret Boris & Natasha
Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
February 10-11
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance presents, an eclectic, cabaret-style evening of imaginative, unconventional entertainment, featuring dancers Mike Barber and Subashini Ganesan, Seattle’s Syniva Whitney/Gender Tender, oboist Catherine Lee, actor/performer Amber Whitehall, dancer Button Will, and a short piece by the famous The Boris & Natasha Dancers, all emceed by “The Greatest Entertainers Ever,” Reid Urban and David Weinberg.

PDX Contemporary Ballet, directed by Briley Neugebauer
February 10-12
CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St
Portland’s contemporary ballet company is back with Interlude, a program of six new dance works, by six women choreographers, for six dancers. The works explore dance’s relationship to science, politics, visual art, language, comedy, and more, and will include a musical interlude by Japanese violinist Tomoki Martens.

Participating Interlude choreographers are: Hayley Glickfeld Bielman, artistic director of Necessity Arts Collective; Briley Neugebauer, Artistic Director of PDX Contemporary Ballet; Eva Stone, producer and curator of Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, an annual contemporary dance festival in Bellevue, Washington, and the Artistic Director of Stone Dance Collective; Emily Running, founder of Portland’s Dance Wire and former performer/choreographer/administrator for the aerial troupe, A.W.O.L.; M’Liss Stephenson Quinnly, founding member of Polaris Dance Theatre and current director of Polaris Junior Company and Neo Company; and Margaret Wiss, a Boston choreographer interested in the interaction between dance and science.

3 Trips: guided experiences with Keith Hennessy
A workshop
February 11, 14, and 18
New Expressive Works
810 SE Belmont Street
Exploring playing, meditating, feeling, being, and dancing, Bay Area dance artist Keith Hennessy, along with co-directors Jodi Darby, Julie Perini and Erin Yanke will facilitate a three part, guided experience—Practicing Death & Dying (workshop-experience-practice), Arresting Power (film screening and discussion), and Oil Action (creative, naked experiment in solidarity and intimacy).

For more info go to the Facebook event page. Please RSVPs to to participate. No drop-ins.

Upcoming performance

February 19, Early bird submission deadline, Portland Dance Film Fest
February 25, Civilized, Catherine Egan
February 23-26, Attention Everyone!, A-WOL Dance Collective
March 2-4, Cuisine & Confessions, Presented by White Bird
March 3, Local (not easy), Iris Erez, Presented by Reed College Dance Department
March 3-5, In Circadia, Eliza Larson
March 5, Nritya Shubha Dance Festival, Guru Smt Shubha Dhananjay, Maya Dhananjay and Mudra Dhananjay.
March 3-11, The Bacchae, PSU School of Theater + Film, choreography by Tere Mathern
March 9-11, Companhia Urbana De Danca, Presented by White Bird
March 10 – 12, TPB Studio Company Performance-Featuring dances by Anne Mueller, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, John Clifford and guest artists from Kukátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, The Portland Ballet
March 10-19, In The Heights, Portland Community College
March 16-18, Carmen, NW Dance Project
March 17, The Baroque Dance Project, Alice Sheu and Julie Iwasa
March 19, Duality: Dance Ballet of India, Presented by Rasika
March 19, BodyVox and Oregon Symphony collaboration performance
March 24, Shaping Sound, Travis Wall, Presented by Portland’5
March 24-25, New works by Alembic Artists Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
March 23-April1, Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble, Presented by BodyVox
April 4-5, Shen Yun, Presented by Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 6-8, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Presented by White Bird
April 10, Noontime Showcase OBT2, Oregon Ballet Theatre
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 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 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 Kumari Suraj
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 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

DanceWatch Weekly: Light in the dark

A surprisingly busy week of dance lurks in the dark of winter

Portland dance performances this weekend offer light, intimacy, experimentation, new perspectives, and a slew of other wonderful and interesting things.

For starters, Portland based photographer-dancer-writer Intisar Abioto opens a new installation at The White Box. Then BodyVox performs as part of Portland’s Winter Light Festival, and Rainbow Dance Theatre from Monmouth, Oregon, will dance with technology for one night only at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Butoh artists Meshi Chavez presents a new group of dancers from his nine-week workshop Being Moved, while Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe performs for a company fundraiser. Meanwhile, international dance artist Julian Barnett will perform at Flock Dance Center Friday night and lead a workshop on Saturday.

It’s a full weekend with many juicy bits to bite into. Enjoy!


Life and our own sensation disorientations

Tahni Holt's new dance operated on its audience in very particular ways. Soup is involved.

Midway through the opening-night performance of Tahni Holt’s Sensation/Disorientation I had my own sensation-disorientation experience. I was struck with the feeling that this dance had a lot to do with the soup I had made for dinner that night. I don’t mean to diminish or speak irreverently about Holt’s work by any means—my soup was no ordinary soup and neither was the dance.

The soup was Moroccan Lentil Soup from my favorite online recipe source, Forks Over Knives, and it was one of the tastiest soups I have ever made. It was a simple recipe, which was helpful because I had squeezed in cooking and eating with my family between picking my son up from school, picking up my mom to babysit, shopping for ingredients, and going to the theater. The recipe included such basic ingredients as onions, carrots, tomatoes and red lentils, with the addition of an exotic, colorful collection of spices and flavors: coriander, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, ground ginger, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, vegetable broth and lemon juice.

It was the gorgeous photo that accompanied this recipe that initially piqued my interest. The soup was made up of oranges and yellows. Garnished with green parsley on top, it sat in the middle of a beautiful turquoise, ceramic bowl, which was decorated with small white embossed flowers. It was beautiful, achingly beautiful.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In this moment, while watching Sensation/Disorientation, time and space collapsed, and all of a sudden the soup that I had made for my family—its colors, spices, vegetables, and lentils—connected me to history, to women, to my femininity, my family, my role as a woman in my household (as a mother and a wife), and in my life in society. More, my relationship with other women became present in the dance. In this instant, I suddenly felt connected to the earth, to every culture, to every woman that ever existed and to every woman here now. This was a dance made unapologetically by a woman, for women, about women.


Eugene Ballet preview: Cracking the glass slipper

Company premieres two new works by women choreographers along with a classic reprise


“Where are the female choreographers?” asks Michael Cooper, in the New York Times. Ballet remains overwhelmingly a man’s world when it comes to choreography Cooper suggests noting that of the 58 ballets the New York City Ballet performed during the 2015-2016 season, which included seven world premieres, none were by women. He also observes that of all the recent productions by the London’s Royal Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre, only two were by women choreographers and one of those was a collaborative effort with a man.

”The dearth of female choreographers at major ballet companies is perhaps more startling, given the prominence of women in the rest of the ballet and dance fields,” Cooper writes, “and the way pioneering female choreographers helped shape ballet during the 20th century.”

The magic of Shakespeare’s fantasy world with dancers Isaac Jones and Victoria Harvey. Photo: Eugene Ballet.

What Cooper calls the “glass slipper” is at least being chipped a bit this February when the Eugene Ballet Company presents three productions all choreographed by women. Opening the program is the world premier of a new EBC commissioned ballet, Wandering On, by Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez. A second new work, The Surrounding Third, is a short piece by EBC Company Dancer Suzanne Haag and set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The evening’s centerpiece is a reprise of EBC’s Artistic Director and co-founder Toni Pimble’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream exploring Shakespeare’s “comedy of love, magic, fairies, mixed up lovers, and the mischievous Puck,” set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.


Tahni Holt’s ‘Sensation/Disorientation’ reveals the heart of dance

White Bird's world premiere of a dance by Tahni Holt gives us a glimpse into the deep structure of dance

Tahni Holt Dance’s Sensation/Disorientation at Reed College this weekend is the result of some truly heartening collaboration and mutual support in the Portland dance community. Holt, who has been making original work in and out of Portland for 20 years and is the founder of the dance center Flock, was recently awarded White Bird’s Barney Prize, which involved a commission for this project. Given Flock’s dedication to providing the resources for local dancers to make original work, it’s very satisfying to see Holt herself get such tangible support. Likewise, the piece has garnered a lot of attention from local critics, so you have many well-written opportunities to indulge your curiosity about the show.

Holt’s last major piece, Duet/Love, demonstrated her ability to gather major players in Portland’s contemporary dance community and push them to create something intimate, dense, and confrontationally enticing. The dancers’ unfiltered experience as artists, bodies, and people comprised much of the material of the piece, with Holt sculpting and directing its flow more than diagramming it with conventional choreography. Holt has clearly taken the space afforded to her by this commission to cultivate this approach further with Sensation/Disorientation.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In the Q & A after the show, Holt reminded the audience that her main inquiry is how perception differs between perspectives. How one person can see or experience something in a completely different way than another can. For this piece, Holt focuses on the “…the material nature of [female-identifying] bodies, their sensation, emotion, and feeling,” as Hannah Krafcik says in her preview for Artswatch. The community of dancers that have been gathered for this show reflects a rich number of perspectives on that experience, and, like Duet/Love, showcases many facets of Portland’s dance community. While this is the debut performance for dancer Aidan Hutapea, age 15, she shares the stage with local dance veterans Tracy Broyles and Reed professor Carla Mann. Fellow dancers Muffie Connelly, Eliza Larson, and Suzanne Chi are also all active members of different, occasionally overlapping segments of the local dance community. Chi, whom audiences might recognize from Holt’s Sun$hine, is not the only former collaborator with Holt on the bill, as the prolific Luke Wyland of AU, who composed music for Duet/Love, performed his original score live.

Luckily, you have your choice of thorough previews and reviews to consult for a sense of what this show will be like, and whether it is for you or not. So I’d like to focus on the particular intentions of this piece, and how they are realized through a structure that may seem obtuse at times to some viewers.