DANCE

Men, bottled up and burning

Skinner/Kirk's "Burn It Backwards" dances in and around the way men try, and sometimes fail, to make relationships

Over the past twenty years, give or take, Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, founders of skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, have developed what you might call an autobiographical movement vocabulary: a braiding-together of ballet lifts, modern floor falls, spins and jumps and tumbles that reflect their performing careers in Portland with Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox, and the Gregg Bielemeier Dance Project. At OBT they danced in work by Portland choreographer Josie Moseley, and there is a lot of her particular branch of modernism in their choreography.

I saw all that and more in Burn It Backwards, their new evening-length work, which opened Thursday night at BodyVox Dance Center, performed to music by Elliott Smith, played live—extremely live!—by Bill Athens, Galen Clark, Catherine Feeny and Chris Johnedis. Smith, who died in 2003 at a very young 34, lived most of his short life in Portland, and according to Wikipedia (yes, I had to look him up) was strongly influenced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. Of his own songwriting, Smith said, “I don’t really think of it in terms of language, I think about it in terms of shapes.”

Brent Luebbert and James Healey, facing off. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Skinner and Kirk took the title of their piece from a line in Smith’s Sweet Adeline, one of the thirteen songs arranged by Clark specifically for these performances. They chose it, they say in a program note, “because it speaks of forming a new history, both erasing and creating.” That’s a pretty good description of the choreographic process, or the creative process generally, but what Skinner and Kirk actually put on stage was a finished, polished series of dances for themselves and three other men, Chase Hamilton, James Healey and Brent Luebbert, all of them accomplished, well-schooled dancers.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Cirque city

As we note the passing of Trisha Brown, we have a lengthy menu of dance options this week, heavy on circus

On Saturday, March 18, Trisha Brown, the American postmodern choreographer and native West Coaster (Aberdeen, Washington), passed on from this earthly realm. She was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theatre in New York, and her movement inventions and research helped shape generations of modern dancers and audiences worldwide.

Wendy Perron who danced for Brown in the 1970s wrote a beautiful piece on Brown this week for Dance Magazine. So did Alastair Macaulay for the New York Times. I recommend reading them both. This is the perfect time to settle into a deep study of Brown, if you don’t know her and her work already, and let the internet and all of its resources take you.

Performances this week

Gravity of Center ( Extended Promo ) from Quixotic on Vimeo.

Gravity of Center
Quixotic Cirque Nouveau
8 pm March 23
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St
This Kansas City Performing arts collective, known for seamlessly integrating technology, live music, contemporary dance, and cirque arts, brings us Gravity of Center, a multi-sensory performance that explores the tension between finding balance between gravity and lightness.

Quixotic, born in 2004, has toured nationally and internationally, and appeared at the Global 2012 TED conference In Edinburgh Scotland.

Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble. Photo by Christopher Peddecord

Burn It Backwards
Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble
Presented by BodyVox
March 23-April1
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
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 24-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.

Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound. Photo courtesy of Travis Wall.

After the Curtain
Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound
Presented by Portland’5
7:30 pm March 24
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave
After the Curtain, a contemporary dance production created by Travis Wall, the runner-up on So You Think You Can Dance Season 2, along with co-creators Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, tells the story of a man fighting to find his creative voice after the death of a loved one.

The creation of the company was documented on the reality television series All The Right Moves on the Oxygen channel. You can view a clip of that show here.

Travis Wall will be performing in the shows throughout the tour, and will be joined in various cities by the co-founders Kyle Robinson and Nick Lazzarini.

Alembic Double Bill: Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles. Photos by Chelsea Petrakis.

Alembic Double Bill: Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles
Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
March 24-25
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Performance Works NW presents Fifth Sun by Claire Barrera, which finds that all times are present at once, and This one is, by Noelle Stiles, which explores family intimacy, generational cycles of misogyny, and perseverance. These works were developed during the 2016 Alembic Artist Residency at Performance Works NW.

Barrera is an artist, activist, educator and writer. Her work can be found in the upcoming anthology of the zine, When Language Runs Dry, with Meredith Butner, and will be performing in an installation The Corresponding Distance, with Maya Dalinsky.

Stiles is an independent dance artist, graphic designer, and consultant. Her work has been seen at the Time-Based Art Festival, On The Boards, PWNW, and Dance New Amsterdam. She was co-instigator for the dance publication FRONT, with Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, and Robert Tyree.

Upcoming performances

March
March 31, Junk in da Trunk, Tempos
April
April 1, Duality: Dance Ballet of India, Presented by Rasika
April 2, Sahomi Tachibana Dancers, Portland Japanese Garden
April 4-5, Shen Yun, Presented by Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 6, Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, Eric Nordstrom
April 6-8, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Presented by White Bird
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 10, Noontime Showcase OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
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, 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

The red and the visible dark

The premieres of Ihsan Rustem's swift new "Carmen" and Patrick Delcroix's "Visible Darkness" color the spectrum for NW Dance Project

The beginning is not the fall itself, but the struggle to get up. Elijah Labay, the central figure in Patrick Delcroix’s new dance Visible Darkness, lies prone on the stage of the Newmark Theatre, raising his shoulders, lifting his torso, and then sinking back again. He’s been lying there, intermittently resting and struggling to move, for who knows how long. He is discovered, with alarm, and slowly, gently raised, and the dance moves on.

Visible Darkness is one of two world premieres (the other is resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s swift and witty new take on that old reliable potboiler Carmen) that opened Thursday evening in NW Dance Project’s newest program, which will repeat Friday and Saturday in the Newmark. Both tell stories, though not in the traditional story-ballet sense: they are narrative, but elliptical, allowing suggestion and mood to fill in much of the storytelling detail.

Ching Ching Wong and William Couture in “Visible Darkness.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The story of Visible Darkness is very personal for Delcroix, the French choreographer and Jirí Kylián associate who’s created several dances for NDP beginning in 2011. According to Scott Lewis, NDP’s executive director, it’s about an accident Delcroix had two years ago: “He fell off a ladder while working on his home in The Hague and was found days later, unconscious, with a broken nose and other injuries,” including brain trauma. His recovery was long and arduous. This is Delcroix’s first new dance since the accident, and an emergence: As he says in a program note, “a difficult chapter in my life is complete.”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Openings and closings

The dance weekend bubbles with new work from the likes of NW Dance Project, BodyVox, the Necessity Arts Collective and the Baroque Dance Project

This weekend is all about openings and closings, transitions, and possibly a change from winter to spring. I can already smell my neighbor’s fragrant magnolia tree beginning to bloom. I am feeling hopeful that we will see more sun soon, although I love the rain.

Opening tonight is NW Dance Project’s world premier of a modern day Carmen, choreographed by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, joined on the program by choreographer Patrick Delcroix’s Visible Darkness. Visible Darkness is the first piece that Delcroix has made since a harrowing fall off of a ladder two years ago that left him unconscious for several days. The dance tells that story.

ArtsWatch welcomes new civically minded dance theatre company Necessity Arts Collective, directed by Hayley Glickfeld Bielman, who will be collaborating with Ping & Woof opera company to perform Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in a fundraiser for Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation.

The Baroque Dance Project, a collaboration between harpsichordist Alice Sheu and baroque dancer Julie Iwasa, will take place at Performance Works NW on Friday night. Iwasa has painstakingly recreated the the dances steps to Jean-Philippe Rameau and J. S. Bach’s keyboard suites from 300-year-old dance manuals, a deep-dive into the history of dance in the West.

On Sunday BodyVox founders Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland will don wearable Intel technology and accompany the Oregon Symphony in a composition written especially for them and their high-tech costumes by principal percussionist Niel DePonte, punningly entitled Intel-ligent Juxtapositions.

Mr. Gaga is still showing at Living Room Theaters. The film captures the life of Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director Ohad Naharin. In April, it will also be part of the Contact Film Festival, a collaboration between BodyVox and NW Film Center.

Also closing this weekend is the musical theatre hit In The Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda with choreography by Sara Parker. The story is a celebration of the immigrant story in America that takes place in a Dominican-American community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

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Studio show: a time to dance

The Portland Ballet's young dancers, with the even younger Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe, give a glimpse of the future

There is, it says in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, a season for everything, including a time to dance. For the young dancers in The Portland Ballet’s Studio Company that time is now, and as they showed in the closing performance of their annual studio concerts Sunday afternoon, did they ever!

The program, designed by TPB co-artistic directors Nancy Davis and Anne Mueller to demonstrate the stylistic range of these pre-professional dancers, certainly had its challenges, as did the venue. As lovely as the studio theater is, the audience sits very close to dancers who quite rightly are being taught to project in the large opera houses and theaters in which they dream of dancing one day in the not too distant future.

The Portland Ballet performs the contemporary “Rip/Tide,” created by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland and set by Zachary Carroll. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Two of them already have. Lauren Kness and Henry Winslow (the sole male in the company) performed last December as guest artists in the Ballet Nacional Dominicano’s Nutcracker at the Teatro Nacional in Santa Domingo, dancing an “Arabian” pas de deux choreographed for the occasion by John Clifford.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dance without women

We celebrate International Women's Day with a thought experiment

Happy International Women’s Day!

Can you imagine the world of dance without women? No? I can’t either; it’s unfathomable.

It’s safe to say that the majority of the worldwide dance community—dancers, teachers, assistant directors, rehearsal directors, costume designers, and administrators—are women. Take them away and what have you got? A handful of men who, interestingly, are the ones running most of the dance companies and whose choreography is most widely seen.

The movement, A Day Without A Woman, which is happening today (Wednesday), seeks to show the importance of women in domestic and global economies by asking women to strike. The intention is to bring attention to issues that continually plague women, including lower wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, and job insecurity—all of which pertain to women in the dance world as well.

So, when you are deciding on what dance performances to see this weekend, imagine them without the women involved, because the harder our society and government makes it to survive as an artist, the harder it will be for women artists to continue. DanceWatch urges you to consider if that feels right to you, and what you can do to affect the change towards equality.

Performances this week

Companhia Urbana De Danca. Photo courtesy of Companhia Urbana De Danca.

ID:ENTIDADES and NA PISTA
Companhia Urbana De Danca
Presented by White Bird
March 9-11
The Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
With a background in ballet and psychology, artistic director Sonia Destri Lie, in collaboration with her company dancers, creates dances that mix her place, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, with the dancers personal life experiences, hip-hop and B-boy techniques.

Companhia Urbana De Danca brings two dances to Portland: ID:ENTIDADES explores the ongoing dialogue between person and place, set to music by Rodrigo Marçal; and Na Pista is a throw-down, rhythmic feast, that expresses individuality within community.

Spectacle Garden 10: Dance Party
Hosted by Ben Martens
8 pm March 10
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
This monthly, community-oriented performance series, curated by musician and butoh dancer Ben Martens, includes physical comedy, dance, film, music, poetry as well as many other undefined mediums of expression. This month’s theme is a giant dance party that may or may not include a Trump Piñata to pummel. Check out the Facebook event page for the full lineup of participating artists.

The Portland Ballet Studio Company and Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe.

The Portland Ballet Studio Company
Directed by founder/artistic director Nancy Davis and artistic director Anne Mueller
March 10-12
The Portland Ballet Studio Theatre, 6250 SW Capitol Hwy Road
This pre-professional company made up of nine dancers ranging in ages 12-19, will perform a variety of work from the past to the present from choreographers Marius Petipa, John Clifford, Anne Mueller, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, with a guest performance by Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe.

Mr. Gaga-a film capturing the life of Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin.

Mr. Gaga—a film
Directed by Tomer Heymann
March 10-16
Living Room Theaters, 341 SW 10th Ave
Eight years in the making, the film, Mr. Gaga captures the life of Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin.

Naharin has been at the helm of this Israeli dance company since 1990, has created over 20 works for the company, and is the creator of a movement form called Gaga—a guided improvisational class that is available to all ages and helps facilitate new pathways into movement.

In The Heights: music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Julianne Johnson-Weiss, and choreographed by Sarah Parker.

In The Heights
Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Julianne Johnson-Weiss, and
choreographed by Sarah Parker
Portland Community College
March 10-19
PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave
In a Dominican-American community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, life is bubbling on a hot summer day in this tale of a neighborhood’s struggles and sacrifices in search of identity and place by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Originally premiered in 1999, this reproduction, set on the students of Portland Community College, is choreographed by Portland dance artists Sara Parker.

Parker serves as the Interim Dance Chair at Portland Community College, holds a B.S. in Dance from the University of Oregon, and an MFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She can also be found teaching dance at BodyVox Dance Center, and has recently performed with Tere Mathern in Edge Effects.

Performances next week

March 10-16, Mr. Gaga, Living Room Theaters
March 10-19, In The Heights, Portland Community College, choreography by Sara Parker
March 15, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a co-production with Ping & Woof Opera and Necessity Arts Collective
March 16-18, Carmen, NW Dance Project
March 17, Dancing with Rameau and J.S. Bach, The Baroque Dance Project, Alice Sheu and Julie Iwasa
March 19, Castles and Wizards, a collaboration between The Oregon Symphony, Intel and BodyVox’s Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland.

Upcoming performance

March
March 23-April1, Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble, Presented by BodyVox
March 24, Shaping Sound, Travis Wall, Presented by Portland’5
March 24-25, Alembic Double Bill: Claire Barrera and Noelle Stiles, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
March 31, Junk in da Trunk, Tempos
April
April 1, Duality: Dance Ballet of India, Presented by Rasika
April 2, Sahomi Tachibana Dancers, Portland Japanese Garden
April 4-5, Shen Yun, Presented by Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 6-8, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Presented by White Bird
April 8-9, The Snow Queen, Eugene Ballet Company
April 10, Noontime Showcase OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
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
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, 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
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

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant

After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet

The Persian poet Rumi told a version of the ancient story of three blind men encountering an elephant for the first time. In Rumi’s telling, the three men, not blind but each holding a small, dim candle, meet in a dark room. Each discovers one section of what turns out be the elephant—tusk, tail, trunk—and decides that one thing is what the elephant is: smooth and hard or thick and long or a hairy worm. They argue over who’s right, and as they move closer together, the combined light of their candles enables them finally to put their pieces together and see the big picture.

Portland composer and violist Kenji Bunch loves that version so much that he made it the basis for Aspects of an Elephant, the substantial new orchestral work that the Oregon Symphony commissioned and premieres this month.

“On one hand, it seemed timely, with the polarized political climate these days and how everyone’s talking in the dark without consideration of another perspective,” Bunch explains. “Also an orchestra is a really good metaphor for how diversity can be a strength. You have all these different instruments that seem like they don’t belong together, but when you get them all working together, it makes this amazing music.”

Portland composer Kenji Bunch. Photo: Meg Nanna for Artslandia.

It’s also an apt metaphor for Bunch’s own music and career. If you only heard him play and sing in his bluegrass band, you’d peg him as a folkie/Americana musician. If you spotted him in the viola section of the Oregon Symphony or with his Thunder Egg Consort, you’d think of him as a performing classical music violist. If you witnessed him teaching young Oregonians, you’d see him as a valuable mentor for the next generation. And if you heard any of the dozens of original works he’s created over the last quarter century for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instrumentalists, and singers, you’d think of him as one of the leading American composers of his generation, best known for amalgamating traditional American musical forms like the blues and European-based classical music.

The truth is, Bunch is all those things. He’s also a Portland native (1991 graduate of Wilson High), a Juilliard School graduate and 22-year-New Yorker, and, as of 2013, a Portlander again — and to hear him tell it, for good.

“In the three and a half years since Monica and I moved back, neither of us could have imagined it could have turned out this well for both of us,” Bunch marvels. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate and grateful. We’ve both been able to be involved in music community, people have been so welcoming and embraced us. It’s felt like the right decision for so many reasons. The kids love it here. We’re never going anywhere else!”

And why not? Despite initial trepidation that leaving New York, the center of America’s contemporary classical music universe, might limit his burgeoning career, Bunch and his wife, the accomplished classical pianist Monica Ohuchi, quickly became mainstays of Oregon’s contemporary classical music scene. And now with two of the biggest new works of his career about to hit the stage at the same time in Portland and Eugene, Bunch’s career has soared to an even higher summit than he reached in New York—and back then such observers as The New York Times and The New Yorker identified him as one of America’s most promising young composers, his works increasingly performed around the country and beyond.

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