DANCE

Minh Tran’s journey to rebirth

In his first new piece in eight years, the choreographer/dancer creates a luminous evocation of a soul's passage to the next life

When does the personal become the universal? That is one of several questions raised by Minh Tran’s Anicca (Impermanence), the Vietnamese-born choreographer’s first new piece in eight years, which premiered on Thursday night in Reed College’s Massee Performance Lab.

Two years in the making, Anicca is in fact deeply personal: It is Tran’s superbly crafted response to the loss of his parents, particularly his mother, its organizing principle the time (49 days) that practitioners of Theravada Buddhism believe it takes for the soul to journey from death to rebirth. “These souls are called wandering ghosts,” Tran said in an interview for Reed Magazine. “They’re living in a world we call the bardo, a (neverland) that doesn’t belong to any place at all. During this time, these souls need a lot of attention and prayers [so] they will be shepherded by the bodhisatta or the Goddess of Mercy until they reach the gate … so they can be reincarnated for the next life.”

Company members circle Carla Mann, who represents the “death soul” of Minh Tran’s mother in “Anicca: Impermanence.” Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

In the course of the 49-minute piece (give or take) the seven dancers in Anicca perform the same number of sections, each of them representing a different stage of the soul’s journey, as well as that of those who grieve and finally find some form of acceptance.

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Beijing Dance Theater thinks big

Choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, a creative force behind the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies, now runs her own show

On February 20, the globally recognized Beijing Dance Theater will make its Portland debut at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with a hefty program of contemporary work. Choreographer Wang Yuanyuan directs the 13-member company and creates big, bold pieces that design director Tan Shaoyuan and lighting designer Han Jiang help shape. Although this is the company’s first local appearance, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen Wang’s work.

Beijing Dance Theater makes its Portland debut with striking work including “The Crossing.” Photo courtesy of KMP Artists.

A dancer who trained in China, earned an MFA from Cal Arts and served as the National Ballet of China’s resident choreographer, Wang founded Beijing Dance Theater at the end of 2008. As she recounted in a recent interview with Oregon ArtsWatch, she’d already had plenty of experience by then directing large-scale performances, after playing a prominent role in the famous opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the opening ceremony of the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the 1997 celebration marking Hong Kong’s return to China. The Olympics opening ceremonies alone featured an estimated 15,000 performers; the other two events featured more than 5,000.

While she is rightly proud of her role in those events (the Olympics opener, especially, required “a lot of artists and people to work together to present the same result,” she said), starting Beijing Dance Theater felt even more significant than choreographing a performance that millions of people watched. “I prefer works that present my personal artistic ideas,” she said. “It is important to express myself. Starting Beijing Dance Theater gave me a more personal and professional sense of achievement.” Since it was founded, her company has toured far and wide, and she has earned best choreographer awards in Bulgaria, the U.S., Russia, and China. 

A section of “Wild Grass,” slated for the Portland show, demonstrates the company’s creative vision. Photo courtesy of KMP Artists.

The company’s Portland show will feature selections from three of her original pieces. The first of these, “Farewell, Shadows” is from Wild Grass, a piece the company tours frequently; it was inspired by the writings of 19th-century Chinese author Lu Xun. Though Wang called Lu Xun “one of the most important writers in the history of Chinese literature,” she doesn’t think audiences necessarily need to know his work to engage with the show: as she pointed out, “This is the international language of dance.” Themes of duality and its exploration within Eastern philosophy run through the work; some reviews have characterized “Farewell, Shadows” as the more playful movement portion of the whole.

The company will also stage The Crossing, the first piece Wang ever created for the company. It has, she said, the “action elements of traditional Chinese dance.” It opens as a single dancer, to the hum of white noise, enters a darkened empty stage divided by a single long paper streamer. Crossing “traces the struggles of the individual dancers to mark the emptiness,” according to the company description of the piece, as a progression of solos, duets, and trios pit the dancers’ lyricism against the spareness of the space and the weight of the sound that fills it.

The show ends with BDT’s interpretation of Hamlet, the most theatrical of the three pieces. It dates back to 2006, when director Feng Xiaogang invited Wang to choreograph dances for Daniel Wu and Zhou Xun, the leads in his film The Banquet, which was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After The Banquet was released, the choreography received a great deal of attention, and Wang and Feng began talks of a stage adaptation. While inspired by the film, the adaptation departs on many points to become a new Chinese Hamlet. Extracting characters the Ghost, the New King, the Queen, the Prince, and the Floral Spirit from the original, this production focuses on Hamlet’s psychological struggles, his compassion, and his doubt. This take on the classic tale, which has both historical and contemporary elements, is surely unlike any other version of Hamlet out there.

This show looks to be ambitious and spectacular, as performances that can fill the Schnitzer often are. Behind the blazing marquee lights, however, the company tries to root itself in something more personal and earnest. Of her approach, Wang said, “The most important point is that I think artists should be honest with their works. Only true emotions can lead to sincere works. Works represent the quality of your heart, and more or less represent the living environment you are affected by.” It’s high time that Portland gets to see the company’s vibrant mix of innovation and tradition.

Beijing Dance Theater performs 7:30 p.m. February 20 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Find tickets here

Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to DanceWatch Monthly! We’ve decided to switch from a weekly to a monthly format for awhile to see if we like it better. (If you have an opinion on weekly vs. monthly, let us know; we’re here to serve you.) We’re still writing about Oregon dance performances and related events, but we’re organizing them by genre now, to help you more quickly find what interests you. February’s plentiful dance performances, 17 in total, offer celebration, cultural exploration, romance, joy, comedy, and deep dives into a variety of concepts. We hope you enjoy our new monthly edition: remember to check back with us on February 27 for the March DanceWatch.

February Performances

International cultures and dance styles

Feeling lucky? White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dance Team perform at the Lan Su Chinese Garden Lunar New Year celebration. Photo courtesy of White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dance.

New Year Lion Dance/Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 5-19
11am, 1pm, 3pm February 9, White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dance Organization
11am, 1pm, 4pm, February 10, Viet Hung Lion & Dragon Dance Team
11am, 1pm, 4pm, February 16, Portland Lee’s Association Dragon & Lion Dance Team
11am, 1pm, 4pm, February 17, International Lion Dance Team
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St.
Ring in the 2019 Lunar New Year with a lion dance, traditionally performed in China as well as in other Asian countries at cultural and religious festivals. The dance, an important part of new year celebrations, is meant to ward off bad spirits and bring prosperity and good luck in the upcoming year. The lion dance is performed by two people (not to be confused with the dragon dance, which is performed by 12). It imitates a lion’s movements or displays martial arts agility, depending on the style. The performance is accompanied by drums, symbols, and gongs, and is one of the many ways to celebrate the new year at Lan Su Chinese Garden. There are 12 chances to see a lion dance performed by four different Portland lion dance teams.

Bharatanatyam dancer Mayurika Bhaskar shows how it’s done in a one-night-only concert. Photo courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

Bharatanatyam dancer Mugdha Vichare, with Mayurika Bhaskar, performs in a Hillsboro-area concert. Photo by Sarathy Jayakumar.

Bharatanatyam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar
Students of Sweta Ravisankar (Sarada Kala Nilayam)
5:30 pm February 24
Hindu Education and Cultural Society of America, Portland Balaji Temple, 2092 NW Aloclek Dr., Suite 522, Hillsboro
Free
Bharatanatyam is an ancient style of South Indian dance that interprets Hindu mythology and spirituality and traces its roots back to Natya Shastra, the ancient Sanskrit text on the performing arts written sometime between 200 BCE and 500 CE. The dance is characterized by a fixed torso, angular arms, bent knees, complex rhythmic footwork, and a sophisticated vocabulary of gestures for the hands, eyes, and face.

Portland Bharatanatyam dancers Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam performer, teacher, and choreographer Sweta Ravisankar, will perform four dances (Alaripu, Varnam, Padam, Abhang) from the Bharatanatyam repertoire, accompanied by a live orchestra composed of Portland-area musicians.

Ballet

The panel discussion Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power explores issues in the ballet world. Photo by Erin Zysett.

Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power
A panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
Noon February 6
University of Oregon, Berwick Hall, Tykeson Rehearsal Hall, 975 E 18th Ave., Eugene
Free
Inspired by the #MeToo movement, challenges to age-old ballet narratives, and questions surrounding race, gender roles, sexism, equality, eating disorders, and abuse in ballet, Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter hosts a panel discussion exploring the state of ballet prior to the Eugene Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet. (The event is part of the ongoing Ballet Outsider series). Guest speakers include Lara Bovilsky, an associate professor of English at the University of Oregon whose work focuses on early modern British understandings of group and individual identity; Jamie Friedman, an assistant professor of English at Linfield College, who specializes in identity politics in 14th-century English literature; and Shannon Mockli, a University of Oregon associate professor of dance and choreographer known for provocative, individualistic work.

The next Ballet Outsider panel takes place at noon April 10. It will feature Eugene Ballet resident choreographer Suzanne Haag, who is choreographing an updated version of The Firebird that puts the story in a contemporary context.

Eugene Ballet celebrates the season with doomed romance and family drama in Toni Pimble’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Aran Denison.

Romeo and Juliet
Eugene Ballet/Orchestra Next
February 9-10
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Eugene Ballet’s 40th anniversary season continues with Shakespeare’s tale of youthful romance and family feuding in a ballet choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble. Orchestra Next, conducted by Brian McWhorter, plays Prokofiev’s rich score for the drama. “Prokofiev’s score to Romeo and Juliet is so ridiculously full of color and drama” McWhorter said in a statement, “it often sounds to me like the score itself is bursting apart at the seams.”

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (here in “Stars and Stripes Forever”) do ballet their way. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Presented by White Bird
7:30 pm February 13
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
For one night only, the 14-member all-male ballet company known as The Trocks graces Portland for a fifth time, thanks to White Bird. Founded in 1974, The Trocks skillfully perform classical ballet on pointe, dancing both male and female roles, all with a hilarious comic flair that parodies balletic conventions while also paying homage to the famed Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. (For background, see Rebels on Pointe, the 2017 Trocks documentary)

Xuan Cheng, dancing the title role, keeps it clean in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of Ben Stevenson’s “Cinderella.”  Photo by Yi Yin.

Cinderella
Oregon Ballet Theatre/OBT Orchestra
Choreography by Ben Stevenson
February 16-23
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
Cinderella suffers at the hands of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, as we all know, but British choreographer Ben Stevenson’s choreography emphasizes the courage, hope, love, and magic in this tale. A sizable cast of dancers wearing fanciful costumes performs to Sergei Prokofiev’s lush score, played live at all shows by the OBT Orchestra.

Modern and contemporary: local

Film genres inspire BodyVox’s collection of contemporary dance pieces in “The Cutting Room.” Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

The Cutting Room
BodyVox
February 8-9
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Multiple movie genres (action, comedy, drama, sci-fi) and memories of favorite films inspire BodyVox’s cinematic, virtuosic dance performance The Cutting Room. Former BodyVox dancer Jonathan Krebs returns to perform with the company; look for new company member Jessica McCarthy and apprentice Coltrane Liu as well.

Heidi Duckler Dance will brave the chill during a performance at the Portland Winter Light Festival. Photo courtesy of Heidi Duckler.

Sleepless Like Light
Portland Winter Light Festival/Heidi Duckler Dance
February 7-9
West Riverfront Art Experience, 1000 SW Naito Pkwy.
Free
In venues all over town, the Portland Winter Light Festival celebrates art, technology, and the season with events designed to draw Portlanders out of their homes and into the wintry night. This year’s festival features work by choreographer Heidi Duckler, founder of Heidi Duckler Dance. Duckler is interested in art that reshapes our vision of ourselves and our world; to that end, she has worked on redefining audience-performer relationships by staging dance in unusual locales. She presents the duet Sleepless Like Light, created in collaboration with fabric artist Mimi Haddon, in which two dancers perform in wearable cages illuminated by disco balls.

PDX Dance Collective dancer/choreographer Zahra Garret performs in the group’s swan song. Photo courtesy of PDX Dance Collective.

The Gift
PDX Dance Collective
February 8-10
The Headwaters Theater, 55 NE Farragut St., Suite #9
This is the last performance from PDX Dance Collective, which, ironically, was founded after a group of friends lamented the lack of performance opportunities for dancers who also have day jobs. The company will present an evening of original choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer. The work is loosely based on Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver, which explores contrasts between conformity and individuality, safety and sterility, passion and pain, asking how we, as fallible humans, can manage our differences.

Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde share new work on the double billing “Two of a Kind.” Photo courtesy of Beth Whelan.

Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance
Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 15-16
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Choreographers and recent Portland transplants Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde present the double bill Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance. Whelan’s Georgia is inspired by the life, art, and writings of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe; it’s set to minimal, classically styled piano music. Wilde’s three-part piece Anotherwom(e)n delves into trauma and transformation. Whelan is a movement-based artist, choreographer, teacher, and dance writer for Oregon ArtsWatch. Wilde is a dance artist, performer, and choreographer who co-founded Dillon & Wilde + Artists and dances with Shaun Keylock Company. (For more on recent Portland dance transplants, see Whelan’s story “Is Portland the Newest Dance Destination?” here.)

See why Anya Pearson’s “Made to Dance in Burning Buildings” earned her a $10,000 grant. Photo courtesy of Shaking The Tree Theatre.

Made to Dance in Burning Buildings
Written by Portland playwright Anya Pearson
Directed by Jamie Rea with choreography by Jeff George
February 15-March 16
Shaking The Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant Street
Made to Dance in Burning Buildings is a fusion of poetry, theater, and violent-visceral contemporary dance that poses this question: How do we heal from trauma? The story, performed by a multi-ethnic cast of 10, follows a young black woman who is raped, develops PTSD, and metaphorically fractures into five different women as a result. It’s from these five points of view that the story is told. Based on a true story, and inspired Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, the work earned Pearson the inaugural $10,000 Voice is a Muscle Grant from the Corporeal Voices Foundation.

Minh Tran & Company samples Vietnamese Buddhist rituals in “Anicca/Impermanence.” Photo courtesy of Minh Tran.

Anicca/Impermanence
Minh Tran & Company
February 21-24
Reed College Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Longtime Portland choreographer Minh Tran explores Vietnamese Buddhist rituals surrounding death and mourning in this new 49-minute work, which was inspired by the recent loss of his parents. A native of Vietnam, Tran immigrated to the United States in 1980 as a political refugee; he choreographs pieces that fuse traditional Asian performance techniques with contemporary Western dance. His work reflects an unwavering commitment to breaking down cultural and racial barriers.

Alembic artists in residence present their perspectives in the Alembic Artists Showcase. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NorthWest.

Alembic Artists Showcase
Presented by Performance Works NorthWest
February 22-24
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Friday night reception and a talk-back after the Sunday matinee.
After working in the Performance Works NorthWest studio for the past year, Alembic resident artists Olivia Camfield, KT Kusmaul of Body Home Fat Dance, and Fernanda D’Agostino, Sophia Emigh, and Jaleesa Johnston of IN/BODY and are ready to share their work.

Camfield, a member of the Texas Hill Country Muscogee Creek Tribe, performs a contemporary piece about indigenous people reclaiming their narratives; she’s joined by dancers Kayla Banks (African-American, Choctow), Celeste Camfield (Muscogee/Creek), and Victoria Perez (Mexica/Indigena). IN/BODY uses a marriage of technology and movement to explore trauma and healing. KT Kusmal/Body Home Fat Dance, which describes itself as “a fat-celebrating dance collaboration,” examines the emotional terrain and cultural meanings of fatness in its work.

A-WOL Dance Collective, just hanging out in “Left of Center.” Photo courtesy of A-WOL Dance Collective.

Left of Center
A-WOL Dance Collective
February 23-24
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NW Alberta St.
A-WOL Dance Collective, a 13-member company combining aerial arts and dance, offers Left of Center, in which dancers wearing Victorian-era costumes perform in the round to a haunting soundscape. A-WOL describes the work as “a fantastical tale suspended between reverie and reality … enveloped in a dream state free of the limitations of the waking world.”

NW Dance Project celebrates 15 years of working with dancers (pictured here: Julia Radick) in “Trip the Light Fantastic.” Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Trip The Light Fantastic
NW Dance Project
February 28-March 1
Gala and performance March 2
Expensify, 401 SW 5TH Ave.
Limited capacity
In this 15th anniversary event, NW Dance Project performs pieces by artistic director Sarah Slipper, resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, and Oregon Ballet Theatre founding artistic director James Canfield in and around the 40,000-square-foot former First National Bank building, now the headquarters of tech company Expensify. The event celebrates the company’s artistic achievements: work with more than 1200 professional and pre-professional dancers (including four Princess Grace Award winners) and the performance of more than 280 original pieces by nationally and internationally known choreographers. The evening will include a dance-cooking skit between Portland actor Susannah Mars and company dancer Andrea Parson, music by Pink Martini pianist Hunter Noack, and a post-performance dance party in the basement vault, hosted by former NW Dance Project star Viktor Usov.

Modern and contemporary: imported

Beijing Dance Theater makes its West Coast debut with three contemporary works. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Beijing Dance Theater
Presented by White Bird
7:30 pm February 20
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Beijing Dance Theater makes its West Coast debut through White Bird with three works from award-winning contemporary Chinese choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, set against striking visual designs by Tan Shaoyuan and Han Jiang. The company’s 13 highly skilled dancers perform Farewell, Shadows, inspired by a book of poetry by Chinese literary giant Lu Xun; Crossing, an ominous journey in which individual dancers struggle to mark their paths along an empty stage, and Hamlet, a balletic take on Shakespeare’s melancholy prince. Yuanyuan, who founded the company in 2008 after completing an MFA in dance at California Institute of the Arts, prides herself on creating innovative contemporary dance steeped in Chinese cultural traditions.

 

Fierce and fabulous: Compagnie Hervé Koubi returns with “The Barbarian Nights or The First Dawns of the World.” Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Compagnie Hervé Koubi
Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2
Newmark Theatre, 111 SW Broadway
French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi and his company of 13 male street dancers from Algeria and Morocco present The Barbarian Nights or The First Dawns of the World. Set against the musical backdrop of Wagner, Mozart, French composer Gabriel Fauré, and traditional Algerian melodies, the dancers, dressed in Swarovski crystal masks and long dark skirts, use capoeira, martial arts, and urban and contemporary dance to explore the idea of otherness. The barbarians of the title come from the term that Greeks and Romans used to describe foreigners who did not speak their languages or understand their customs.

Upcoming Performances

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Shakti, Sankalpa Dance Ensemble, Sweta Ravishankar, Sridharini Sridharan, and Yashaswini Raghuram
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (world premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Photo First: Nrityotsava 2019

Ways to preserve: Friderike Heuer takes her camera to Kalakendra's showcase of 11 Indian dance groups and records how they keep traditions

Photo Essay by FRIDERIKE HEUER

Kalabharati School of Dance

I could have kicked myself. Here I am friends with one of the most formidable dance critics around, ArtsWatch’s own Martha Ullman West, and yet it did not occur to me to drag her with me to the dance performance I saw last Saturday. Just as well, though, since no matter how learned a tutorial I’d have gotten, it would have been but a drop in the vast sea of my ignorance about dance.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Echo’s otherworldly dance for all

What's happening in Oregon dance now

I recently spent three marvelous hours watching Echo Theater Company members negotiate a system of harnesses, ropes, and pulleys to move a butterfly with gigantic opalescent wings and a mad, spiky hermit crab-like monster around a stage. The atmosphere was electric: it was exciting to watch the collective synapses fire as the company, in an egalitarian way, created art in real time. “Whatever information set you have, you just lend it to the group to try to make the thing,” said creative director Aaron Wheeler-Kay. “The collaboration is constant and ongoing,”

Wheeler-Kay, a Portland native and Jefferson dance alum, directs ETC, which specializes in acrobatics, aerial dance, and physical theater. He has created an otherworldly new family-friendly work, It’s Like This, in collaboration with education director Wendy Cohen, deaf composer Myles de Bastion, ARC in Movement founders Alicia Cutaia and Russ Stark, and Rebound Movement instructor Laura Cannon for the upcoming Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, which runs January 24-February 3. The festival features new artistic work in various stages of development, from workshopped to fully formed, in dance, theater, comedy, film, and everything in between. (Check out Bob Hicks’s breakdown of festival offerings beyond dance in Speed-dating at Fertile Ground.)

You don’t often get to see the mechanics behind the theater magic, but in this production it’s all out in the open. The curtains are drawn to reveal the performers or riggers who hold the ropes propelling the central characters. The butterfly is attached to a four-pulley system that hoists her up and flies her around; the crab monster only needs a two-pulley system, because her movement is lower to the ground. The riggers need to remember the choreography and the timing of the ropes: it’s just as entertaining to watch these folks pulling, flying, and tumbling along with the performers.

The whimsical, gravity-defying creatures that slither, bounce, float, and pounce through It’s Like That are enhanced by imaginative costuming, music, and lighting. The show is designed to be accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers (and performers, two of whom are deaf). Composer de Bastion, a hardware/software designer, conceptual artist, and musician, founded CymaSpace, which specializes in equipment that translates audio information into sight (through light) and touch (through vibration). The music he has envisioned for It’s Like This, both improvised and composed, combines electronic and guitar sounds, he told me when we spoke through an ASL interpreter on Monday. A group of volunteers and a programmer worked with him on the software program he uses to track the music when he plays. Viewers will be able to feel the sound, thanks to a mechanism installed under some seats that creates low-frequency vibrations. American Sign Language interpreters will work all of the performances, and LED light panels installed on the back wall of the stage will use color to represent tone and blinking to represent rhythms.

Echo Theater Company will present its new work at Essentials, a program it will share with Tempos Contemporary Circus’ Underneath, a piece about living a good and fearless life. Essentials lasts an hour in total and will take place at Echo Theater, 1515 SE 37th Ave.

Performances this week

The MAC Dancers perform “The Project Approach” at Groovin’ Greenhouse Feb. 2.  Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 24-February 3
Check the Groovin’ Greenhouse and Fertile Ground websites for locations and times
The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, including its dance-centric arm, Groovin’ Greenhouse (hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre), unfolds in venues around town with new performance works in various stages of development. Choreographers and companies presenting movement-related work in this year’s festival include Novoa Dances, Michal Schorsch, Hannah Downs, Polaris Company, Polaris Junior Company, NEO Youth Company, NW Fusion, the MAC dancers, Vitality Dance Collective, ELXR Dance Company, A-WOL Dance Collective, PDX Contemporary Ballet, ELa FaLa Collective, and Ballet Fiesta, Echo Theater Company, Tempos Contemporary Circus, and Living Room Circus.

“The Cutting Room” by BodyVox Dance Company. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

The Cutting Room
BodyVox
January 24-February 9
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Multiple movie genres (action, comedy, drama, sci-fi) and memories of favorite films inspire BodyVox’s cinematic, virtuoustic dance performance The Cutting Room. Former BodyVox dancer Jonathan Krebs returns to perform with the company; look for new company member Jessica McCarthy and apprentice Coltrane Liu as well.

Sankalpa Dance Ensemble is one of 11 groups performing at the fundraising event Nrityotsava. Photo courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

Nrityotsava 2019 /Fundraiser
Indian Classical and Folk Dance Event
Hosted by Kalakendra
5 pm January 26
Lakeridge High School, 1235 Overlook Dr., Lake Oswego
Kalakendra’s mega Indian classical and folk dance fundraising event will feature 11 area professional and student groups performing dance styles including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Gaudiya Nritya, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Assamese, Punjabi, and more. The Portland-based Kalakendra promotes performing arts from across the Indian subcontinent through classical dance and music performances.

Kudo Taketeru performing at The Tiny Theater PDX. Photo by Sophia Emigh.

The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing
Anet Margot Ris
The Tiny Theater PDX
4 pm January 27
The Tiny Theater PDX, 3306 SE 65th Ave.
New to the performance scene is The Tiny Theater PDX, a home for radical performance curated by Anet Margot Ris, the theater’s founder and self-described “artistic directress.” Ris, a multi-disciplinary performer and former member of Daniel Nagrin’s The Workgroup and The Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble, among others, launches the theater’s 2019 Sunday series The Art of Seeing with The Masculine Dancing, an evening of film and video depicting 20th- and 21st-century male dancers/choreographers. Screenings will be followed by a conversation about how the masculine is portrayed. The series continues through May with sessions devoted to The Feminine Dancing, clowning, drag, and performance art.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art brings its cross-disciplinary work “Telemetry” to Portland. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Telemetry
Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art
Presented by White Bird
January 31-February 2
1 pm February 2, master class with Shay Kuebler at Floor Dance Center, reservations recommended
Vancouver, B.C.-based choreographer Shay Kuebler and his company Radical System Art draw from martial arts, hip-hop, contemporary ballet, modern and tap to create theatrical, highly physical work. In the 65-minute work Telemetry, Kuebler and award-winning tapper Danny Nielson (who performs as part of the eight-member cast and contributes the work’s rhythmic score), explore the science of telemetry, a communications process by which measurements and other data are collected and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring. Kuebler extends that idea to the human body, using it, he says, as “a device—a tool—that translates, relays, and communicates intangible and unseen processes. Dance [uses the] body [to] translate an audible form into a visual form.” In short,Telemetry focuses on how the human body serves as a kind of antenna for sound, energy, and memory.

Upcoming Performances

February 2019
February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23-24, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Shakti, Sankalpa Dance Ensemble, Sweta Ravishankar, Sridharini Sridharan, and Yashaswini Raghuram
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

DanceWatch Weekly: The spaces we move through

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with castles: their architecture; their scale; their permanence; their connections to history; their construction; their inhabitants. Castles are lasting, tangible creations, unlike dance pieces, which are fleeting. But they share some commonalities.

I recently had a conversation with someone about how being a dancemaker is similar to being an architect. I explained that when constructing a dance, a choreographer considers the same things that an architect might: style, time, space, design, scale, etc. Like architects, dancemakers create work in collaboration with other skilled artists and craftspeople, using the materials at their disposal. Architects and choreographers experiment as they work, and their creations often reflect their surroundings and culture. (I’m even more aware of the dance-architecture relationship now that I’m studying Odissi, a classical Indian dance form partially derived from relief sculptures, found on temple walls, that depicted movement.)

Ultimately, architects and choreographers both create structures that organize bodies in space. This week’s dance events do that too, removing barriers and bridging divides in the process.

The Oregon Dance Education Organization, for example, is creating an infrastructure of sorts with its conference Building Bridges, Connecting the Field. Dance can be divisive and competitive, so the conference is a welcome attempt to unite its different factions under one roof. The conference, staged in partnership with Portland Community College’s Dance Department, features BrainDance creative movement founder Anne Green Gilbert as keynote speaker. She will guide participants through a five-part dance class focused on building community through relationships and emphasizing skill development, choreography, and reflection. Additional presenters will include Terra Lyn Anderson, Sherrie Barr, Sarah Ebert, Laura Haney, Amy Werner, Sara Parker, and Mary L. Seereiter. Building Bridges will be held Saturday, January 19, at the PCC Sylvania campus. For more information, see oregondeo.org.

DanceAbility in performance. Photo courtesy of DanceAbility.

Eugene’s DanceAbility International, a program that Alito Alessi and Karen Nelson created in the 1980s to connect people with and without disabilities through movement classes, events, and teacher trainings, is one of 10 international programs selected to participate in the 2019 Zero Project Impact Transfer Program in Austria. The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program, which promotes solutions to the problems that people with disabilities face, prepares organizations to develop their programs into business models for worldwide application. Connie Vandarakis, vice president of DanceAbility’s board of directors, issued a statement on what selection means for the organization: “This opportunity has helped us shift our organization from an arts initiative program to a social entrepreneur program. One cannot overestimate the potential of being selected for the Zero Project and the Impact Transfer Program. The impact will magnify the DanceAbility methodology all over the world.”

Northern California Ballet, which lost its dance studio and costumes in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California this fall, is rebuilding with help from Eugene Ballet. The two companies have had a longstanding relationship ever since 2001, when Eugene Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Martin began guest teaching and dancing for NCB; since then, many Eugene Ballet dancers have participated in NCB programs as instructors and guest artists. This year, Eugene Ballet director Toni Pimble packed up and sent her company’s Nutcracker sets and costumes to NCB, which will perform the ballet January 18-20 in Oroville, California.

A window onto the choreographic process opens during a low-key work-in-progress show from dance artists Joanna Furnans (Chicago), Hope Goldman (Seattle), Allie Hankins (Portland), and Linda Austin (Portland). The show is held 3-5pm Saturday, January 19 at Flock Dance Center. Donations are welcome at the door and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

How does dance translate to a one-dimensional format? You have two opportunities to find out: the nine international dance films that won awards at the 2018 Portland Dance Film Fest will screen January 19 at the Clinton Street Theater. And the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow is back with La Bayadère on January 20. Presented by Fathom Events, La Bayadère, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to music by Leon Minkus, tells the tragic tale of temple dancer Nikiya and her doomed love affair with the warrior Solor.

Finally, two dance-centric productions created largely by female artists and artists of color continue this week. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show plays January 19 at The Vault, in Hillsboro. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February

February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23-24, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Is Portland the newest dance destination?

Recent transplants tell us why they moved to Portland to choreograph and perform  

By BETH WHELAN

The other day, I stumbled across the Oregonian article  “13 reasons to leave Portland and go back to where you came from.” Quick flashback to 14 months ago: Me, squeezing everything I owned into my car and trekking across the country to Portland, where my only local connection was a rented Craigslist room. In 2017, Oregon was rated the second most popular state for relocation, and Portlanders have been experiencing the effects of that migration for the past decade, including skyrocketing real-estate costs and traffic congestion. As one of the transplants, I hear you, Portland! There are drawbacks to everyone realizing what a gem this city is and abruptly moving here.

But there are benefits, too, including the growth of Portland’s dance community. I moved here because I felt I could have it all: a full life within and outside of dance in a right-sized city surrounded by natural beauty. Once I arrived, I was surprised to find so many recent transplants like myself; people with a passion to leave their creative mark on the place. Why pursue a dance career in Portland, though? I asked some of these new artists what brought them here, the differences they’ve found between Portland and the dance communities in their cities of origin, and what their experiences have been like. Here’s what they told me.

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