Dancing in the Underworld

The movement's uninspired, but Portland Opera's production of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice" is musically magnificent. By all means go.

With its glorious melodies , menacing harmonies, and inclusion of music for dances that actually drive the plot rather than functioning as interludes giving singers a chance to catch their breath, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s 1762 opera Orfeo ed Eurydice has inspired some extremely distinguished   20th and 21st century choreographers.   George Balanchine did a radical version for the Metropolitan Opera in 1936, in a conceptual collaboration with painter Pavel Tchelitchew, that put the singers in the pit and the dancers in the air. Forty years later, having choreographed to Gluck’s music several times in between, Balanchine made the beautiful Chaconne as a vehicle for Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins. In 1953 Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed it for Covent Garden. Mark Morris staged it first in 1986 for the Handel and Haydn Society, and in 2007 directed and choreographed a modern-dress production for the Met, with the chorus dressed as characters from history placed on a platform above the stage, commenting, so to speak, on the action taking place below them.

A dance scene in Portland Opera’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

Because of this history, and my own longtime affection for Gluck’s score (I’ve been listening to this gorgeous music since I was fifteen), I was delighted to learn that the Portland Opera was performing this version of the Orpheus story for the first time (they did Philip Glass’s in 2009), and at the Newmark Theater at that, vastly preferable to the all too spacious Keller Auditorium. The knowledge that Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Peter Franc and OBT soloist Katherine Monogue, lovely dancers both of them, would perform added to the attraction.


DanceWatch Weekly: A holiday just for dance

Saturday is National Dance Day and DanceWatch has some ideas about you can celebrate

Saturday, July 28, is National Dance Day. Shouldn’t it also be a national holiday? Don’t we need a holiday to dance?

“So You Think You Can Dance” judge Nigel Lythgoe invented National Dance Day to promote dance education and physical fitness. Lythgoe also co-founded the Dizzy Feet Foundation, and the foundation and I agree “that participation in dance connects the mind and body, promotes health and wellbeing, connects us with others and enables us to find joy through dance and movement.”

So, let’s do it! How will you engage in dance this week? Will you watch it, do it, or both? Listed below are a multitude of ways to do it all. See you at the dance.

Performances this week

Dance artist keyon gaskin. Photo courtesy of PICA.

[A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait
keyon gaskin
July 25-27
PICA at Hancock, 15 NE Hancock St.
Dancemaker keyon gaskin in DanceWatch Weekly two weeks ago spoke with me about about his new work [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait, which debuts at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gaskin’s work is complex and layered, deeply intellectual and questioning. His work butts up against normative performance practices and can disturb, confuse, and up-end.

“I think with this piece, I’m really trying to value and center all the ways in which we receive information,” gaskin said. “I also think about feminist ways of engagement with it. I think the whole piece in general is very decentralized. It’s not about WATCHING. Things are happening all around you. You can’t possibly see everything the whole time because there are three different people moving throughout the room at any given time….trying to center text and experience, and sensations, smell, feel, as equally receiving of information.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Dancer Dalitza Samantha Alicea-Perez. Photo by Karla MIlugo,

Duende Yubá: Bomba Workshop and Performance
Presented by #ArtSavedMyLife
Featured artists include: DJ Mami Miami (Noche Libre DJ Collective), Bobby Fouther, Jean Nada, Amenta Bodunde Abioto, and Dalitza + Drummers
8 pm July 26
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.
6-7:30 pm Bomba workshop with Dalitza Samantha Alicea- Perez

#ArtSavedMyLife—that’s exactly what I’m talking about! Join Puerto Rican performance artist and Bomba dancer Dalitza Samantha Alicea-Perez and her drummers for an evening honoring Puerto Rican and African cultures through music and dance. The evening will also include performances by DJ Mami Miami (Noche Libre DJ Collective), Bobby Fouther, Jean Nada, and Amenta Bodunde Abioto.


Interview: Tahni Holt talks about ‘Rubble Bodies’

Veteran Portland choreographer Tahni Holt discusses life after a collapse in her new dance

Rubble Bodies brings up the possibilities for me of something after a collapse, where we don’t actually know how it’s organized yet,” Portland choreographer Tahni Holt told me over coffee last week as we talked about her new dance. This idea she said, “gives me freedom and curiosity about how to combine things in interesting ways that aren’t habitually organized in my body at this particular moment in time.”

Holt has been working on Rubble Bodies since 2015. Originally a solo called Apples and Pomegranates, it is now a group work-in-progress in collaboration with composer Luke Wyland, visual artist Elizabeth Malaska, New Orleans trombonist Willis Ross, singer Holland Andrews, and dramaturg Kate Bredeson. Although Holland is part of the work, she will not be performing in this weekend’s show, though she will take part in the work’s official premiere in the winter.

Holt is a choreographer and founding director of FLOCK Dance Center here in Portland, and she has been creating performances, programing and teaching for the past 19 years.

Rubble Bodies will share the bill with New Orleans-based Shannon Stewart this weekend at Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance. (I also interviewed Stewart about her work Relatives, which you can read about here.)

“Rubble is this amazing word,” Holt observed. “It brings up this very strong image of all these bits and pieces. When I think about this work and what I’m manifesting, it’s a lot of bits and ways of imagining the materiality of my body.”


DanceWatch Weekly: A dance that can be whatever it wants to be

Shannon Stewart talks about the 3-year process that her dance "Relatives" has gone through

“Honestly, the real reason for this production is because I wanted to get Shannon Stewart here (in Portland) again,” said Portland choreographer Tahni Holt when we met for coffee last week at Posies Bakery & Cafe in NE Portland. “She’s just a power house. She’s an amazing choreographer, and teacher, and a very dear colleague of mine.”

New Orleans-based Stewart’s Relatives and Holt’s newest work-in-progress, Rubble Bodies, will share the stage this weekend at Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance. The two pieces are in conversation with each other Holt said.

“So many of our ideas—what we think about, and what we are working on—are on similar paths,” Holt says. “We are at similar points in our lives, and we’re similar ages” she continued. “I think that they will be really amazing pieces to see together and hers (Stewart’s) is an incredibly complicated, rigorous piece, that you get a bit lost in the meditation of it and the consistency of it. The dedication she brings to that hour—and the fierceness—is really amazing. I’m very excited to bring that piece to this community. I want this community to show up for it because I think it’s a really important work to see.”


“I mean that’s not really the title: I don’t really like that that gets used as the title, but the title is actually the ‘color’ lavender.”

This is the Portland dance artist keyon gaskin speaking about the title of his new work, [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait over coffee last week at Bushel and Peck Bakeshop in northeast Portland. [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait opens Wednesday, July 11, at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

“I feel like if there was any language I would use for the piece, it would be ‘a self portrait’,” he said. “But I prefer that the visual (color) representation be the language for the piece.”

“A self portrait,” which actually debuted in January at American Realness in New York, is a container for all that is keyon gaskin.


DanceWatch Weekly: Summer improvises

This week's dance calendar features the art of improvisation

At the core of it all, life is really one big improvisation. I’m thinking dance improvisation, of course. Every day, in this funny, wonderful, and truly bizarre world we live in, we are presented with a variety of people and events to interact with, and how we bump into them, or embrace them, or avoid them, or dance with them, can change the trajectory of our lives. I find this process and where it takes us to be magical and thrilling in its mechanics, and sometimes a little frightening, too. It’s the not knowing and the risk that we encounter everyday that makes life interesting, don’t you think?

This week’s dance performances all move in this realm of chance and risk beginning tonight, July 5, with four soul-searching solos in Finding Soul: A Constellation of Stories, directed by Susan Banyas and Andrea Parson at the CoHo Theatre Summerfest. Opening Friday, July 6, at the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, the Creative Music Guild’s Improvisation summit takes over the center’s voluminous space featuring some of Portland’s dance improvisation veterans in collaboration with other artistic mediums.


DanceWatch Weekly: World Beat!

In Salem, the World Beat Festival takes over the waterfront with an inclusive celebration. In Portland, Risk/Reward pushes boundaries.

Twenty-one years ago, two stay-at-home moms, Kathleen Fish and Mona Hayes, created the World Beat Festival in response to growing racial intolerance in Salem, Oregon. Today the festival, which opens Friday evening, June 29, has grown dramatically and involves more than 1,000 volunteers.

The festival spans three days, takes over Salem’s entire Riverfront Park, comprises five “villages” representing different regions of the world, and presents the dances, music, food, and crafts of more than 70 nations and cultures. There are also drumming classes, dance lessons, dragon boat races, kids’ activities, cooking classes, three Powwows, and, yes, much, much more.

“We didn’t want to raise our kids in a community where that kind of thing happened,” Fish said in an interview last year with Heather Rayhorn for the Statesman Journal in reference to the the racist incident that was a catalyst for the festival. “We thought the best way to prevent those incidents of racism was to get rid of the fear. A lack of exposure to other cultures, not knowing, drives that fear.”