NW Dance Project: Darkness falls, great dancing continues

The company's fall program was full of dances on the dark side, but the dancing met their considerable technical demands


There were echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opener of NW Dance Project’s fall season concert, which played Lincoln Hall over the weekend. The piece felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian—a feeling that suffused the whole evening.

In his Monster program note, Landerer, a German choreographer, gave viewers this to chew on: “What stands between two parties or people can be described as an organism that at some point might develop a dynamic of its own. So what we intend to form and build might eventually turn into something that gets out of control and shapes us instead.” (Before we go on, for a bit of grim fun, take a minute to apply that idea to any number of historical events in the last century.)

Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong in Felix Landerer’s “Post-Traumatic-Monster”, NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Landerer’s vision of fractured dynamics was built around two groups of dancers dressed in utilitarian black, save the two leads, Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong, who wore more flesh-and-blood tones of red and tan. Propelled by an electronic score punctuated with clicks, clangs and breaths, the two groups seethed and heaved en masse, lifting and manipulating Nieto and Wong as puppeteers might. The pair ultimately got their moment alone in a sinewy duet, but the group dynamic tended to dominate. There were only occasional moments of individualism—memorably, when Andrea Parson bent back to lean against something that wasn’t there, then slowly dissolved to the floor, unnoticed by the others swirling around her.


I have a secret. Writing DanceWatch Weekly is a completely selfish venture/adventure that I deeply love. Well, maybe not so secret now. Because of DanceWatch, I get to immerse myself, or obsess (however you want to look at it), in the research of my favorite subject—dance. I get to bump up against so many different ideas and styles of movement, confront my biases, and examine the culture of dance and its forms on many levels. I also get to be in the presence of deeply insightful and inspiring artists, hear about their lives, and share their stories with you. So awesome, right? Right!

This week I spoke with NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong about leaving the company after seven years and her plans for the next ten months. That conversation unfolds below after the performance listings.

Yours truly will be performing with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater this weekend as part of its community ensemble in UPRISE. Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor A. Eggån and set designer Daniel Addy will debut their new dance-theatre work Abominable. NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with a world premiere and two returning works, and the Bolshoi Ballet will be live at a movie theater near you. Enjoy!

Performances this week

Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic-Monster. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

You Are All I See (World Premiere) by Wen Wei Wang, Post-Traumatic-Monster by Felix Landerer, and At Some Hour You Return by Jirí Pokorný
NW Dance Project
October 19-21
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

With a final performance by beloved, long time NWDP dancer Ching Ching Wong, and the introduction of two new dancers, Katherine Disenhof and Anthony Pucci, NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with three dances: You Are All I See, a brand new work by Chinese choreographer Wen Wei Wang; Post-Traumatic-Monster (2016) by German choreographer Felix Landerer; and At Some Hour You Return (2014), by Jirí Pokorný from the Czech Republic.

Dancer Taylor A. Eggån in Abominable. Photo courtesy of Taylor A. Eggån.

Directed by Taylor A. Eggån, set and costume design by Daniel Addy, performed by both
October 20-22
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Abominable is a dance-theatre work that draws “on the medieval Scandinavian imaginary and its lineage of famed heroes” creating “a context for examining the monstrosity of heroism as well as the (self-)destructive logic of heroic consciousness, which continues to haunt white masculinity to this day.”

The work is directed by Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor Eggån in collaboration with dance artist and set designer Daniel Addy.

Eggån has performed for Gregg Bielemeier, Mary Oslund, POV, and Eliza Larson, he and keeps a blog of his writing at The Exploded View.

Addy has performed for aero/betty, Tahni Holt, Mary Oslund, Tracy Broyles, Suniti Dernovsek, Dawn Joella Jackson, and Linda K. Johnson to name a few, and has contributed to the set design of many dance works in Portland.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Oluyinka Akinjiola.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola
October 20-22
Reed College, Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, an evening of choreographic premiers by artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola and company members Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, with musical guest Amenta Abioto. The works, inspired by Angela Davis’ desire to see liberation movements become intersectional, address issues of power, oppression, and community.

The company is “an ensemble of multi-dimensional dancers and musicians that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens bridging our vast history with our complex present. Rejoice! weaves dances of the African Diaspora, storytelling and live music to navigate through issues relevant to today’s world.”

Akinjiola says, “There is a reclaiming of power when we value aesthetics from the African Diaspora. Our bodies and our stories are inseparably political.”

The Bolshoi ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Le Corsaire
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
12:55 pm October 22
Playing at Century 16 Eastport, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, and Clackamas Town Center

In a live broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theatre near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Le Corsaire—a lavish ballet created in 1856 by Marius Petipa, contemporized by Alexei Ratmansky. The ballet tells the tale of shipwrecked pirates, the beautiful women who rescue them, the capture and sale of those women into sexual slavery as harem workers, and then, of course, the rescue of said ladies by the pirates in the end. It’s all about romantic love.

Interview with dancer Ching Ching Wong

Ching Ching Wong has danced for NW Dance Project for the past seven years. When she and I sat down this past weekend to talk, we estimated that she had danced approximately 70 new dances in her seven years with the company. If you’re wondering if that’s a lot? It is. It’s a whole lot. Wong’s contribution to the company is immeasurable.

This weekend she will be performing with NW Dance Project for the last time just days before she leaves on a self-directed world tour to teach and perform with her boyfriend of seven years Joe Reynolds and Korean violinist-looper and composer Joe Kye.

But before she exits Portland, Wong will perform a new solo choreographed by Katie Scherman with Kye and the Bravo Orchestra at Alberta Abbey on October 27 at 7:30 pm here in Portland. She will launch her website on October 25 as well as a fundraising campaign.

Wong is half Chinese on her father’s side and half Filipino on her mother’s side. She was born in Manila but grew up in Southern California, and at the age of 13 moved in full time with her dance teacher Alia Harlan, the director of Allegria Dance Theater and stayed until graduation. Wang says that she was raised in a dance studio.

Dancer Ching Ching Wong. Photo (c) Peddecord Photo

Seven years ago, after graduating with a B.F.A. in Dance Performance and a minor in Education and Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine, Wong moved to San Francisco with the intention of staying. She auditioned for every dance company she could get her hands on but no success. Somewhere in there she auditioned for NW Dance Project, and artistic director Sarah Slipper hired her. She turned 22 during her first month in Portland dancing with the company.

Wong, who turned 29 in August, won the coveted Princess Grace Award for Dance in 2015 and was named one of Dance Magazine‘s 25 To Watch for 2017.

She is genuine, and kind, and makes a point to connect with every person she meets. She is fiercely positive and her bubbly nature and hopefulness is contagious. Her dancing is dynamic and quick, charming, heartfelt and emotional. She is a little body with a huge amount of energy and life.

She has been written about many times here at ArtsWatch and is dearly loved by Portland’s dance audiences. Gavin Larsen wrote about Wong in 2015 when she received the Princess Grace award. You can read that story here.

In March, Wong’s grandmother passed away and in April things began to shift.

“It’s as if something inside me was saying, ‘what are you scared of, Ching? What are you holding yourself back from? Loving and accepting more people into your life? What are some things that are important to you? What are some things that you want?’ It just stirred up a lot of questions and from those questions ignited movement.”

Her interior examination kept going, she said: “‘You’re so young, your body is capable, and your mind is capable and we are capable, so what do we want to do with these capabilities?’”

“And the thing is, I was fulfilled here, you know? Portland is my home. NW Dance Project has been my home for seven years, I have this fantastic group of people that I admire and love, and I’m rooted here. But something inside me stirred, and now I’m willing to turn my life upside down. I’m selling all my things and giving away all of my possessions and relinquishing my home and opening myself up to the world and asking if she will take me in. (Ching starts laughing) This sounds absolutely crazy, um…

I suggested that she wasn’t embarking on this course alone. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not doing this alone. I have this amazing partner in life, Joe Reynolds. You know when all of these feelings started coming up, every night I would come to him with a new idea, a new story, a new dream. And for every single one of my dreams he said, ‘OK, OK, OK, I will go with you.’ Oh my god, yeah it’s crazy. We’re both giving up our homes, our lives a little bit to open ourselves up to possibility.”

Wong rehearsing with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

It’s an emotional conversation, and we are both tearing up at this point, and then Ching starts laughing.

“I’m really emotional right now because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, so…,” Ching starts laughing again. “And the thing is I’m scared, but I don’t feel alone. I one hundred percent don’t feel alone. I feel the most supported that I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Even though I have so many questions about the next ten months…I feel sure, I feel sure that this is what I need to do and I feel ready.

We are both laughing and crying at this point.

How do you feel about leaving the company? About leaving the “it,” the thing that every dancer wants, a coveted full time dance job, for the unknown?

I love routine. I love taking class in the morning every day. I love that moment when you’re standing behind a choreographer and you are soaking up them and their past, and their movement and everything they are bringing to the table. I love that work, I love being in the studio. And I have one more week left—Saturday is my last performance, this is my last time in the studio. But it feels like nothing is going to change. When I’m in the studio, it feels like the safest place I can be. The world just kind of washes away around it. So leaving it’s hard to imagine a little bit, absolutely, right now. But I’m so excited for…I mean two things: there are only ten spots in the company. And so the dancers that get to have those spots next? It’s good, it’s a gift for them. They deserve it. And Katherine and Anthony are the two new dancers who have joined us, and they’re amazing.

So this is the thing, it’s like, I am viciously sad to be leaving the company and to be leaving these relationships that I love. But then I feel I get to take the dancers with me, you know? They’re family, they’re gonna come with me on this journey. And then what I’m most astonished with in this journey is that I’ve been reaching out to old teachers, old friends, my colleagues and asking if they want to join me. For example Charbel [Rohayem], Tatiana [Barber] and Lindsey Matheis, they are going to dance with me in Los Angeles. I’m going to Boise November 1st and Lauren Edson was one of the first choreographers I worked with. Victor [Usov] and Nicholas [Petrich], you know Victor who was formerly part of NW Dance Project, they want to join me in the Philippines to do outreach there. My friend Caili [Quan] from BalletX introduced me to ballet schools in Guam and so I am going to her home town. Ihsan [Rustem], I’m assisting him in Switzerland. I don’t feel like I’m leaving cause I feel like I get to find this this deeper and richer connection in my mobility. (like a crystal formation) That just continue to spread. If you could attach a string to me and attach it to everyone else and just keep letting that blossom and ooze out

I love this idea that our bodies are our vessels that hold our mentors and hold our past. You know my dancing and me, I’m a reflection of Donald McKayle, of Aliya, of Sarah Slipper of the dancers who have partnered me, of my family. …it’s kind of neat to think that that can continue to grow and spread and connect.

I mean, even here in Portland I have asked Katie Scherman to choreograph a solo for me…I want to open myself up to join as many people as I can, ‘cause we’re stronger together, you know?

How are you funding all of this?

No idea. I have $500 in my bank account.

How are you are so brave?

I don’t feel brave, I’m absolutely scared out of my mind. [laughing] Also I’m poor and I have big dreams. I’m launching a fundraiser on October 25th.

I’ve been avoiding the fundraising aspect of this because I’m the most scared of it. I’ve prided myself since college of you know… I worked three jobs when I was in college. When I first joined the company I was teaching 7 classes a week on top of a full 40 hour rehearsal schedule. Because there is a pride in me to be able to care for myself and be financially stable. So yes, honestly I think I’m going to need a little help with these next ten months and I’m so scared to say it, I really am.

So outreach is one of the portions that is part of this journey. I’m going to Nepal and spending some time at Kopila Valley Children’s Home. The founder is Maggie Doyne. She won CNN Hero of the year in 2015. She’s incredible. The school has 350 Nepalese kids and her home has 50. They all call her “Maggie mom.” It is incredible. And that sort of love is the kind of love I felt when I was growing up. I said I was raised in a dance studio, I truly was. I was raised in a dance village, and I still feel like I’m in a dance village. And then to see those kids in Nepal, that’s exactly how they’re growing up. There growing up loved and supported, even though it’s simple.

But yeah, I have big dreams. I want to go in there, and I want to raise money, not only to fly me to these locations, but to raise money to create a dance program for them. A couple thousand dollars can help fund a dance teacher for a whole year for them. I feel like we can do this.

So me, Joe Kye the violinist, and Joe Reynolds are going to Kopila Valley Children’s Home and we’re doing dance, music, and art with them.

On Thursday evening I did a 30 minute Skype dance class with a couple of kids in Nepal. Joe was playing live, Janelle Garland was my assistant, and it was at BodyVox. It was my way of introducing myself to the kids in Nepal and give them a taste of a dance class and let people view it. I streamed it live on FB and instagram.

Wong dancing in Summer Splendors with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

How have you changed as an artist in your time with NW Dance Project?

So dance growing up for me was this fearsome attachment. It felt like I needed dance to survive and to be whole. It was fearsome. It’s vicious and I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I am not the most talented dancer in the room, I am not the dancer with the most facility. My teacher used to say, “It’s not the dancer that has it all that’s going to make it, it’s the one that stays in the race.” And I think that’s true because no one is going to kick me out of this race because I’m going to be here whether people like it or not. I think I’m the one that just keeps coming to class and I just want to keep working on it, and I’m not the best at it. I’ve always admired all these dancers around me. Even when I first joined the company, at my audition, I remember watching Andrea Parson, she’s the most magical creature I’ve ever seen in my life: “I want to dance with her.” You know? So that was a dream of mine when I first auditioned, the moment I laid eyes on her.

I think my relationship with dance it’s as if I needed to let go of this fearsome attachment in order for myself to feel good standing in my own skin. I’m not trying to show or prove or fight or you know? I think maybe I fought so hard to dance in my early years that I slowly started to shed that, to let go of that so that, so I could finally just move and breath and just exhale in my own body a little bit. I don’t know if that makes sense.

I’ve let go a little bit. I still love dance as much. But I don’t fearsomely need it that it hurts me anymore.

What has company life been like for you?

It’s a rigorous schedule. It’s very disciplined and in a way…I mean I live a really boring life. I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, you show up to work, you do ballet class every day, and rehearse for six hours a day and you repeat the pieces, you choreograph, you make the work, you rehearse the pieces, you work on notes you wake up, you do it again. And I love it, I love that about it, you know? But that’s not for everyone, it’s not for everyone.

In terms of me and the company, I feel as if…Kate Wallich said this once to me in Seattle, she said, ‘Ching, you’re like the one that wants to mellow, to keep the waters calm, not calm, but level out the energy in the room.’ For example, if it’s too hyper I’ll kind of stay quiet, if spirits are down then I’ll crack a joke. Or if it’s a bit tense, then I’ll sacrifice myself and make fun of myself. I think it’s because I don’t like confrontations.

The dancers recently roasted me at this gala a couple of weeks ago…I think I redefined my definition of love. It just made me realize that I have so much history with each and every one of these people. There are stories that were shared in various parts of the world that no one can ever really capture. And even our tiny little dressing room: I can’t tell you the amount of laughter that’s happened inside those dressing rooms, you know, or tears, or car rides. It’s just memories. Those feelings are irreplaceable, really. Maybe that’s all we live for are just those memories, we just want to connect, maybe that’s all we want. We just want to connect with someone, we just want to feel something. We want to be part of…

This is a hard question to ask because I’m sure every choreographer you’ve worked with has been amazing but do you have any favorite choreographers?

This next program is really special. So Felix Landerer choreographed a piece last year. It’s called Post-Traumatic-Monster. I think Felix was revolutionary for the whole company. Everybody was just blown away with Felix. The way in which he approaches movement, his detail and the way he digs into the movement is so specific. It was changing, it was really mind changing.

Is it his use of language?

Its his language, how he describes it, it’s also his body. He can show us the difference. And it’s not movement that you’ve not necessarily seen before but it’s different in how he places his weight and how he pushes off the floor and the spirals and how he initiates and finishes movement and the whole process in between.

But It was really a whole mental shift in, I think, all the dancers. Which is so inspiring. And his piece in particular is special to be doing, it’s my last time dancing with Franco [Nieto]. I think maybe I’ve waited my whole life to do a role like this. Because it’s more than just movement. It kind of scares me to do it. It’s that fear that I’m not good enough for it or that I’m not brave enough to ask of myself to do it.

And then Jirí Pokorny choreographed “At Some Hour You Return” in 2015. I submitted it for the Princess Grace Award. And I love this solo, I love it, I love it. I remember when I first worked with Jiri and he set this solo on me, I went home and repeated the movement over and over and over and over, I obsessed about it. All I could think about were the movements. It’s so intricate, quirky and fast, and I loved how his body shifted in it. I’m so excited to be doing it onstage.

And the last work is You Are All I See by Wen Wei Wang. I love that we’re working with Wen Wei because he worked with us when I first joined the company. My last moment on stage is going to be his work—I’m going to get to walk off stage with him in my heart. You know? Those three are really special.

I have to say that Ihsan [Rustem] has been a huge part of my career. And he’s one that I’m taking with me onto this next side. I’m honored to be his right hand person while I’m in Switzerland, helping him restage Yidam for Concert Theatre Burn. I feel tremendously connected to Ihsan. When I started planning and thinking these next ten months, he’s one of the first people I called. I feel like he’s there with me, even if he’s not physically by my side. I know he’s holding my hand saying, “You get it girl, you got this.”

I’m launching my website on the 25th of October along with my fundraiser.

I want my website to really be a hub for everyone to come on the journey with me. I want to be able to show all the places I’m teaching and choreographing and working. All the places that I’m on tour with Joe Kye. And I also want it to be a place where I can acknowledge the tremendous amount of support from people who have backed me.

Wong and Viktor Usov rehearsing choreography by Ihsan Rustem at NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Tell me about the solo Katy choreographed.

She’s a dream. I said I made a dance bucket list, and Katie Scherman is on it. I think she’s incredible. I love the way she moves, I love how she loves and how excited she gets watching other dancers.

Do you think your princess Grace award and the recognition from dance magazine (25 to watch) made a difference? Would you have had the confidence to do what you are doing without the recognition?

I think I’m still who I am. Princess Grace and 25 to watch, for me I’m most thankful for them I feel like it’s a way I can honor my teachers and my mentors. So for me I feel like that award is for them, and to be able to acknowledge them is number one on my list. Right? Who cares about me, I’ll just keep going, it’s fine. Rememberer, I’m never going to stop this race, I’m just going to keep going. But for them, that award is for them. They have made the dancer that I am and the person that I am.

What are your plans for your last week with NW Dance Project?

Normal. I’m going to wake up and take ballet class. I’m gonna rehearse. I’m going to eat dinner and go to bed. There’s just a couple of extra things I have to do alongside of it, like try and plan my life for the next ten months. You know when food is so good and there’s that last bite and you just wanna slowly eat it and savor it and remember it and build your story around the whole evening that surrounded this bite. Then that’s it.

I want to make sure that I leave Portland letting people know how much they meant to me. Really. I’ve felt so loved and so supported. It’s important for me to make sure that all those people who have been by my side here know that. It’s going to be a gift to get be on that stage with those dancers for one last time.

Upcoming Performances

October 26, Cocktail Hour: The Show, choreography by Marilyn Klaus, presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
October 26-November 5, Diva Practice (Solo), Kaj-anne Pepper
October 26-28, Dancenorth Australia, presented by White Bird
October 27, Migrants, Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
October 27-29, Nous, on va danser, Nancy Ellis
October 31, Opus Cactus, MOMIX, Eugene

November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


Oregon Ballet Theatre review: cheerful resistance

Choreographer Nicolo Fonte, Pink Martini, and pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack team up to create a gay old time for everyone


Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Irving was addressing me personally when he took the stage and asked how many of us weren’t expecting to be there, which of us are the not-the-usual-ballet-audience people? Well, perhaps he was speaking to me and to many of the younger Pink Martini fans all around me. Like OSO & PCSO in recent years, OBT has been making a serious attempt to reach out to non-traditional classical audiences, people who maybe still want to see Balanchine’s Nutcracker for the zillionth time (hell, I’m going this year, aren’t you?) but who otherwise don’t have much feeling for the idiom. In Irving’s words: “OBT has never been afraid to put its own twist on ballet—it’s in our DNA.” Hey, that sounds like a song!

OBT with Pink Martini last night was possibly the gayest show I’ve seen all year. In a round 100 minutes that felt a lot shorter, OBT’s new resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte paired Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack’s two-piano expansion of Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue with the return of his popular Pink Martini revue Never Stop Falling (in Love).

Now let’s get this out of the way right at the start: if you’re still using “gay” as a pejorative, it’s time to join the 21st century and show your fellow humans some respect.

The formerly more common meaning of “gay” was something like “happy and free-spirited,” as in The Gay Nineties or “Gay Paree”. The mighty Nietzsche translator and defender Walter Kaufmann, in the introduction to his 1974 translation of The Gay Science, discusses the troubadour origins of the word (Nietzsche’s original subtitle was “La Gaya Scienza”) and identifies this spirit of “light-hearted defiance of convention” as a bridge between the word’s older meaning and the new coloring it was acquiring at that time.

To be defiantly cheerful in an era of uncertainty and de-/re-/op-pression (1890s, 1970s, 2017) is an act of fruitful resistance, an insistence on loving whom and how we will. Even those of us who identify as some other variety of queer (bi, myself) are quite happy to look for inspiration and support to the culture of gay men, especially this world of artists and musicians which has shown us all so much joy and courage and taught us how to embrace the struggle of life and how to be jubilant whenever we can.

Which brings us to OBT and its collaboration with Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini. I personally haven’t spent a whole lot of time at the ballet: the last time for me was probably OBT’s Stravinsky Project (featuring Stowell’s Rite of Spring) almost a decade ago. What’s worse, I was (until last night) a complete Pink Martini Virgin. I’m happy to say I’m now a believer in both.


Paul Taylor and White Bird, intertwined

The Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to Portland with sparkling versions of three mid-career Taylor dances

White Bird has brought the Paul Taylor Dance Company back to Portland for the sixth time this weekend, a remarkable dedication to the twisty elegance, dark undercurrents and sheer fun of Taylor’s work and the talent of his dancers. This particular visit touches all those bases with a program that spans a period in Taylor’s choreography after he’d moved past youthful exuberance toward a more layered, focused art. Arden Court (1981), Syzygy (1987) and Piazzolla Caldera (1997) are all well-made dances that retain Taylor’s playfulness and his darker side, on one hand, and integrate them into formal movement invention of the first order.

I’m going to talk a little about each of those pieces, but in the analytical process, I hope neither the delight of the visual spectacle nor the bone-deep communication of the dances gets forgotten. That experience is the most important aspect of a Taylor concert, after all, and the reason that the company’s many visits to Portland make sense.

Paul Taylor Dance Company, “Arden Court”/Photo by Paul B. Goode

Paul King and Walter Jaffe started White Bird 20 years ago, and the first company they brought to town was Taylor’s. I think of this decision as a sort of marker, a statement about how King and Jaffe thought then (and perhaps continue to think) about quality, creativity, importance. And it has served them—and their audience—well through those two decades.


DanceWatch: Paul Taylor takes White Bird back to the beginning

A busy Oregon dance week also includes Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Espacio Flamenco Portland

Jamuna Chiarini

This week in Oregon, dance delivers. Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to Portland thanks to White Bird, an evening of conversation and performance with Espacio Flamenco, and Nicolo Fonte’s Rhapsody in Blue continues for a second weekend at Oregon Ballet Theatre. The Northwest Screendance Exposition opens in Eugene featuring an evening of Portland films, and Nartana Kuchipudi presents Sri Krishna Satya. So much dance goodness in this beautiful week.

Looking back, Bob Hicks reviewed the work of Complexion Contemporary Ballet last week in The Complexion of the Times, and Matthew Andrews reviewed Narayana Katha in Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam review: enchanting dreamscape.

Performances this week

Rhapsody in Blue by Nicolo Fonte. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Rhapsody In Blue (World Premiere) and Never Stop Falling (in Love)
Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre, directed by Kevin Irving
October 7-14
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
See above
Rhapsody In Blue, a collaboration between Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale continues for a second weekend, along with Never Stop Falling (in Love), Fonte’s 2014 work created for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary. It features Pink Martini singer China Forbes and a medley of Pink Martini songs.

Two weeks ago I sat in on a rehearsal for Rhapsody In Blue. The costumes for Rhapsody are a gorgeous, textural mix of electric blues in satins, laces, brocades, and matte cottons, with swirling skirts, and tailored suits, evoking decadent sumptuousness and ease. The movement, like the chosen color, is also electric and explosive, shooting out from the dancer’s centers like arrows, creating dramatic, stretched lines with arms and legs. It sweeps and falls, rebounds and flies, describing the music and the space around the notes perfectly. Sometimes the dancing is large and uses the whole cast, and sometimes it is quiet and uses a single gesture. It’s a beautiful, dynamic work that might make you see/hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in a whole new light.

Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance. Photo courtesy of Espacio Flamenco Portland.

Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance
Presented by Espacio Flamenco Portland
Featuring Alfonso Cid (singer), Jed Miley (guitarist), Lillie Last (dancer), Christina Lorentz (dancer), Brenna McDonald (dancer), and Nick Hutcheson (percussionist)
October 11
7 pm Lecture Demonstration
8 pm Performance
McMenamins Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St.

In celebration of the flamenco language that links singing, guitar, dance, and percussion, Espacio Flamenco Portland presents Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance— a combination lecture demonstration and performance presenting world-renowned flamenco guest artists alongside some of Portland’s finest Flamenco artists.

In a pre-show interactive lecture/demonstration, professional flamenco singer Alfonso Cid will take the audience on a historical journey of flamenco, discuss differences in styles, talk techniques behind the vocals, guitar playing and dance, and introduce some of Flamenco’s most influential artists.

Arden Court, Syzygy, and Piazzolla Caldera
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Presented by White Bird
October 12-14
Newmark Theatre, Portland’5, 1111 SW Broadway
Celebrating full circle, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, who performed for White Bird’s first season, returns to perform three classic Taylor works, two of which appeared on White Bird’s inaugural program in October 1997—Arden Court and Piazzolla Caldera.

Arden Court, set to the Baroque composition of William Boyce, was originally choreographed in 1981. According to Anna Kisselgoff for the New York Times, the piece is a “continuum of non-stop movement.” Clive Barnes for The New York Post wrote that “[Arden Court is] one of the few great art works created in [the 20th] century.”

Syzygy, from 1987, hurls dancers across the stage like orbiting and eclipsing planets to a commissioned score by Donald York. ArtsWatch executive editor Barry Johnson, at the time with The Oregonian, wrote that it is: “Full of utterly brilliant and seemingly disconnected shards of choreography. A full-throttle exercise in physicality, loose-limbed and speedy… It simply continues to increase its velocity, its sense of elfin delight, as the dance goes by. Leaves the audience gasping for more.”

Piazzolla Caldera, Taylor’s tribute to the Argentine tango, from 1997, danced to Astor Piazzolla’s seductive music, captures the culture and dance of tango without a single authentic tango step.

Taylor trained with Martha Graham and José Limón, joining the the Graham Dance Company as a soloist in 1955. He also worked with Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine who created the solo work Episodes for Taylor as a 1959 New York City Ballet guest artist.

His choreographic career began in 1954 and his work became hugely influential to the advancement of modern dance in the 20th and 21st centuries, inspiring dance and choreographers worldwide.

In an interview with Jeffrey Brown for PBS, Taylor talked about his work and said, “Well, you see, dance, I think, consciously or unconsciously symbolizes life. And it reflects the human condition, or it can. It tells us the joys, the sorrows, the fallacies, the idiocies, the brilliance, anything human.”

Robert Battle, the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is recorded on video on the company’s Vimeo channel talking about how Taylor’s work has influenced his own work, and about setting Piazzolla Caldera on Ailey in his inaugural season as artistic director in 2011. You can see that video here and also an excerpt of the Ailey company performing Taylor’s Arden Court here.

A still from Libera, a film by Walter Yamazaki. Photo courtesy of The NW Screendance Exposition.

The Northwest Screendance Exposition-Eugene
Founded and Directed by John Watson
Presented by the University of Oregon Department of Dance
October 13-14
University of Oregon Department of Dance, Dougherty Dance Theatre, 1484 University St.
7:30 pm October 13, The Portland Project – films from Portland screendance film makers
10:00 am October 14, So This is Screendance! Seminar/workshop led by John Watson and Shannon Mockli (Free)
4:30 pm October 14, The Juried Films, Part 1
7:30 pm October 14, The Juried Films, Part 2

Curated by founder and director John Watson, this annual Eugene-based screendance festival celebrates artistic collaborations between dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, and sound artists on film.

The festival includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA.

The Portland Project which opens the festival on Friday October 14, will feature four films by Portland filmmakers; Eric Nordstrom’s Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, Fuchsia Lin’s Crystals of Transformation, Gabriel Shalom’s Warehouse Samba, and Living The Room by SubRosa Dance Collective.

ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington based in Eugene previewed the entire festival, which you can read here.

Sri Krishna Satya-Thematic Dance Ballet. Photo courtesy of Nartana Kuchipudi.

Sri Krishna Satya-Thematic Dance Ballet
Hosted by Nartana Kuchipudi
3 pm October 14
Portland Community College Rock Creek, 17705 NW Springville Road

Presenting Sri Krishna Satya, a Kuchipudi dance ballet about Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama, produced, directed and presented by Guru Sri.Pasumarthy Vekateswara Sarma, performed by the students of Anuradha Ganesh.

Kuchipudi is one of the eight major Indian classical dance forms originating from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The style is a blend of dance and drama, has similar costumes to Bharatanatyam, and is known for it’s plate and pot dances where the dancer performs while standing on a brass plate while balancing a pot on her head.

Upcoming Performances


Northwest Screendance Exposition preview: moving shadows on the wall

Third annual Eugene-based festival celebrates the collaborative artistic efforts of filmmakers, choreographers and sound artists


A quintet of ballerinas in a kitchen fling clouds of flour into the air in choreographed harmony. A cadre of dancers create a percussive soundscape by pounding their feet against a warehouse wall. These and many other moving images and sounds appear onscreen this weekend in the University of Oregon’s Dougherty Dance Theater when the third annual Northwest Screendance Exposition takes center stage October 13 and 14 in Eugene.

Screendances aren’t mere recordings of stage performances but instead a distinctive art form in which cinemagraphic techniques that manipulate time and space are woven together with the techniques of dance choreography. The result: a unique visual and audio time-based arts experience in which dance and cinematography are equal partners.

Still from student film “Camatori.” Photo: Angela Challis.

The movement of the human body through time and space has been the subject of filmmakers dating back to the origins of cinema, including early experimental films such as painter Emlen Etting’s Oramunde (1933) or Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography For Camera (1946). Unlike in decades past, today’s filmmakers and dancers have access to relatively inexpensive digital technologies that facilitate screendance productions at all levels of capability. A celebration of this evolving form of collaborative expression, this year’s festival, sponsored by the UO School of Music and Dance’s Dance Department, includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China,  Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA were selected for screening, chosen from 57 films submitted from 17 countries.


Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam review: enchanting dreamscape

South Indian dance performance with live music provides a plenitude of bliss


I walked into Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall just in time to catch the emcee making a joke: “If there’s anyone who just comes to these shows for samosas and chai, you’ll be disappointed because there’s no intermission tonight.” I’ve been to dozens of shows put on by Portland Indian arts organization Kalakendra, but it’s been awhile and I didn’t know how much I missed their delicious samosas and chai until I heard those magic words.

It turns out there was no reason for disappointment. The Portland presenting organization does have another show tonight after all, one of their more traditional Hindustani Classical recitals, and I assume there will be samosas and chai at that one (no guarantees though). And I’m glad there was no intermission, because the Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam dance performance I witnessed in Lincoln Hall last Saturday took me into another world, an enchanting dreamscape of light and sound and color and gods and holy movement. Samosas in the lobby would have felt intrusive.

Kalakendra Performing Arts brought Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon to Portland State University.

The music started up and a narrator read the auspicious opening line: “Yes, mankind is fortunate indeed.” Dancers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon took the stage with a joyous verve, detailed and exuberant body movements, fine flowing costumes in radiant colors, ankle bells jangling in precise rhythmic counterpoint with the live musicians. Vocalist Deepu Nair, mridangist P.K. Siva Prasad, and violinist Easwar Ramakrishnana, sat on a little rug stage right performing raga-based dance music, all beautifully evening-sounding. I thought I heard a lot of puriya kalyan and maru bihag, or rather their Carnatic equivalents, but I’m a little more accustomed to slower classical styles like dhrupad that spool out their melodic material over an hour or more of slow, deliberate singing. By comparison, Bharatanatyam music, like most southern Indian musical styles, is freer, dancier, and at times a great deal more rhythmically complicated than its northern counterparts. And I didn’t know you could lead a band with a tiny pair of cymbals, but bandleader Udayasankar Lal N.U. nailed it.

The lighting was vivid and elegant over the almost entirely bare stage, and a few of the eight dance numbers had simple backgrounds projected behind and above them. The simplicity of the entire thing impressed me: as with Kalakendra’s classical recitals, the pragmatic humility of the setting belies the exemplary and disciplined artistry of the performers.

Projected lighting effects, designed by expert dance and theater collaborator Murugan Krishnan, set the scene better than props would have anyway. Soft blue light and a gentle full moon image in the fourth number illuminated the tale of a disabled woman (Menon) who is taken out dancing by a god (Nambiar), which all reminded me of an old favorite Bollywood number. Green lights over zigzaggy shadows suggested the fifth dance’s forest scene. In the sixth number, Nambiar portrayed four different wrestlers, dashing about in the darkness and popping up under spotlights in different parts of the stage, skillfully giving each wrestler a distinct personality through movement alone.

My favorite dance was the seventh, a timeless love story–not the usual thing about falling in love but about the quests we undertake for love. As a narrator explained before it started, Nambiar is a man who hates wealth, but he has to go find a job because his wife, Menon, is hungry. Nambiar goes out on his heroic quest and returns with food, which he shares with his wife. A simple enough story, but the music and the lights and gorgeous dancing imbued it with a mythic, transcendental quality.

The show ended on a hymn to “the plenitude of bliss” and a prayer: “O Lord of the Universe, may this hymn reach thy ears, conferring long life, good health, and happiness.”

Afterwards, Menon came out, thanked the musicians (“it is every dancer’s dream to have good music; without them it wouldn’t have been possible”) and the lighting designer, and expressed her happiness at performing at PSU: “It is like coming home every time we come to Portland.” Her gratitude is reciprocal: we are all fortunate indeed to hear so much Indian music in Portland thanks to organizations like Kalakendra and Rasika. With or without samosas.

Kalakendra has two concerts coming up in the next few weeks. This Saturday, October 7, santoor player Tarun Bhattacharya and sitarist Indrajit Banerjee are joined by Subrata Bhattacharya on tabla at First Congregational Church in downtown Portland. On November 4, Chitravina N. Ravikiran — the “Mozart of Indian Music” and originator of melharmony — performs at First Baptist Church (also in downtown Portland) with violin and mridangam accompaniment.  And fans of south Indian dance have another opportunity to experience it this Saturday with local choreographer Jayanthi Raman’s latest show, Dance of the Hummingbirds, which sounds like a pretty grand production and will also feature the work of (and a performance by) Oregon poet laureate Paulann Peterson. Read Jamuna Chiarini’s Arts Watch preview here.

Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, singer, percussionist, and editor at Portland State University, and serves on the board of Cascadia Composers. He and his music can be reached at

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