DANCE

The Original Tesla

Harmonic Laboratories' multimedia production in Eugene, Portland and Bend brings the eccentric genius to life

Clean energy. Wireless charging. A world connected by invisible communication technology. For many, they’re today’s reality, tomorrow’s hope — but they were first realistically envisioned more than a century ago by a a Serbian-American immigrant whose name most of us only know because a new car is named after him.

Nikola Tesla, born in 1856, conceived some of the crucial underlying technology that makes it possible for us to flip a switch in our homes and light and heat and the internet and Game of Thrones magically appear. Dubbed “the man who invented the 20th century,” his nearly 300 patents include early contributions to radio, alternating current, and more. Some speculate that had his visions been realized, we’d have much cleaner, cheaper, non climate-change-inducing energy today, using renewable sources like wind, magnetism and hydro power and requiring less expensive infrastructure.

But Tesla’s quirky personality, perhaps even on the autism spectrum, made him a difficult fit for relationships both personal and financial. Many of the eccentric genius’s most visionary ideas (he had some crackpot notions too) were swiped, subverted or suppressed. Contemporary legends like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse gained riches and renown, while Tesla, after achieving worldwide notoriety and his own fortune, died penniless in 1943, his closest friends being the pigeons he consorted with in the various New York City hotels he called home.

Tesla’s tumultuous story has been told in books and documentaries (including one now running on the Discovery Channel called “Tesla’s Death Ray”), but a life so colorful and complex invites a similarly multidimensional representation. In Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, premiering January 10-11 at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater and repeating January 13 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre  and January 15 at Bend’s Tower Theatre, Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory explores the trailblazing scientist/inventor’s world and works through a combination of dance, music, animation, and onstage physics experiments.

“He’s an unsung hero,” says Brad Garner, who choreographed and directs the show. “We wouldn’t have cell phones and power in our homes without his work. He was an immigrant with an American dream who changed the world.”

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ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

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A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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‘Raising the Barre’ excerpt: passion and persistence

A Eugene author makes a mid-life decision to fulfill a childhood dream -- dancing in 'The Nutcracker'

by LAUREN KESSLER

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch presents an exclusive excerpt from award-winning Eugene author Lauren Kessler‘s 2015 book, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker, which has just been released in paperback and would make a delightful stocking stuffer. Here’s what ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini wrote when it was published. “Her love affair with ballet and The Nutcracker began at the age of five when she was taken to see famous ballerina Maria Tallchief perform in New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. From there she began ballet lessons until she was twelve when sadly she stopped after learning that her teacher André Eglevsky, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, had told her mother that she did not have the right body for ballet.

Her unrequited love for ballet and her deep obsession for The Nutcracker is where her story Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker begins. In the book, Kessler takes a ten day, whirlwind tour of Nutcracker performances across America, and when she returns home she decides she hasn’t had enough and bravely asks the Artistic Director of the Eugene Ballet Company, Toni Pimble, if she might take company class and perform in their version of The Nutcracker. The answer was yes and off she goes to prepare.

Through this adventurous immersion into the subculture of ballet, Kessler finally experiences what it is like to be a dancer—the misadventures of shopping for leotards, the rigours of getting in shape, buying and applying gobs of stage makeup, and, of course, learning steps and dancing with ease. She is a “midlife interloper” as she called herself at her book reading at Powell’s on Wednesday night (this week marks the release of this new book), and she experiences what she has been yearning for her whole life: What it is like to be a dancer and perform in The Nutcracker.

This is a great, inspirational story for someone who is looking for a push to take that leap and do that thing they have been putting off for a really long time. If Kessler can do it, you can do it.

***

I started this project in awe of the beauty and grace of ballet as seen at a distance, my view from the audience. I am now in awe of the sweat, the grit, the sheer will that gets them through nine-hour days and ten-hour bus trips and sixteen-city tours. To say “you have to love it to do it” is an understatement so colossal as to be meaningless. Yes, I know they are not out there curing cancer or feeding the homeless, but these dancers have committed themselves heart and mind, body and soul to an enterprise, and they do it every single day. Days when they are hurting. Days when the sun is shining, and they’d rather not be stuck in a windowless studio. Days when it’s wet and gray (like, for example, today) and bed looks like the best option. Days when life conspires against you. And still, they get up and do it. It is a lesson to us all – certainly to me — and not just a lesson about ballet and what I need to bring to class and rehearsals. It’s about what it takes, really takes, to do something well. Forget “waiting for the Muse.” It’s about daily commitment. It’s about the marriage of passion and persistence.

Lauren Kessler, center, performed in Eugene Ballet’s production of ‘The Nutcracker.’

All of a sudden it’s November. Mon Dieu! I’d say “merde!” but that’s how dancers wish each other luck (their version of “break a leg,” which, of course, is not something you’d dare say to a dancer). What I mean, though, is: Holy Shit. It’s November. My first performance as Clara’s Aunt Rose—a part created for me–is sixteen days away. Toni emails me that she’s scheduling costume fittings this week. I text Suzi and beg her to come over to give me a lesson in how to apply stage make-up. Meanwhile every rehearsal counts.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dear Santa

DanceWatch ends 2017 with a letter to Santa and a few last performances

Welcome to the very last DanceWatch of 2017. It’s been a hell of a year, but thankfully we had dance.

After today, DanceWatch will be on a break for two weeks and will reconvene in the new year on the January 12, at the Newmark, with movement artists Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz and their collaborative work Love Heals All Wounds. The work combines dance and spoken word and “addresses social issues while also promoting diversity, inclusion, and empathy as a uniting force.” A perfect start to a brand new year.

Jamuna Chiarini

Before we leave 2017 in the dust, and head into the future, let’s recap. In 2017 DanceWatch covered 271 dance performances. That’s TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY ONE dance performances, folks! That’s a lot, and I know I missed a few.

White Bird and BodyVox both celebrated 20 years presenting and making dances in Portland, Eric Skinner retired after dancing with BodyVox for 20 years, and Portland State University clicked delete on its dance program. A state university without a dance program is almost unheard of, and the disappearing dance program is a bizarre occurrence in such a fast growing, dance-centric town as Portland, overflowing with talent.

I also had the privilege of speaking with 16 different dance artists from Portland and beyond—a completely selfish endeavor I have to admit. The more distant we become from one another in this computerized world, the more compelled I feel to connect. It’s hard living life in general, especially as an artist, and I don’t want to live it alone. I want to know how other people do it, how they live their lives as artists, how they make their work, what makes them feel successful, and how they see themselves in the world. I want to know it all, and I want to share it with you. I think the solutions are in those conversations, somewhere.

Les Watanabe in “Salsa Caliente” by Donald McKayle commissioned for the Joyce Trisler Danscompany. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe. Photographer unknown.

The year began with an interview with Les Watanabe, a dance faculty member at Western Oregon University and a former dancer with Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovitch and Donald McKayle. I was shocked to learn that he lived here in Portland and that I had never heard of him. Shouldn’t someone of his caliber be teaching in the Portland community? I think so. The same goes for quite a few of the other “retired” professional dancers I know of floating around Portland.

I also interviewed former New York City Ballet soloist Tom Gold, the three commissioned choreographers for Oregon Ballet Theatres XX program (Helen Simoneau, Nicole Haskins and Gioconda Barbuto), Iranian dancer and filmmaker Tannin, Butoh artist Mizu Desierto, Butoh artist Meshi Chavez and visual artist Yukiyo Kawano, former NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong, Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Xuan Cheng and Ye Li, Allie Hankins on her creative process, Spenser Theberge on Forsythe technique, and Linda Austin on her new work a world, a world. These are just a few of the interviews/previews/reviews written by myself and my colleagues here at Oregon ArtsWatch. The entire collection can be found under Dance on Oregon ArtsWatch’s main page.

Dancer Ching Ching Wong. Photo (c) Peddecord Photo

Even though we had a record year, I still think more work needs to be done and more funding needs to be found in order to support a strong, healthy, growing dance ecosystem. In this past week alone, I have had three separate conversation with dance artists about feeling exhausted. Why? Because it takes every ounce of energy they have to produce a concert. Not only do choreographers have to create a dance, they have to find the money to fund it. That endeavor in itself is stressful and exhausting and takes up a huge amount of time and energy, energy that could be spent making art. What if choreographers had enough money to pay other people to do the grant writing, fundraising, and marketing, in addition to paying themselves and their dancers, of course. Sounds brilliant right? It is. This should be the norm. For a community that loves dance so much, the financial support just doesn’t match. So…

Dear Santa,

For 2018 and beyond, I would like;

1. Someone to produce regular seasons of Portland/Oregon choreographers so they don’t have to keep producing themselves.
2. More funding, we’re just barely getting by. How about new sources of funding and more of it. ArtsWatch Executive Editor Barry Johnson had a few ideas on how to fix this problem that he wrote about for Artslandia. Check it out here. He suggests that the arts in Oregon aren’t being funded sufficiently and gives suggestions on how to rectify this.
3. Free or low cost health care and mental health services for artists.
4. Fiscal sponsorship and or free or low cost help to become a non-profit.
5. A dance advocacy/resource group that helps promote the dance community as a whole throughout the larger community, and advocates for and them and communicates on their behalf with the press. Also provides administrative support with grant writing, press releases, artist statements, marketing, low cost design services, material distribution, and creates mailing distribution lists to buy. Good examples of this are The Field in New York City, Dance USA, and Dancers Group in San Francisco to name a few.
6. More artist residencies. Do you have space dancers could rehearse in? If so, create a residency. Choreographers need time and space to make work and Portland currently just has two.
7. Create opportunities and productions for choreographers to make new work. Portland has an abundance of talented choreographers and dancers floating around with nothing to do. Think Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. We can make dances anywhere for any event.
8. Have auditions and hire NEW artists instead of the ones you’ve always hired.
9. Create a pipeline of exchange with other communities outside of Portland or Oregon to get your work seen, see new work, and be part of a larger community.
10. Additional funding sources for touring.
11. A summer dance workshop for professionals that draws professional dancers and teaching professional from around the world.
12. Make Portland a dance center that people are interested in being a part of and staying in for the long term.

Warmly,
Your servant in dance,

Jamuna Chiarini

Candace Bouchard dances in The Nutcracker one last time before her retirement from Oregon Ballet Theatre/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

This week in Oregon dance, Nutcrackers reign supreme at Oregon Ballet Theatre and Eugene Ballet. A transformative work for a transformative time.

Long time OBT dancer Candace Bouchard will retire at the end of the run and the same goes for Suzanne Haag of Eugene Ballet who I danced with many moons ago at The School of the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut. Both beautiful and amazing dancers with talent that extends beyond the stage.

Imago Theatre’s two shows continue; FROGZ, a tale of frogs, penguins, cats, and inanimate objects combined with physical comedy and fantastical costumes that upends the viewers sense of reality and HOTEL GONE, in which five dancing travelers push, pull, and shove in a hotel lobby “where identities shift, love is uncertain, and souls search for substance Checking-in and checking-out take on new meaning as live music drifts through HOTEL GONE as the dancers are propelled through coat racks, exiting and entering a world of timeless seduction and trapped mysteries.”

Butoh dancer Paula Helen. Photo by Erica Howard.

Closing out the year will be Mood Factory #2: Bones and Flowers, hosted by Dan Reed Miller, Ben Martens, and Hank Logan, at 7 pm on December 30th at The Headwaters Theatre in North Portland. This eclectic evening of performances by an array of movement, theater, and music practitioners addresses spirituality and mythology, issues of gender and culture, racial justice and cultural appropriation, sexuality, feminism, matriarchy, and our innate connection to nature and ritual.

The featured artists are; Butoh artist Paula Helen, actor, dancer, director, practitioner and teacher of Action Theater improvisation Mary Rose, dancer and visiting Butoh teacher Nathan Montgomery, dancer, performance artist, improvisor, physical comedian, ritual creator, Butoh practitioner, and lighting wizard Hank Logan, dancer Alison Krochina, renaissance man, performance artist, dancer, electronic sound/musician, producer, Butoh practitioner Ben Martens, and Dan Reed Miller.

Have a wonderful holiday season. Celebrate with love and light, and see you in the new year with more dance.

Upcoming Performances

January
January 6, Community Dance Day, NW Dance Project
January 8, Free Dance Day, BodyVox Dance Center
January 12-13, I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra, Leah Theresa Wilmoth
January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 10-11, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, Harmonic Laboratory, Eugene
January 13, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, Harmonic Laboratory, Portland
January 15, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, Harmonic Laboratory, Bend
January 18, Zoe Jakes & Special Guests: A Dance & Variety Revue, Presented by Narcissa Productions LLC
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 19, The Global Street Dance Masquerade Presentation and Film, Portland Art Museum
January 21, M/f duet + Teething, Marissa Rae Niederhauser (Berlin) and Aaron Swartzman (Seattle), Performance Works NW Alembic Artists
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
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 3-25, Chitra The Girl Prince, NW Children’s Theatre, Anita Menon
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 15, Faculty Dance Concert featuring guest artist Vincent Mantsoe, Hosted by University of Oregon School of Music and Dance
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 18, Chapel Theatre Open House, Chapel Theatre
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
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, HEDDA, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
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 9, Noontime Showcase: Jefferson Dancers, Presented by Portland’5
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 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
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
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 14, Noontime Showcase: OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 17-20, CRANE, a dance for film by The Holding Project
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
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 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

New Expressive Works: Boundary pushing

Subashini Ganesan's resident choreographer program featured work by Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Crystal Jiko Sasaki, and Wolfbird Dance

New Expressive Works’ second set of resident artists for 2017 showcased their boundary-pushing new pieces this weekend. Founded in 2012 with the mission to support dancers of diverse backgrounds in developing original work, N.E.W. also provides accessible practice space and a variety of movement classes in a centrally-located, well-equipped studio.

Annually, the space serves 4500 audience members and students, and more than 200 independent performing artists have used the facilities for some aspect of their practice.The program has incubated many new projects and collaborations for its 37 resident artists choreographers working with at total of 100 collaborators.

Highlights have included:

  • Oluyinka Akinjiola forming her performance troupe, “Rejoice Diaspora Dance Theater” during her residency
  • The residency has attracted transplants such as Luke Gutgsell, James Healey, Dar Vejon Jones, Stephanie Lanckton and current residents Crystal Jiko and Madison Page who have gone on to be involved in local programs such as TBA, BodyVox, Headwater Theatre, and Skinner/Kirk.
  • Veterans Linda K. Johnson, Dawn Stoppiello, Catherine Egan, Stephanie Schaaf, and current resident Tere Mathern have produced new work and held critical feedback sessions.

Tere Mathern and Alison Heryer performed in N.E.W.’s 9th residency concert/Courtesy of New Expressive Works

Every six months, four choreographers (or in this case, three individuals and a team of two) are chosen for the residency program. They receive 144 hours of free rehearsal space, a modest stipend, and moderated, critical feedback in the form of Katherine Longstreth’s Fieldwork program. The works, whether they are finished or in progress, debut as 20-minute pieces at the end of the residency, as they did this weekend for the 9th session.

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DanceWatch Weekly: a world, a world

An interview with Linda Austin on the culminating chapter in her series on memory and movement, plus "Nutcrackers" and more

Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Merry Christmas.

Jamuna Chiarini

Hold onto your hats, dance lovers, because you have a dizzying 11 dance concerts to choose from this week! And, because we are especially strapped for time in this accelerated period of the year, I’m going to attempt to make this week’s performance listings briefer-ish, except for an extended preview of Linda Austin’s a world, a world, which I caught a glimpse of last week. In this version of DanceWatch you’ll need to click on the links for performance information.

Continuing for a second week at the Keller Auditorium is George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre accompanied live by the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra.

Candace Bouchard dances in The Nutcracker one last time before retiring from Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

The students of The Classical Ballet Academy, directed by Sarah Rigles, Candalee Wrede, and Sissy Dawson, will perform an assortment of holiday-themed dances for different tastes and attention spans, from a full-length version of The Nutcracker to a contemporary version of A Christmas Carol, as well as a condensed Nutcracker and an even more condensed version called The Nutcracker Sweet Suites to be performed by the youngest dancers. You can catch all of it at Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University.

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NW Dance Project: Jazz puns, modern dance brawls and Ravel

NW Dance Project's "Bolero + Billie" adds a bit of humor to the usual holiday spices

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

Kicking off the holiday season with a good ol’ jazz-centric pun, NW Dance Project presented Bolero + Billie at Lincoln Hall this weekend… you know, Billie Holiday? The evening was a two-part show: the first act, Billie, premiering a brand new work created in collaboration by six of the company’s dancers, was followed by a return to resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s contemporary, humor-ridden take on Ravel’s classic, Bolero.

Andrea Parson gets a lift in “Billie”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Artistic director Sarah Slipper played a key role in this new piece, though perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Slipper’s ability to step back and see the potential in her dancers as blooming choreographers themselves is both a golden opportunity for the group of ten that call the company their home, but also a refreshing tale in the dance world that oftentimes fails to recognize that the full potential of professional dancers can extend beyond the task of performing someone else’s work.

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