It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and things are finally settling down just enough to make space for a new dance company in town, PDX Contemporary Ballet. The company will debut “Metamorphosis” on Friday night at Alberta Abbey in NE Portland.
Also significant this past week was the launch and distribution of FRONT, a Portland-based printed newspaper about contemporary dance started in 2010 by Portland dance artists Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, Alyssa Reed-Stuewe and Robert Tyree. FRONT is now edited and designed by Ross, Tyree and Justin Flood.
This issue is different from the others in that there is a special workshop component to the newspaper that helps people physically engage with the written material, and lots of questions are asked in the newspaper that other artists can take into their own work. The cover design is a fold-out poster with beautiful photos of Portland dance artists enveloped in curvy black and white grids.
FRONT invited five leading US-based choreographers to restate a period of artistic creation past into a series of questions now. The result is a publication with the spirit of a toolbox, through the lens of contemporary dance.
Poets, body-based creatives, lateral thinkers, sacred typographers and curious folk—let’s generate.
I was not able to attend the launch party and workshop this past weekend, so instead I sent Robert Tyree a barrage of questions about it, attempting to get a deeper understanding of the workshop, the paper and what FRONT is all about. That conversation is below.
But first this week’s performances:
PDX Contemporary Ballet
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St
PDX Contemporary Ballet, directed by Joanna Hardy, Briley Neugebauer, and Emily Schultz, came to be after the fall of Moxie Contemporary Ballet. The dancers regrouped, forged a partnership with Alberta Abbey and commissioned choreography from some untapped talent in Portland and from outside the city.
The choreographers were tasked with creating a new work for the company based on the concept of metamorphosis/transformation, a choice marking the significance of the dancers recent experiences of falling apart and reorganizing into something new.
The choreographers are Melissa St.Clair (Director of SOAR, a documentary on Kiera Brinkley -Polaris Dancer and her sister Uriah Boyd performer with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre), Melissa Franzosa (dancer with David Parsons Dance Company), M’liss Quinnly (Polaris Dance Theater) and the collaborative team of Lindsey Matheis (ex-NW Dance Project dancer) and Chris Peddecord (retired professional dancer and dance photographer).
Guest appearance by SubRosa Dance Collective.
PDX Contemporary Ballet performers are Alexandra Schooling, Briley Neugebauer, Abigail Parker, Matthew Cichon, Samantha Schilke, and Sari Hoke.
A-wol Dance Collective
516 NE Schuyler St
Awol’s yearly performance features an evening of aerial dancing, refreshments and art directed by Jen Livengood, Brandy Guthery, and Alicia Doerrie.
Artistry En Motion
LYFE Dance Company
8 pm February 6
The Winningstad Theatre, inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
Director Durante Lambert will showcase his diverse choreographic talent on his grand company of 24 dancers. Lambert was a principal dancer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet under the artistic direction of Bruce Smith, and danced for the WNBA Portland Fire Jam Squad and the Portland Trail Blazers Hip Hop Squad.
New Expressive Works/An informal mid-residency performance
Choreographer Ruth Nelson
7 pm February 5
Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St #2
Choreographer Ruth Nelson will explore the world of compositional improvisation in this work in progress. Nelson was one of four choreographers chosen to be an artist-in-residence at Studio 2/New Expressive Works to create a new piece. Her collaborators are musician Tim Ribner and three dancers—Jana Zahler, Kelly Koltiska and Amanda Morse.
The final performance will be March 25th through the 27th and will feature choreographers Linda K. Johnson, Catherine Egan, and Lane Hunter.
Tamil Nadu Flood relief fundraiser
Bharatanatyam performance by students of
Kalabharathi School of Dance
1:30 pm February 6
Intel Jones Farm Conference Center, 2111 NE 25th Ave, Hillsboro
Eight Bharatanatyam dancers from the Kalabharathi School of Dance will perform to raise money to help the flood relief in Tamil Nadu. Those performers are Archita Harathi, Suhani Patel, Gauri Kambatla, Varsha Vasudevan, Sneha Menon, Anjali Panikar, Dhakshi Vannithamby and Keishi Vannithamby. http://www.sewausa.org/tamil-nadu-flood-relief.
Coming up later this month
February 11-20, Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble
February 11-13 The University of Oregon’s Department of Dance Annual Faculty Concert
February 19-20, Cabaret Boris & Natasha
February 25, Visiting dance scholar Dr. Christina Rosa will present a public lecture: “Regarding the New Wave of African American Choreographers and Their Gesture of Interweaving.”
February 25-28, Edge Effects, Tere Mathern
Feb 26-27, Performance Works NorthWest, as part of our Alembic Co-Production Series, presents “GHOSTS” by Asaf Aharonson & Ruairí Donovan (Berlin)
“Snake Talk” by Abby Crain, Maryanna Lachman and Mara Poliak (Oakland)
Feb 27-March 5, Romeo and Juliet, Oregon Ballet Theatre
Interview with FRONT curator Robert Tyree
How did the party and workshop go? Did many people come?
The party and workshop felt rich and engaged. There were even a few new faces at the workshop, which is really great. That said, it did feel like we had capacity for a lot more folks. It was real nice to use FLOCK because it’s a meaningful location for FRONT as a project—since FLOCK is run by Tahni who has been a key person in FRONT’s development.
Could you share with me what the workshop was like and how you developed it and why?
The workshop was the first time we’ve ever held a workshop so directly intertwined with the content of the publication and the overall mission of the project. We’re interested in finding modes for activating content. FRONT is dedicated to artistic voices, processes and practices, so activating content in new ways is critical to us. We had a few movement and writing exercises, which is always a fascinating place to create from—in between modes of creation. We also had participants reformat a period of artistic practice or production past into a series of questions now. We tried to resurrect a period from the past in the form of live questions. That’s more or less the prompt we asked our Ed. 05 [FRONT] main contributors to reply to, so it was a nice tie in with the publication workshop attendees could later peruse.
We developed the workshop in part because this edition has the spirit of a toolbox, and the process of generating questions surely generates insights for anyone who follows through with it. There’s something so nice and liberating about the openness of making lists of questions.
What is the history behind the paper?
Five of us started the project back in 2010 or so—all performers involved in dance interested in making a print-based publication to self represent. We wanted the publication to be physically engaging, knew it wouldn’t have reviews or advertisements and would be by artists for artists.
I’ll speak for myself. I’ve always been interested in the politics of self-representation. I thought the existing print coverage of dance in Portland was not good enough. Arts writing is notoriously easy for journalism operations to cut, and dance is probably the most marginally covered form in print. When dance performances do get covered, it’s often by a theatre critic, and they apply a lens of narrative analysis that is entirely inappropriate to most performance. It’s mostly infuriating to read what’s written about performance. The writer often comes across as completely lost but wielding such a powerful authorial voice. I know I was driven to counter outside voices doing a real disservice to a form I cared about. One way to counter that perceived wrong was to create a big broadsheet newsprint publication filled with a multitude of voices and written registers from inside contemporary dance.
The first three editions were entirely funded by indie fundraiser events, performances and donations from supporters. We’ve never done online crowd funding (yet), but we had a series of performances called the Collision Series that involved contributors and people in the performance community we felt a connection with. We had two in the old Conduit space and one up at Disjecta. Those events were rad. I really loved the performances as things in and of themselves—and we raised enough to pay for publication! With editions four and five we’ve been fortunate to have funding support from Precipice Fund grants via PICA. Precipice is such an amazing recent factor to Portland’s art making scene.
Who started it? Who is running it now?
Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, Alyssa Reed-Stuewe and Robert Tyree. The five of us had the initial meetings. Tahni, Danielle, Noelle and Robert steered the project through the releases of editions 1–4. Noelle was our amazing designer for the first four editions. Since 2015, Danielle and Robert and Justin Flood have run the project. Justin is our new designer and collaborator, and that’s why this edition looks completely different!
What is its purpose? Who are you trying to reach? What is it about?
FRONT provides a platform where people in contemporary dance and performance can see a reflection of their art making in printed media. It’s one addition to the apparatus of consideration around contemporary dance and hopefully an inlet into thinking about the form. They’ve always been strategically beautiful objects hoping to invite people in. Danielle is also telling me: “Process over product, dialogue over reviews, for activating engagement with contemporary performance for both artists and those that are curious but not experienced.”
Why did you all decide to keep it a paper newspaper instead of going online?
Personally, I felt like the attention economy online was so over saturated that FRONT’s content might just get lost. We wanted to honor the voices of dance artists and putting things in print seemed the best way to secure a space for those voices. Also, I’m going to butcher something really interesting that our new designer Justin Flood said; he made the point that paper has been liberated from its role as a transmitter of information because that’s what the Internet does now. I love that. Do people look to paper media to provide accurate information these days? I don’t. There’s a special area that opens up for relationship with content that paper provides today. So that one new idea we’ve been batting around this past year.
Will some of the content ever go online?
Yes, we’re hoping to put all the content online later this year actually. Justin Flood is an amazing designer and I’m building my web design skill set. It’s a dreamy project that’ll operate real well on screens. There are costs to putting the content online that we need to meet, so we’re currently selling the full collection of back issues for the champions price of $100 to raise funds to secure the domain and hosting for FRONT content online for the next five years.
How do you all decide what the content is going to be? What is that process like?
We follow our curiosity as artists. The main contributors are people whose work we’ve seen and admire—voices we’d like to see have a print moment.
It being a Portland-based newspaper why don’t you have more Portland voices in it?
Around a quarter of each edition is Portland voices, which seems perfect to me. We’ve always tried to expand the conversation beyond Portland. It’s healthy to get out of the region. Essentially, if you pair content from Portland with that from NYC, California and some random European country you’re guaranteed that local voices will be in the heads of people who might never otherwise be exposed to them. If the ratio were more Portland heavy I just don’t think there’d be a broad enough relevance to the content. We feature some major gems in the paper and we nudge our own into those dialogues as well.
Where will readers be able to find the paper?
Mainly by ordering online at frontpaper.org! We’ll for sure drop off some papers at PICA and there are some at our hero sister organizations FLOCK and Performance Works NorthWest. Whitman College has all the editions archived, and we’d love to hand over the back issues to some professional caretakers to ensure they’re accessible for a long time. We only have a handful of the first edition left and we’re very careful with those.
What are your plans for the paper in the future?
Mostly focusing on getting content online for the rest of the year. Next week we’re headed to LA to teach a workshop and do some performances for a release at Pieter. Last night, we got together and had a nice chat about a bunch of exciting ways to engage the content from Ed. 05 using different media and modes of presentation. The discussion last night convinced me that there’s a lot of potential there.