This weekend brings us two dance film events and two live dance performances. Because dance is ephemeral, it is an interesting challenge to search for new ways to capture and preserve it. This weekend brings us several of those possibilities.
First up is the screening of a filmed version of a live performance by Degenerate Art Ensemble of their latest work, Predator Songstress. Degenerate Art Ensemble is a dance/theatre company based in Seattle, and the film is by Portland based filmmaker Ian Lucero with costumes by Alenka Loesch. (I interviewed Loesch several months ago on her life in Butoh.). Lucero is also known for his filming of Waking the Green Sound by Wobbly Dance’s Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson.
Next is Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, a documentary film by Portland dance artist Eric Nordstrom who will be screening his film alongside Off Location by Carolyn Altman and Bonnie Merrill, Waking the Green Sound by Wobbly Dance’s Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson, and Carla Mann’s Ching. I interviewed Nordstrom via email and that conversation unfolds below.
And last but not least two live performances: Alegria! by Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre and Procedures for Saying No by Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, featuring dance artists Linda Austin. These you will have to see and hear with your own eyes and ears, the good old-fashioned way.
Performances this week
Degenerate Art Ensemble Portland Video Party
Hosted by Mizu Desierto
8 pm June 24
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St, #4
A party and screening to celebrate the completion of the filmed version of a Predator Songstress.
Predator Songstress “is an intensely visual, music-driven fantastical tale that traces the struggle of an anti-heroine in search of the reclamation of her stolen voice. This modern day fairy tale explores what it means to have a voice, to lose one’s voice and to rediscover it with a new understanding of its power. The work is set in a world where the tools often used by the powerful to stifle and control are re-appropriated as means for individual realization.”
Degenerate Art Ensemble is a dance theatre performance ensemble based in Seattle that makes performance inspired by punk, comics, cinema, nightmares and fairy tales driven by live music. “Our work is an exorcism through collision and conflict challenging how we see audience, architecture, music, story, myth and reality. It comes out of a deep desire for communion and soul-exchange and transformation and a discovery of how art can find a deeper meaning in the larger society.”
Preview of Predator Songstress
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St
Under the direction of Oluyinka Akinjiola, assistant professor of dance at SUNY Brockport, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre brings us Alegria, a celebration of life, triumph and humanity imbued with Brazilian music built on Rejoice’s tradition of fusing folklore, Brazilian, Caribbean, and contemporary dance forms to create “contemporary folklore.”
The evening will feature choreography by Oluyinka Akinjiola, Uriah Boyd, Dar Vejon Jones, Jamie Minkus and Andrea Whittle along with musical guest Andy Sterling and Rudy Slizewski as well as members of Brazilian soul band Popgoji.
I interviewed Akinjiola back in January about life, the company and working as a dance artist in Portland.
Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present
A documentary film by Eric Nordstrom
8 pm June 25
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, A documentary film by Eric Nordstrom. Additional films by Carolyn Altman, Bonnie Merrill, Wobbly Dance and Carla Mann.
More info below.
Following the screening, dance historian and Reed College Dance professor Victoria Fortuna will moderate a conversation with the audience and Eric Nordstrom.
Procedures for Saying no
Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble
June 18-July 2
Shaking The Tree, 823 SE Grant St
Loosely based on Herman Melville’s Bartleby, Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, the play examines toiling away in the workplace and the procedures that govern our lives and the consequences of saying no. The work features Portland dance artist and co-artistic director of Performance Works NW Linda Austin.
Dance artist and filmmaker Eric Nordstrom on preserving dance
With Conduit Dance announcing that they are closing their doors this past week (Full press release at the bottom of this article) and the influx of new dancers to Portland, it seems more important than ever to create a publicly accessible record of Portland’s dance history. Portland dance artist Eric Nordstrom has begun this process, and I interviewed him via email about his discoveries and their importance.
What inspired you to make this film?
Having danced in Portland for a decade (with Oslund and Co., Keith V. Goodman, Linda K. Johnson, and POV Dance, among others), I feel like, before this project, my knowledge of the history of dance in Portland was limited. I was seeing a lot of new people moving to Portland with an interest in dance, and realized that most of them were even more unfamiliar with the history of Portland dance, and yet that they were—through their own practices—becoming part of a rich genealogy. I wanted to make this film to honor those who built the contemporary dance scene in Portland, and also for those of us who are currently dancing here to connect with the past.
How long have you been working on this project?
A year-and-a-half. The catalyst to start the groundwork for this film was receiving a RACC grant.
Where have you sourced the most information about Portland’s dance history?
I have worked in the archives at Reed College and Portland State University, which both contain rich materials in the forms of photographs of past performances, and press releases, course rosters, and other primary documents from when both colleges were central to the dance community in Portland, and participated in the shaping of Portland Dance.
The most information has come from my one-on-one interviews with over thirty prominent figures from the history of contemporary dance in Portland. These include Vaunda Carter, Bonnie Merrill, Judy Patton, Nancy Matschek, and Gregg Bielemeier, among others. Many of the artists with whom I spoke had their own archives—old VHS tapes of their own performances, often relegated to closets or basements. Part of the goal of this film is to take this material, preserve it, and to centralize it. This is one part of the film about which I am especially excited.
With this film, I’m doing three things: 1. Gathering the information about Portland dance history through these interviews and this archival footage. 2. Preserving this information by recording the interviews and converting artists’ VHS videos to digital format. And 3. Coordinating with the PSU archives to house footage of some of the seminal performances referenced in the film, and some of the interviews in their entirety.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned from your research?
I was surprised to learn how the contemporary dance scene in Portland really stemmed from early programs at both PSU and Reed College. It made me realize how much of an impact university resources have on professional companies, and how professional companies can really influence education. This is certainly something to consider as PSU has just abolished its plans to reinstitute its Dance major—which was cut in 1994—and cut its only full time Dance faculty position; this position’s job was supposed to be to help grow the program back into a major. This feels like a real lost opportunity not just for students, but also the Portland dance community. It will be interesting to see what happens at Reed now that they—for the first time in the history of the college—have a Dance major starting in Fall 2016.
Also, I was fascinated to learn about Vaunda Carter’s PBS television show from the early 1970s. It was called Vaunda’s View and played after Sesame Street.
Another pleasure was hearing recollections about Keith Goodman and Jan Dryer, two very influential people in Portland dance who are now deceased. It was really touching to talk to friends and colleagues of both of these artists, and to hear how important their work was, and how they are missed.
The other thing that is crucial to mention is that during the time of making this film, Conduit—Portland’s longtime incubator for contemporary dance—was evicted from their space on the fourth floor of the Pythian Building, where they’d been for almost two decades. Then, just this month, it was announced that Conduit is closing the doors of their new rental space in the Ford Building. Conduit has been around for 20 years, and has long been the center of Portland dance. Their shuttering is an indication of a changing landscape in Portland, and this event asks us if this changing landscape is for the better or worse for our city. This is a great moment to look back at Conduit, and I hope that this film honors the space and all of the people involved in making Conduit what is has been.
How did you get involved in dance for film?
I’ve long been interested in both dance on film, and in archiving dance through video. Dance on film is a distinct genre separate from archiving performance. I got involved in dance on film when I was a graduate student in Dance at The Ohio State University. There, I took classes with Mitchell Rose—a frequent collaborator with Portland dance company BodyVox—who teaches dance on film classes.
Dance on film leverages the power of cinema to film dance in a way that cannot be seen in live performance. In dance on film, the film is the end product, not the live performance. Dance on film gives a perspective that you can’t have in live performance—in dance on film, the spectator can be inches from a performer’s face, or can watch a dance performance on top of a mountain. So, through studying with Rose, I became interested in the relationship between the camera and the dance. Separately, I became interested in the power of video to archive dance history. I teach dance at Lewis and Clark College, and also run my own business, Portland Performing Arts Video, where I make archival quality videos of contemporary dance in Portland. So, the project of making this documentary has really been influenced by both of these elements of my relationship to dance and the camera.
Mitchell Rose just released a new dance film called Exquisite Corps, A Chain Love Letter to Dance that features 42 American modern dance choreographers.
July 9, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton
July 9, Todrick Hall Presents: Straight Outta Oz
July 14-23, Death and Delight, BodyVox Dance Company
July 16, Un Jour Pina M’A Demande (One Day Pina Asked), Directed by Chantal Akerman
July 16, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 17, Noelle Stiles, Veronica Martin, Chris Lael Larson, Pure Surface
July 29-31, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre NW, JAW Playwright Festival
August 4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
Conduit Dance Press Release
Conduit announces suspension of operations and programs effective July 23, 2016
PORTLAND, OREGON — For over 20 years, Conduit Dance, Inc., Portland’s incubator for contemporary dance, served as a home to some of the top and emerging contemporary dance artists not only from Portland, but nationally. Artists created new works through its creative workspace, students participated in many classes in contemporary movement forms, and audiences came to see high-caliber dance performances. Conduit will be suspending all operations and programs on July 23, 2016 due to recent changes in circumstances. There will be a farewell celebration on Wednesday, July 13th.
Conduit’s Board of Directors attributes the closing of the Ford Building studio to several factors including lack of affordable space in Portland for nonprofits. After losing its original space in the Pythian Building in March 2015, Conduit moved into the Ford Building in October 2015 and began a new focus on building a broad dance education program. Despite the best of efforts, it became apparent that it was not possible to build programs quickly enough to generate the income required to meet rent and operations costs, or to raise funds needed to install the new dance floor the space required. Additionally, it was concluded that the space, while beautiful, is not viable as a performance venue — an important aspect of Conduit’s mission and revenue.
In light of these facts, Conduit has given notice on the Ford Building studio and will be suspending all operations and programs, holding its last classes on July 23, 2016. Tere Mathern, Conduit’s director for the last six years, will be transitioning out of the leadership role, but will continue as a board member. Conduit’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status will be maintained as the Board begins a process of assessing whether there is a role for Conduit to play in supporting dance in Portland, sans space. This was a very difficult decision, but necessary. We are very proud of Conduit’s 20 years of leadership in the dance community.
Conduit’s core friends, artists, supporters, students and audiences (past and present) are invited to an informal party to honor Conduit’s legacy, and celebrate the important work it has achieved and the artists it has supported over the last 20 years.
A Wake for Conduit || Celebration & Farewell Party
Conduit Dance, 2505 SE 11th Ave. #120, Portland, OR 97202
Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 7:00-9:00pm
Established in 1995, Conduit has had a broad reach and profound impact on dance in Portland. It can be measured partially through the lineage of the local artists who have been supported through Conduit: Mary Oslund, Gregg Bielemeier, Linda K. Johnson, Keith V. Goodman, Tere Mathern, Jim McGinn, Minh Tran, Jae Diego, Danielle Ross, Lauren Edson, Keely McIntyre, Carla Mann, Lucy Yim, Suniti Dernovsek/bobbevy, Tahni Holt/FLOCK, Angelle Hebert/tEEth, Noelle Stiles, Muddy Feet, WolfBird Dance and many, many more who presented, rehearsed, and created new work within Conduit’s space. The effects ripple out and are not always visible: numerous young artists went on to attend graduate school, return as teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs, and choreographers, open up their own studios or organizations, and start companies. National and international artists like Emio Greco, Trisha Brown, Crystal Pite/Kidd Pivot, Bebe Miller, Phillip Adams, Stephen Petronio, Anna Halprin, Donna Uchizono, and Marie Chouinard, and so many more often in partnership with White Bird Dance and PICA, have taught master classes and workshops, or performed impacting local art and artists directly. Conduit’s board will be working on maintaining a web presence for legacy purposes.
Conduit has been an incubator for contemporary dancers and dance artists for the past 20 years. Conduit enables the research and creation of new work, supporting the development of skills and artistry, collaboration and peer connection, deepening dancer and audience interaction. At its core is building a synergistic environment for invention and exploration.
Over the years artists and audience have engaged through artist talks, panel discussions, and work-in-progress showings. Conduit’s year-round dance classes and workshops taught by local and national artists have directly serve over 200 students annually. Artist-members have had access to affordable work space, as well as resources and performance space to self-produce. Audiences have benefited from experiencing the energy and depth of new dance works by passionate regional artists.