I have been ruminating all week about Eugene and the Eugene Ballet Company since I read Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker by Lauren Kessler, which I wrote about last week. I realized I know nothing about the dance community there, even though Eugene is so close to Portland. When I lived on the East Coast it was normal to spend at least an hour-and-a-half driving anywhere, if not more. Assuming my ignorance of dance in a nearby city is shared by other dance-propelled folks, my question is why isn’t there more of an exchange between the dance communities in both of these cities? Whatever the reasons are, it should happen more.
This week in Portland, the dancers of the Northwest Dance Project switch roles and become choreographers—debuting new choreography on each other. Many ballet companies throughout the United States do something similar, and the events are light and carefree and give everyone a nice break from the rigours of the season. A perfect holiday wind down.
Also happening this week are the final performances of The Library At The End Of The World by the dancers of 11: Dance Co at Coho Productions. You will see some phenomenal dancing by a deeply dedicated and passionate group. You can follow their performances and catch up on their live theatre mishaps on their blog written by marketing director Huy Pham. One story involves a frozen sound board and the other a frozen light board. It all makes good theatre.
Also this weekend will be the final spinning at The Spin. BodyVox’s new show puts 25 dances on a game show wheel and lets audiences spin to decide the order of the show. At first I thought this was a form of torture to put the dancers through, but artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland play it fair by putting themselves in the mix as well.
Hampton is the consummate host and makes this a really enjoyably goofy evening. He is a shmoozer for sure and it is great fun watching him engage the audience, crack jokes, drink a beer, spin the wheel and run back and forth changing in and out of costumes as he dances and emceess. It’s a blast and a great way to get a decent sampling of the BodyVox repertoire.
In Good Company
Northwest Dance Project
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St.
It’s all about whimsy this holiday season. Travel back in time with Northwest Dance Projects’ dancers-turned-choreographers to the whimsical school days of yesteryear. Enjoy a playful return to youth with these vibrant dancers as they frolic and roll to the tunes of Puccini, Dick Dale and many more. The choreographers are Kody Jauron, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Andrea Parson, Franco Nieto, Julia Radick, and Ching Ching Wong.
Wong’s choreography can also be seen this weekend in 11:Dance Co’s Library At The End Of The World.
December 11-January 3
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th
Before heading off to its final national tour, Imago is bringing back ZooZoo one last time. ZooZoo is “firefly eyes, hippos with insomnia, arrogant anteaters, introverted frogs, paradoxical polar bears, acrobatic worms, self touting accordions and tricky penguins filling the stage with wonder, awe and humor.”
Martha Ullman West reviewed the show for Oregon ArtsWatch: “Then came the hippos, two of them, in and out of a double bed, pulling and tugging, flouncing and floundering, with a blanket. Some people think this is about insomnia, I think it’s about marriage…”
Erika Murphy at Artslandia interviewed Artistic Director Jerry Mouawad about ZooZoo-where it’s been and where the costumes are going.
What stories might you find in a fictional, dystopian library at the end of the world? This is the question that the Artistic Director, Bb (Brittany) DeLano, of the newly formed 11: Dance Co asked of a select group of choreographers. Each dance in the program provides social or relational commentary on the human experience, and the choreographers are the “authors.”
If you want to know what they are all about, read this story about the opening night mishaps and see the dancers for yourself.
11: Dance Co was founded by Bb DeLano and Huy Pham in 2014 and is a Neo-Fusion dance company, a new choreographic style that blends the street and classical worlds of dance.
The choreographers are Toogie Barcelo (Associate Artistic Director of Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre – LA), Sarah Touslee (Artistic Director of Back Bone Dance Co., Boulder, CO), Lashaun Price (Artistic Director of Next, LA), Ching Ching Wong (Northwest Dance Project) Paula Metzler, Kiel Moton and Isiah Munoz.
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Inspired by their experience at an Elvis Costello concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, during which Costello spun a wheel with song titles on it and played whatever song the marker landed on, BodyVox Artistic Directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland decided to do the same with dance, creating a game show dance performance.
There are 25 dances (each piece is no longer than 10 minutes), nine dancers and one wooden game show wheel with the names of the 25 dances written on magnetic pieces. Each night, chosen audience members spin the wheel, and whatever dance the marker lands on is the one that the company has to perform at that moment. I have been assured by Hampton and Roland that the wheel has not been loaded and that this is a “real” game of chance.
Bob Hicks reviewed The Spin on opening night: “The BodyVox approach of surprising group movement, high and low comedy, crisp storytelling, and deft use of props was on full display…” Read his full review for more.
Nutcrackers near and far
The Nutcracker in collaboration with Orchestra Next and The Festival Singers
Eugene Ballet Company, Artistic Director Toni Pimble
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Eugene Ballet is one of the few ballet companies in the United States that is directed by a woman. That’s been the case since 1978 when Artistic Director by Toni Pimble co-founded Eugene Ballet with Riley Grannan. She has choreographed more than 60 works for the company and has toured 32 states as well as internationally to Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan and Tunisia.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Featuring the OBT Orchestra for select performances
It’s a glittery romantic affair with twinkling lights, growing tree, mothers with giant skirts, snowflakes and glimpses of far away lands. Join Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers on a magical journey fighting off bad guy rats to the the land of sweets and dancing in the snow with the Sugarplum Fairy.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker was first performed on February 2, 1954, an adaptation of an earlier version that Balanchine had danced back in Russia. It is now synonymous with the holiday season here in America and is performed by ballet companies nationwide.
Dance critic Alastair Macaulay with the New York Times talked about The Nutcracker-where it’s been and where it’s going in his column several weeks ago. He also reminisces about the Nutcracker tour that he took last year-28 productions in 12 states. He is fascinated with the variety of choreography and narratives offering out there in ballet land. Here is a video compilation of those Nutcrackers.
We have lots of smaller student productions of Nutcracker this season, often shorter and perhaps closer to home. The list:
A Nutcracker Tea
NorthWest Dance Theatre
Artistic Directors June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek
PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave
An abridged Nutcracker, this version follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes with choreography by June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek.
NWDT is a youth ballet company in its twenty-seventh season.
Portland Festival Ballet
Directed by Kimberly Smiley
Lake Oswego High School Auditorium, 2501 Country Club Road, Lake Oswego
Classical Ballet Academy
The Nutcracker, December 19-20
Cracked, December 20
Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy
Artur Sultanov, Artistic Director
Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave