Winter is fast approaching and the holiday season is upon us and with that comes The Nutcracker, whether you like it or not.
When I was little I owned a Nutcracker record that was conducted by Ernest Ansermet with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recorded in 1959 with an awkward looking 60’s ballet couple on the cover, drowning in a sea of larger than life sweets, and a huge, scary Nutcracker prince looming over them. I played my beloved record over and over and over again to the chagrin of my poor parents-it was the background music of my early childhood-for all of the tea parties, the dressing up and the impromptu Isadora like dance performances I gave often to my parents. I wasn’t a ballet student and I didn’t actually see a Nutcracker performance until I was much older, but the music was so colorful and magical that it ignited my imagination and gave me inspiration for years.
For award-winning Eugene author Lauren Kessler, The Nutcracker had a similar allure. 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.
This week’s holiday performances
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Featuring the OBT Orchestra for select performances
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. It’s a glittery romantic affair with twinkling lights, growing tree, mothers with giant skirts, snowflakes and glimpses of far away lands.
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 nation wide.
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.
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.”
Founded in 1979 by Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad, Imago presents original productions using masks and elaborate costumes making the humans disappear and the imaginative creatures appear.
Erika Murphy at Artslandia interviewed Artistic Director Jerry Mouawad about ZooZoo-where it’s been and where the costumes are going.
Reed College Winter Dance Concert
Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
The end of the semester is here and with it the result of many many hours of hard work by Reed dance majors. This performance features choreography by students and faculty-get a glimpse of future Portland dancers and dance makers.
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.
Gallery in a Gallery-The Bronco Gallery in Soltesz Fine Art
Work by Jennifer duToit-Barrett, Corrie Slawson and Lucy Yim
5 pm December 12
Soltesz Fine Art, 1825 NW 23rd
Performance and contemporary art on the move, a gallery in a gallery. An art gallery in a Ford Bronco at the Soltesz Fine Art gallery-featuring installations by artists Jennifer duToit-Barrett and Corrie Slawson and performance by Lucy Yim.
¡Fiesta Flamenca Navideña!
La Peña Flamenca presents
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 N Farragut St. Suite 9
Celebrate the season Flamenco style and raise money at the same time with performances by Portland Flamenco Events, 3Shine Flamenco, Stomptown Flamenco, Coro Navideño, Elena Villa and students. This event is to raise money for next season’s El Cuadro Flamenco, presented by La Peña Flamenca.
La Peña Flamenca was featured in the pre show performance for Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca last weekend at the Newmark.
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 explores social or relational commentary on the human experience and the choreographers are the “authors.”
If you want to know what these dancers and this company are all about, read this story about the opening night mishaps and see the dances 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, where 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 but 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 will be allowed to 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 and said “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 here for more.
Last Thursday Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca were in town courtesy of White Bird and I reviewed their show for Artslandia.