This weekend promises to explode with warmth, light, beauty, vitality, and rigorous dancing from a multitude of choreographic perspectives. And maybe a little rain mixed in just to balance it all out.
I am talking about the three world premiers by the women choreographers in NW Dance Project’s annual Summer Splendors program, and the debut of The Portland Ballet’s Studio Company, with the school’s Career Track dancers performing alongside ten TPB alumni currently dancing professionally or attending dance training programs across the country. New dancers, new dances, new season, fresh faces and fresh starts.
Last Monday I spent the day watching rehearsals at NW Dance Project for Summer Splendors. You might think that it would be an exhausting experience sitting and watching dance ALL DAY but it wasn’t. I can’t speak for the dancers themselves, though.
They start their day with ballet class at 9:30 am, finishing at 11 am with a 15-minute break. Then they dance for several more hours with an hour for lunch, finally finishing the day at 6:30 pm. These dancers are amazingly focused and driven, and worked consistently hard all day, not ever letting their fatigue get in the way of fulfilling the movement. I actually prefer to watch the rehearsal process when the dance and the dancers are still in the raw state of messiness. I love the flaws, rehearsal clothing, the sweat, the messy hair, fatigue, and the realness and grit it takes to make a dance before it morphs into performance perfection.
The program consists of three world premiers: Woolf Papers by NW Dance Project’s artistic director Sarah Slipper; We Were Wolves by Reed Dance department chair Carla Mann, who is currently on sabbatical; and Distant Fold by the Chinese-born, New York City choreographer Yin Yue. She was the Dance Project’s 2013 Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition winner, and runs the Yin Yue Dance Company.
Woolf Papers by Slipper, is based on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Two stories that happen simultaneously on one Wednesday, mid-June in 1923 from morning till night. One story is that of 50-something Clarissa Dalloway, who reflects on her past as she prepares to host a party. The other involves Septimus Smith, a shellshocked war veteran who struggles with the after-effects of the war and finding meaning in his life.
Slipper’s choreography seems to adhere to the timeline of Woolf’s novel, but instead of presenting the whole story verbatim, she has pulled out and highlighted important moments and gestures. Each one of the nine company dancers is a different character, and the upstage and downstage spaces are dedicated to the two different stories that happen simultaneously. The opening group movement is a beautiful slow motion sequential line ripple that reminds me of Sutra, which was choreographed by UK choreographers Sidi Larbi in collaboration with the monks of the Shaolin temple.
Throughout the piece it feels like the dancers are writing Woolf’s story in the air with their bodies, bursting at the seams with the suppressed emotions and desires of the book’s characters. The movement and steps are intrinsically connected to the timing and emotion of the storyline and music. The dance is sculptural, gestural, emotional, sympathetic, and sometimes painful to watch. This isn’t so much a performance as it is an embodiment of the love, loss, regret and hopelessness that the characters feel.
We Were Wolves by Mann, with music by Heather Perkins, was inspired by the photography of Sally Mann and the collaborative book Stop Here. This is the Place by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis. The photos capture the wildness of children set free in the woods in summer and the transition from childhood to adolescence. Carla Mann became interested in how freely the children in the photos inhabited their bodies and the tension that existed in the young girls as they stood in adult poses. Within the making of We Were Wolves Mann asks what is “free” and “what is civilized”? What is adult and what is childlike? Mann’s choreography focuses on the dualities of push and pull, as she challenged herself to make a dance that wasn’t classical, didn’t have a lot of romantic partnering and was conscious of how gender is represented without being a piece specifically about gender.
In the choreography the company moves as one, listening, like a pack of wolfs, primal, sensing the dance instinctually. They are low to the ground, unpredictable and focused, dead focused like the scary piercing glare of a wolf. They transform from human to animal from pack to play from child to adult. Attention is paid to their hands and feet, which seem to transform into paws.
This is a different kind of work for the company, internally focused, but virtuosic and stealthily beautiful just the same.
Distant Fold by Yin Yue, uses the full company and eight guest dancers from NW Dance Projects professional training program making a total of 17 dancers. The dance “represents tradition, the past and current, the overlapping of the timeline, the interaction of the east and west,” said Yue in an email exchange.
Using several different pieces of music, Distant Fold opens with Cello concerto No 1 in G minor, Op.49 by Dmitri Kabalevsky and fades into a driven, upbeat contemporary piece by Signal. Next, Yue uses music by Max Richter for a duet, and then an original score by Juliane Jones and Doug Beiden for the final section.
“In this piece I continue exploring the two sides of my choreographic passion, intricate form and FoCo Technique,” Yue wrote. “FoCo Technique is a contemporary dance style I created. It took inspiration from Chinese classical arts and folk dance especially Tibetan and Mongolian dance elements. Another task in this creation was to incorporate students with professional dancers; you will see the collaboration in the second half of the work. I am also very interested in working on the contrast between hard and soft, fast and slow, strong and delicate as well as the contrast in composition.”
Yue said that her inspiration for the piece came from many places but was particularly focused on the task of teaching her style and collaborating with a mass group which is rare thing for a freelance choreographer.
The student performers are Leva Braciulyte, Madeleine Chow, Laura Ketcham, Victoria Lauder, Abby Parker (PDX Contemporary Ballet company member), Zoe Rischitelli, Chloe Scott and Annika Zuberbuehler.
I am happy to see such female-centric programming this weekend as the hot button issue in the larger world wide dance community right now is “where are all the female choreographers.” The dance world is made up of predominantly women, but the majority of choreographers are male. The dearth of women choreographers has been an issue for a while, obviously, but In January UK choreographer Akram Khan said, “Don’t have more female choreographers for the sake of it,” in response to these concerns. As you can imagine, his comment created a firestorm and discussions have ensued.
Kate Mattingly, a doctoral candidate in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley wrote an article called On Gender and Performance: Six Statements by Six Artists for Dancers Group in San Francisco. The article examines the issues carefully and looks closer at access and opportunity for women in dance in the Bay Area, which seems relevant to all dance communities.
Also supporting the development of female choreographers is Oregon Ballet Theatre, which announced last week the three winners of their Choreography XX competition. The winners are Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins. Each choreographer will set a new work on OBT, and their pieces will be presented free to the public in June 2017 at Washington Park’s Rose Garden Amphitheater. I hope the same programming shows up in the company’s main ticketed events.
Performances this week
NW Dance Project
Choreography by Sarah Slipper, Carla Mann & Yin Yue
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
The Portland Ballet’s 15th Anniversary Show
The Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 6250 SW Capitol Highway
The Portland Ballet is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the debut of the Studio Company and new choreography by Anne Mueller (co-Artistic Director of The Portland Ballet), John Clifford, Eowyn Barrett and Caroline MacDonald (TPB Alumni), along with existing works by Josie Moseley, Marius Petipa and Kenneth Macmillan. All ticket proceeds benefit TPB’s scholarship program.
The Career Track dancers are Medea Cullumbine-Robertson, Annie Garcia, Lauren Kness, Bernadette LaMarsh, Ophélia Martin-Weber, Elizabeth Pfister, Dori Pollard, Emily Rapp, Natalie Reyes
The TPB alumni performers are Caroline Yamada (a graduate of The Ailey School now working as a choreographer for film), Charlotte Logeais (a trainee at Grand Rapids Ballet), Lauren Lane (now in her 8th season at Saint Louis Ballet), Michael McGonegal (who danced with Houston Ballet and now with Saint Louis Ballet), Michael Jurica (a dance student at University of North Carolina School of the Arts), Victoria Harvey (a member of the Eugene Ballet Company), Christine Mathews (Ballet Tucson), Caroline MacDonald, (Nevada Ballet Theatre since 2014), Devin Packard (a student at the Ailey School in New York City), Nicholas Jurica (entering his second year as a scholarship student at the Juilliard School).
FutureForum Presents Julia Calabres
7 pm June 13
The Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd
Future Forum, a program within Pulsar, the education component of The Hollywood Theater, is presenting “The Cosmic Serpent,” a teleplay film created in homage to daytime television by movement artist, painter and ceramicist Julia Calabrese and improvisational performer and creative writer Emily Bernstein.
FutureForum is an informal artist talk series focused on audience-artist interaction.
June 14-19, Motown The Musical, Presented by Broadway in Portland
June 15, Artist in Conversation; Kaj-anne Pepper and Claire Willett, Interfaith Muse
June 17-18, Flyco presents: Casual Cookery, A-Wol Dance Collective
June 17, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance
June 18-July 2, Procedures for Saying no, Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble
June 18, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater at TedX Mt Hood
June 21, Humming Summer, A PostModern Variety Show, Hosted by Ben Martens
June 24, Degenerate Art Ensemble Portland Video Party, Hosted by Mizu Desierto
June 24-27, Alegria!, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
June 25, Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, A documentary film by Eric Nordstrom. Additional films by Carolyn Altman and Bonnie Merrill’s “Off Location”, “Waking the Green Sound” by Wobbly’s Yulia Arakelyan & Erik Ferguson, and Carla Mann’s “Ching”.
July 9, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton
July 9, Todrick Hall Presents: Straight Outta Oz
July 14-23, Death and Delight, BodyVox Dance
July 16, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project