I had a realization on Saturday night at the Newmark Theatre while watching Helen Pickett’s ultra-bright, Gerbera daisy-inspired Petal, performed by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Ballet, like modern or contemporary dance, is experimental, too. And what I was seeing was Pickett’s experiment with time, space, form, color, sound, etc., within the context of classical ballet. She was making choreographic choices different from ballets norm. Depending on your own dance experience, that may sound strange or obvious, but all I’ve ever known of ballet was the classics like Swan Lake and Giselle, works that are tried, true, and proven to be “good” because they have withstood the test of time. Anything outside of those seemed to be considered “other” or “not-ballet.”
I realized that I expect perfection from ballet because that’s what ballet is, an embodiment of perfection and control over the body and its surroundings. Because of that, there is little room for imperfection and experimentation in the form, at least that’s what I’ve come to think, which isn’t really fair to ballet, is it? And where does that leave today’s classical ballet choreographers?
I also realized that I am attached to the formula of classical ballet, the linear storytelling, the gender stereotypes, the patriarchy, the unrealistic happy ending, etc. Even though I don’t love it, it’s what I’ve come to expect, it’s familiar, and yet I claim to be a liberal, modern woman. Go figure. I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago. Seeing Pickett’s work on the program, both Petal and Terra, completely disrupted my belief system surrounding classical ballet, and have in turn jump-started a series of internal questions that I would like to share with you here.
What defines classical ballet? Are the dancers still classical dancers even though they are performing contemporary work? Is that idea fluid? Can a dancer be both a classical and contemporary dancer? Is contemporary work changed by being performed by a classical company and vice versa? Will the definition of classical ballet change as we get further away from its inception, and more and more new ballets are created? How much has it already changed? Why is it so important for ballet companies to define what kind of ballet they do, when almost all of the ballet companies do both classical and contemporary work? Why do people have to define themselves against what they are not? Why does anyone try to define themselves at all? When do new classics get created? What will audiences in 100 years consider classical ballets? Will there be ballets created now that will be added to that roster? Was I seeing work this weekend that will stand the test of time and be considered a classic someday?
ArtsWatcher Martha Ullman West was at Terra opening night and gives her review here.
Terra, the final program of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2016-2017 Season of Giants concludes this weekend with three more performances, closing on Saturday night.
Other experimental works happening around Portland this weekend, include the touring production of the Jersey Boys, new works by XPOSED choreographers Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, Barbara Lima, and Jess Zoller at Polaris Dance Theatre, Butoh with Mari Osanai from Japan through the Butoh College Performance Series at The Headwaters Theatre, student performance at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Le Chic Le Freak (an ode to the Disco era by Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company), collaborations between dancers and musicians at Reed College and at New Expressive Works, and Che Malambo, the dancing Argentinian cowboys presented by White Bird.
Performances this week
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
You can’t have musical theatre without dance, and Jersey Boys, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo, is no exception to that rule. This dancin’ in the aisles, sing-a-long trip down memory lane story follows the quick rise to fame of the 1960’s rock band, The Fours Seasons and includes familiar songs such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Pacific Dance Ensemble
Pacific University Department of Theatre & Dance
Tom Miles Theatre at Warner Hall, 2043 College Way, Forest Grove
Celebrating its 14th season, Pacific Dance Ensemble will feature choreography by dance department faculty members James Healey, Mary Hunt, Anita Mitchell, and artistic Director, Jennifer Camp and student choreographer Annalise Nilson.
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Celebrating the warmth and earthiness of Mediterranean culture, ritualistic dance, and the return of spring, Oregon Ballet Theatre concludes its 2016-2017 Season of Giants with Terra, a program that features a world premiere by former William Forsythe dancer Helen Pickett, itself called Terra, and two dances by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato; Jardí Tancat, Duato’s first choreographed work from 1983 and El Naranjo (The Orange Tree), a sensuous pas de deux from a larger work called Gnawa.
Mysticism, Modernity, and Motion
Reed College Performing Arts
7 pm April 21
Reed College Performing Arts, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
Exploring themes of minimalism and pandiatonicism, the Reed College Chorus and Collegium Musicum, in collaboration with the Reed Dance Department, presents an evening of music and dance conducted by John K. Cox. The program includes music by by Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Erik Esenvalds, Philip Glass, Olivier Messiaen, David Lang, and Gustav Holst.
Le Chic Le Freak
Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St
Celebrating the birth and evolution of Disco, Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company presents Le Chic Le Freak, a comedic and thought-provoking work that combines pole dancing, acrobatics, and dance in the vision of artistic director and company dancer Shannon Gee.
Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, (Spain), Barbara Lima (Brazil), and Jess Zoller.
Polaris Dance Theatre
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave
Polaris Dance Theatre presents new dance works from choreographers Barbara Lima from Brazil, Spanish dance artists and current company member Gerard Regot, founding company member M’Liss Quinnly and artistic director of Polaris’s Junior and Neo companies, current company member Jessica Zoller, as well as two new works by artistic director Robert Guitron.
The works consider ideas of community, individualism against universalism, and politics, playing with energy, group dynamics and the architecture of the body and bodies.
Butoh College Performance Series
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NW Farragut St
Influenced by Tai Chi, Western dance methods, and traditional folk dances of Japan, Butoh dance artist Mari Osanai, from Aomori, Japan, finds connections between the mind, gravity’s influence on the body, and the body’s connection to the earth, in her dance research and performance.
Annual School Performance
The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
Choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper, and Anthony Jones
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
The annual showcase of The School of Oregon Ballet will feature Oregon Ballet School students and OBT2 dancers in works by George Balanchine, Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, former OBT dancer Alison Roper, and school director, Anthony Jones.
Dayna Stephens, Tom Sandahl, Okropong, and Shape Theory Project
Co-produced by New Expressive Works (N.E.W.) and Loose Wig Jazz
7:30 pm April 23
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St (in the WYSE Building)
A collaborative evening between jazz tenor saxophonists and composer Dayna Stephens, guitarist Tom Sandahl, and musicians from the Obo Addy Legacy Project alongside dancers Amanda Morse, Kelly Koltiska, Ivy Farrell, Jana Zahler and Ruth Nelson from the Shape Theory Project led by Ruth Nelson.
Presented by White Bird
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Che Malambo is an all-male, Argentinian dance company that has adapted the dance style of the gaucho, or South American cowboy of the pampas, for the contemporary stage. Movements that were originally designed to emphasize agility, strength, and dexterity among the gauchos is now high-energy choreography featuring rhythmic footwork, drums, singing, and musical accompaniment.
April 27-29, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, Hosted by the Jefferson Dancers
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 29, Yuko Kaseki, Butoh College Performance Series
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 29, Yuko Kaseki (Berlin), Butoh College Performance Series
May 4-7, Direct Path To Detour, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5, Alice Gosti showing and reception, Hosted by Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance
May 6, Place, Vitality Dance Collective
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Chickens and Cheese Pizza, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Critical Engagement Series with Lu Yim, hosted by Flock Dance Center/Tahni Holt
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 13, Feria de Portland, hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
May 13, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anjali School of Dance
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans