DanceWatch Weekly: Dance Camp at Breitenbush

DanceWatch rejuvenates itself in the wilderness

I have a lot of questions these days about dance. What is it really? What does it mean? What is its purpose? What is its value? Is one expression of dance more valuable than another? As a dancer myself, how do I feel about leaving behind the traditional, mainstream, American value systems in dance? How do I feel about never taking ballet again and finding other ways of moving, expressing, and staying in shape that feed me and make me feel good about myself instead of depleted and defeated? Can I be happy in other dance worlds? Will I feel a loss? Will I be OK with that loss? Is it really a loss or just a perceived loss?

From this place of curiosity (if not perplexity), I decided to go to Dance Camp at Breitenbush Hot Springs with Portland dance artists Meshi Chavez and Winky Wheeler. Chavez and Wheeler facilitate weekly Portland dances that could be called ecstatic dance but really incorporate many more ideas from other movement modalities and philosophies. Chavez is also a Butoh dancer and I have participated in his Being Moved workshop and weekly Butoh classes, so I knew that Dance Camp would be a safe space for me to be vulnerable and to ask the questions troubling me.

Dance Camp was at Breitenbush. If you don’t know, Breitenbush is a hot springs on 154 acres in the Willamette National Forest, about 100 miles from Portland. Its main lodge, built in the 1930s, is the center of activity and houses a large dance studio (with a disco ball), a dining room that serves vegetarian food only, two libraries, and a lobby with a piano that someone is almost always playing. Breitenbush also has a steam sauna and numerous soaking pools that are full of naturally hot water from the earth that sit around 107 degrees. Clothing is optional when bathing. Breitenbush is also completely off the grid, utilizing its own hydroelectric power system and natural springs for power and heat. Campers can sleep in the main lodge, cabins or tents.

On my drive to Breitenbush, somewhere between Detroit Lake and Breitenbush, my cell service dropped out. It was a magical moment, an electric moment. A point of no return. It was the beginning of four days with no wifi, no cell service, no communication with the outside world. Bliss.

Dance Camp with Chavez and Wheeler was four days short. It began at dinner time on Thursday and ended with lunch on Sunday. For four days we ate and danced, ate and danced, ate and danced, and danced some more. And, of course, soaked many times over in the hot springs.

There were about 35 dance campers ranging in ages from their mid 20s to late 70s. People came from Portland, Bend, Eugene, Roseburg and many other places to be here. Many are part of Chavez and Winky’s Portland dance community and have been coming to this retreat since its inception, which, next year, will be 20 years ago. Just take that in for a moment. That’s a really long time. Chavez and Wheeler have been coordinating and facilitating this Dance Camp and creating community around dance for 20 years. That’s an incredible accomplishment, and I found that what they are offering is very universal and applicable across all dance genres.

The morning movement sessions, which ran from 10 am to 1 pm, were prompted by a list created by Chavez and Wheeler written on a whiteboard for us all to see. We were to move, internalizing each prompt on the board. And, whatever your response was, was the right response. “First thought, best thought,” Meshi said. The list went something like this (I am ad libbing because I photographed the list with my camera and lost the photo) “1. Awaken your body with patience, kindness, and love. 2. Show a body part to the great “bigness.” 3. Infinity spirals. 4. Dance with your rock (we were given rocks to dance with). 5. Walk with sensitive feet. 6. Change positions in relationship to the space, to others. 7. Write.”

In the afternoon sessions, which ran from 4-6 pm, we began working in small groups incorporating ideas of dancing with a partner, witnessing, and verbally reflecting. We did this inside in the dance studio and outside near the river where we were tasked with building a pathway with two other people, in silence, with found objects. And, then dancing on it, while the third witnessed the duet.

The pathway that we made was in an old river bed, and we created its edges with broken sticks, crushed leaves, and tiny, layered rock walls that all led down to three large, rounded rocks, splayed out in three different directions like flower petals covered in moss and lichen. At the beginning of the path I created a mandala with a rock center and sticks and more rocks spoking outwards in layers. Someone said it looked like a compass. When thinking about a metaphorical pathway in terms of our own personal journeys in life, having a compass at the beginning seems perfect.

During the first inside trio that we danced that day, after the pathway exercise, I had a huge realization. My group was made up of two women and one man. When I witnessed the other man and woman dancing together, I saw the woman acquiescing to him in her mannerisms and movement choices—making things easier for him, accommodating him. I think he was new to dancing, and she was trying to be helpful. But what I saw was how we as a society perpetuate patriarchy by continuing the old patterns that lock people in the same roles/positions, not allowing for any change. Both men and women are responsible for changing this cycle. Not just men. This realization blew my mind and to see it materialized in this dancing relationship was so cool, so interesting, and so exciting.

We also worked with words. Both Chavez and Wheeler introduced different pieces of writing, two chapters from David Whyte’s book Consolations called Genius and Gratitude, and a Koan. We were instructed to read them and underlined passages that stood out to us. We then compiled a list of our 15 favorite sentences, then condensed it to a list of eight, then to four. We then read them aloud to each other forwards and backwards in the closing circle. Every person’s poem was completely unique and profound in its own way.

Mine went like this.

Pay attention to the mundane, that is where the magic lies.
We are miraculously, part of something
Gratitude is not a passive response
My genius exists within me

Or:

My genius exists within me
Gratitude is not a passive response
We are miraculously, part of something
Pay attention to the mundane, that is where the magic lies.

We also created four gestures from the writing that we used in our closing night performance on Saturday.

The evening sessions ran from 7:30 pm or so to 9 pm-ish, depending on the visible weariness of the group.

When we arrived for our Saturday evening session, it was dark outside and Chavez and Wheeler had turned the big studio lights off and set the room like a stage, with small desk lamps on the floor pointing into the center of the room. We set up our chairs in rows, creating an audience for an impromptu performance. It was REALLY fun, like childhood fun, exciting and magical and new. I never went to summer camp as a kid, but I imagine that the end-of-camp talent show must have looked and felt something like this. Each group performed beautiful, sensitive, soulful dances, some of the most captivating dancing I have ever seen.

So many surprising and magical things happened for me over the four days. Mostly though, being patient with myself, being part of a community, being seen, cared for, loved and feeling safe, had a profound effect on me. This environment made vulnerability possible and out of that, unencumbered creativity was born. Today, I feel different in my skin. I feel relaxed, electric, alive, awake and connected—to me. Something new is brewing. It’s a brand new day, and I’m excited to be part of it. And dance, well, it will live on in my body and in my life however I want it to.

Performances this week

NW Dance Project dancer Franco Nieto. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Summer Performances
NW Dance Project, directed by Sarah Slipper
Choreography by Ihsan Rustem, Sarah Slipper, and Danielle Agami
June 14-16
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
Closing out a momentous 2017-2018 season, NW Dance Project presents an evening of three works: a world premiere by NW Dance Project resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem called If You Stay danced to the live music of Savage Nightingale; MemoryHouse, a duet about love and loss by NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper performed to November by Max Richter; and This Time Tomorrow by Ate9 artistic director and former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami.

Dancer Kya Bliss rehearsing in Heidi Duckler’s Waters of the World in the Fair-Haired Dumbbell building. Photo by Erin DeLane.

Waters of the World-world premiere
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest
June 15-23
In the Fair-Haired Dumbbell building, 11 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Interested in redefining audience performer relationships by positioning dance in unusual locals, Heidi Duckler Dance Theater/Northwest will perform on the fifth floor of the brand new, colorfully painted Fair-Haired Dumbbell building on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Five dancers—Kya Bliss, Conrad Kaczor, Erin DeLaney, Kiel Moton and Jenny Windom—will transform the space with the aid of projections by Eric Rauh, while dancing to live prepared piano by Jennifer Wright, to an original composition by saxophonist Joe Berry (M83), and to a recording of Clarice Lispector’s book, Waters of the World.

Dancers Matthew Cichon and Daniel Do rehearsing Shaun Keylock’s Calamus, to be performed at the New Expressive Works Residency Performance. Photo courtesy of Shaun Keylock.

New Expressive Works 10th Residency Performance
Claire Barrera, Shaun Keylock, Sarah Brahim, and Decimus Yarbrough
June 15-17
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont, In the WYSE Building. Use building doors located on the South side of the building.

In its 10th iteration, the New Expressive Works residency performance will showcase the works of its newest resident choreographers, claire barrera, Sarah Brahim, Shaun Keylock, and Decimus Yarbrough.

Barrera is an artist, activist, educator and writer and curates a zine called When Language Runs Dry with Meredith Butner. Brahim, has a BS in Public Health and Community Health Education and is passionate about using movement as a healing medium to address public health. Keylock, the founder and director of Shaun Keylock Company, is a performance-based artist dedicated to new movement research and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Yarbrough is a movement artist interested in blending his movement styles in martial arts and urban and club dance styles and using it to advocate for the preservation of cultures.

New Expressive Works was established by Subashini Ganesan in 2012 to provide more incubation and performance opportunities for Portland dance artists and offers each artist 144 hours of free rehearsal time over six months, and peer-to-peer feedback sessions called “Fieldwork,” facilitated by dance artist Katherine Longstreth.

Dancer Donna Mejia. Photo courtesy of Donna Mejia.

Donna Mejia & Special Guests
Presented by Henna
8 pm June 15
Cup & Bar, 118 NE Martin Luther King Blvd.

Lecture by Donna Mejia: For the Love of the Craft
3:30 pm June 16
Studio Datura, 1847 E Burnside
This evening of Middle Eastern dance and belly dance fusion will feature visiting international choreographer, scholar, director, and performer Donna Mejia, along with special guests from Portland and beyond.

Mejia, an assistant professor at University of Colorado at Boulder in Theatre and Dance, specializes in contemporary dance, traditions of the African and Arab Diaspora, and emerging fusion traditions in Transnational Electronica. Her areas of study are cultural imperialism, gender representation and electronic/digital globalization. Mejia is an authorized instructor of the Brazilian Silvestre Modern Dance Technique and has practicing it for over 20 years. For Mejia’s full bio, click here.

Featured performers include: Donna Mejia, Bevin Victoria, Colette Todorov, Elise Morris, Henna, Joanna Ashleigh, Kate Soleil, Laura Blake, and Shaunti Fera.

Mejia will also hold a lecture on her research regarding the ethics of dance fusion and cultural appropriation. “The exploration of ethnic/cultural dance fusion mandates that artists reconcile the values of indigenous dance traditions with agendas of the entertainment world. This presentation will explore the inevitable transformation of old and new dance traditions in performance, and seek to define what responsibility choreographers/performers have as cultural ambassadors in a “cut and paste” environment.”

Dance artist Simon Forti. Photo courtesy of Movement Research.

Dance Film Double Feature: Standing on Gold and Moving History (work in progress showing)
Directed and edited by Eric Nordstrom
An PWNW Alembic Co-Production
8 pm June 16
Performance Works NorthWest || Linda Austin Dance, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
FREE. Donations toward the completion of Standing on Gold.

Portland dance artist and filmmaker Eric Nordstrom presents a double feature that includes the screening of his films Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, which chronicles the history and evolution of contemporary dance in Portland, and Standing on Gold, a new documentary in the making on postmodern dance artist, Simone Forti. Now in her 80s, “Forti continues to perform improvised choreography in international settings providing an opportunity to examine questions of “What is a dancer’s body?” “What is a dancer’s relationship to that body as we age?” and “What can the somatic and improvised approach to composition contribute to the field of dance at this moment?”

I interviewed Nordstrom in June 2016 prior to the first screening of Moving History about his experience making the film. You can read that conversation here.

Upcoming Performances

June
June 22, The Goblin Market, Abernethy Performing Arts
June 22, The Summer Love Solstice Dance Party at FLOCK, curated by Tahni Holt
June 22-23, Bodies of Existence/Dances of Resistance, Company Movimiento, Artistic Director- Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Eugene
June 22-23, Ævium: Intimacy with Disappearance, Jayne Lee, Delisa Myles, Mizu Desierto, Breanna Rogers, Ashley Fine, Sedona Ortega, and Studio M13
June 22-23, Recipe: A Reading Test (1983) and Raw Material (1985), Linda Austin
June 29-July 1, Salem World Beat Festival, Rainbow Dance Theatre and more, Salem
June 29-July 1, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance
June 29-30, River Daze, Dillon & Wilde + Artists

July
July 6, #INSTABALLET NO.26, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
July 9, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
July 11-27, [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait, keyon gaskin
July 14, Ten Tiny Dances, Produced by Mike Barber
July 14, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 16, Romeo and Juliet, Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
July 19-21, RELATIVES // Rubble Bodies, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
July 23, Swan Lake, Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
July 27, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, Washington Park Summer Festival

August
August 2-4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 3, #INSTABALLET NO.27, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-WOL Dance Collective
August 10-12, JamBallah Northwest
August 12, India Festival, produced by the India Cultural Association of Portland

September
September 1, #INSTABALLET NO.28, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag

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