DanceWatch Weekly: Dance Lights Up December’s Darkness

The week's DanceWatch covers a month of dance from "Wolf Tales" to a trio of Nutcrackers and so much more.

Happy holidays, happy solstice, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, and happy New Year. I’m saying all that now because THIS DanceWatch Weekly will be the last one of 2018. I know, I’m sad too, but don’t worry: DanceWatch will return again in 2019 with a look at the musical The Lion King, featuring choreography by Garth Fagan. It opens in Eugene January 9.

Before we go our separate ways to enjoy our seasonal celebrations, let’s take a moment to reflect.

This was a busy year for dance in Oregon and for DanceWatch, as well as for ArtsWatch’s incredible team of dance writers: Martha Ullman West, Bob Hicks, Barry Johnson, Heather Wisner, Nim Wunnan, Gary Ferrington, and Elizabeth Whelan, who tried hard to cover it all. As one of the relatively rare sources of dance writing in the U.S., ArtsWatch is a valuable platform; I’m grateful for it, and for the company of such talented writers. If you would like to read ArtsWatch’s coverage of dance in 2018, begin here and click through.

December, dark and magical, brings festive dance performances of all kinds, beginning with NW Dance Project’s Wolf Tales, a remix of fables and fairy tales choreographed by the company dancers: expect lots of surprising twists and turns. Wolf Tales runs December 6-8 and features NW Dance Project executive director Scott Lewis’s world-famous warm wassail served up in the lobby after each show.

This 2016 photo of Linda Austin Dance performing “The last bell rings for you” serves as a prompt at the December 9 STREWN fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NorthWest.

On December 9, for one night only, Performance Works NorthWest will present Strewn, a party to celebrate 18 years of experimental dance and performance held in the Performance Works NorthWest space, to keep the space affordable for artists, and to help sustain programming such as the Alembic artist residencies, various co-productions, and Linda Austin Dance. Two performances, at 7 and 9pm, feature seven outstanding multi-discipline performances by an amazing lineup of Portland artists. The performances are inspired by archival photos of past PWNW performances, and the evening will include a raffle, refreshments, and a karaoke after-party at 9pm.

Other attractions this month include Robin Lane’s holiday spectacular, held December 14-16 at the Alberta Rose Theatre and brimming with musical, acrobatic, and theatrical glory. DO JUMP physical theatre and 3 LEG TORSO perform; Pepe Raphael (of Pepe & the Bottle Blondes) and Jenny Conlee-Drizos (of the Decemberists) make guest appearances. Milagro/Miracle Theatre Group’s Posada Milagro is a Latino Christmas celebration that includes crafts, Spanish storytelling, piñatas, food, and folkloric dance and music performances by Ballet Papalotl and Son Huitzilín; it’s held at the company’s home theater on Stark Street December 16. Espacio Flamenco celebrates the holiday flamenco style with Fiesta Navideña. Held December 16 at the Alberta Abbey, the event features performances of traditional holiday songs and dances by Espacio Flamenco students and the Espacio Flamenco Company.

Ballet Fantastique’s “Babes in Toyland” premieres December 8. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

In Eugene, the Emmy Award-winning television dance competition series So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018 comes to the Hult Center on December 8, featuring winning performers and choreography from the show’s 15th season. Babes in Toyland, a world premiere by Ballet Fantastique, runs December 14-16 at the Hult Center as well, and will be danced to Duke Ellington’s rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, played live by the Swing Shift Orchestra. The ballet, choreographed and produced by the mother-daughter artistic team of Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, is a reimagining of the original Babes in Toyland operetta that Victor Herbert composed as a Christmas-themed fairy-tale mashup; it debuted in 1903.

As for Nutcrackers, there are three: Oregon Ballet Theatre performs George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker December 8-26, the majority with live music live by the OBT orchestra. Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble and accompanied live by Orchestra Next, runs December 21-23. And the Bolshoi Ballet performs Yuri Grigorovich’s The Nutcracker (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa) live from Moscow in movie theaters near you on December 23.

BodyVox’s Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company performs December 14-15. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Student performances, which tend to be less expensive and shorter (great for the younger set) include The Reed College Winter Dance Concert, featuring student and faculty choreography; it runs December 8-9. Steps PDX Youth Program dancers perform excerpts from The Nutcracker, Land of the Sweets, featuring choreography by artistic director Kathryn Harden, ballet Mistress Olivia Ornelas, and instructors Lauren Smith and Jesus Rodales; the show is held December 15. And BodyVox’s pre-professional dance group, the Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company, performs works by BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland as well as pieces by a who’s who of up-and-coming Portland choreographers December 14-15.

That’s a wrap. We’ll bring you more Oregon dance events in the new year.

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