DanceWatch Weekly: Jessica Lang and Jesús Carmona

Two White Bird concerts and a South Asian American cultural festival highlight the week in dance

Two White Bird shows—New York-based Jessica Lang Dance Company and Compañia Jesús Carmona from Barcelona—bookend this week’s performance schedule. Both choreographers defy categorization, and their hybrid choreographies draw heavily on lighting and visual elements to craft their story.

Jessica Lang, artistic director of Jessica Lang Dance, decided six months into dancing for Twyla Tharp that she wanted something else. She realized that there was a discrepancy between the variety that her dance education, which had culminated at Julliard provided, and her real life as a professional dancer— “you don’t keep changing what you’re doing,” she said in an interview with Liz Johnston for Dallas’s D Magazine in 2013. “You keep repeating what you’re doing. And I am not a repetitive person in that respect…”

After Tharp’s tour came to a natural end after a year and a half (because you don’t quit a Tharp tour six months in), Lang entered her choreography into Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s first choreographic competition, and she was one of two winners. The other was Robert Battle, now the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Her innate desire for variety is very much apparent in this week’s program at the Newmark, which runs March 8-10. Jessica Lang Dance will present six works, ranging in length from three minutes to twenty minutes: two solos, a quartet, a quintet, and two works for nine dancers. The music comes from John Metcalfe and Thomas Metcalf, Trio Mediaeval, Owen Clayton Condon and Ivan Trevino, J.S. Bach, Jakub Ciupinski and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Glow by Jessica Lang, performed by members of Jessica Lang Dance Photo by Chris Jones.

In an interview with Juan Michael Porter II for Broadway World, Lang says that she isn’t just interested in the pure form of dance. “I haven’t danced now for 17 years, so I’m very visual rather than physical.” Lang said. “I love dancers who have a beautiful line, but I also love dancers who understand gravity and their weight. It’s this expression between technical and highly trained dancers and then a natural sense of being a human being… (when) moving.”

Lang is one of those names that comes up often in conversations on “where are all the female choreographers in ballet,” because she is one of the lucky ones who has actually been able to make work on America’s elite ballet companies. Since the inception of her company 11 years ago, Lang has created 95 dances.

While researching Lang this past week, her name came up again, but this time in relation to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, a Montreal-based ballet company with an upcoming program called Femmes, a mixed program that is an homage to women that will be choreographed by three male choreographers. Yes, an entire evening of dances about women choreographed by men. This is what’s wrong with ballet. But, thankfully at press time it has been reported that after a petition circulated and many complaints lodged, Les Grands Ballets has decided to change the name of the evening to Parlami d’Amore, Italian for “talk to me about love,” and will feature explorations of “this universal theme” of love” according to Andrea Bellemare for CBC News. I’m not sure why the company didn’t just choose three women ballet choreographers to make new work instead of switching the program around to accommodate the male choreographers already chosen. Actually I do. You can read the full story here.

Carmona, whose company will perform for just one night on Wednesday, March 14, also struck out on his own after just three years dancing as a principal dancer for Ballet Nacional de España. His work is a combination of ballet, flamenco, Spanish dance, and tap—a style all of his own, in short. His work Impetu’s, which means “bursting with energy,” is inspired by his own life and will feature 11 dancers, musicians and vocalists, with a score by Spanish composers Albéniz, Riqueni and Escudero.

Artists of Compañia Jesús Carmona. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Flamenco, an improvisational form of dance, is a folkloric tradition that combines song, dance, instrumentals (guitar mostly), hand clapping and finger snapping. This art form is an amalgamation of centuries of cross-pollination between the many cultures that have existed in Spain. Because it is a folkloric tradition passed down orally until the mid-18th century, its history is imprecise and its evolution is widely debated. It is thought to be greatly influenced by the Roma people, called Gitanos, who migrated from Rajasthan (Western India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, bringing with them tambourines, bells, castanets and a variety of songs and dances. The arm, hand and foot movements of Flamenco closely resemble those of classical Indian dance styles. These traditions, combined with the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and Moors, make up the Flamenco we see today.

The Flamenco dance (baile) can be characterized by the light graceful arm movements of the female dancer and the contrasting stomping foot drills of the man. It is intense, passionate, sexual and deeply emotional.

Also happening this weekend is Portland’s Inaugural South Asian American Arts Festival, curated by dance artist Subashini Ganesan, which will highlight South Asian culture through performances, demonstrations, and workshops throughout the weekend. My very own dance teacher Yashaswini Raghuram, along with Mini Jairaj and Sweta Ravisankar as panelists, will be discussing what it’s like to teach and perform South Indian dance forms in current day America. Check the complete schedule online for events.

I am also deeply saddened to announce that Center Space, a dance studio/performance space at 420 SE 6th Avenue directed by Donna Mation for the past 16 years, will be closing its doors permanently on March 31. Mation’s rent was doubled by her landlord, she says, and she was unable to afford to stay. The space was home to a variety of African and Cuban diaspora dance styles, to a large hip-hop community, and to Mation’s own dance company Axé Didé Music and Dance Company.

Performances this week!

Lines Cubed (2012), The Calling (2006), glow (2017), Solo Bach (2008), Sweet Silent Thought (2016), Thousand Yard Stare (2015)
Jessica Lang Dance
Presented by White Bird
March 8-10
Newmark Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Compañia Jesús Carmona
presented by White Bird
7:30 pm March 14
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 Broadway
See above.

Upcoming Performances

March 15-17, HEDDA, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 4, 100 Light Years of Solitude, Yumiko Yoshioka, Presented by Water in the Desert
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 7, Reaching Back to Our Roots: Annual Gala Fundraiser, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow, Presented by Fathom Events
April 9, Noontime Showcase: Jefferson Dancers, Presented by Portland’5
April 11, Axis Mundi, Maureen Fleming, Presented by Water in the Desert
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 18, Original Bad Unkl Sistas, Mizu Desierto and Anastazia Aranga, Presented by Water in the Desert
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-21, In layers, choreography by Jana Kristi Zahler
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 22, Anastazia Aranga and Mizu Desierto: student performance/offering, Presented by Water in the Desert
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest
April 25, Degenerate Art Ensembel/Haruko “Crow” Nishimura + Joshua Kohl, Presented by Water in the Desert
APRIL 29, Degenerate Art Ensemble: Student Performance/Offering, Presented by Water in the Desert

May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 11-13, Alice in Wonderland, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 14, Noontime Showcase: OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 17-20, CRANE, The Holding Project, directed by Amy Leona Havin
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


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