Last night, two very strong programs opened in Portland: Bolero, by NW Dance Project, which includes world premieres by the company’s resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, Lucas Crandall and Felix Landerer; and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” by award-winning, New York choreographer Camille A. Brown at White Bird. This weekend is also the second run of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s program Giants which features choreography by George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Nicolo Fonte. It’s a powerhouse weekend and you still have a chance to see them all before the programs conclude (on Sunday for Giants and Saturday for NWDP and Camille A. Brown & Dancers).
NW Dance Project is joined this season by three new dancers—Tatiana Barber, William Couture and Charbel Rohayem, all three 2016 graduates of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California in San Francisco and beautiful dancers to boot.
I caught up very briefly this week with NW Dance Project choreographers Rustem, Crandall and Landerer and spoke with each of them about their dances and what it takes to make them. The program, formerly known as New/Now/Wow, is titled Bolero but contains three pieces; Bolero by Rustem, Salt by Crandall and POST-TRAUMATIC-MONSTER by Landerer. I spoke with Rustem and Crandall in person in between rehearsals, and Landerer and I communicated via email.
London-born Ihsan Rustem trained at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and went on to dance with Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures, Ballett Theater Munich (Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz) and Introdans in The Netherlands, became a founding member of the State Theater Bern Ballet and the Tanz Luzerner Theater, before joining NW Dance Project as resident choreographer in 2015.
How did this Bolero thing start?
I’ve wanted to do Bolero for 15 years. The first professional thing I ever did, really, (I was a guest, but it was still a big gig I guess) was with Bejart Ballet Lausanne at Sadler’s Wells during Bejart’s Bolero with Sylvie Guillem. I was like 16 or 17; I was a kiddie. I don’t know if you know the piece, but it’s a big table, and Sylvie or whoever is doing it that day, does a 15-minute solo on the table, and there are 40 guys basically as the corps. So wherever they go, they always hire an extra 15. And that I will never forget; the music is phenomenal; I get goose bumps still now. I can’t hear this music anymore, but… I still get goosebumps (laughing). I think that says a lot. I think it is one of the most amazing pieces of music ever written for dance. It was commissioned for a dance at the Paris Opera in 1928.
It still gives me goosebumps today. But…it’s challenging. People think I’m nuts sometimes, because the music repeats itself. It has two phrases and they each repeat nine times. It’s how do you take that and create a through-line which builds up in the way that I feel. I’ve said from the beginning, it feels like a 15 minute orgasm, and it still does. Even after hearing it a million times. Because it is, it starts very subtle, but by the end the climax really is one. And I like that, I think it’s fabulous.
It’s a piece of music I’ve wanted to use for years and now felt like the right time. It’s the fifth creation for the company and I think there is also an element of trying to do something that I haven’t done before here.
What are elements or ideas that you are working with in the choreography and how is this piece different from your previous works?
I think it’s quirkier. There are elements of quirky things. In my earlier works here, people cried, and then we sort of went on to the meatier works, like the third one Yidam; it’s just more powerful, raw, emotion, driven, that music drives it.
I feel like I’ve evolved from very sensitive subtle work like State of Matter at the beginning. Mother Tongue was an evolution of that, and Yidam was a powerhouse, a much tougher meatier work. And then for the fourth creation we wanted to do something completely different, and Sarah had been wanting me to do something that was maybe funny or had elements of comedy. So we decided to do Le Fil Rouge, which used old songs. We had everything from Doris Day to Creep.
This one is already an evolution in terms of musical choices. It’s shorter, it’s a whole company work, and it’s quirkier than other works. And it’s based on love, desire, loss, attachment, hate, passion. So I’m using that but in quite random bursts throughout the piece as opposed to a narrative. It’s certainly not a narrative. But each of the duets have their own narrative and that pops out, and the music is passionate. It feeds me elements of relationships and every angle of that. The rose is a representation—and quite an obvious representation—of what that is, in its own abstract form.
Do you make work differently for American dancers versus European dancers?
I wouldn’t say that my approach is different, but what is different is that American dancers are faster, they have to be. We have half the time, if not less than half the time, here. So naturally there is a hunger which comes with that and the drive with that. The system in Europe is much more comfortable, let’s put it that way, than your system here, just based on the fact that most of it is taxpayer funded. We have 13-month contracts, we have pension plans, that is just standard for dancers over there. With that comes a little bit of comfortable and sometimes that creeps in and certainly doesn’t exist here. The drive here is like no other. The difference comes not so much from my approach, but what do they offer. And here, especially at NWDP, what they offer is relatively phenomenal; what they get done in such a short amount of time, the investment they have, is like no other.
What is your dance-making process like?
I came in day one and taught a bunch of phrases. The dancers have been very involved in the creative process. We know each other, so they know what I want. And I know who is better with who. They sort of broke up into groups based on the phrases and based on the information of what we had given—love, attachment, desire, loss, passion, sex—took that and I said create little quirky things.
I had shown them a video, it’s kind of cool, to see a Chandelier video, you know, the little 12-year-old girl, Maddie Ziegler who is dancing around. The choreographer had made this fabulous two-minute sketch, where he is going through the actual choreography but talking through what each step is for him, but the randomness is amazing. I remember the first time I saw the video I thought she was improvising then I realized, no it was set. He has these small bursts of movement that seems to come from nowhere, and he’s explaining what each of it means to him. And it was so quirky and funny and I liked that, so I wanted to feed elements of that into the creative process, which has resulted in these small bursts of stories, but you don’t know quite where they came from or where they are going.
Because the structure is more abstract in its form, I could mix and match around the order until we found what fit best and I went with that.
Lucas Crandall who has choreographed four pieces for NWDP, including Salt for the Bolero program, danced for Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Nederlands Dans Theater, working with Aráiz, Kylián, Christopher Bruce, Nacho Duato, Mats Ek, Rui Horta, Amanda Miller and Ohad Naharin. In 2000, Crandall returned to the U.S. to join Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as Associate Artistic Director and is now Rehearsal Director.
Where did the making of your dance begin?
The quote from Karen Blixen—“The cure for anything is saltwater — sweat, tears, or the salt sea”—is basically where I wanted to start off from with these guys. I decided also to do a trio, because I didn’t know how much time I was really going get, but then I realized also that a trio is more challenging.
I basically worked from the premise of the quote.
We go through a cycle of where they come out of the ocean, there is a fast part where they are the ocean, and I’m hoping that because it’s active enough, that’s where we generate some sweat. Then we come down to a more subdued moment where an abstract story kind of develops. It starts out with two women and one man. As we are going through the process of the second part, I started translating that actually the two women are the same person. One of the woman at the end is just reflecting on this moment that made her happy.
The harder point for me was trying to find tears. So we were talking about tears of joy also, not just sadness. I tried to incorporate a little bit of humor right at the very very top. I don’t think its uproarious humor, but its light.
We don’t really achieve drama tears either, but there’s a more morose moment from the actual person that is kind of left behind. Or the one woman that is the real person who has been thinking through this whole thing has been left behind. She ends up on the beach and the other two have gone; she wakes up from sleeping on the beach and sees rolling waves, and hopefully she feels good.
(Laughing) I can’t really explain this.
It’s really just based on the quote. Better not to talk about it. This is just my version of it.
How do you start making movement?
I basically went on my phone and went onto Instagram, we looked at a picture, and I said make a movement out of that. It can be a door frame. You make a straight line; next person make a movement but then connect it to the first one that the person made; and we go down the line making phrases like that.
Some of them will get altered, obviously.
I don’t have my own specific style; I have my own way that I like to have things interpreted as they are moving them. That I actually find more tedious. Because even now, I don’t have enough time to gel all the things the way that things should be done.
Everything’s been done before, it’s just the way you are doing it. For me personally. I like to look at dance as poetry and try to actually make something just from point A to point B of that movement. There is a starting point and how it starts is even as important to the finish even more so than the actual technical part of that movement.
As a choreographer I try to feel more as a poet or sculptor; some choreographers are more architects, and some are more other things.
I’m discovering it still, too; it’s funny.
Felix Landerer is a freelance choreographer based in Hannover Germany and has been the resident choreographer at Scapino Ballet Rotterdam since 2013. Most recently he has been guest choreographing for Luzerner Theater in Switzerland and for Norrdans in Sweden. This is Landerer’s second piece for NWDP.
What is it about or not about?
It’s about a relationship and the monster that it can turn into.
Is there a story?
I like to have a narrative component to my work, without getting too literal.
Is it abstract?
I hope just enough to be inspiring to search how the piece relates to the audience and not too much, to lose them on the way.
What thread of curiosity are you working out in this dance?
There is a structure to the piece that connects the idea of memories of situations, movement or an emotion and the present action, in a non-linear timeline. So I tried to enhance certain movements or situations by putting more focus on them than on others, and I hope that all the elements of the structure will work in the right directions.
What is your process for making dances? Where do you start?
For me it depends on the circumstances. This time I tried to stay as close to the original idea and structure of the piece as I could; because of the timeframe given, my approach was quite a venture. I will know on Thursday if I tried too much or if everything came together. I think that’s the risk you should take in order to grow in what you’re doing, but it doesn’t guarantee a lot of restful nights. In general my main focus always lies on the integrity of the piece and the dancers performing it. If I believe that they fully embrace my language and they grow in it, I’m satisfied.
Performances this week
BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play
Camille A. Brown & Dancers
Thursday and Friday performances will be followed by an audience conversation with Camille A. Brown focusing on the important themes of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Camille A. Brown, a New York based choreographer and four time Princess Grace Award winner (one of many awards), presents “Black Girl: Linguistic Play” which “celebrates the unspoken rhythm and language that Black girls have through Double Dutch, social dances, and hand-clapping games that are contemporary and ancestral.”
Brown, with a music background in clarinet, creates choreography that combines music and storytelling, that speaks historically and personally.
In the choreographer notes section on her website Brown says, “As I began to create the work, I realized that I was exhausted by stereotypes and tropes because, as a Black female director, I battle with them daily.
Kyra Gaunt’s book, The Games Black Girls Play, inspired the concept for the work. The word “play” immediately shot out. I started thinking about my childhood and the many games I used to play—Double Dutch, Red light, Green light, Marco Polo—and how it was hard for me to find narratives within the media that showcased Black girls being just that: girls. This instantly resonated and became personal. Who was I before the world defined me? What are the unspoken languages within Black girl culture that are multidimensional and have been appropriated and compartmentalized by others? What are the dimensions of Black girl joy that cannot be boxed into a smile or a grimace, but demonstrated in a head tilt, lip smack, hand gesture, and more? “
Brown’s website is packed with recorded interviews with the artists as well as articles about her and a video of her TEDx talk about the history of social dance. It’s worth your time to peruse her site and get to know her work and point of view.
Works by Ihsan Rustem, Lucas Crandall and Felix Landerer
NW Dance Project
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
Works by George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Nicolo Fonte
Oregon Ballet Theatre, Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Giants is a triple bill featuring Serenade by George Balanchine, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe and a world premier of Giants Before Us by Oregon Ballet Theatre Resident Choreographer Nicolo Fonte.
Serenade was choreographed in 1934 and was meant to be a staged lesson in technique, incorporating unexpected, real life moments that happened during the the making of the dance like dancers arriving late to rehearsal or accidentally falling.
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was choreographed by William Forsythe in 1987 for the Paris Opera Ballet by the request of then director, Rudolf Nureyev. The original cast featured dancer Sylvie Guillem and became Forsythe’s most well known work and has been performed by companies worldwide.
Giants Before Us by Nicolo Fonte sits between classical and contemporary dance and features the athleticism of OBT’s male dancers to Franz Liszt played live by pianist Hunter Noack.
October 20-29, BloodyVox, BodyVox
October 20-22, Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak, White Bird
October 21-22, Traces, Mark Koenigsberg & Sara Naegelin
October 21-22, Lines of Pull, The Holding Project
October 24-November 5, Marginal Evidence, Katherine Longstreth
October 28-30, INCIPIO, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 3-12, Reclaimed, Polaris Dance Theatre
November 4-6, Obstacles and Victory Songs, Stephanie Lavon Trotter and Dora Gaskill
November 5-6, All The Marys, Luciana Proaño
November 11-13, Epoch, Jamuna Chiarini and push/FOLD-Samuel Hobbs
November 12-20, the last bell rings for you, Linda Austin Dance
November 17-19, Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group, White Bird
December 2-4, N.E.W. Expressive Works Residency Performance, Dana Detweiler, James Healey, Jessica Hightower, and Renee Sills
December 8-10, In Good Company, NW Dance Project
December 8-10, ARCANE COLLECTIVE, Presented by BodyVox
December 10-26, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 15-17, Complicated Woman, Katie Scherman/2016 Alembic Resident Artist
December 18, Gifts, a film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
December 22-24, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland