DanceWatch Weekly: Welcome to Urban Bush Women

White Bird brings back Urban Bush Women for a movement-based discussion of race, gender, identity, body image, and economics

This week I am excited to introduce you to Hair and Other Stories, a new collaborative work by Brooklyn-based Urban Bush Women (UBW). The piece blends dance, theatre, voice, and visual elements, focusing on hair and specifically African American women’s hair, and Urban Bush Women use it as a platform to discuss race, gender, identity, body image, and economics. The work, presented by White Bird, opens at the Newmark on Thursday, March 1, and runs through March 3.

I am also personally thrilled to introduce Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and UBW to you because Zollar was one of my dance teachers at Florida State University way back in the day. I was also very fortunate to perform in her work Shelter, a dance about the physical and emotional deprivation of homeless people, and to receive a full scholarship to the very first Summer Leadership Institute on undoing racism and creating a new dancer for a new society. Working with Zollar and UBW opened up my point of view to a much broader concept of what dance could be, what a dancer could look like, and to new ideas of how to move and live in the world.

Hair and Other Stories, described by the company as the “urgent dialogue of the 21st century,” actually began its development in 2001 as Hairstories, a work by Zollar and the company at the time, that discussed the cultural significance of black women’s hair through a collection of individual women’s hair stories and humor.

Zollar founded the company in 1984 and has received many awards for her work, including three Bessie Awards and two Doris Duke Awards. These days, she has taken on a different role in the company’s creative process and is the project’s dramaturg. This updated version of Hair and Other Stories has been choreographed by associate artistic directors and company dancers Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis in collaboration with the company dancers, and it’s directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges with costumes by DeeDee Gomes, projection design by Nick Hussong, and lighting by Xavier Pierce.

Celebrating it’s 34th year, UBW “seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance.” They do this “from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.”

The company’s core values include: validating the individual; catalyzing for social change; building trust through process; entering community and co-creating stories; celebrating the movement and culture of the African Diaspora; and recognizing that place matters.

In addition to developing a large body of work, creating new works (for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and others), touring internationally, and teaching dance at Florida State University, UBW has developed community engagement programs like BOLD (Builders, Organizers, & Leaders through Dance), the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), and the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center.

In a behind-the-scenes video of Hair and Other Stories, associate artistic director Samantha Speis explains that what we will see in the performance “is our practice. This is what we are doing and you have an hour and 15-20 minutes to be inside of that and experience it and examine some things about yourself. It’s also really about lifting everyone’s humanity because we’ve all been dehumanized by the construct and its about understanding how we all sit inside of it.”

You can also catch a preview of the work in the companies teaser here.

In a video interview for The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in 2016, Zollar, discusses her evolution as a choreographer and the importance of embracing risk throughout her practice. “Risk,” she says, “exists on the edge of failure…so if you’re not right on that edge of failure…you’re not in a place of risk. Living on that edge and learning from that edge to me is a really exciting place.”

For Dance Magazine earlier this month Zollar opened up about her creative process, and the hardest parts of sustaining a dance company.

“I have a three-idea rule: Whenever I see other performances, I have to come out with three ideas—maybe it’s costumes, lighting, staging. Don’t dismiss anything. If it was a waste of your time, you didn’t enter with the right mind-set.”

Performances this week!

Kinky Boots photo courtesy of the internet. Photo: © 2012

Kinky Boots
Presented by Broadway in Eugene
7:30 pm March 1
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Silva Hall, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots follows Charlie Price, an aspiring young businessman who is forced to give up his dreams in order to save his late father’s shoe factory from the brink of bankruptcy. He finds unexpected inspiration in the form of Lola, an entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos. As Charlie and Lola work together to turn the factory around, the pair find that they have more in common than they thought possible. Changing your perspective can change the world.

Hair & Other Stories by Urban Bush Women. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Hair & Other Stories
Urban Bush Women
Presented by White Bird
March 1-3
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland
See above.


Alice (in wonderland)
Choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
March 1-March 4
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
Follow Alice and a zany cast of characters down the rabbit hole into the unknown in Septime Webre’s 2012 retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. This large scale production, which marries tradition with modernism with the help of ballet and acrobatics, boasts an original score from composer/violinist Matthew Pierce, to be played by the OBT orchestra, costumes by designer Liz Vandal, and sets by James Kronzer. The production includes a cast of 100 dancers, 50 of whom are children from The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Wayne Bund in Strong Female Protagonist. Photo courtesy of Risk/Reward and PNCA.

Strong Female Protagonist
Created and performed by Wayne Bund
Presented in association with Risk/Reward and PNCA
March 2-March 4
PNCA Mediatheque, 511 NW Broadway
Multidisciplinary artist, and first grade teacher Wayne Bund presents, Strong Female Protagonist, a queer solo performance piece that uses comedy, theater, music, dance and drag to illuminate the power of femininity and sass.

Part-autobiography, part-‘80s nostalgia, part-drag fantasy, Bund’s solo follows little Wayne on his quest to become a drag queen called Feyonce. “He struggles with self-doubt about where his inspiration comes from and is taken to an appropriation fantasy. He is judged by Judith Butler, his ego, and his mother, until he lets go of his dreams and finds a new lineage.”

A-WOL Dance Collective. Photo courtesy of A-WOL Dance Collective.

Left of Center
A-WOL Dance Collective (Aerial Without Limits)
March 2-March 4
A-WOL Dance Center, 513 NE Schuyler St.
Celebrating their 15-year anniversary season in their spacious 5,000-square-foot warehouse home, A-WOL Dance Collective, a 13-member company that combines aerial arts and dance, will create an immersive experience in the round with a haunting soundscape and Victorian-era costumes weaving together “a fantastical tale suspended between reverie and reality…enveloped in a dream state free of the limitations of the waking world.”

ZORRO® The Ballet. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

ZORRO® The Ballet
Ballet Fantastique, Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager
March 2-4
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Way, Eugene
Through the lens of award-winning author Isabel Allende, Diego de la Vega, also known as El Zorro, comes to life through the contemporary ballet choreography of the Ballet Fantastique, featuring the mother-daughter choreographic duo Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, and live, original music by the Los Angeles based band Incendio.

ZORRO® The Ballet is an exploration of Zorro’s “complexities and the forces…The son of an aristocratic Spanish landowner and a Native American female Tongva, he becomes …two distinct people…lover of peace and wisdom—and Zorro, force of change.” In the shapeshifting context of a world in flux, “Zorro is formed, a great hero is born, and the legend begins.”

“Chitra: The Girl Prince”: dancing, adventure, and an ancient tale. Photo: David Kinder

Chitra: The Girl Prince
NW Children’s Theatre, Co-directed by Sarah Jane Hardy and Anita Menon
12:00 pm and 4:00 pm March 3
Mainstage, NW Children’s Theatre, 1819 NW Everett St.
In this retelling of a fourth century tale from the Mahabharata, co-directors Sarah Jane Hardy and Anita Menon along with a collaborative team of theater artists, musicians, and dancers from India and Portland’s Bengali-American community, tell the story of a warrior princess who struggles to stay true to herself while balancing her responsibility to her people and true love’s call.

PDX Dance Collective. Photo by Amaya Photography.

Voices: A Choreographers’ Showcase
Presented by PDX Dance Collective
March 3-4
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 17th Ave., Portland
PDX Dance Collective, a collective “founded by a group of friends lamenting that there are so few opportunities to perform as a dancer when it’s not your professional career,” will present a variety of regional choreographic voices in their second annual showcase. The works featured focus on issues surrounding female empowerment, sexaul assault, body image, identity, societal expectations, anxiety, and finding one’s voice, to name a few.

The evening will feature dances from Katie Burks, Alexander Dones, Elise Ericksen, Zahra Garrett, Kristalyn Gill, Kt Kusmaul, April MacKay, Ella Matweyou, Jordan Mitchell, Jessica Post, Rachael Singer, Tongue Dance Project, Amelia Unsicker, and Erica Wagner.

The Bolshoi Ballet in The Flames Of Paris. Photo courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

The Flames Of Paris
Alexei Ratmansky with original choreography by Vasily Vainonen
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
12:55 pm March 4
Playing in theatres across Oregon and Washington. Check the website for locations.
In a live broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theatre near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Alexei Ratmansky’s revival of Vasily Vainonen’s The Flames of Paris. Originally premiering in 1933 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and created as political propaganda by the Soviet authorities at the time, this “revolutionary” ballet takes place during the French Revolution and tells the story of a brother and sister who set off to fight for freedom and find love on the way.

Upcoming Performances

March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
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 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
April 9, Noontime Showcase: Jefferson Dancers, Presented by Portland’5
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
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 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

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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