DanceWatch Weekly: Nancy Davis and Portland Ballet

The artistic director of The Portland Ballet talks about the winding road that led to this weekend's concert

I’ve been trying to write DanceWatch for about five days now without much success, until now of course. I seem to function best under great pressure, kind of like how a diamond is made. Take Jamuna, apply an intense amount of heat, and pressure, and voilà DanceWatch is written! A kind of stressful and undesirable scenario to create under but sometimes unavoidable. You see, I am mostly a full-time, stay-at-home mom, but, also a dancer, choreographer, and dance writer, and sometimes everyone’s else’s needs take over and I can’t quite find the time to sit down and write.

This week’s disastrous attempt to write (I’m exaggerating a bit for theatrical effect) was partly due to post-performance fatigue (I performed with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre this past weekend, which Elizabeth Whelan reviewed for ArtsWatch), a traveling husband situation that turns me into a single parent for a few days, and a myriad of other crazy events that included an emergency trip to the vet, calls from my son’s principal, the cats, the stuff, the whatever. Right now, as I write this, my 55-pound boxer/lab puppy is standing on my chest panting in my face demanding to be scratched and walked. It’s a circus, and I love it. It’s because THIS is my life that I’m always curious as to how other dancer/teacher/choreographer parents “do it” and stay artistically focused.

I recently became friends with Portland Ballet’s artistic director Nancy Davis on Facebook, and suddenly I was seeing gorgeous photos and videos of Davis as a young dancer in my news feed. Then I saw a photo of her beautiful daughter Lauren Lane on a poster for St. Louis Ballet, and I realized that I didn’t know Nancy Davis at all, and I definitely didn’t know she had a daughter who had also grown up to become a professional dancer.

I only know Davis as I see her now, as the artistic director and founder of The Portland Ballet academy. But how did she get here, what influenced her artistically, and how did she manage to raise a child in the midst of it all, I wanted to know. So, in between her rehearsals for Portland Ballet’s upcoming show Current/Classic, which opens May 4-5 at Lincoln Hall, and my performances, we got a chance to speak on the phone.

The Portland Ballet studio dress rehearsal of Us by Josie Moseley. Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.

Davis, who is from California, began her ballet training with one of Los Angeles’s most flamboyant characters, Madame Etienne. Madame Etienne was born in Greece but raised in Paris. Kathryn Charisse was her given name, and she ran a studio called the Hollywood Dance Studio that catered to movie stars. She was the one time sister-in-law of dancer-actress Cyd Charisse, toured the vaudeville circuit with her parents and her ten siblings as a child, and always dressed in a flamboyant outfits. She frequently wore a tiara and full makeup, according to accounts on a blog called lastcappuccino.com.

When Davis become more serious about ballet, she began studying with Natalie Clare, who had studied with Bronislava Nijinska, a choreographer and innovator of contemporary ballet and the sister of Vaslav Nijinsky. Clare had been a principal dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and had opened her own studio in Los Angeles and a created a student company called Ballet La Jeunesse. “That group of young dancers attracted the attention of many choreographers, among them George Balanchine, who gave it permission to perform his Concerto Barocco and Serenade, as staged by John Taras, the New York City Ballet’s ballet master,” Jack Anderson wrote in her obituary for the New York Times in 2007. At 14, Davis performed the lead in Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco with Ballet La Jeunesse and even went on a mini-tour to Tijuana. “How incredible is that” Davis said when we spoke. That was an experience she savored and felt extremely lucky to have had.

Portland Ballet artistic director Nancy Davis performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in John Clifford’s Symphony. Photo courtesy of Nancy Davis.

The same year, Davis received a full Ford Foundation scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City where she trained with George Balanchine, Antonina Tumkovsky, Alexandra Danilova, Stanley Williams, and others, and performed in Balanchine’s ballet Metastaseis and Pithoprakta which premiered January 18, 1968. Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell danced the leads. It was “a thrill to dance with the company and be choreographed on” Davis said, about the experience with Balanchine.

While at SAB, Davis also performed in Paquita under the direction of Alexandra Danilova and was the lead in a rock ballet by John Clifford to Iron Butterfly’s In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. Clifford at the time was an emerging protege of Balanchine’s and would later become the artistic director of Los Angeles Ballet where Davis would end up dancing for many years.

After NYC Ballet, Davis danced with The National Ballet of Washington, D.C., directed by Frederick Franklin and Ben Stevenson, where she danced in her first full length classical ballets—Sleeping beauty, Cinderella, and Giselle among others.

Nancy Davis in John Clifford’s Sitar Concerto. Photo courtesy of Nancy Davis.

When The National Ballet folded in 1974 for financial reasons, Davis called John Clifford who, she had heard, had just left NYC Ballet and was starting his own ballet company in Los Angeles. “I was probably 20 maybe just 21, I called John and I said, ‘I’m joining your company, I’ll see you in LA…I thought of myself as kind of a shy person growing up but I wasn’t shy at that moment’,” she said, laughing.

Dancing for The Los Angeles Ballet and for Clifford turned out to be a great fit. Because Davis was a tall dancer at 5’ 9”, she felt that she was better suited for dancing in the neoclassical Balanchine style ballets Clifford favored. “I was in heaven.” she said. “I felt freest in that style.”

During this time Davis met her husband Jim Lane, whom Clifford had recruited from NYC Ballet specifically to partner Davis. After having many roles created for her by Clifford and dancing in many Balanchine ballets for 10 years, Davis watched as the company folded in the mid ‘80’s, to be resurrected four years later as a touring company.

In those four years Davis did a variety of non-ballet related work, but more importantly she became a mother.

When her daughter Lauren was about a year old, Davis came out of retirement to perform in Clifford’s new touring company. “After having a child I just felt so strong…It was just wonderful timing. I was so happy, I thought, ‘My god! I’m dancing again, I have a child, I’m happily married.’ And It was wonderful. It was hard getting back in shape, you know, but I danced pretty much up until I had Lauren. I was doing small jumps up until the day before I had her. I did that for about a year. It was hard on the feet, pointe shoes are so rough on the feet. The hardest part for me was getting my feet back into condition; but I did do a little bit of dancing.”

Nancy Davis and Jim Lane performing with John Clifford’s Los Angeles Ballet. Photo courtesy of Nancy Davis. Photo courtesy of Nancy Davis.

In 1992 Davis and Lane made the move to Portland. In 1993 on August 1, while driving on the Willamette Highway, a 75-foot fir tree broke 10 feet up and fell onto their car, paralyzing Lane and injuring Davis’s neck. “Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the loss. But Jim and I are proud that we were able to turn this around in a meaningful way, a productive way, and make the best of it. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do.”

In 2001, Davis and Lane founded The Portland Ballet. “We wanted to recreate what we had experienced,” Davis said, “rigorous training with compassion, not just for the student but for the whole person.”

Beginning on May 4-5, the advanced company dancers of the Portland Ballet will travel through time performing in a variety of work from the past to the present. The program includes the Sleeping Beauty Vision Scene staged by Anne Mueller after Marius Petipa, Excerpts of the Donizetti Variations by George Balanchine, Excerpts from Schubert Songs by Dennis Spaight, Gloria Duet by Dennis Spaight, Us by Josie Moseley, Everything Slightly Rosy by Anne Mueller, and Secede, a new work by Jason Davis.

Performances this week!

Dancer Michele Ainza in SALT. Photo by Meg Nanna.

SALT
Curated by Shaking the Tree artistic director Samantha Van Der Merwe
May 1-6
Shaking the Tree Warehouse, 823 SE Grant St.

In response to the Trump presidency and its decisive inclusion of hate, exclusion, bigotry, and fear, Shaking the Tree, under the direction of Samantha Van Der Merwe, will present 10 installations by a variety of Portland artists, including dancers, that explore the act of peaceful civil disobedience inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March speech of 1930. On March 12, 1930, Gandhi marched against the British Salt Act of 1882 that prohibited Indians from collecting or selling their own salt while taxing them exorbitantly for the salt they were forced to buy from the British. Gandhi marched to expose injustice and shame the British into ending the Act and its rule over India. Deann Welker for Oregon ArtsWatch previewed the show and interviewed all of the participating artists in Salt on America’s wounds.

SALT includes work by Lava Alapai and Alex Ramirez, Bobby Bermea and Jamie Rea, Namita Gupta-Wiggers, Sabina Haque (featuring Michele Ainza, Subashini Ganesan and Simeon Jacobs) InfinitIndigos, Anya Pearson (featuring Kayla Banks and Tammy Jo Wilson), Christopher Ringkamp, Nelda Reyes and Beth Thompson.

Shaking the Tree has committed to four years of programming (one event per year) that will act as a form of resistance by incorporating voices from threatened communities like women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and environmentalists.

INSTABALLET. Directed by Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan of Eugene Ballet Company. Photo courtesy of INSTABALLET.

#INSTABALLET NO.24
Directed by Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan of Eugene Ballet Company
Performed by the dancers of Eugene Ballet, vocalist Lyn Burg, and pianist Barbara Dzuro
5:30 pm May 4
Capitello Wines, 540 Charnelton St., Eugene
Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk, Capitello Wine, 540 Charnelton St, Eugene
This event is FREE

Reimagining who creates ballets, Instaballet, directed by Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan of the Eugene Ballet company, gives artistic control to the audience. If you have ever wanted to choreograph a ballet or a musical score but aren’t a dancer, choreographer, or musician, now is your chance. Head on over to Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk in Eugene and be a part of the process and make a ballet or musical score on the spot. The creative process begins at 5:30 pm and a performance of the final product will happen at 8 pm. The performance will be accompanied by live music and Eugene Ballet dancers will make themselves available for your creative juices.

If you are interested in learning more about Instaballet and how it came to be, Eugene ArtsWatch correspondent Gary Ferrington wrote about them in 2015 in Crowd-sourced Choreography.

Reed College dancers. Photo courtesy of Reed College.

Reed College Spring Dance Concert
May 4-5
Reed College, Greenwood Theater, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
The Reed College dance program features an evening of choreographic works by students, faculty, Reed community members, and guests.
Choreographers and performers include: Isabel Adesko, Charles Bales, James Caponera, Emily Clark, Rose Cole-Cohen, Saga Darnell, Alli Fatone, Maya Nájera Evans, Raina Garfinkel, Olivia Hasencamp, Hannah Jensvold, Laura Kennedy, Sophia Kongshaug, Erin Lauderdale, Soroa Lear, Miranda Leong-Hussey, Morgan Meister, Sara Parker, Zia Rady, MacKenzie Schuller, Katherine Smrha-Monroe, Amanda Swanson, Vanessa Thiessen, Shelby Williams, and Rika Yotsumoto.

The artists of Tempos Contemporary Circus. Photo courtesy of Tempos Contemporary Circus.

The Space Between
Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 4-6
A-WOL Dance Collective, 513 NE Schuyler St.
Combining circus arts, dance, narrative, physical theatre, and live music, Tempos Contemporary Circus will examine truth as a means to understanding cause and effect. “Each choreographer was given the task of illustrating hidden causes within each dance…”The Space Between” evolved as we realized tracking a cause for every effect was an attempt at narrowing reality to bite-size partial truths” said artistic director Kraig Mead on the Facebook event page. “The space between, as cause and effect, is full of many causes that unite to create one effect. Inevitably, truth is a messy thing,” he said.

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest (HDDT/NW) in Let Alone. Photo courtesy of HDDT/NW.

Let Alone
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest (HDDT/NW)
May 4-5
Pioneer Gas Furnace, 2636 NE Sandy
In the old Pioneer Gas Furnace building, dancers in six, one-person tents, will respond to the need for shelter through an exploration of various states of connection or disconnection. Heidi Duckler Dance Theater/Northwest is a site-specific dance company directed by choreographer Heidi Duckler that is interested in redefining audience performer relationships by positioning dance in unusual places. Performers include: Kya Bliss, Conrad Kaczor, Erin DeLaney, Kiel Moton Nicholas Petrich and Jenny Windom.

The Portland Ballet studio dress rehearsal of Everything Slightly Rosy by Anne Mueller. Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.

Current/Classic
The Portland Ballet
May 4-5
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
See above.

JamBallah NW Friday night showcase at the Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland. Photo by Casey Campbell Photography.

Lost in Perceptions
The Allegro Dance Company, directed by Elise Morris
7:30 pm May 5
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
Scrutinizing humanity, the roles we are forced to take, and our internal struggles against them, Allegro Dance Company, an experimental fusion dance collective presents their second full-length evening production, Lost in Perceptions.

The brainchild of internationally renowned belly dancer Ashley López, currently directed by Elise Morris, Allegro draws on the artistry of each company member as well as the dance styles of many cultural dances. Lost in Perceptions will examine the mystery, pain, and beauty inherent in the human condition through a visually rich, multifaceted, storytelling experience.

Upcoming Performances

May
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 12, Feria de Portland, Espacio Flamenco Portland
May 14, Noontime Showcase: OBT2, Presented by Portland’5
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 17-20, Cypher Culture Conference 2018, hosted by Decimus Yarbrough and Michael Galen
May 17-20, CRANE, The Holding Project, directed by Amy Leona Havin
May 18-19, Framed, Danielle Agami
May 18, The “B” Project, Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 1, #INSTABALLET NO.25, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
June 1-2, J (()) Y by Leralee Whittle and a work-in-progresss by Mizu Desierto
June 2, Passages-The Journey of Our Ancestors, presented by the Tamburitzans
June 3, Shobana’s Trance, presented by Rasika
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 22-23, Recipe: A Reading Test (1983) and Raw Material (1985), Linda Austin
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem
June 29-July 1, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance

July
July 6, #INSTABALLET NO.26, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
July 19-21, RELATIVES // apples & pomegranates, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
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

Comments are closed.