oregon ballet theatre

Choreography XX: Gioconda Barbuto and Kevin Irving bring individuality to ballet

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Kevin Irving seeks to bring contemporary dance's individuality to the ballet form and so does choreographer Gioconda Barbuto

Since seeing Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake in February, I have been mulling over what exactly classical ballet is and how it fits into our thinking about both the arts and the society in which they are situated.

In ballet, in general, I am struck by the lack of diversity (specifically the lack of African-American dancers in US ballet companies), the obvious racism and stereotyping within ballet storylines (think Chinese and Arabian dances in the Nutcracker—cultural appropriation at its max), and the general patriarchal point of view of almost every classical ballet. These days we do not think that women need to saved by princes, and we don’t think they should be commodities to be traded for money and power. Moreover, within the ballet world there is a serious lack of female choreographers.

I am not alone in my line of inquiry. Last Friday I sat down and spoke with Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin Irving who is also bothered by ballet’s incongruence with modern day culture. In fact, he altered the storyline of his Swan Lake in February to draw the audience’s attention to some of those aspects. Even more directly, he created Choreography XX, a choreography competition to discover new women ballet choreographers. The two-night concert runs at 7:30 pm Thursday and Friday at the Washington Park Amphitheatre, and admission is free.

“It’s been important to me in a lot of aspects of our programming, to represent ideas and people that are in our community, and so it [Choreography XX] was a mechanism for me to fund more diversity and more female representation,” Irving said. The competition, funded by a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative, was launched last January and received over 90 applicants from across North America. The winning choreographers were Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins.

Interestingly Irving’s dance background is mostly in contemporary dance, which seems to afford him a broader vision to work through these discrepancies and create a new normal for classical ballet within Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Irving also pointed out that “classical ballet is a product of a very strictly organized social hierarchy in which the czar is at the top, and everybody filters down until you have the serfs.” When he looks at classical ballets, he see’s “rows and rows of women who have no individuality, no purpose other than to be background to more important people. And that reflects the society that supported the creation of this art form, and was unquestioned for over 100 years.” Although he loves the beauty in uniformity, Irving is also interested in drawing out individuality in his ballet company.

OBT dancers Jacqueline Straughan and Martina Chavez in rehearsals for Gioconda Barbuto¹s new work for OBT¹s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

Choreographer Gioconda Barbuto, one of the three Choreography XX choreographers, is also interested in bringing the individuality and personality of each artist into the center of her work. “Because my work is so collaborative, it cannot be made without them. So this work represents who they are individually, as individuals, but also as a group.” Barbuto said in our conversation last week under the trees outside Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dance studios overlooking the Willamette River.

Barbuto has had an impressive career. Originally from Canada, she danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre before becoming a soloist with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal where she danced for 16 years. After she thought she was finished performing and was starting to build momentum on a choreography career, she was invited by Jiri Kylian to join Nederlands Dans Theater III in The Hague, Holland, a group of high-caliber dancers, all over the age of 40. She toured internationally with the company for eight years until the company folded, and worked two more years after that with Kylian Productions. Gioconda is featured in two of Jiri Kylian’s award winning films, Birth-Day and Car-Men.

In 1996 she was nominated for a Kennedy Center Fellowship and was the recipient of the Clifford E. Lee choreography award. She is a recipient of several grants from the Canada Council and in 2015 received the McKnight International Choreographer Fellowship.

Gioconda’s choreography has been presented at Ballet BC, Ballet Jorgen, Banff Festival Ballet, Danse Cite, Tangente, L’Agora de la danse, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, BJM Danse Montreal, Alberta Ballet, Minnesota Dance Theater, McKnight Fellowship SOLO Commission (for Abdo Sayegh Rodriguez), Bravo FACT, CBC Canada/Films Piche Ferrari, Ballet Kelowna, The Juilliard School, Arts Umbrella Dance Company, You Dance/National Ballet of Canada, Dutch National Ballet Academy, Nederlands Dans Theater Choreographic Workshop, the National Circus School, and Portland’s Northwest Dance Project, and she has created many solos and group projects for many renowned dance artists.

OBT dancers Jacqueline Straughan and Martina Chavez in rehearsals for Gioconda Barbuto¹s new work for OBT¹s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

When I watch her choreograph, she is electric, on fire, always moving, always showing, always describing what she wants, over and over again. She is inexhaustible. I also observed how deeply involved and invested in the process the dancers were. Trying and trying again, not afraid to make mistakes. Just going for it and going all out.

“I like to have fun in the room,” she said when I asked how she set the mood in the studio to enable the dancers to feel comfortable enough to open up and let go. “If I’m having fun, then I think the dancers are having fun. And I want to have fun, especially now, as you get older, and I want to keep learning right? So I’m not going to do that unless I allow the energy to move forward to create an environment where we’re having fun, and were exploring, and we’re allowed to make mistakes, and there’s no right way to do it.”

Watching from the outside, I can see her process unfolding and how she builds layers of movement, images, and action. “I think of it like painting or sculpting” she says. “You’re building a score, … we’re always throwing down a sketch, a layer, the first notes, the first splash of paint, and then you start the first carve. Your intention was that you were carving this way, but the wood cracks, the clay doesn’t come out the way you wanted, it cracked but you’re thinking, ‘No I’m going to stick with this, look where it took me, let me follow that.’ And then you go with that. This is what I’m hoping I give them: Go with the cracks and see where that takes you, because life’s like that.”

Barbuto’s creative process begins with her own movement vocabulary (built from her incredibly varied performing career), different improvisational tools, object drawing (a verbal technique Barbuto uses to describe the space around the dancers and give meaning and texture to their movement), and a long list of different kinds of songs on iTunes. She uses the music as a way “to magnetize, to emphasize, to get them into a beat or a groove, or a feeling.”


OBT dancer Emily Parker in rehearsals for Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

Referring to the dancers she says, “I want them to work from the experiences and exploration and the push and pull that happens between them, from the process. Everyone is activated by each other because they’re all connected or affected by what happens.“

Inspired by Kylian’s dance company of older dancers, I asked her how she felt about being an “older” dancer,“ which happens to be my own situation. “All of a sudden you find out there’s another level, that it’s really exciting to be an older dancer,” she says. “It’s like everything comes together and then more, and then more. You just can open up, and you can hear things, and you can feel. You understand that mistakes aren’t mistakes. You understand that the way you move has so much history in it, it’s on a cellular level. You understand that your whole body’s moving like everything’s attached, affected, connected.”

Choreography XX: Nicole Haskins stands on the merits

Nicole Haskins has made a sweeping ballet to music by Benjamin Britten for her part of Choreography XX

Choreographer Nicole Haskins may have the solution to the “where are all the women choreographers in ballet?” problem. The dance world has been discussing this question quietly over the past ten years, but the problem has gained momentum in the more mainstream media as of late.

“I think it’s great that people are asking the question, ‘Where are the women?’” Haskins said when we talked over coffee recently, “but I think that falls short of actually addressing the root problem, not even a problem, but the root reasons why there are fewer women. They’re out there. It’s not like there aren’t women out there who are choreographing, but you have to maybe look a little farther.”

That’s right! They’re out there. And three of them have been in Portland for the last four weeks creating new ballets on the amazing dancers at Oregon Ballet Theatre as part of Choreography XX, a choreography competition created by OBT artistic director Kevin Irving, to discover new women ballet choreographers. The free concert is outdoors in Washington Park, Thursday and Friday, June 29-30.

Haskins is one of the three, chosen with Helen Simoneau and Gioconda Barbuto from a pool of 91 applicants from across North America. (I interviewed Simoneau last week, and Barbuto and Irving this week.) So, yes, we may need more women choreographers, but maybe it would help if our companies employed the ones who are already doing the work.

Haskins is a ballet dancer and choreographer originally from Venice Beach, California. Her professional performing career began with Sacramento Ballet, where she danced for seven years, before going on to dance with Washington Ballet and then returning to California to dance with Smuin Ballet in San Francisco. She has been dancing with Smuin for the past four seasons.

OBT dancers Thomas Baker, Kelsie Nobriga, and Colby Parsons in rehearsals for Nicole Haskins’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

Haskins credits her success in choreography to the low-pressure workshops in making new work that both Sacramento Ballet and Smuin Ballet provided to the company dancers. They were free of cost and allowed her time to experiment with her craft. “It’s this idea that to be a choreographer you have to practice choreographing, and you need dancers, time and space. This is especially difficult for dancers who want to become choreographers, because, generally speaking, they cannot afford dancers, time and space .”

After choreographing 20 or so ballets through Sacramento Ballet, Haskins was accepted at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2010, where she created a new work on the advanced students at The School of American Ballet. The following year she received the institute’s Fellowship Grant to create a new work for Sacramento Ballet, and she received another fellowship grant this year to make a new ballet for Richmond Ballet. This past year Haskins was also a chosen as a choreographer at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, a program that promotes experimentation in choreography. Choreographer Tom Gold, whom I interviewed a couple of weeks ago while he was in Portland setting a work on Portland Ballet, was there at the same time as Haskins, and Suzanne Haag, who dances with Eugene Ballet, is there this summer.

“These institutes and workshops and things where you are surrounded by other people going through the same thing as you and doing the same thing as you, are really empowering,” Haskins says. “I always try to seek them out—you can never know too many people or have to many connections.”

I asked her about how she felt about the lack of women choreographers in ballet. “A lot of women in ballet don’t work with women choreographers, so they don’t really necessarily think that they could do that, or know that there would be opportunities for them,” she said. An obvious solution to the problem right there.

“I want to believe that the lack of women choreographers in ballet especially, has a lot to do with the fact that ballet is a sexist sport.” Haskins said. “There are fewer men available, they get away with more, they’re usually the only boy in their school, they usually get scholarships to summer intensives. They are treated differently because we need them.” It’s a culture that women in ballet have accepted, even though they don’t like it.

For women in ballet she says it’s not a lack of confidence. “They have to work really hard to get that promotion. There’s a 100 other dancers waiting in the wings. They’re also in rehearsal more. If you look at classical ballets—Giselle, Act Two, say—there’s two men on stage. The rest of the men are off the whole time, and they have more free time to start choreographing.”

OBT dancers Thomas Baker, Kelsie Nobriga, and Colby Parsons in rehearsals for Nicole Haskins’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

For Haskins she hopes that she “can just be a choreographer, and not have to be a female choreographer. Cause I’m happy to stand there, but at some point it’s like, ‘well is it just because I was a woman and there were ten other men you liked better than me? But because you needed a women, you…’ I would like to be on my own merits as a choreographer.”

As a choreographer Haskins has created ballets to a variety of music, but she is mostly drawn to orchestral music. For her, the choreographic process begins there. “I feel like I’m drawn to music that has it’s own life and personality,” she says. “I feel like it makes my job easier, because it already has its own story, it’s its own emotional arc. I can choose to contrast that, I can chose to go with it. But in my mind, it does so much of my work for me, because it already has its own soul, and I just enhance that with movement.”

Her new ballet is set to the music of Benjamin Britten’s The Illuminations, a song cycle based on prose poems by French poet Arthur Rimbaud. “The orchestration that Benjamin Britten creates is so complex and intense, and goes through so many levels, Haskins explains. “I liked the challenge of this being nine really different tracks of music, and some of them aren’t the smoothest from one to the next, because it’s a song cycle I liked all of those elements combined.” And she pointed out that the variety within the music would be a nice adventure for the audience.

The objective that Haskins is working with is about stretching the dancers abilities, and helping them change the air around them. She is finding that she is interested in atypical aspects of ballet movement. “I tend to find that going into something and coming out of something can be just as interesting if not more interesting. I have not trained in contemporary dance very much, but I think it’s odd that those principles seem to be split in two a lot—that it’s either you’re a contemporary mover and it’s about the movement and where it’s coming from, or you’re a ballet dancer and it’s about the positions. I think that they both can help each other.”

OBT dancers Kelsie Nobriga and Colby Parsons in rehearsals for Nicole Haskins’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX. Photo by Yi Yin.

Haskins biggest artistic influences are George Balanchine and Helen Pickett. “I really liked working with Helen Pickett because she is someone who, as a [former] dancer, is so committed to getting in the trenches with each dancer, and I feel like that’s helped inspire me, that I could give that much back to the other dancers.” Haskins worked with Pickett once at Sacramento Ballet and twice at Smuin Ballet, performing in Petal which Oregon Ballet Theatre performed this season. “She is vivacious and energetic,” Haskins says.

One of the most important things Haskins has learned over time is to be flexible and try not “to control every moment” in the choreographic process, she says. Her hours in the studio have given her confidence, tools, and experience to be able to walk into a professional ballet company like Oregon Ballet Theatre and make a new ballet in just four weeks—a pretty impressive feat.

Haskins’ ballet, which will be performed this weekend, is sweeping, grand, and architectural. It encompasses the attributes of classical ballet like the pointe shoe and the use of line, but goes beyond positions, allowing the limbs and energy to extend, limitless, into the space, creating a larger-than-life effect. But you can see for yourself this weekend at Washington Park—and see why the problem of getting more women choreographers onto our stages is an important one to resolve.

DanceWatch Weekly: Choreography XX in the park

Oregon Ballet Theatre makes for Washington Park, the last Spectacle Garden, the Improvisation Summit, more!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been a lucky, lucky fly on the wall at Oregon Ballet Theatre, watching the making of three new ballets by three, extremely talented women choreographers—Nicole Haskins, Helen Simoneau, and Gioconda Barbuto, the winners of the company’s Choreography XX competition. An initiative created by OBT artistic director Kevin Irving to discover new female ballet choreographers, Choreography XX attracted 91 applicants from across North America, and three were selected to create new ballets for the company.

Because I am curious about the direction that classical ballet is headed and how it relates to the the changing world at large, and the differences in how women lead/direct/choreograph verses men, I asked if I could sit in on the rehearsals and watch and write about it. It was an awesome experience.

Over the first three weeks I spoke with the choreographers about their artistic processes and what they thought about the dearth of women choreographers in ballet. I also sat down with OBT artistic director Kevin Irving to hear about his future vision for the company. You can read Simoneau’s interview here, Haskins interview here, and Irving and Barbuto’s interview here.

In watching rehearsals I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of limitations in what was being created and the borrowing of movement concepts from the modern dance world. I was also surprised at the amount of experimentation that was being asked of the dancers—and how open and comfortable they were with that process. I think being a part of the making process of a dance creates a different relationship between the dancer and the choreography, one that the dancers are much more invested in.

I felt that each choreographer’s way of speaking and the energy each emitted, created a different environment in the studio. That in turn created the environment within the dance. The choices around language, music, the steps, the attack, the imagery, the energy, the focus, and the costumes, are all aspects of who the choreographer is, and it is all reflected in the dance.

I noticed that each choreographer emphasized relationships within their choreography, and that the partnering models moved away from the typical male-female ballet partnering to include same-sex partnerships for both men and women. Also the expectations of what women could do physically within the partnering was altered because of the introduction of contemporary dance partnering principles, which see men and women as equals in physical ability. Seeing women lifting and supporting other women in ballet is new for me.

I also noticed a shared theme of group connection and how the whole group is affected when one person moves. At some point in each piece, the dancers gather and connect in a circular, amoeba-like group, try and move across the room together, and are affected by each other.

Watching these three pieces unfold over the last four weeks has been a completely enlivening experience and has reiterated that the road to successful choreography is about getting into the studio often, getting out of your own way, and letting “mistakes” happen.

Performances this week

OBT dancers Jacqueline Straughan and Martina Chavez in rehearsals for Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX, presented June 29 ­ 30th, 2017 at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. Photo by Yi Yin.

Choreography XX
World premiers by Gioconda Barbuto, Nicole Haskins, and Helen Simoneau
Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 29-30
Washington Park Amphitheater, 410 SW Kingston Ave.
See above.
Because parking at the Washington Park Amphitheater is severely limited, TriMet is encouraging folks to take public transportation to OBT’s Choreography XX performance with this fun video featuring OBT2 dancers Erika Crawford and Daniel Salinas. Don’t forget to get there early to get a good seat.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End, hosted by Ben Martens , 7:30 pm June 30 at The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Image by Cullen Siewert.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End
Hosted by Ben Martens
7:30 pm June 30
The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.

Sadly the spectacle is coming to an end. Ben Martens, who has been curating monthly performances at the Headwaters theatre for over a year now, is calling it quits. This monthly showcase has provided a free platform to experimental performers of all kinds to “work-it-out in real time, in front of a real live audience.” As far as I know, there isn’t another regular showcase of its kind in Portland, so Spectacle Garden will be greatly missed.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End, will be your last chance to catch some of Portland’s finest experimental artists under one roof. The program includes Natasha Kotey, Benja Farber, Elzza Doll, Katherine Rose, Simeon Jacobs, Ben Martens, Patrick McCulley, Laura Blake, Draven, Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, and a sci-fi/music video By Port City’s Project Grow.

As always the evening will continue into the wee hours of the morning with the musical stylings of Amenta Abioto, Phil Stevens, Tig Bitty, and Angel 11.

Martens is a poet, electronic music producer, emcee, mover, organizer and performance artist with an interest in revolution, existentialism, comedy, mindfulness and environmentalism. He studied music and performance at Naropa University and has been studying Butoh with Mizu Desierto since his arrival in Portland in January 2015.

We look forward to future manifestations of Martens combined talents. Until then…dance on.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks performing for a dress rehearsal at the Joyce Theater in Brian Brooks’ Some of a Thousand Words. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Photo by Timothy A. Clary.

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan-a film
A film starring former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan
June 30-July 6 daily 4:30, 8:20
Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave.

This film, directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger, is an intimate, emotional portrayal of prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to leave New York City Ballet after dancing with the company for 30 years. In an interview with Vulture magazine online, Whelan spoke with former Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Mia Leimkuhler, about retirement, sexism, and ageism in the ballet world, and about making the choice to shoot the film: “{…} I’m at a crossroads in the company, I don’t know where I’m going to end up.” {…} I didn’t feel in control of my emotions at the time, because so many emotions were coming and going. It was scary to say how I really felt. Sadness, anger, fear, shame. Those were the big words at the time, and I was feeling those for a couple of years. To expose these feelings in front of a camera felt so foreign. Ballerinas don’t show those things. Ever. That’s just not what we’re taught to do.”

Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017. Photo of Intisar Abioto, courtesy of Danielle Ross.

Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017
Curated by Danielle Ross
Hosted by The Creative Music Guild and Disjecta
June 30-July 1
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Dance/Performance Lineup
Friday, June 30th
7 pm Andrea Kleine and Linda Austin
8:15 pm Danielle Ross, Lisa Schonberg and Heather Treadway

Saturday, July 1st
7:15 pm Carla Mann and Brandon Conway
8:15 pm Andrea Kleine’s Ships w/ Linda Austin, Catherine Egan, Taylor Eggan, Kaj Anne Pepper, Danielle Ross and Noelle Stiles
9:30 pm Amenta Abioto and Intisar Abioto

Opening Friday night, the Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017 will features select members of the Portland dance community in improvised pairings, curated by Portland dance artist Danielle Ross. Since its inception in 2012, the Improvisation Summit, a subset of the Creative Music Guild, has brought together dancers, musicians, filmmakers and other experimental artists to create improvised, one-of-a-kind performances. Ross is interested in shaking up the audience’s relationship with the performance space by introducing movement and by showing how different choreographers play with, and relate to sound. Check out Creative Music Guild’s website for the full list of artist bios and clicking on the artist name.

Jon Peterson as the Emcee and the national touring cast of Cabaret, at Keller Auditorium. Photo: Joan Marcus

Roundabout Theatre Company
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 27-July 2
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
In pre-war Germany, as the Nazis gain power, drama unfold between a young writer and Sally Bowles, a singer at the seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Club. Nightlife is alluring, but dangerous, and times are uncertain. The Emcee, a ghoulish persona, tantalizes the crowd with his raucous, debauched performers, helping them to forget. In the musical’s final scene, as the Emcee is giving his Auf Wiedersehens, Sally Bowles says, “It’ll all work out, it’s only politics, what’s it got to do with us?”

Upcoming Performances

July 5, ARCOS studio showing, ARCOS Dance
July 6, Éowyn Emerald & Dancers
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-15, Rantum Skoot, Linda Austin, Gregg Bielemeier, Bob Eisen (NYC), and Sada Naegelin & Leah Wilmoth
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Rush Hour, Heidi Duckler Dance Theater Northwest
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 26, Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films, Hosted by NW Film Center featuring films by Conrad Kazcor, Fuchsia Lin, Dylan Wilbur Media, Gabriel Shalom, Jackie Davis, and Amy Yang Chiao
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

ArtsWatch Weekly: making it work

You can help us keep the engine running; summer music festivals, "Cabaret" and "The Addams Family," "Baskerville" and more

We have a lot on our minds here at ArtsWatch this week, from the kickoff of the Chamber Music Northwest season to free ballet in the park to a chorus line of Broadway musicals. We’ll get to all of that, and more.

But first, we want to talk about something basic.

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It’s especially key right now, as coverage of the fine and performing arts in other media continues to drop dramatically. ArtsWatch has become the leading source for substantial, informed arts news that you don’t find anywhere else.
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Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Xuan Cheng in rehearsal for Giaconda Barbuto’s new work in “Choreography XX” at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater Thursday and Friday. Photo: Yi Yin



Chamber Music Northwest, Portland’s premiere summer music festival, has just begun its five-week run through July 30, and as Angela Allen writes in her ArtsWatch table-setter, this year’s festival is distinguished by its commitment to the work of women composers, from the 12th century Hilda von Bingen to Clara Schumann and Amy Beach to such contemporary music creators as Bonnie Miksch and Kati Agóks. “About a quarter of the programing, including lectures, rehearsals and concerts, is devoted to women composers,” she writes, and notes: “It’s about time.” And see Brett Campbell’s extended notes below on what’s coming up at the festival this week.

Cabaret. Broadway in Portland brings the touring show of Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning revival of the Kander and Ebb musical to Keller Auditorium for eight performances through Sunday.

Choreography XX. Oregon Ballet Theatre brings two free performances to the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and like this year’s Chamber Music Northwest, the emphasis is on women creators: the program features world premieres from choreographers Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins, all three commissioned by OBT.


Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia and Joe Theissen as Gomez in “The Addams Family” at Broadway Rose. Photo: Sam Ortega

The Addams Family. The musical-theater specialists of Broadway Rose open this puckish Broadway comedy, based on the celebrated macabre cartoons by Charles Addams, on Thursday with a promising cast including the likes of Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia, Isaac Lamb as Uncle Fester, and Joe Theissen as Gomez. Through July 23.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. Not to be outdone in the light-summer-theater sweepstakes, Clackamas Repertory Theatre is getting all mock-mysterious with the intrepid John San Nicolas as Holmes and Dennis Kelly as Watson. Ken Ludwig’s play sports five actors, 40 characters, and who knows how many clues? Thursday through July 23.

Come to the Table, Mike Pence. CoHo Summerfest continues with Shaking the Tree’s invitation to the vice president, who is known to shun dining with any woman who is not his wife. Eve, Salome, and Queen Elizabeth I try to persuade him otherwise. Thursday through Sunday.


Jon Peterson as the Emcee and the national touring cast of “Cabaret,” at Keller Auditorium. Photo: Joan Marcus




Chamber Music Northwest
The venerable summer festival’s opening Tuesday night concert at Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall featured music by three female Romantic composers: Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn and Amy Beach, along with Brahms’s big Piano Quintet. Male Romantics (Chopin, Saint-Saens, early 20th century English composer Benjamin Dale) take over for Thursday’s concert, while it’s tango time Friday and Saturday at Reed College. Sunday’s recommended concert features chamber music by Bartok, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and tidbits by lesser-known composers, while Monday’s show brings Martinu’s Kitchen Revue (in which dinner utensils come to life, musically at least), William Walton’s percussion-powered setting of Edith Sitwell poems Facades, and a major event: the premiere of a new Sextet by one of America’s greatest living composers, Seattle-born Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom, who also contributes his own voice, as does his wife, the admired Portland-born singer Joan Morris, to the concert. Tuesday-Monday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.


Jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski at the Siletz Music Festival.

Siletz Bay Music Festival
The Oregon Coast sounds mighty appealing right about now, and this festival’s second week makes it even more so. Tuesday’s chamber music concert featured Iowa-born composer Ching-chu Hu’s striking Asian-influenced 2013 string sextet “Spheres of Influence” and another sextet by Mikhail Glinka. Wednesday’s show goes light (the venerable film/American music performer/arranger Dick Hyman’s sextet on his In Hot Pursuit (with lyrics by the notable word-player Willard Espy) and Songs from Almanac of Words. Hyman brings another New York-based champion of classic American jazz, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, and fellow frequent Shedd performer Clairdee in Thursday night’s cabaret show and Friday night’s big band jazz orchestra bash. Festival director (and Portland Chamber Orchestra conductor) Yaacov Bergman brings music by the other Mendelssohn, Felix, plus Verdi and great concertos by Shostakovich and Beethoven to Saturday’s orchestra concert, and Tsvi Avni’s The Three Legged Monster to Sunday’s family show. We won’t tantalize you with the great program for Sunday’s sold-out American music show, but tickets remain for the July 4 all-American concert featuring works by Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Leroy Anderson, Carlisle Floyd, and more. Tuesday-Monday, Salishan Resort.

Makrokosmos Project
New York piano duo Stephanie and Saar’s annual Portland new music happening has become one of the city’s go-to gateways to summer. This time it honors the 80th birthday of America’s greatest living composer, Steve Reich, who’s been feted around the world for the past year, with a performance of his classic Six Pianos. Portland Percussion Group also plays a Reich classic and music by another terrific contemporary American composer, Paul Lansky, plus a work by one of Portland’s own finest, Michael Johanson. Pianist Monica Ohuchi plays music by another top Portland composer, Kenji Bunch, and Third Angle New Music’s Ron Blessinger and Susan Smith play a pair of modern classics by one of Reich’s musical descendants, John Adams. You can come and go as you please throughout the five-hour contemporary music extravaganza, held for the first time in one of the city’s coolest recent building reconstructions, the US HQ of the Danish alternative energy company. Thursday, Vestas building, 1417 N.W. Everett Street.

Oregon Bach Festival
The annual Eugene-based extravaganza is smaller this year but still offers much to savor. St. Matthew Passion on opening night features one of the greatest of all choral orchestral masterpieces — and in the ideal place to hear it, Beall Concert Hall, performed by a historically informed orchestra and chorus led by last-minute substitute conductor Scott Allen Jarrett, the OBF Vocal Fellows and Back Bay Chorale director who steps in for OBF music director Matthew Halls — who just flew home to Toronto to be with his wife and newborn son. Halls will return for the festival’s second week. The German Baroque concert on July 1 features Portland Baroque Orchestra music director Monica Huggett, one of the world’s finest historically informed fiddlers, leading performances by J.S. Bach and other composers of his era, including Telemann (regarded in their time as the greatest German composer), Fasch, and more, including Bach’s own son Wilhelm Friedemann. The week features many other performances and events, including some attractive free shows. Thursday-Monday, various venues, Eugene.

David Murray and Kahil El’Zabar
PDX Jazz brings the Grammy winner, one of jazz’s greatest and most prolific (200 albums as a leader and counting!) living saxophonists and the Chicago avant jazz drummer/percussionist for a summit meeting of esteemed improvisers. Thursday, The Old Church.

In Good Hands
Cascadia Composers frees young Oregon music students to perform music of their own time and place in this annual free showcase of music by Oregon composers. Thursday, The Old Church.

Somjit Dasgupta
The Kolkata virtuoso of the rare sarod-like surshringar Indian instrument plays a benefit for the preservation of historic Indian instruments like the one he plays. Thursday, 1141 S.E. 72nd Ave.

Improvisation Summit of Portland
The Creative Music Guild’s annual convocation of spontaneous creation has become an essential Oregon summer arts event, and this year’s lineup may be its most impressive yet, featuring dance masters like Linda Austin, jazz masters like Rich Halley and Blue Cranes Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham, the terrific Seattle drummer and composer Bobby Previte’s Voodoo Orchestra, and many other improvisers from various traditions. Friday and Saturday, Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Piano Push Play Kick-Off Concert
The free annual celebration of pianos that places 10 instruments around Portland for the public to play during the sunny months features a passel of pianos scattered around the art museum courtyard, performances by local pianists, and the opportunity for attendees to try their hands too.
Friday, Portland Art Museum

Marylhurst Chamber Choir
The award winning chorus sings the program it’s taking to a major choral competition in Latvia next month. Friday, Chapel of the Holy Names, Mary’s Woods and Sunday, St. Anne’s Chapel, Marylhurst University.



Nellie McKay
The gloriously witty and unpredictable singer/songwriter brings her new cabaret revue, A Girl Named Bill, which spotlights jazz bandleader Billy Tipton, who performed as a man but was really a woman in disguise. Saturday, The Shedd, Eugene.





ArtsWatch links


Mini Music Fest: a hoot in the heat. Outdoors the sun was sizzling, the bikers were naked, and Mother Nature beckoned. Indoors, the Portland Mini Musical Festival was larking it up with half a dozen new short musicals – just 15 minutes each on average. It was, Brett Campbell reports, a hoot.

Ambrose Akinusire, embracing risk. Trumpeter and composer Douglas Detrick praises the fearlessness and skills the young trumpeter revealed at a PDX Jazz concert: “He runs towards the difficulty, rather than avoiding it.”

Creek College: planting seeds on the Columbia Slough. Hannah Krafcik explores the ripples and tides of an experimental “school” that bridges art and conservation.

A chat with the pianist of Willesden Lane. Alice Hardesty gets the inside word from pianist and actor Mona Golabek, who stars at Portland Center Stage in her own mother’s tale of escaping the Nazis and beginning a musical career.

Northwest Piano Trio: three, four, five. Terry Ross praises the trio’s recent foray into Mozart, Schubert, and Dvorak.


Pam Tzeng’s “’A Meditation on the End’ by Jo-Lee” at the Risk/Reward Festival. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

Risk/Reward: value proposition. Brett Campbell takes a fascinating, in-depth look at both the risks and the rewards of the new-works festival.

Islamabad, on common ground. I go to rehearsal for an inside look at an international work from Theatre Wallay of Islamabad, Pakistan, which is playing a final show Wednesday at Artists Rep in Portland before moving on to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Moon Hooch: danceable complexity. Saxophonist and composer Patrick McCulley praises the technique and pop accessisibility of the New York jazz/experimental trio, which winds its way to Oregon in August.

From trauma to opera: The Woman of Salt. Rachael Carnes tells the backstory of Oregon composer Anise Thigpen’s new opera.

Jason Silva’s furniture music. Jason Silva considers the odd depths and perspectives of the New York artist’s deceptively simple drawings at Ampersand Gallery.


Jason Silva, “2-19-17″/Courtesy Ampersand Gallery



DanceWatch Weekly: Helen Simoneau’s work in progress

Choreography XX at Oregon Ballet Theatre give three women choreographers a voice, including Helen Simoneau

For two weeks now the dancers at Oregon Ballet Theatre have been in the studio rigorously working out new, exciting choreography by Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins. The three talented choreographers were selected in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Choreography XX competition, an initiative specifically created to discover new women choreographers in the male-dominated ballet world.

The three have extensive dance world credits. Barbuto is an Italian-Canadian dancer and choreographer who was a soloist with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and danced with Nederlands Dans Theater III. Haskins works as a freelance choreographer and dances with Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, and she received a fellowship grant to New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute. Simoneau, an independent choreographer and teacher based in North Carolina, is also the founder of Helen Simoneau Danse.

Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX, presented June 29 ­30th, 2017 at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. Photo by Yi Yin.

Since February after seeing OBT’s new Swan Lake, choreographed by artistic director Kevin Irving, I have been mulling over exactly what classical ballet is, and how it fits into the current world view. While watching Swan Lake I was struck by the lack of diversity in the company, and the sexist, oligarchic assumptions in the story line, which may have seemed cute and acceptable as a children’s fantasy once upon a time but now seems wildly out of place. In the real world different cultures struggle to coexist and discrimination is illegal, stereotypes are rude, we are trying to understand the ethics of cultural appropriation, there are no happy dancing peasants (poor people), child brides are illegal and women are not commodities to be traded for money and power, and democracy is the desired form of governance. Are we doing our children a disservice, especially girls, by replaying these classical ballet stories over and over? Can ballet companies escape their dependence on story ballets and their feudal view of the world? And what would replace those ballets?


DanceWatch Weekly: A ballet that might change your mind about ballet

Oregon Ballet Theatre closes its season with "Terra," White Bird's Che Malambo, Le Chic Le Freak and so much more

I had a realization on Saturday night at the Newmark Theatre while watching Helen Pickett’s ultra-bright, Gerbera daisy-inspired Petal, performed by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre. Ballet, like modern or contemporary dance, is experimental, too. And what I was seeing was Pickett’s experiment with time, space, form, color, sound, etc., within the context of classical ballet. She was making choreographic choices different from ballets norm. Depending on your own dance experience, that may sound strange or obvious, but all I’ve ever known of ballet was the classics like Swan Lake and Giselle, works that are tried, true, and proven to be “good” because they have withstood the test of time. Anything outside of those seemed to be considered “other” or “not-ballet.”

I realized that I expect perfection from ballet because that’s what ballet is, an embodiment of perfection and control over the body and its surroundings. Because of that, there is little room for imperfection and experimentation in the form, at least that’s what I’ve come to think, which isn’t really fair to ballet, is it? And where does that leave today’s classical ballet choreographers?

I also realized that I am attached to the formula of classical ballet, the linear storytelling, the gender stereotypes, the patriarchy, the unrealistic happy ending, etc. Even though I don’t love it, it’s what I’ve come to expect, it’s familiar, and yet I claim to be a liberal, modern woman. Go figure. I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago. Seeing Pickett’s work on the program, both Petal and Terra, completely disrupted my belief system surrounding classical ballet, and have in turn jump-started a series of internal questions that I would like to share with you here.

What defines classical ballet? Are the dancers still classical dancers even though they are performing contemporary work? Is that idea fluid? Can a dancer be both a classical and contemporary dancer? Is contemporary work changed by being performed by a classical company and vice versa? Will the definition of classical ballet change as we get further away from its inception, and more and more new ballets are created? How much has it already changed? Why is it so important for ballet companies to define what kind of ballet they do, when almost all of the ballet companies do both classical and contemporary work? Why do people have to define themselves against what they are not? Why does anyone try to define themselves at all? When do new classics get created? What will audiences in 100 years consider classical ballets? Will there be ballets created now that will be added to that roster? Was I seeing work this weekend that will stand the test of time and be considered a classic someday?

ArtsWatcher Martha Ullman West was at Terra opening night and gives her review here.

Terra, the final program of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2016-2017 Season of Giants concludes this weekend with three more performances, closing on Saturday night.

Other experimental works happening around Portland this weekend, include the touring production of the Jersey Boys, new works by XPOSED choreographers Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, Barbara Lima, and Jess Zoller at Polaris Dance Theatre, Butoh with Mari Osanai from Japan through the Butoh College Performance Series at The Headwaters Theatre, student performance at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Le Chic Le Freak (an ode to the Disco era by Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company), collaborations between dancers and musicians at Reed College and at New Expressive Works, and Che Malambo, the dancing Argentinian cowboys presented by White Bird.

Performances this week

Photo courtesy of Jersey Boys.

Jersey Boys
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
April 18-23
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
You can’t have musical theatre without dance, and Jersey Boys, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo, is no exception to that rule. This dancin’ in the aisles, sing-a-long trip down memory lane story follows the quick rise to fame of the 1960’s rock band, The Fours Seasons and includes familiar songs such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry,  Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Pacific Dance Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Pacific University Department of Theatre & Dance.

DanceWorks XIV
Pacific Dance Ensemble
Pacific University Department of Theatre & Dance
April 20-22
Tom Miles Theatre at Warner Hall, 2043 College Way, Forest Grove
Celebrating its 14th season, Pacific Dance Ensemble will feature choreography by dance department faculty members James Healey, Mary Hunt, Anita Mitchell, and artistic Director, Jennifer Camp and student choreographer Annalise Nilson.

Martina Chavez and Colby Parsons in Duacho’s “Jardi Tancat.” Photo: Emily Nash

Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-22
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Celebrating the warmth and earthiness of Mediterranean culture, ritualistic dance, and the return of spring, Oregon Ballet Theatre concludes its 2016-2017 Season of Giants with Terra, a program that features a world premiere by former William Forsythe dancer Helen Pickett, itself called Terra, and two dances by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato; Jardí Tancat, Duato’s first choreographed work from 1983 and El Naranjo (The Orange Tree), a sensuous pas de deux from a larger work called Gnawa.

Mysticism, Modernity, and Motion
Reed College Performing Arts
7 pm April 21
Reed College Performing Arts, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
Exploring themes of minimalism and pandiatonicism, the Reed College Chorus and Collegium Musicum, in collaboration with the Reed Dance Department, presents an evening of music and dance conducted by John K. Cox. The program includes music by by Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Erik Esenvalds, Philip Glass, Olivier Messiaen, David Lang, and Gustav Holst.

Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company in Le Chic Le Freak.

Le Chic Le Freak
Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company
April 21-22
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St
Celebrating the birth and evolution of Disco, Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company presents Le Chic Le Freak, a comedic and thought-provoking work that combines pole dancing, acrobatics, and dance in the vision of artistic director and company dancer Shannon Gee.

Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Robert Guitron, M’Liss Quinnly, Gerard Regot, (Spain), Barbara Lima (Brazil), and Jess Zoller.
Polaris Dance Theatre
April 21-29
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave
Polaris Dance Theatre presents new dance works from choreographers Barbara Lima from Brazil, Spanish dance artists and current company member Gerard Regot, founding company member M’Liss Quinnly and artistic director of Polaris’s Junior and Neo companies, current company member Jessica Zoller, as well as two new works by artistic director Robert Guitron.

The works consider ideas of community, individualism against universalism, and politics, playing with energy, group dynamics and the architecture of the body and bodies.

Butoh dancer Mari Osanai. Photo courtesy of Mari Osanai.

Mari Osanai
Butoh College Performance Series
April 22
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NW Farragut St
Influenced by Tai Chi, Western dance methods, and traditional folk dances of Japan, Butoh dance artist Mari Osanai, from Aomori, Japan, finds connections between the mind, gravity’s influence on the body, and the body’s connection to the earth, in her dance research and performance.

Annual School Performance
The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
Choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper, and Anthony Jones
April 22-23
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
The annual showcase of The School of Oregon Ballet will feature Oregon Ballet School students and OBT2 dancers in works by George Balanchine, Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte, former OBT dancer Alison Roper, and school director, Anthony Jones.

Jazz Collaborations at New Expressive Works.

Jazz Collaborations
Dayna Stephens, Tom Sandahl, Okropong, and Shape Theory Project
Co-produced by New Expressive Works (N.E.W.) and Loose Wig Jazz
7:30 pm April 23
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St (in the WYSE Building)
A collaborative evening between jazz tenor saxophonists and composer Dayna Stephens, guitarist Tom Sandahl, and musicians from the Obo Addy Legacy Project alongside dancers Amanda Morse, Kelly Koltiska, Ivy Farrell, Jana Zahler and Ruth Nelson from the Shape Theory Project led by Ruth Nelson.

Che Malambo presented by White Bird/Photo by Diane Smithers

Che Malambo
Presented by White Bird
April 25-26
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Che Malambo is an all-male, Argentinian dance company that has adapted the dance style of the gaucho, or South American cowboy of the pampas, for the contemporary stage. Movements that were originally designed to emphasize agility, strength, and dexterity among the gauchos is now high-energy choreography featuring rhythmic footwork, drums, singing, and musical accompaniment.

Upcoming Performances

April 27-29, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, Hosted by the Jefferson Dancers
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 29, Yuko Kaseki, Butoh College Performance Series
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 29, Yuko Kaseki (Berlin), Butoh College Performance Series
May 4-7, Direct Path To Detour, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5, Alice Gosti showing and reception, Hosted by Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance
May 6, Place, Vitality Dance Collective
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Chickens and Cheese Pizza, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Critical Engagement Series with Lu Yim, hosted by Flock Dance Center/Tahni Holt
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 13, Feria de Portland, hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
May 13, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anjali School of Dance
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.