All Classical Radio James Depreist

2022: Dance in the rear view mirror

Jamuna Chiarini considers the resilience, grit, and transcendence of Portland's dance community in 2022.

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The dancers of Dance Theatre of Harlem performed at White Bird in May 2022. Photo by Rachel Neville.

2022 will be remembered as the year that brought hope and heartbreak to Portland’s dance community. Hope as audiences were able to finally return in person to see companies perform live, thereby also renewing confidence in a brighter financial and creative future for the companies themselves. Heartbreak as we lost a longtime leader in our dance community, an aspiring dancer went missing, and two beloved figures announced their retirement. 


2022: THE CULTURAL YEAR IN REVIEW


But, across the spectrum, from classical to contemporary, the dance companies, choreographers, and dancers brought us works that revealed the human experience’s full complexity. They celebrated nature. They worked on healing cultural and racial trauma and awakening the imagination and the heart. They picked apart colonialism, politics, gun violence, death, and loneliness. The works showed intelligence, resilience, and grit. 2022’s dances were invigorating, steadfast in their need to exist, ever-changing, and, yes, full of joy and hope.

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January

As a continued reminder of our temporariness here on earth, 2022 began with the death of Una Loughran, one of Portland’s critical cultural leaders and general manager of BodyVox Dance for the past 20 years. Loughran, age 59, died on January 8 after a short battle with cancer. Deeply loved and highly regarded in the community, Loughran was a professionally trained musician and singer, in addition to being a prolific and impressive arts administrator. For 40 years, she served as a cantor at St. Cecelia and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Churches, where she sang weekly. She was multitalented and generous; her work and spirit deeply impacted the Oregon arts community, and she will be greatly missed. 

Una Loughran looks out the window at BodyVox Dance Center at company artistic leaders Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland in an undated photo. Photo: Michael Shay/Polara Studio via BodyVox.

January also brought uncertain news from the Fertile Ground Festival of New Works and its dance-centric arm, Groovin’ Greenhouse, produced by Polaris Dance Theatre. The 11-day festival that presents world premieres in theater, comedy, dance, and film every January announced that they will take a strategic hiatus for 2023. Because the festival went online during Covid and, in doing so, reduced registration fees for the artists, gave grants, and created donation-based tickets for audiences, the organization no longer had access to the revenue which had funded the project for the past 11 years. The board decided to take some time off and restructure to create a sustainable future for Fertile Ground. Portland artists desperately need more support, not less, so fingers crossed that the festival returns n 2024. 

Polaris Dance Theatre’s film Grains was screened as part of the Groovin’ Greenhouse Fertile Ground Festival. Pictured are the dancers of Polaris Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Fertile Ground Festival.

February

February was just too much, beginning with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ending with the disappearance of a beloved Portland dancer. On February 26, Portland-based transgender ballet dancer Niqola ‘Niqi’ Cavanaugh-De Calderon went missing. She was last seen at a residence on E. Village Loop Rd. in Rhododendron, Oregon. Cavanaugh is a beautiful and striking dancer who performed with Polish/Portland choreographer Agnieszka Laska. Police found her backpack containing her ID, credit cards, and other personal items abandoned at Clackamas Town Center, 40 miles from her last location. Niqi was recently diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and may have been experiencing cognitive impairment. More information is available in the link above.

Niqi described herself in a video documentary directed, edited, and filmed by Bryan Nelson on her trans experience “I’m an artist. A beautiful creature with something unique to offer the world just like everyone else.” She has faced many personal challenges in her internal struggle to self-identify as a professional in an artistic medium that has traditionally placed a premium on defined gender roles and body form. Her journey to transcend gender norms and artistic convention is a testimony of self-affirmation, one which she has emerged from with an inspirational embrace for life.

Niqola ‘Niqi’ Cavanaugh-De Calderon described her experience as a transgender ballet dancer in a video documentary directed, edited, and filmed by Bryan Nelson.

February also brought big news of a changing of the guard at White Bird, Oregon’s most prominent dance presenter. Co-founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe announced that they will be handing over the reins of their operations after 25 years to current executive director Graham Cole in Fall 2023. King and Jaffe will remain as Co-Chairs of the White Bird Board. Cole is originally from Portland and is the son of Gary Cole, co-founder of the theater company CoHo Productions, which began the same year as White Bird. Read more about Cole and his work beyond White Bird in this January profile by Elizabeth Whelan.

The White Bird founding team, from left: Walter Jaffe, Barney the cockatoo, Paul King. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Celebrating new visionaries of dance. Eugene Ballet’s “Uncommon Woman” brought to the forefront dances by five contemporary woman choreographers.

Choreographer Suzanne Haag rehearses the “With Your Own Wings” ensemble, part of Eugene Ballet’s “Uncommon Woman.” Photo: Antonio Anacan.

March

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Carlyn Hudson’s ‘Something Else’ introduced a lightness of being. Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson talks contemporary ballet, long-winded titles, supporting the arts, ballet’s glass ceiling for women artistic leaders, and her newest work.

Still from Carlyn Hudson’s “Chariot” featuring dancers (left to right) Amy Russell, Anna Olmstead, Lupe Martinez, Kailee McMurran, and Lindsay Dreyer. Photographed by the choreographer.

April

April 29 was International Dance Day, a day to celebrate and promote dance worldwide, and it was created in 1982 by the Dance Committee of the I.T.I. The I.T.I., or International Theatre Institute, is a branch of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The Dance Committee of the I.T.I. supports UNESCO’s mission “to build a culture of peace through eliminating poverty, sustainable development, and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication, and information.” 

April 29 was chosen because it is the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre. Noverre has been credited with being the architect of modern ballet. Born in Paris in 1727 to a Swiss soldier in the service of the French Crown, Noverre chose to dance instead of following a military career. He studied dance with M. Marcel and Louis Dupré, making his debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1743.

After a long career as a performer and ballet master at courts around Europe, including a stint as dancing master for Marie-Antoinette at the Paris Opéra, Noverre became dissatisfied with the outdated norms of ballet and called for reforms. Ballet at the time was a spectacle affair that primarily focused on elaborate costumes and scenery. Noverre preferred a more natural approach to ballet, which he wrote about in his famous manifesto Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets (Letters about the dance, and about ballets). Wikipedia translates nicely what Noverre’s Manifestor explored, which you can read more about here. Noverre wanted ballet to embody emotion and passion through free expression, movement, and realistic choreography. What emerged was the hybrid of expression and symbolism that we are accustomed to seeing in ballet today. 

At OBT’s ‘Dreamland,’ a joyous return to the stage. Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers cut loose spectacularly, and the audience cheered to see live performances again.

OBT presented Christopher Kaiser and Eva Burton in Trey McIntyre’s “In Dreams.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

May

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At play in Grammar of the Imagination. Dancer and writer Hannah Krafcik took us inside a two-year project by youth and adult dancers to create a piece inspired by children’s games.

Kids and grownups at dance and play. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

June

Complexions: Dancing like life and death in America. In its White Bird series performance, the contemporary company brought the crowd to its feet with reflections on life outside the theater doors.

White Bird presented Complexions Contemporary Ballet in LOVE ROCKS. Photo: Justin Chao.

Precious cargo, danced from the past. Amy Leona Havin’s newest work with The Holding Project was a vivid and very contemporary stroll down memory lane.

The Holding Project’s “precious cargo (days of old),” a new work by The Holding Project, with dancers Whitney Wilhardt, Heather Hindes, and Carly Nicole Ostergaard. Photo: Amy Leona Havin.

July

On a warm day in Beaverton, all sorts of dancers stepped out to perform on the Tiny Stage – and the effect was big. A photo essay by Joe Cantrell. Ten Tiny Dances, great big steps. 

Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli at Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton on Saturday. Photo by Joe Cantrell.

August

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ArtsWatch dance writer Amy Leona Havin decided that Getting ghosted by Allie Hankins was not a bad thing in her review: Allie Hankins’ “By My Own Hand, Part 1: Ghosting” begins before it begins – and that’s a good thing.

Allie Hankins dancing in front of her line-drawing self-portraits, illuminated by a ghost lamp. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

September

A Portland ballet star moves on to Hong Kong. Xuan Cheng, the principal dancer for Oregon Ballet Theatre, is Hong Kong Ballet’s new principal dancer and ballet mistress. She’ll split the upcoming year between Hong Kong and Oregon and end her 15-year career with Oregon Ballet Theatre with a final performance in La Sylphide in February. 

Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Xuan Cheng has taken a new dual post at Hong Kong Ballet and will split the coming year between Hong Kong and Portland. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

September included a trio of notable anniversaries:

This year, T.B.A. turned twenty! T.B.A. stands for Time-Based Art, the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual festival (September 8-18) of dance, performance, music, comedy, visual art, film, and, new this year, the Night School program. Initiated by artist and curator Kristy Edmunds in 1995, the festival is inherently interdisciplinary, like most dance these days, and champions local, national, and international artists who reflect and respond to our times. It’s a mind-altering, opinion-changing, heart-opening extravaganza of the senses. It’s a chance to reconnect with yourself and with others. 

Portland performance artist Pepper Pepper in NIGHT SCHOOL: Drag Animism and the Cyborg Sissy (PICA-TBA). Photo courtesy of PICA.

This season BodyVox Dance Company, the zany, quirky Portland contemporary dance company directed by Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, turned a quarter-century old! “25 Years of Optimism in Motion!” the company’s website declares, and I couldn’t agree more! Rooted in the dance styles of Momix, Pilobolus, and ISO Dance, the companies in which artistic directors Roland and Hampton worked before creating BodyVox, their choreography combines and experiments with well-known movement languages and other unusual sources like film, circus, mime, and vaudeville. The results are always colorful, comedic, unconventional concoctions of pure entertainment. 

The BodyVox dance company kick up their heels in “Cold Acid Dream” from Pearl Diver Matt Groening. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

And, finally, happy 25th birthday to White Bird, Portland’s most prominent dance presenter, and the sole, dance-only presenter west of the Rockies! In a bold new step – especially in a city whose population is more than three-quarters white – White Bird’s 25th anniversary season takes a deep look with its new We Are One festival at racial inequities in the dance world and the culture at large.

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“SWING OUT,” from New York’s Joyce Theatre, kicked off White Bird’s 25th season. Photo: Grace Katheryn Landefeld

October

NW Dance Project returned for its 19th season with Bolero+. The company presents a trio of dances – a world premiere and two returning works, including Ihsan Rustem’s irreverent reinterpretation of Ravel’s classic. 

NW Dance Project presented Santiago Villarreal and Aika Doone in Ihsan Rustem’s “Bolero”. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

November 

Bringing Dance to the Table: The Potluck of Union PDX’s Festival:22. The fourth annual festival produced by push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs drew dance artists from around the world together for masterclasses, workshops, and performances.

Stephanie Zaletel (SZALT), from Las Vegas, NV, performed “5 basic movements (vagus excerpt)” during Union PDX’s Festival:22. Photo: Jingzi Zhao.

December

Shaun Keylock Company explores experiences of time and memory in “Counterpoints,” a fall production that featured works by Josie Moseley, Jessica Hightower, Nicholas Le-Jurica, and Keylock. The evening reflected Shaun Keylock’s continued commitment to preserving Portland’s history of dance while finding his niche as a choreographer in the future.

“Arm’s Reach” by choreographer Josie Moseley was featured in “Counterpoints” by Shaun Keylock Company. Photo by Henry Cromett.

Oregon Ballet Theatre brings Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® back to the stage with a sparkling rendition. Combining moments of dazzling dancing with whimsical costumes, vibrant sets, and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, the ballet remains one of the most beloved holiday traditions.

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Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, ran through December 24 at the Keller Auditorium. Photo by Yi Yin.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jamuna Chiarini is a dance artist, producer, curator, and writer, who produces DanceWatch Weekly for Oregon ArtsWatch. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., she studied dance at The School of The Hartford Ballet and Florida State University. She has also trained in Bharatanatyam and is currently studying Odissi. She has performed professionally throughout the United States as a dancer, singer, and actor for dance companies, operas, and in musical theatre productions. Choreography credits include ballets for operas and Kalamandir Dance Company. She received a Regional Arts & Culture Council project grant to create a 30-minute trio called “The Kitchen Sink,” which was performed in November 2017, and was invited to be part of Shawl-Anderson’s Dance Up Close/East Bay in Berkeley, Calif. Jamuna was a scholarship recipient to the Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, “Undoing Racism,” and was a two-year member of CORPUS, a mentoring program directed by Linda K. Johnson. As a producer, she is the co-founder of Co/Mission in Portland, Ore., with Suzanne Chi, a performance project that shifts the paradigm of who initiates the creation process of new choreography by bringing the artistic vision into the hands of the dance performer. She is also the founder of The Outlet Dance Project in Hamilton, N.J.

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