Tapping into memory

Portland Tap Company debuts with "The Man Who Forgot"

“Your stories go on, but who are you?” Kelsey Leonard mused as we discussed the history and future of tap dance in a coffee shop last week.

Leonard, who founded the Portland Tap Alliance in 2015 with Pamela Allen and Erin Lee, has herself played a role in the story of tap. The Alliance was designed to promote, preserve, and celebrate tap dance in the Pacific Northwest and globally; since its founding, it has produced an annual three-day festival bringing tappers from around the world to Portland. And now Leonard is serving as artistic director and co-choreographer of the Portland Tap Company, a group of seven tappers from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. The brand-new company will make its debut this weekend at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts with a premiere of The Man Who Forgot.

The Portland Tap Company debuts this weekend with “The Man Who Forgot.” Photo by Nicholas Teeuwen

It seemed fitting that Leonard and I were having our conversation in person. Most of tap history lives on through verbal communication in tap classes and festivals across the nation, Leonard explained, adding that it’s normal for tap instructors to emphasize the importance of tap’s influencers by calling on students to speak their names: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, Charles “Honi” Coles. The Man Who Forgot explores the power of memory by evoking those who laid the groundwork for tappers and artists alike today.

The title refers to a recording of short-fiction writer Neil Gaiman’s The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, a 15-minute musing on memory, friendship, and the power of a name that Gaiman gave the Farenheit 451 author for his 91st birthday. The Portland Tap Company program includes excerpts from the recording, integrated into a score created by the Josh Rawlings Trio, in collaboration with Leonard and co-choreographer Jesse Sawyers. The Seattle-based trio, led by Grammy-nominated pianist Josh Rawlings. plays everything from jazz to blues to feel-good pop. Having a score created around the tappers is a luxury, Leonard noted, as is having the group play live at this weekend’s performance.

The Josh Rawlings Trio (left to right: Nate Omdal, Josh Rawlings, Adam Kessler) plays live for the Portland Tap Company’s debut show.

Leonard and I talked about how tap, much like jazz music, has historically been a form of communication in and of itself. Tap, she noted, has black roots dating back to the 1700s, when West African and Irish indentured servants’ cultures mixed in an uprising against plantation owners. The rhythms of Irish dance footwork and West African drumbeats cross-pollinated, and tap took root. Slaves working on plantations began communicating with one another using rhythmic foot patterns.  Nowadays, in jazz jams and tap classes, the back-and-forth musical and rhythmic exchange still hews to that same alternative form of communication. And as with jazz music, tap’s continuity depends on well-versed artists whose improvisation draws from the masters who created the art form. The Portland Tap Company created The Man Who Forgot with tap’s forebears in mind.

The company’s performers include Leonard and Sawyers themselves, along with Portland’s own Bethany Reisberg, MaKaeyla Pool, and Sarah Brahim, whose work you may have seen in New Expressive Work’s latest residency cycle. Pamela Allen, Funmi Soflola, and Sawyers are based in Seattle, Washington, and Julianna Oke is from Vancouver, B.C.

The Portland Tap Company will trip down memory lane this weekend, using two of America’s strongest cultural staples–tap dance and jazz music–to explore our capacity to remember the past and carry information forward. And, too, the company will capture the fleeting yet magnificent nature of being human.  

 

 

 

 

Composing in the Wilderness 1: tundra tapestry

Three Oregon composers journeyed to the Alaskan wilderness, and returned with new music and new perspectives

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: Now in its sixth year, the Composing in the Wilderness program led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, is a joint venture between Alaska Geographic, Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Denali National Park, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Nine composers — three from Oregon this year — spend four days in Denali National Park, accompanied by scientists and naturalists as they draw inspiration from the wildlife, geology, scenery, and adventure of their surroundings. They are then flown by bush plane to the remote Coal Creek Mining Camp in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve where they spend four more days in intense composition. Finally, they are flown to Fairbanks where they join the other participants at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, where their pieces undergo a few days of intense rehearsals, and then are premiered in Denali National Park and in Fairbanks.

The final concert included Brent Lawrence’s On Distant Hills, Christina Rusnak’s Tundra Tapestry, and Jennifer Wright’s From the Darkness, We Sing the Mighty Land into Being. The three pieces, composed in less than a week, focused on the vastness of the mountains, the tiny detail of the tundra plant life, and the magical nature of the wilderness. ArtsWatch asked the three Oregon composers to share their response to this unique experience. Stay tuned for Brent Lawrence and Jennifer Wright’s reports next week.

When I decided to attend Composing in the Wilderness for a third time this year, many people asked me why. Mostly, I was going again because I needed to.

Portland composer Christina Rusnak at Composing in the Wilderness 2017.

At age 12, I wrote a song titled “A piece of Wilderness.” Who knew how prophetic that song would become for me? In college, a field botany class in Big Bend National Park literally changed my life. I gained a greater appreciation for nature and became a passionate hiker. So, when I met composer Stephen Lias in 2009 and heard his presentation of his first National Parks piece, River Runner – about the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, I realized that a significant part of my compositional path would be to compose for, and about, nature, wilderness and place.

When Lias launched Composing in the Wilderness in 2012, I eagerly signed up. Actually, I may have been the first to sign up. My blogs for that trip and for my second foray in 2013, are filled with nearly daily details of the my awe and adventures, of the weather, the scientists, their stories, and of the challenge to compose something meaningful in such a short time span. In 2012, only eight days separated our first step in Denali and the concert! The compositional process, with such a tight time frame, is arduous. Fortunately the Alaska summers are accommodating. (Editor’s note: Listen to Rusnak’s first CitW composition, Flow.)

Since then, I’ve composed for a National Monument, four National Parks and Preserves, a National Forest, a Wild and Scenic River and Oregon State Parks. My personal ethos and actions match my creative output. I’ve written articles and given presentations at the Intertwine Alliance and at the University of Iowa on the importance of Music, Place and Nature. Our public lands are a treasure that requires our care. But going to CitW for a third time? What was I looking for?

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DanceWatch Weekly: Tap, flamenco, modern and Tom Gold on ballet

Choreographer Tom Gold talks about Twyla Tharp, ballet marketing and his work for The Portland Ballet

I recently sat down with choreographer and former New York City Ballet soloist Tom Gold to talk about his work Festival Russe for The Portland Ballet’s upcoming Spring show, which opens Friday.

The evening features four works representing the stylistic changes in classical ballet from 1909 to today. They are Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides; excerpts from George Balanchine’s Who Cares?, staged by John Clifford; Festival Russe by Gold; and Abandon All Plans, a commissioned world premiere by former BodyVox dancer Lane Hunter.

Gold and I discuss everything from his choreographic process, to working with renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, to politics in the ballet world. That conversation unfolds below.

But first, in other Portland dance news…

Dancing In The Rain!, a multigenerational performance directed by Harriet Cuttler in collaboration with the Hollywood Senior Center’s Funky Grooves dance class, uses movement to engage in ideas of release, resilience, and resistance in the body over time, opens Friday.

Also opening Friday is the New Expressive Work’s residency performance, a program that takes place twice yearly, showcasing the work of four new choreographers each time, directed by Subashini Ganesan. This round will feature choreographers Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf and Michael Galen.

The N.E.W. residency is an invaluable component to our community and the support of dance making. I wrote about it extensively in December 2016, and you can read all about it here.

PDX Dance Collective, a revolving collective of dance artists ongoing since 2009, presents an evening of dance works by six of its company members alongside six guest artists from Portland’s larger dance community. The artists showing work will be: April MacKay, Hannah Downs, Ismael Soñanes, Katelyn Kollinzas, Rachael Singer, Zahra Garrett , Alicia Cutaia, Amelia Unsicker, Dar Vejon Jones, Kya Bliss, Olivia Camfield and Vitality Dance Collective.

The Portland Tap Dance Festival, founded in 2015 by Pamela Allen, Erin Lee, and Kelsey Leonard, will feature classes and a performance by faculty members and leading names in tap from Portland and beyond. The faculty—Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, Brenda Bufalino, Ted Louis Levy, Terry Brock, Derick Grant, Joseph Webb, Sarah Reich, Karida Griffith, Jessie Sawyers, Danny Nielsen, and Charles Renato—will be accompanied by the Josh Rawling Trio and Farnell Newton.

And lastly, Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland finish out their season with La Peña: ¡Baila, Canta, Toca!, features dancing from Portland flamenco dancer Brenna McDonald with guest guitarist Jed Miley (Seattle), piquant cantaor Pepe Raphael, and Espacio Flamenco Portland’s Christina Lorentz, Lillie Last, and Nick Hutcheson.

It’s going to be a marvelous weekend. Enjoy!

Performances this week

Dancing In The Rain!
Hosted by Portland State University Art and Social Practice
6:30 pm May 26
Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave.

6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase hosted by PDX Dance Collective, May 26-28. Photo of Vitality Dance Collective, courtesy of PDX Dance Collective.

6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase
PDX Dance Collective
May 26-28
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.
An evening of dance works by April MacKay, Hannah Downs, Ismael Soñanes, Katelyn Kollinzas, Rachael Singer, Zahra Garrett, Alicia Cutaia, Amelia Unsicker, Dar Vejon Jones, Kya Bliss, Olivia Camfield and Vitality Dance Collective.

Who Cares?
Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballets Russes
The Portland Ballet
Featuring work by Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, Tom Gold, and Lane Hunter
May 26-27
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Untitled Work in Progress by Jessica Kelley, performed by Suniti Dernovsek and Noelle Stiles. N.E.W. Residency performance, May 26-28. Photo courtesy of N.E.W.

N.E.W. Residency performance
Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
Directed by Subashini Ganesan
Fieldwork sessions facilitated by Katherine Longstreth
May 26-28
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.

Portland Tap Dance Festival
Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
Faculty Performance
8 pm May 28
Lewis & Clark-Evans Music Hall Auditorium, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd.

La Peña: ¡Baila, Canta, Toca!, 8 pm May 27. Photo of Nela McGuire, courtesy of La Peña Flamenca de Portland.

La Peña: ¡Baila, Canta, Toca!
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
8 pm May 27
Artichoke Music, 3130 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Interview with Tom Gold

My conversation with Tom Gold began with learning about his connection to Portland, which began in 1999 when then-Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director James Canfield invited him to guest in “Romeo and Juliet.” When Christopher Stowell took over the company Gold was invited back to create a piece on the second company and stage a Twyla Tharp work. This is when he met Anne Mueller, who now directs The Portland Ballet alongside co-founder Nancy Davis.

I was immediately curious about what his experience had been like working with Twyla Tharp. Gold said that he danced with Tharp when he had free time from New York City Ballet. “Mostly I just liked to go into the studio with her and have her make new material on me cause that was fun.”

What was that like?

Crazy, insane. Really exciting because it’s more cerebral than actual pleasure. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Basically, you’ll go into the studio and she won’t speak and she’ll just start moving and go…( Tom is wildly gesticulating at different body parts) like mime, look at my feet, look at my head, no, you’re not doing it right. And then she’ll be like, “What did you think of that” after three hours of no speaking. And you’re like, “Yeah, I like this, and I like that.” And she’s like, “Come back tomorrow.” And she just starts creating these pieces.

I always had a good relationship with her because I think she’s really funny, she’s really smart. [ ]… She’s a very demanding person and not always the easiest to work for. But I always just enjoyed the work, and pleasure, and never got caught up in the other stuff. And also it wasn’t my primary job, so I wasn’t depending on her for my main salary. So I think that took a little of the pressure off.

Twyla has always loved classical ballet. That’s always been her interest, her love, her passion. Her first company, which was very contemporary, ballet was the basis for what became the Twyla Tharp movement. Where she took all of that movement and started putting it all on pointe and adding more ballet vocabulary within it. She was building ballet pieces on us for other companies or for her to sell or for her group, because we went on tour a couple of times. Whenever she needed bodies to create on, I was always available. It was really fun, we had a great time.

Could you tell me about your new work for Portland Ballet?

This piece, “Festival Russe,” was created originally for Ballet Academy East in New York. They had a program called “To Russia With Love,” and all the pieces had to have a Russian theme.

My process is that I usually start with the music, so I basically Googled Russian composers and all of this glorious classical Russian music came up and that inspired me to make a piece as an homage to the original Ballets Russes with my own contemporary movement in it. So each movement is kind of reminiscent of some old classical warhorse ballet that you’ll see but with more syncopation and some jazzier movements and some kind of modern ballet steps in there.

What is your ballet-making process?

Usually I look at who I have in front of me, and I try and create a piece for them because in the end they are going to be up there on the stage and they have to be comfortable but it also has to be something that the audience is going to connect with and engage them. First and foremost, what we do is entertainment, and if you are not entertaining an audience, whether that’s making them laugh or cry, I think your mission is kind of gone. So, I take all of this into consideration and then my voice is in there, too, the kind of movement I like, the kind of dancing I like, the kind of dancers I like to see do it, so it’s those three components come together. So when I go into the studio, I have an idea of what I want to see, but I never really know until I start working with the dancers to see what they are capable of and what they can do.

What is classical ballet? Why do ballet companies differentiate between contemporary work and classical work?

In the end it’s a gimmick, it’s a selling point really. It’s all classical ballet. Whether you are moving to contemporary music or you’re doing more contemporary movements on point, it’s still classical ballet vocabulary and steps. I think it does make it easier when someone is sorting through a program—“oh, this is going to be classical, Swan Lake, “oh this is going to be contemporary Billy Forsythe”—to help you if you maybe don’t know a lot about dance and what your particular taste is or what you might be geared towards. You could say classical is more narrative and contemporary is more abstract, but that doesn’t really hold up either. It’s just ballet in the end, it really is. We’re all doing the same steps, we are all speaking the same languages. And that’s why ballet dancers can do all of these different styles because there is that basis of language and vocabulary to work from.

Ballet companies are trying to perform a broad range of styles which includes ideas from modern dance, but the dancers don’t train in modern dance, and it makes the pieces look less authentic to me. What do you think about this?

That’s a very good question. At City Ballet I think I worked with every contemporary modern choreographer because modern and contemporary choreographers are drawn to ballet: one, because you can make more money working with these companies because there’s more money in classical ballet, but two, the technique is so strong and different. It’s not that I want to downplay modern or contemporary dance because they have such beautiful movement qualities, but with ballet you get those shapes as well, the pointed toes, the articulation of the legs. Where I do see a difference—and it’s not all modern, because Cunningham wasn’t like this,—but a large part of modern contemporary is more about the movement and feeling, and they’re not so concerned with what your feet look like or what your arms are doing. It’s really about expressing a feeling along with the movement.

I do think a big important thing is the choreographer themselves. When they come into the room, they need to show the dancer the style that they are working in. A lot of times it can be very intimidating going to these ballet companies, if you are a contemporary modern choreographer, and just bring something you would do for your company and put it on a ballet company. And I think that’s kind of wrong, too, because what does it have to do with ballet? Where is your voice in this experience? The process should be about you doing something new, and the dancers doing something new. Instead of going “I’m just going to slap this onto you.”

That happened a lot at City Ballet. These modern choreographers would makes pieces and just set them on us. And then there’s this whole part that’s missing where you don’t even get to really experience what it’s like working with that choreographer or them making something in their style and taking your style into consideration, too. I am always aware of that when I’m working with people because that’s why I want it to be about them and express who they are as well as expressing my voice.

Yeah, I do think that’s what missing a lot of times. It’s exciting to get a Forsythe, or a Martha Graham or a Cunningham or some of these great things, but if there’s not someone there to work with the dancers to make it look the way it should, then it’s kind of a wasted experience. And I think the audience goes, “Well, I think this kind of looks fraudulent, it doesn’t feel authentic to me.” I mean, they get that.

The dancers are so hungry they want to work with these legends and these people, and then when they miss out, it’s kind of like they go, “Then why am I doing this?” And then their energy is bad and then you see that on the stage because their not really committing the way they should. It’s like a circle.

How do you feel about the ideas in the classical ballets that are no longer accepted in society?

That’s why people like Matthew Bourne are making an all-male “Swan Lake” or they’re taking contemporary themes and incorporating them into these old standard warhorse ballets—because we do live in a different time. And you know women are empowered, they’re not swans, they’re not sylphs anymore; they have a voice and we need to express what’s happening in the world, on the stage as well.

What are your thoughts on the lack of women choreographers in Ballet?

It’s true; there really are no female ballet choreographers. I think they do need to encourage more. But, also, if you look at a woman who is going to become a ballerina, she focuses on that 100 perfect. She’s not thinking, Oh I’ve got 5 minutes; I’m going to go choreograph something. Until that kind of mentality changes…

I would say 90 percent of the women that work in ballet world are coming from the modern contemporary field. Like Twyla, Pam Tanowitz, Molissa Fenley, Aszure Barton, Crystal Pite, she’s the big one, they are all coming from the contemporary field because they don’t have that “I’m a ballerina and this is what I do.” You know?

I don’t know why that is, I don’t know why these companies aren’t pushing them more or trying to find those voices because it is a strong voice and it is nice to see that side. Because women have different perspectives and different views, it should be out there. I think about this a lot because people ask it all the time about the whole sexism (in dance) thing. […] It’s all about marketing, and money and business. Nobody’s thinking, I want to encourage and nurture this. That’s kind of the last thing. How are we going to make the most money. What can we exploit and market. You know, it’s frustrating. It’s about the art, but without the money you can’t have the art.

How did you become a choreographer?

I was fortunate enough to go to a high school for the performing arts [in Chicago]. There were classes in dance composition. I was very fortunate to have that kind of experience— dance history, dance theory, dance composition—where I was able to explore at a very early age, improvisation, different styles of movement. Having that freedom without having a mass critical audience coming at you. And then I came to New York, I put that on the back burner because I wanted to focus on my dancing. And then I started picking it up again because it was a strong voice in my head. I would see things, I would hear music and I would have a response, and I thought, “I want to express this through music.”

So in 1998-99, I would start to make small pieces, and that grew into more experiences and people started to hear about it and I got little opportunities here and there. And then when I left NYCB[..] I thought, just make your own company then you can make the work you want and you can work with the kind of dancers you want and have the environment you want. It’s very nurturing and loving and wonderful and serious.

I’ve been really lucky. People have given me great opportunities. I’ve choreographed some operas, some theater, some television. I do love having all of these vehicles to do choreography in. I think it makes me a more well-rounded choreographer. Especially working with people who are not trained dancers, because you have to think in a different way about how they move, and that’s really interesting to me.

Performances next week

June 1, Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital, Jefferson Dancers
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, Trip the Dark Dance Company

Upcoming Performances

June
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 14-15, SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
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

Dance is a global affair this spring, a series of international alliances and cultural collaborations that we can enjoy both in person and from afar.

Merce Cunningham centennial celebrations are in full swing all over the world and will continue throughout the summer. (Cunningham’s actual birthday, April 16, saw dancers in London, L.A., and New York City performing his work in a live stream of Night of 100 Solos). The Bolshoi, meanwhile, continues its live streaming series with that most Russian of ballets, Petrushka, showing this month in local theaters with a Cuban partner, Alfonso Alonzo’s Carmen Suite (see below). Not to be outdone, Eugene’s Ballet Fantastique is offering a live broadcast of its world-premiere work Cleopatra (see below). And BodyVox returns with the Contact Dance Film Festival, featuring shorts and feature-length dance movies created by choreographers from all over the world (see below).

On local stages, you’ll find a full complement of dance styles and traditions, sometimes intersecting in unexpected ways. To wit: our first entry.

International and cultural dance styles

Dormeshia Sumbrey-Edwards. Photo by Eduardo Patino

Tap dancer Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards finds commonalities with kathak dancer Seema Mehta at Interwoven. Photo by Eduardo Patino.

Interwoven: Kathak/Tap, and Sitar
Featuring Seema Mehta, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Josh Feinberg, and Nilan Chaudhuri
May 5
Old Church, 1422 SS 11th St.

In April, White Bird brought us Savion Glover, one of tap’s brightest lights. This month we’re treated to another: the Bessie Award-winning hoofer Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Like Glover, she’s a veteran of film (Tap, Bamboozled) and Broadway (Black and Blue, Bring in Da’Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk), and her appearance is one of the better kept secrets on the Portland performance calendar.

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DanceWatch Monthly: April dance in full bloom

What's happening in Oregon dance now

“And spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant

Welcome to DanceWatch for April.

Last year at this time, I was in Japan, and everywhere you looked there were cherry trees with cascading pink flowers, and countless people posing for photos beneath them. In Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of Kyoto, spring celebrations were in full swing. The Hozu River, which runs from the mountains down into Kyoto, is lined with cherry trees. Large families with young girls dressed in colorful kimonos were strolling in the warm air along the banks, taking pictures under the trees, shopping, eating ice cream, and socializing late into the evening. It was idyllic.

Until that time, I don’t think I had ever experienced spring in quite this way before. The slower pace, the appreciation of nature, of the season, of family and tradition; it was all so beautiful, it made me euphoric.

I offer you this month’s performances as an embodiment of this experience, and of spring. April’s dance performances are full of new life, fresh ideas, and boundless energy. Enjoy!

International and cultural dance styles

Bharatanatyam guru Shubha Dhananjay and  daughters Maya and Mudra channel the divine in “Srinivasa Kalynam.” Photo courtesy of Yashaswini Raghuram.

Srinivasa Kalyanam
Presented by HECSA Portland Balaji Temple
Choreography by Shubha Dhananjay, artistic director of Natyantharanga
4:30 pm April 6
Canby High School, Richard R. Brown Fine Arts Auitorium, 721 SW 4th Ave., Canby

Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form that originated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. is known for its grace, elegance, expressiveness, and sculptural poses. Look for all of these in the dance drama Srinivasa Kalyana, which tells the story of Lord Vishnu’s descent to earth to spread love and devotion in the age of Kaliyuga (also known as the age of quarrel). The drama culminates in a royal wedding between Lord Vishnu and Princess Padmavati, and ends with Lord Vishnu taking the form of the deity Venkateshwara. (To read the full story, click here.)

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DanceWatch: A rich cultural stew

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Welcome to DanceWatch for March, the month that enters like a lion and retreats like a lamb, or so they say. While it’s still cold and dark outside, you can think of this month’s dance offerings like a warm winter stew: hearty, rich, varied, and soul-soothing. And don’t forget that spring is a mere 22 days away!

Let’s start this month’s column with Native American dance. Last fall, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art caught my attention with this statement in its Time-Based Art catalog: “The land now known as Portland rests on the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia (Wimahl) and Willamette (Whilamut) rivers.”

I didn’t know this. Did you? I was struck. I rarely hear about the native tribes of Portland and the surrounding areas and I even more rarely see dance representing these cultures. I feel weird about this. I can’t go back to not knowing. In fact, this information made me want to learn more about Native American dance artists in Oregon and beyond, and recently, I did.

This past Sunday, I attended the Alembic artist performance at Performance Works NorthWest, where choreographer Olivia Camfield, a resident artists and a Muscogee Creek Tribal member from Texas Hill Country, choreographed and performed a powerful contemporary piece about indigenous people reclaiming their narratives. She welcomed everyone with this statement, a reminder to be respectful when we’re visiting someone else’s territory.

“Hensci (hello), estonko (how are you), Olivia Cvhocefkv Tos (my name is Olivia). I come from the Muscogee Creek nation of Oklahoma. Originally we come from the southeastern region of this continent. I would like to acknowledge that I am a visitor here today and in the spirit of reciprocity, I would like to bring medicine and movement prayer to this land and the people of it. These nations include the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala Bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya, and many other indigenous nations of the Columbia River valley region. I would like y’all to acknowledge whether you are a settler occupier of this stolen land, an indigenous visitor, or you are of this land and this is your ancestral territory. I would like to ask to come here and be in a good way and walk this land as a caretaker and a medicine giver. I would like y’all to do the same, be here in a way that is respectful and honorable to the people and spirits who have taken care of this land since time immemorial. Mvto (thank you).”

Continues…

It’s all about shoes this week. Dance shoes to be exact, and tons of them, too. Tap shoes, jazz shoes, pointe shoes, and stilettos. It’s a busy week in Oregon dance. But I’m particularly excited by a pair of sneakers inspired by the work of Portland-based dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Linda Austin. Portland interdisciplinary artist Tiffany Lee Brown designed the shoes through Cultivator as a fundraiser for Austin and Performance Works NorthWest, the dance/performance space Austin runs with husband, lighting designer Jeff Forbes. Austin has been making dances and working tirelessly for many years to provide opportunities and support for other artists.

These limited-edition, one-of-a-kind Nike Pegasus sneakers, called Movement, have “PWNW” emblazoned along the heel, in addition to yellow laces, red soles, and a groovy, topsy-turvy, black-and-white striped triangular pattern across the shoe. They are great for dancing and leaping and any creative thing you can think of to do in them.

You only have until Oct. 21 to buy a pair of these awesome sneakers and support the extensive work that Austin does for the Portland arts community. So get to it!

Performances this week

Melbourne-based choreographer Lucy Guerin’s “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Split
Lucy Guerin Inc.
Presented by White Bird
October 18-20
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park
Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin
6:30 pm October 22
Reed College, Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab, 128, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
This 60-minute duet, which opens White Bird’s Uncaged series, features choreography by Melbourne-based choreographer Lucy Guerin. It’s performed by two women, one clothed and one not, and explores competition, negotiation, aggression, and harmony in an ever-decreasing space.

“BloodyVox: Deadline October.” Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

BloodyVox: Deadline October
BodyVox
October 18-20
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
BodyVox’s “scary” show, originally choreographed in 2010 and revamped over the years, celebrates co-founders Jamey Hampton’s and Ashley Roland’s favorite holiday, Halloween. This family-friendly dance theater extravaganza touches on all aspects of Halloween, offering work that is by turns dark, mysterious, magical, beautiful, ironic, odd, hilarious, and absurd. The show, composed of several short dances, incorporates standard Halloween fare such as vampires, zombies, ghosts, and killer spiders, as well as some non-standard material, like creepy identical twins and a new work called “Victorian Secret.” This year’s production also includes Halloween costume contests and dance parties at every show. See link for details.

Wild Rumpus Jazz Co. in a “A Spine Tingling Soiree.” Photo by Jarrid Cammack.

A Spine Tingling Soiree
Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 19-20
Polaris Dance Theater, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
With this gathering of ghouls, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co. (co-founded by Kelsey Adams and Lucy Brush) gives Halloween a jazzy twist. Frankenstein goes on his first date, campfire stories come to life, tap shoes become possessed, and so much more. Audience participation is welcome and costumes are encouraged.

In addition to Adams and Brush, performers include Cherie Swain, Cassy Adams, Daniel Martinez, Kristina Lindquist, Nicholas Petrich, and Sondra Storm.

“As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet” by Ballet Fantastique. Photo by Bob Williams.

As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet
Ballet Fantastique, Donna Marisa Bontrager and Hannah Bontrager
October 19-21
Hult Center, One Eugene Center, Eugene
Ballet meets the Wild West in this twist on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. As the play famously puts it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”: here, those players include a brave heroine, lovers, a troubadour, and a bad guy, accompanied by a banjo and a honky-tonk saloon piano.

This concert will be broadcast live to audiences via Concert Window on Sunday, October 21 at 2:30 pm PST. Click here to learn more/sign up to watch.

The tap shoes of The Skylark Tappers. Photo by Annika Abel Photography

Everything’s Copacetic
The Skylark Tappers, Artistic Director Judy Tibbles
October 19-22
The Headwaters, 55 NE Farragut
Showcasing the rhythm and dynamics of tap, Portland’s Skylark Tappers will explore an array of songs under the musical direction of Jack Buddeke, accompanied by jazz vocalist Anandi Gefroh, saxophonist Jeff Homan, drummer Rivkah Ross, and bassist Perry Thoorsell, with Buddeke on keyboard.

“Clock that Mug or Dusted” by Cherdonna Shinatra. Photo by Sally Kohn.

Clock that Mug or Dusted
Cherdonna Shinatra (Jody Kuehner)
Presented by Risk/Reward
8 pm October 20
Portland Institute For Contemporary Art, 15 NE Hancock St.
Working at the intersection of dance and drag, Seattle’s Cherdonna Shinatra (Jody Kuehner) pits vintage feminism against today’s feminism. This messy conceptual experiment, which includes paint and birthday cake, explores the idea of the body as a canvas for social change, rebellion, and personal expansion.

The Portland Tap Company debuts this weekend with “The Man Who Forgot.” Photo by Nicholas Teeuwen

The Man Who Forgot
The Portland Tap Company
Choreography by Jessie Sawyers and Kelsey Leonard.
Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
October 21
Winningstad Theatre, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
Based on recorded excerpts of Neil Gaiman’s story “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” combined with an original score by Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Josh Rawlings, the Portland Tap Company makes its debut with an exploration of the human mind and its ability to remember and forget.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

Portland Dance Film Fest
October 20-21
Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St.
There are just two nights left of this six-night adjudicated dance film festival, so go. Directed by dancer-choreographer Kailee McMurran, the festival features dance films from around the world, shot anywhere from sand dunes to city streets to a squash court. (And as long as we’re talking shoes, looks for the man in the white-winged angel shoes.) Check out the festival’s website for descriptions of the films and interviews with the filmmakers.

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