“As Portland (dance) artists, we aren’t provided the opportunities that we really need,” Portland choreographer Samuel Hobbs says. “ We are all scrambling for the same scraps…we need visibility and accessibility.”
Hobbs was explaining both the dire condition of local dance artists and the reason he created Union PDX – Festival:19, a brand new contemporary dance festival. Union PDX debuts September 26-29 at the 180-seat Hampton Opera Center on the river in Southeast Portland, close to MAX with ample free parking also available.
The festival, curated and directed by Hobbs, will feature world premieres by Portland choreographers Amy Leona Havin—artistic director of The Holding Project, choreographer Carlyn Hudson, and Hobbs, who also directs his own company, push/FOLD Contemporary Dance Company.
“Doing your own show is great, but maybe there’s a way that we can come together and lift each other up,” Hudson said when I met up with her, Hobbs, and Havin to hear about the festival and their work.
Hobbs has commissioned both Havin and Hudson to create new work for the festival on his company’s four dancers—Holly Shaw, Briley Jozwiak, Liane Burns, and Ashley Morton. ”Right now funding is huge! Funding and platform. To be commissioned by established institutions and to receive funding are the two biggest things that would absolutely change the game for me at this point,” Havin said.
In addition to the live performances, the festival will feature the first ever Portland Dance Community Awards. They will be awarded in the categories of Visibility and Advocacy, Opportunity, and Platform, and will recognize individuals who have positively impacted the Portland dance community through their service work.
“It’s a thank you,” Hudson said, “We recognize what you’re doing for the community and we appreciate it. We just want to put you up on a pedestal for a moment and make you feel good and let you know that you’re not just throwing all of your energy into a void.” The Portland Dance Community Awardees will be announced at the post-show Union Soireé on September 29.
Before starting his own dance company, push/FOLD, in 2015, Hobbs, who grew up in and around Portland, performed with Rainbow Dance Theatre, Minh Tran and Company, and BodyVox. Since 2014 he has choreographed eight substantial works, including one evening-length production. His work has been shown at Pacific Dance Makers, (A)merging, Conduit’s Dance+ Festival, and Ten Tiny Dances, to name just a few.
Hobbs’ eclectic background in dance, partnering, martial arts, athletics, and Visceral Movement Theory,™ a somatic theory rooted in the anatomy and kinesiology of the organs, informs his work. In addition to being a choreographer, Hobbs is also a licensed manual therapist and a software developer.
Havin is a Portland-based, Israeli-born choreographer, filmmaker, and artistic director of The Holding Project. Her choreography is influenced by her dance training with Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company’s Gaga Movement Language. She has also trained under other well-known Israeli choreographers: L-E-V’s Sharon Eyal, Ate9’s Danielle Agami, Sidra Bell Dance, Yasmeen Godder, and Shahar Binyamini.
Her works, which include five full-length dance productions and eight dance films, reflect her internal struggle dealing with her duel cultural identity of being both an Israeli and an American, speak to what it means to be Jewish, and what it’s like to process generational trauma as the descendent of holocaust survivors.
Her work has been presented at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Shaking The Tree Theatre, Performance Works Northwest, Portland Dance Film Festival, and Archipelago Gallery and has received several awards.
Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is a twin and the daughter of two restaurateurs. Her work slips effortlessly between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weaves together humor, heartache, and beauty, reflecting an array of contrasting ideas. Hudson performed with Connecticut Ballet, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi. She has choreographed many works for SubRosa Dance Collective and has produced two full-length evenings of her own work.
Havin, Hudson, and Hobbs, make distinctly different dances. Each one has a different relationship with movement, with the process of choreographing, and with the music. Hobbs, for example, composes his own music electronically as a way to avoid the cost of royalties. Havin spends endless hours searching through free online music databases to piece together her compositions, and Hudson chooses an existing piece of music that evokes an emotional response and choreographs to it closely.
“A lot of how I create work is through a meditative process,” Hobbs said. “I don’t really know what it is until it puts itself together.” Havin says her work is created through her dancers using improvisational methods based in gaga (an improvisation method developed by Ohad Naharin). Hudson creates the movement on herself before she even meets with the dancers in the studio.
Hobbs’ new work Ash, is based on a poem he wrote about a person facing an existential crisis. For the musical score he translated the poem into his own made up language, recorded it, added recordings of himself singing along with other electronic sounds he created using a rolling seaboard—a musical instrument that bridges the gap between acoustic and digital music by putting the control of pitch, volume and timbre at the artist’s fingertips.
Havin will present milk, a Middle Eastern-influenced work that pulls from her multi-cultural background and uses an eclectic mix of traditional Hebrew prayers and songs together with electronic beats, strings, and ambient sounds, as its score.
Hudson’s work, which she will be performing in, is called A predisposition, and reflects on human behavior and the passing of time.
This is an important moment for these three choreographers. All three have been rigorously choreographing for years and want very much to take their work to the next level. But funding is minimal for choreographers here and opportunities to have work produced are few. Hobbs has created a festival and an awards show to address the problems, in the city’s DIY spirit. Hobbs is passionate about turning Portland into a national hub for dance and bringing the work of Portland choreographers to the world stage. All he needs now… is an audience.
The festival, which includes master classes, student showings, performances, and talk-backs, runs September 26-29, at The Hampton Opera Center at 211 SE Caruthers St. For more information on classes and tickets sales visit www.unionpdx.org.