Heather Wisner


DanceWatch: August feast of fests

From Native American to Indian dance styles, bachata to bhangra to bellydance and obon to Art in the Dark, it's a month to see and do

If you thought you were going to catch your breath this month before the crush of fall performances, forget about it. August is busier than ever, and the many dance genres it promises is a good thing. From Native American to Indian dance styles, bachata to bhangra to bellydance, there’s enough to keep us occupied throughout the month. Better still? Much of it is free. We’ll sleep when we’re dead, right?


Painted Sky Northstar Native Dance Company plays the Washington Park Summer Festival. Photo courtesy Mary Hager.

Painted Sky Northstar Native Dance Company with Evening Star Painted Ponies
6 p.m. Aug. 2
Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheatre, 410 SW Kingston Ave.

As Jamuna Chiarini wrote her in March DanceWatch column, the Portland-based Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company has been hard at work since 2005, breaking down stereotypes and myths about Native American people, and building bridges through education and performance. Its repertoire, performed nationally and internationally by a dozen or so dancers, includes traditional dance forms as well as blended contemporary styles. Washington Park’s amphitheater will provide a beautiful backdrop for this summer evening show.


JamBallah 2018 Instructor Showcase. Photo by Casey Campbell Photography.

JamBallah Northwest
Aug. 2-4
Lewis & Clark College, 0615 Palatine Road

The bellydance diaspora congregates on the Lewis & Clark campus this month for the three-day Jamballah Northwest. Practitioners from all over will take part in classes and performances focused on Middle Eastern dance and its American Fusion versions. Two Portlanders—Sharon Kihara and Bevin Victoria—are among the featured artists, as are Amel Tafsout (Algeria/California), Aziza (Quebec), Ozgen (Turkey/England) and Rin Ajna (Washington, D.C.). There will be a vendor fair and three days of workshops with such titles as “Zoe’s Book of Shimmies,” “Flexibility: Jaw-Dropping Trickster” and the “The Soul of Cairo.” The fun begins with a meet-and-greet and Donna Mejia’s lecture “Courageous Conversations in the Midst of Cultural Collusion” on Aug. 1, followed by two nights of mixed-level, all-ages public performance showcases demonstrate the breadth of bellydance technique and style.


Iñaki & Deblin represent Portland at this year’s Bachata en la Calle fest. Photo: Iñaki & Deblin.

Bachata en la Calle
Aug. 3
Vitalidad Movement Arts & Events Center, 116 S.E. Yamhill St.

The Dominican Republic gave us bachata, and Bachata en la Calle gives us a full day to celebrate it, not counting the pre-party held Aug. 2 on the Portland Spirit (it’s billed as “three floors of fun: salsa room, bachata room, and rooftop deck party,” and excuse us for a minute while we go cancel whatever we were planning to do that evening). Saturday is a Latin dance lovers’ paradise, with classes from 1-5 p.m., led by instructors who are headed our way from Miami, New York, and Chicago, although Portland will be well represented by local instructors Iñaki & Deblin. This is the place to learn what bachata is—it’s derived from Cuban bolero, for starters—and how it’s rightly done. On the musical end, looks for DJs and live music from outfits including the supercharged Portland collective Dina y Los Rumberos.


The Japanese Garden hosts one of two local Bon festivals. Photo: Japanese Garden.

Obon Fest
Aug. 3
Oregon Buddhist Temple

O-bon: Sapporo Cultural Festival
10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 17-18
Portland Japanese Garden
Free with garden admission

Japan will celebrate this year’s Bon Festival Aug. 13-15; here in Portland, we’ll have our own parties before and after that. Obon is meant to honor one’s ancestors, and bon odori (bon dance) is a part of that: It’s a dance to receive the spirits of the departed, then send them on their way. The Oregon Buddhist Temple’s Obon Fest is a multicultural version of Obon, with bon odori as well as performances by the White Lotus Dragon & Lion Dancers and live music from the Minidoka Swing Band and the mightily percussive Portland Taiko. It wouldn’t be a festival without children’s activities and vendors; you can expect to find good things to eat and interesting items for sale, including kimonos. The story is much the same at the O-Bon Sapporo Cultural Festival, with the setting—Portland’s scenic and tranquil Japanese Garden—as additional incentive. Here, too, you’ll find bon odori, as well as food, crafts, and children’s activities. Both events are family-friendly and open to the public.


Multiple dance groups perform at the India Festival in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Photo: Pioneer Courthouse Square.

India Festival
Pioneer Courthouse Square
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 11

With at least eight classical dance forms to its credit (not to mention popular dance forms), India has a rich movement legacy. That will quickly become apparent at the India Festival, which celebrates India’s Independence Day with dance performances, live music, and other entertainment. (And, we’re happy to report, food.) India Festival is hosted by the India Cultural Association, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing Indian cultural awareness.


DJ Prashant (left) and the Jai Ho! Dance Troupe celebrate Indian Independence Day. Photo: DJ Prashant.

DJ Prashant & Jai Ho! Dance Troupe

6:30 p.m. Aug. 15
Laurehurst Park, SE 37th Ave.


Celebrating Indian Independence Day with DJ Prashant and his Jai Ho! Dance Troupe is becoming something of a Portland summer tradition. This interactive evening of Bollywood and Bhangra dance unfolds outdoors: The company performs (likely the reprise of a dance sequence from a well-known Bollywood film), then invites viewers to join them for a basic dance lesson and impromptu group performance up front. Wear comfortable clothing, including shoes you can shed easily, and be ready to bounce. A screening of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning feature film Slumdog Millionaire will follow at dusk.


Art in the Dark, 2016. Photo: A-WOL Dance Collective.

Art in the Dark
A-WOL Dance Collective
Aug. 1-4
Mary S. Young Park, West Linn

If you’ve never seen dancers suspended from old-growth trees, you clearly haven’t seen A-WOL Dance Collective. A-WOL doesn’t mean what you think it does, by the way: it’s an acronym for Aerial Without Limits, which should give you some insight into the kind of dance you’ll see. The Portland-based collective specializes in aerial, acrobatic and contemporary dance, and runs a school that teaches the same.  The company’s Art in the Dark outdoor performances have become a family-friendly summer tradition. Shows are done in the round, illuminated, and clock in at a manageable hour and a half. This year’s show, Frost and Fur, concerns itself with a snow leopard and other denizens of the natural world. Musician Chet Lyster provides a live original soundtrack blending traditional and electronic instruments. Seating opens at 7:30 p.m. for concessions and shows start at 8:45 p.m.


Galaxy Dance Festival, hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre, returns for a ninth year of classes and performance. Photo: Polaris Dance Theatre.

Galaxy Dance Festival
Aug. 3-4
Director Park

Watching is only half the fun at the Polaris Dance Theatre Galaxy Dance Festival: The other half is taking advantage of all the outdoor dance classes. Now in its ninth year, the downtown festival offers free performances and classes from local, regional and national choreographers, companies and organizations. Starting 11 a.m. Aug. 3 with an Open Argentine Tango Class led by Glykeria Manis, the festival fills two days with dance genres including swing, salsa, hip-hop and contemporary. You don’t need to be an expert dancer, you just need comfortable clothes and an enthusiasm for movement. Tango fans, take note: Friday evening has a tango theme, with a class, a milonga deejayed by Derrick Del Pilar, and performances.


New Vision Dance Company
5:30 p.m. Aug. 15
AmberGlen Park, Hillsboro

Dance and sculpture go waaaay back (think Degas, then keep thinking); at the dedication of a new public artwork at Hillsboro’s AmberGlen Park, that collaboration continues. Youth ensemble the New Vision Dance Company stages a lyrical/contemporary work inspired by Illinois artist Dann Nardi’s Elemental Sequence. Envision a concrete sculpture that pairs curving upright columns evoking trees with low curving benches recalling the graceful bends in a river, and you have some idea of what you’re in for. A dance party follows with live music.


PHAME Academy stages the rock opera “The Poet’s Shadow.” Photo: Friderike Heuer.

The Poet’s Shadow

PHAME Academy
Aug. 23-31
Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St.

PHAME, a Portland-based performing arts academy serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has gone all in on its newest venture, rock opera The Poet’s Shadow. Eight PHAME students wrote it (in collaboration with the Portland Opera’s manager of education and outreach, Alexis Hamilton); more than 30 adults with developmental disabilities have been cast in leading and supporting roles, and the music will come from a choir and musicians playing iPads alongside Metropolitan Youth Symphony members playing their instruments. On the dance front, Erik Ferguson and Yulia Arakelyan—of the multidisciplinary, butoh-influenced performance company Wobbly Dance—have contributed choreography.

Sound like a big deal? It is: This is the first fully staged PHAME production written, staged, and performed by people with developmental disabilities (down to the musical composition and costume and set design), and marks the culmination of an 18-month collaboration between PHAME and the Portland Opera, which provided vocal coaching to the show’s lead actors.

And if you’re wondering what it’s all about, The Poet’s Shadow tells the story of Elizabeth, a young poet who, in despair following a breakup, writes a series of poems that take on a life of their own, sending her on a personal quest that challenges what she thought she knew.


Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance’s film “Unfolding” is among the selections at this year’s Northwest Screendance Exposition. Photo: Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance.

Northwest Screendance Exposition
7:30 p.m. Aug. 6-7
Broadway Metro, 43 West Broadway, Eugene

The Eugene Film Society spearheads the Northwest Screendance Exposition, which is now in its fourth year of soliciting and compiling collections of dance films by local and international artists. The best kinesthetic-cinematographic collaborations make the cut in an evening of dance on film, and a $500 Jury Award and $250 Audience Award only sweeten the deal for creators.  This year’s selections, which cover styles spanning swing to ballet, include Portland’s Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance in Unfolding, its second dance film together; In the House of Mantegna, by Michele Manzini of Verona, Italy, an ensemble movement piece gaining a worldwide following on the festival circuit; and two films by Cara Hagan, a filmmaker, dance professor, and choreographer from Appalachian State University of Boone, North Carolina. Cygnus, created with Portland filmmaker Robert Uehlin, celebrates a quiet morning sunrise, while Sound and Sole is a short documentary about the only professionally working African-American buck dancer in Boone.


Viewers suggest movement at #Instaballet. Photo: #Instaballet.

5:30 p.m. Aug. 2
Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 222 Southwest Columbia St., Eugene

Test your dancemaking skills at #Instaballet, a recurring feature of the Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalks. Eugene Ballet veterans Suzanne Haag and Antonio Anacan devised this simple but intriguing concept: create a new piece in real time, based on movement suggestions from viewers. The dance takes shape as onlookers add their input. The final work, performed at the end of the session, is a truly collective effort. All ages are welcome to contribute, and dance experience isn’t required—neophytes just might have the freshest ideas. (For more on the genesis of #Instaballet, see Gary Ferrington’s feature on its creators: https://www.orartswatch.org/crowd-sourced-choreography/)


Broadway Rose Theatre Company gets “Footloose.” Photo: Broadway Rose Theatre Company.

Broadway Rose Theatre Company, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard
Aug. 1-Sept. 1

This musical isn’t six degrees of Kevin Bacon: It’s just one—plus one degree of Kenny Loggins, and if you have the title track stuck in your head for the next 24 hours, we feel your pain. Actually, that reminds us that that Footloose—best known in its original 1984 film incarnation—also brought us “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.” Even Sammy Hagar was involved. But never mind all that. What’s important here is the story: it’s about a city boy who moves to a small town where dancing is outlawed and runs afoul of the local preacher who pushed for the ban after attracting the attention of his rebellious daughter. It’s dance as cultural protest, and in its way, fitting for the times we live in now



Sept. 5-15: Time-Based Art Festival
Sept. 26-28: NW Dance Project
Sept. 26-29: Union PDX Festival of Contemporary Dance

Oct. 3-5: Momix
Oct. 5-12: OBT Roar(s)
Oct. 10-12: Sasha Waltz
Oct. 17-19: Caleb Teicher and Company

November 21-23

Nov. 7-9: Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group
Nov. 21-23: CNDC-Angers/Robert Swinston

July: Dancing after dark

Oregon's summer dance season takes to the open air and starry nights with salsa, silent disco, and even a few indoor shows

The international Silent Disco movement: Next stop Tillikum Bridge on July 4.

We’re heading outside this month for much of our dance intake, enjoying performances under the stars—although in some cases, we are the performers; you might find us dancing under the fireworks along the Tilikum Bridge as part of the July 4th HeatBeat Silent Disco. We’ll be drinking in new and veteran talent, too, some of it homegrown, the rest of it from well beyond our city limits. Isn’t this time of year delicious?

International and cultural dance styles

Dancing on the roof with Son Latino, June 2018. Next stop: Gateway Discovery Park Plaza.

Salsa in the Park
Son Latino/Portland Parks and Recreation
6 to 8 p.m., July 20
Gateway Discovery Park Plaza, 10520 N.E. Halsey St.

You may have met up with Son Latino around town, maybe at a Norse Hall Salsa Sunday or one of those Rooftop Salsa nights: the Latin dance and event company stages performances and hosts weekly and monthly dance socials as well as classes and workshops. If you’re not yet a confirmed salsero, however, this evening should be a friendly, low-pressure introduction to Latin dance. Founders Rosi and Leo, veterans of salsa congresses up and down the West Coast, perform first, to show us how it’s done, then teach introductory salsa, bachata and merengue lessons in the park, accompanied by a DJ. A community dance follows: two-left-footers are welcome, and you don’t need to bring a partner. Pack a picnic and make a night of it.


Dance never sleeps

June is dancing out all over on Oregon stages: what, where, and when

If you think dance has left the building for the summer, you’re half right. While it’s not the mad crush of fall and spring, summer means festivals, which, in turn, means several artists packed into a single weekend. Summer also marks year-end recitals and the beginning of barefoot-in-the-park season, when we can all enjoy some fresh air with our art. (For every kid who fell hard for ballet after seeing The Nutcracker, there must be an equal number whose love of dance was inspired by the the dazzling swirl of Mexican folkloric dancers’ skirts viewed at close range.)

Where, besides in theaters, can you find June dance? In a winery, on a road trip, and even—we’re told—around a swamp in Forest Park. People of every age, shape, and skill level are making dance this month, in well-known styles and newly smashed-together genres. What’s your pleasure?

International and cultural dance styles

Cosecha Mestiza takes viewers for a spin at the Wilsonville Festival of the Arts. Photo courtesy of Wilsonville Festival of the Arts.

Wilsonville Festival of the Arts
June 1-2
Town Center Park, Wilsonville

If you’ve never been to the Wilsonville Festival of Arts, what have you been waiting for? The event is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with art you didn’t know you needed until you did, such as the mobile opera truck and the mask parade.


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.


‘She never wanted to leave anyone out’: Bonnie Merrill, 1935-2019

Collaborators remember a Portland dance pioneer’s generous spirit

Generations of Portland dancers—with one conspicuous exception—turned out to see Minh Tran’s concert Anicca (Impermance) last weekend at Reed College. Tran’s work, inspired by the recent deaths of his parents, premiered just a week after one of his teachers, Bonnie Merrill, succumbed to leukemia on Valentine’s Day. Tran’s piece, already weighted with grief and memory, felt like a kind of elegy for Merrill, an influential Portland dancer, instructor, and choreographer, and a founding mother of the city’s contemporary dance scene.

Merrill's work We Gather was performed at the citywide Portland arts festival Artquake in 1994. Photographer unknown.

Bonnie Merrill dances a solo in Donald McKayle’s “Collage.” Photo courtesy of the Merrill family.

Merrill kept her Portland dance card full for close to 40 years. She worked with modern and ballet companies, public school students, and collegiate dancers from Portland State, Lewis and Clark, and Reed. She created more than 100 works that were performed on film, onstage, and in city streets. Along the way, she forged creative alliances with musicians and visual artists, and earned accolades including the only Oregon Governor’s Award for the Arts given to an individual dance artist.


Hobbs Waters hasn’t conquered the world yet, but give him a minute.

Hobbs Waters is a pre-professional ballet student with Classical Ballet Academy in Sellwood. Photo by Rob Woodcox.

The 12-year-old Portland-based quadruple threat—he dances, plays trumpet and cello, creates fine art pieces, and runs his own arts business, called City Troll—took a breather just before the holidays at the book-lined Stacks Coffeehouse in North Portland. Wearing black-and-white checkered overalls, his feet splayed into a modified balletic third position, Waters shared his artistic ambitions and his plans for what will be a busy 2019.

This January, he’s heading to the Youth America Grand Prix and New York City Dance Alliance regional competitions in Seattle and Vancouver, respectively, followed by the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in Dallas. The clock is ticking: along with rehearsing the solo variations and group pieces he’ll perform at those events, he’s selling his abstract paintings, pen-and-ink illustrations, and the T-shirts he silkscreens through City Troll to help fund his journey.

Waters sells his artwork to help fund his dance pursuits. Image courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Waters, who chose his own first name based on his love of tigers (in particular, the title character of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes strip), the arts aren’t so much a hobby as a way of life. He and mom AJ McCreary, herself a painter and photographer, have embraced Unschooling, a form of homeschooling that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means of education. And Waters, the only 12-year-old I’ve met with his own resume and artist statement, has been doing his homework: unlike many youngsters who focus on a single genre, he is conversant in multiple arts and arts entrepreneurship, naming the painter Basquiat as well as Cuban dancer Osiel Gouneo as inspirations.

Of his many pursuits, dance is dearest to Waters’ heart. He began studying five years ago; three years ago, he got more serious, enrolling in Classical Ballet Academy’s pre-professional program. Though he takes contemporary, modern, and hip-hop classes, his primary love is ballet as an outlet for what he describes as “self-expression and freedom”; he intends to pursue a ballet career. In student productions, he has danced Beauty and the Beast’s Beast, the Nutcracker’s Rat King, and, in this year’s CBA Nutcracker, a porcelain doll and a corps member in the Arabian divertissement. Last year, he entered the pressure-cooker competition arena, attending YAGP and NYCDA and auditioning for summer intensives through IABD.

Waters intends to pursue a professional ballet career. Photo courtesy of Hobbs Waters.

Founded 30 years ago, the IABD conference draws a diverse group of arts administrators, choreographers, dance companies, students, and teachers to a weekend of panels, performances, and auditions. Its mission is greater racial inclusivity in the dance industry; ballet, in particular, has been criticized for its homogeneity. “There are minority teachers from around the world,” McCreary says of the conference. “It’s an opportunity to meet dancers who are doing big things in the industry, and to meet people who are paving the way” for young black and brown dancers.

Waters acknowledges that he has experienced racist behavior in the ballet world, although he is reluctant to elaborate, saying only that “being around other students who look more like me” is an aspect of the conference he especially appreciates. The appreciation appears to be mutual: at last year’s conference auditions, 13 institutions accepted him into their summer programs. He chose an intensive at Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, although he also studied with Nashville Ballet and New Orleans School of Ballet.


What a kick! Dance that moved us

2018 in Review, Part 4: Dance that turned our thinking inside out and took us places where we'd never been before

Sure, we love big jumps and fast turns, but that’s not what makes the best dancing. The best dancing is the kind that takes us places we’ve never been before, or turns our thinking inside out.

Some of Oregon ArtsWatch’s best dance writing this year did that, too. Collectively, the OAW dance team—the writers covering dance, that is; don’t book us for your holiday party just yet—has decades’ worth of writing, research, and performing experience, as well as the burning desire to produce insightful and inspired coverage of dance in all its forms.

Like ArtsWatch? Help us out.

We couldn’t bring you the stories we bring without your support, which is what keeps us going. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit journalism publication, with no pay wall: Everything we publish is free for the reading. We can offer this public service thanks to generous gifts from foundations, public cultural organizations, and you, our readers. As the year draws to a close, please help us keep the stories coming. It’s easy:

Lucky us: we had so much to do in 2018 that we can’t revisit it all here. Instead, we’re sampling some of the moments, big and small, that especially moved us this year:


Odissi Dance Conpany’s Artistic Director Aparupa Chatterjee with the ODC repertoire: Tanvi Prasad, Divya Srinivasa, Divya chowdhary, Swati yarlagadda, and Ramyani Roy. Photo: Sarathy Jayakumar

Embracing Odissi in the age of Trump

The 2016 U.S. presidential election continued to galvanize artistic action two years after the fact. “Since Donald Trump took office, I have been watching and admiring artists all around the world react to his words and policies and have been wondering how I should respond myself,” Jamuna Chiarini mused. “I think that my choice to step away from my Western dance practices and focus solely on Odissi is my response. The more degraded American culture gets, the less interested I am in being a part of it.”

Chiarini’s piece explored Odissi’s technical and cultural assets and illustrated why it particularly appeals to her in this degraded day and age: “Some dances in the Odissi repertoire aren’t even taught until a dancer reaches 40, because it’s believed that younger dancers don’t yet have the emotional depth and life experience to properly express what the dance is about. Odissi also doesn’t have strict rules on body shape and size as Western dance culture does. What is considered beautiful is much broader in Indian dance culture.”