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?


INTERNATIONAL AND CULTURAL DANCE STYLES


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.
FREE

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.

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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.

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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
wilsonvillearts.org

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.

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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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‘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.

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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.

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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.



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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.”

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