Jamuna Chiarini

 

DanceWatch Weekly: close partners

Spenser Theberge talks about “Rather This, Then” and his partnership with Jermaine Spivey; L-E-V comes to White Bird; Mood Factory; more

Dancer and Portland native Spenser Theberge and his partner in life and dance, Jermaine Spivey, are back in town to perform Rather This, Then, a work they developed last September during a residency at Disjecta here in Portland. They will perform it twice on Friday, Nov. 17, once at 12:15 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. at Reed College’s Massee Performance Lab in the Performing Arts Building.

Jamuna Chiarini

Theberge grew up in Portland dancing at The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Columbia Dance in Vancouver and went on to attend Juilliard and dance with the Netherlands Dance Theatre and The Forsythe Company.

Spivey also attended Juilliard, and went on to dance for Ballet Gulbenkian and the Cullberg Ballet, joining Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot in 2008, where he dances now. You might have seen him perform back in April 2016 when White Bird brought Betroffenheit to Portland—a collaboration between Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre that combined dance and theater, which ArtsWatch’s Nim Wunnan captured in his review, which you can read here.

Therberge describes this collaborative work as “highly physical and highly human, calling on body, voice, and visual elements to reveal truths about each other. It’s privacy made public, it’s tenderly voyeuristic, and the result is an opportunity for the audience to see something of themselves represented in another.”

When Theberge was here last year I interviewed him via email about his life in dance in the United States versus Europe. “Working as a dancer in Europe means you’re really well taken care of,” he said. “You get paid all year, have health care, vacation time, physical therapy, a pension plan. Dancing is the same as any other job there (for the most part, although Europe is beginning to see similar budget cuts in the arts as we do in America) and the conditions and benefits of the all jobs are the same.” You can read the full interview here.

Since then, he and Spivey have been quite busy. Therberge has restaged works from Nederlands Dans Theater on companies in Rome, Lyon, and Tulsa, and Spivey just finished a long tour of Betroffenheit with Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theater that included being awarded an Olivier Award in London. The Olivier Award, or The Laurence Olivier Awards, is an annual award given by the Society of London Theatre in recognition of excellence in professional theater in London.

Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Somewhere in there they moved to Los Angeles and are settling in for the first time in two years, Theberge said when we spoke recently via email. “We’ve been focusing a lot on establishing roots and connecting with our new community which has felt so enriching after missing that home feeling for so long. We’ve been teaching a lot and creating short works on dancers around L.A. and America. Now we’re talking about what we want our future to look like and how we can facilitate those experiences.”

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Allie Hankins talks about her creative process

Allie Hankins keeps her conversation with DanceWatch going with an interview about a new duet, plus a hip-hop Nutcracker and lots of parties

When We, a duet choreographed by Portland-based performer Allie Hankins and San Francisco-based dance artist and curator Rachael Dichter, opens this weekend at Performance Works NW. The culmination of a two-year, long-distance collaboration, it is set in “an austere world characterized by coded language, penetrating focus, and biting humor,” according to Hankins.

Jamuna Chiarini

I sat down with Hankins this past week to pick up where we left off the last time we spoke, to learn more about her creative process and what drives her as an artist, and to get some insight into her new work. That conversation is below the listings.

But first, Portland’s beloved jazz teacher and choreographer Tracey Durbin is leaving town and moving to Durham, North Carolina, on Thanksgiving. If you’ve always wanted to take her class, love her class but haven’t taken it in a while, or want to say goodbye in person, now is your chance to do it. Durbin teaches weekly jazz classes at BodyVox and NW Dance Project, so check their schedules online for specific class times and get to a Durbin class while you still can.

Also this week in Portland dance: The Hip Hop Nutcracker is here on tour from New York; Polaris Dance Theatre connects with Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in Avalanche; The Holding Project directed by Amy Leona Havin is having a Season Launch Party at Ford Food and Drink; A-WOL Dance Collective celebrates its 15-year anniversary; and Horizon3 Dance, a brand new dance company co-directed by Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna, debuts at RAW.

Performances this week

Polaris Dance Theatre dancers in Avalanche. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre. Photo by Brian McDonnell.

Avalanche
Polaris Dance Theatre, artistic director Robert Guitron
November 9-11
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
Creating an arch between Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in this dance/music tribute, Polaris artistic director Robert Guitron plays with themes that were central to these artists—gender identity, diversity, sexuality, racism, spirituality, and fashion—in an evening work for thirteen dancers.

Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter in When We. Photo courtesy of Allie Hankins.

When We
Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 9-12
Performance Works NW || Linda Austin Dance, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
See interview below.

The dancers of The Holding Project. Photo by Marina Choy.

Season Launch Party!
The Holding Project, artistic director Amy Leona Havin
7 pm November 11
Ford Food and Drink, 2505 SE 11th Ave.
Directed by Israeli dance artist, choreographer and writer Amy Leona Havin, The Holding Project will host a season opener fundraising party that will include solo performances by company members, live music, refreshments, raffles, and a silent auction. Prizes courtesy of Grand Central Bakery, Corepower Yoga, Lena Traenkenschuh LMT, Che Che Luna, and more. And, if you’re really really lucky you might win a chance to attend open rehearsals with The Holding Project.

 

A-WOL Dance Collective. Photo courtesy of A-WOL.

A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
7 pm and 10 pm November 11
A-WOL Warehouse, 513 N Schuyler St.
Founded in 2003 by a collective of artists desiring to mix the worlds of dance and aerial arts, A-WOL Dance Collective Celebrates 15 years hanging around Portland and beyond with a party, and you are invited.

The warehouse social will include local food and brew, live music by Love Gigantic, and pop-up performances by A-WOL, Circus Rose, and A-WOL’s training companies, FlyCo and Aeros. The After Hours Show (21+) will be emceed by John Ellingson, and acrobatic feats of all sorts will be performed.

Photo by Meagan Hall Photography

COnTenT: beyond binary | safe space \ un-safe performance
Presented by Water in the desert, hosted by Carina Borealis
8 pm November 11
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Suite 9
No one will be turned away for lack of funds
Featuring performances by Alice Johnson, Douglas Allen, Kit Epiphany Apparently, Mars Mars, Kaj-anne Pepper, Kel Dae and more, COnTenT “is both ritual and live performance…and is a collective coming together in celebration of the genderqueer, the trans, the androgynous, the non binary—and every arc of color upon the spectrum between.”

Decadancetheatre’s Hip Hop Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow
Decadancetheatre, artistic director Jennifer Weber
Presented by Portland’5 Centers for the Arts
8 pm November 15
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave.
Set in Brooklyn in the 1980s, this contemporized Nutcracker performed to Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker Suite with some hip-hop interludes mixed in, follows Maria-Clara and her prince as they travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub.

This evening-length production, choreographed by Brooklyn-based Decadancetheatre’s artistic director Jennifer Weber, will be performed by a dozen all-star hip hop dancers to a live DJ onstage accompanied by an electric violinist, all emcee’d by rap legend Kurtis Blow.

Photo courtesy of Horizon3 Dance. Photo by @perceptivecreation & @theframedeye.

Horizon3 Dance in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND
Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna
7 pm November 15
Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave.
Horizon3 Dance, based in Vancouver, Washington, directed by former Polaris Dance Theatre dancers Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna, makes its Portland debut this week at RAW Portland-SAVOR. The company will present one live performance and three dance films and will be joined in performance by company dancers Preeya Kannan and Willow Swanson. The works focus on societal expectations, vulnerability, and individual expression.

RAW is an organization run by artists, for artists, that was formed to connect artists of all mediums in every city and town, and provide a platform for the presentation of their work. Raw currently produces artists in 60 cities around the world.

Interview with Allie Hankins

Since I spoke with her last (you can catch up on our earlier conversation here), Hankins debuted her solo Now Then: A Prologue in May 2016 at The Siren Theatre in Portland, performed it again at PICA’s TBA festival that September, performed with Morgan Thorson in Still Life in the same TBA festival, traveled to Toronto to work with a Parisian artist, performed Now Then in Cork, Ireland, and Tel Aviv as well as co-produced events with the Portland collective Physical Education (which also includes Lu Yim, Keyon Gaskin and Taka Yamamoto). And I’m sure I’ve left a few things out. She’s also been on When We with Rachael Dichter,

How did you meet Rachael?

Rachael and I met at Larry Arrington’s Squart performance at TBA (2014). She and I didn’t really meet then, but we met at a workshop the next day, I think. Then the following the summer I went to Dos Rios, California, for some workshops with Sara Shelton Mann and Abby Crain. Then right after that I went to Ponderosa, which is just outside of Berlin. It’s another dance place: it’s kind of like summer camp for adults. Rachael was at both places. At Poderosa she and I took a workshop together. It was a workshop about making performance really quickly. They would say, ‘You have ten minutes to make a two-minute performance, go!’ She and I were partnered up a lot, and we ended up making things together all summer. She went to Dance Web [A nonprofit dance organization based in Vienna, Austria, committed to developing contemporary dance throughout Europe as well as connecting it to the larger international dance community enhancing dialogue between cultures] right after that, and she sent me an email: “Hey I really enjoyed our time, do you want to see what it would be like to work on something together?” [For the next two years Hankins and Dichter alternated traveling to each others towns, meeting when they could.]

What was it like working together?

While I would say we have an excellent working relationship and really complement each other’s working styles, and I really like this thing we made, and I think it’s so different than anything I would make on my own and I love that about it, we definitely had friction. Which I definitely think is good.

How did you maintain the piece and your relationship under these circumstances?

Rachael is an excellent communicator, and when I’m in the room with an excellent communicator I can also be an excellent communicator. I have a hard time starting a conversation, but once it’s going, I can do it. She’s very good at just being like, ‘hey, I’m seeing this, I’m feeling this, can we talk about it?’ And then I can. But if it’s just tension in the room then I’ll just ride that tension. I’ll be like, “who’s gonna break first, who’s gonna break first.’ [Allie laughs] She’s really good at nipping it in the bud. So I think sometimes it was just a matter of saying it out loud, and being like, ‘ok my feelings are hurt, ok my feelings are hurt, ok we’ll work through it.’ Sometimes it’s a matter of taking a pause, let’s take a break, let’s calm down. Other times it was like, ‘let’s do some body work and roll around on the floor’ and let it work itself out…

Video still of When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter.

What’s it like working on a solo versus a duet?

I’m not freaking out at all… If this were a solo I would be a mess. You know? Doing all the things, it’s only me up there, everything has to be perfect. With this it feels like because it’s both of our work equally…we both have the same amount of investment, the same amount of history, the same knowledge of the trajectory of the work. So it feels very much like we are performing together, and I feel very held by her presence on stage and I think she feels the same. It’s a different entity. It’s just like this strength that I’ve never really experienced before. Having someone so close, and we’ve gotten so close over this…there’s just this intimacy there that feels pretty unique to this project and makes it feel really sustainable and really powerful. And of course we’re really nervous about fucking up the choreography or whatever, but we both feel met by each other and because we’re both there, nothing can really go that wrong.

Can you tell me about the work?

It feels really related to how the process has actually worked. Like we have these short burst of intense activity where we’re in the same room and we’re working together, and then these long stretches of time where we’re not in the room together and were not even talking, but the piece is still being made. All the things are still moving forward, the piece is still going to happen, we’re still thinking about it and we come together [she snaps her fingers], things are propelled forward, we separate and come back. And so the rhythm of it, I hope it’s not too predictable, but also I don’t care necessarily, I’m not sure. But it feels very of that working process.

So there are just these moments that are about the world that we are in, and the density we’ve created with stillness and presence. And then something happens, and it shifts the world, and the world rotates, or your relationship to it rotates or you learn something about one of us, then there’s a time where we settle into it again. For me the piece is really about relearning what intimacy is for me and what is intimacy with an audience and what is a power dynamic with the audience.

I think that’s a trite things to say right now because a lot of people are exploring that right now, but I also am. If our gaze is penetrating the audience does that mean we have power, and this idea around the word penetration and the power behind that, and the confrontation of being in the room with someone in a performative context and how you can really be together. But at the same time we’re in an alliance, we are very much on the same page and have all the secrets and y’all might get them but you might not. But we are trying to create this exchange.

I think the piece for me is really exploring modalities of that and then also just making movement again and how the movement interacts with the stillness and the pauses and the text, and trying to find this overall rhythm and tension. Rachael doesn’t like the word “tension”—she says the word “depth”…

When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter. Photo by Ashely Sophia Clark.

Why are you interested in the audience-performer relationship?

I think because, self producing work can feel like a really big ask, to invite people to come watch you for an hour, and I want to really be in the room with people when they’re there, for me. There are ways of performance that you can fake that intimacy. Right? We have these tools of looking just above the heads and looking at the audience but not really. I really want to be with you when you’re there. It doesn’t mean that I want to be friendly necessarily or totally vulnerable with you, but I want us all to be in the room. I think it’s a much more satisfying relationship to the audience for me now, this might change but…

Performance for me in my life, I’ve always been super shy and very self-effacing and at my worst very self-deprecating. I think when I learned that performance was this one time that I felt totally confident, in control, could say anything, could do anything, I realized that I should utilize these moments as a means of connecting with people, in a way. Instead of just doing a show, being like, ‘you’re seeing me at my best right now,’ let’s acknowledge that.

How do you get involved in so many different kinds of projects?

When I moved to Portland, I met a bunch of people—like Taka [Yamamoto] has a visual arts practice, Lu [Yim] recently has been going to graduate school for visual art/performance—and just sort of connected with people who had a lot more access to these things than I previously did, because I went to college for dance, did mostly dance, choreography. I did take a few classes in college around photography and things like that, but whatever, I think as I became a choreographer of my own work, I quickly discovered other things that I like doing onstage, like speaking. And I enjoy writing as a craft, and I found that I really enjoyed video work. And the video work kind of became this way of keeping things moving all the time even if I wasn’t working on a specific project. It was like, you’re filming, you’re always crafting something, whatever. I think those various interests have allowed me to reach out to people with other things. Lu is always working on visual stuff, and I always ask to jump on board. It just sort of happens, I guess. I get wrapped up in these other things and suddenly I’m doing a video performance or doing a weird karaoke performance or whatever, you know.

I feel like you straddle both the dance and performance worlds. When I first saw you dancing in Portland, I felt like your work was more movement based, and now you have brought in a lot of other elements. I’m curious about this evolution and how you do that, and why you felt like you needed to bring things outside the body in, to tell your story?

I think honestly it was curiosity. The solo I made four years ago now, I call it the Nijinsky solo, but it was called Like a Sun that Pours Forth Light but Never Warmth. Long title: that’s another thing I do, make up long titles.

It was the first thing I had made. I had worked on it for three years just not knowing how to actually do it, you know? When do I actually perform it, how do I know when it’s done? And then I managed to get a RACC grant, and I was like. ‘ok, now I have a deadline so I guess I’ll just figure it out.’

I think after that process it had pretty much exhausted all of my resources—personal resources, not just money, time, energy. I was just so spent. I luckily had a lot of help, Jerry [Tischleder] from Risk/Reward helped me a bunch, and I was just done. Then literally the next day, Physical Education went on a tour to Minneapolis, and I had to present something. I was like, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m doing that solo because I never want to think about it again.’ And I was in the Midwest, and I was like, ‘Jello moulds are fun,’ and I got one and didn’t want to dance, didn’t want to choreograph anything. I just wanted to talk basically. I went out there and told a few jokes and wiggled some jello around and then did end up dancing to Dionne Warwick. But that piece became the next thing that I did. I think this is usually how it works for me where I’m just like, “huh, that’s funny,” and then suddenly I’m obsessed with it and becomes this driving momentum of whatever project comes out of it.

I like text and I do write a lot, but I never really felt comfortable sharing that aspect of my practice. But then when I started working on the last solo, I did I got lucky enough to have a residency with a few writers who really gave me a lot of tools and really coached me some, when I asked them to, about how to deliver text, about how to tell jokes, about how to engage an audience in this way. And I just thought it was super interesting and such a different challenge, because I know I can keep interest with dance—I’ve done it for a long time, I’ve performed, I know how to do that. I didn’t know how to do the other thing. And so I was like, ‘I have to figure this out.’ I never have a plan from the beginning. It’s like, ‘oh that’s what I’m doing.’

I’m really really lucky to have studio space, because I live in a room that’s like this big and I pay next to nothing for it, and then I spend the rest of my rent, or what I would be spending on rent, on a studio rental. I’m able to go to the studio all the time and just dick around and find things that are interesting and curious. I’ve gotten better over the years at just more organically following curiosity instead of trying to immediately put parameters on it …I’m better at letting it be very expansive for longer, and then because I am a control freak at the end I’m like, ‘ok, now it’s this thing, you know?’

When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter. Photo by Ashely Sophia Clark.

How do you know when it’s done and ready to be performed?

The shows happening. You know? You got to get money so you gotta get the grant. And I didn’t get the grant last year, so I’ll try again this year. And then we’ll see. Then you have to just set a date based on what else is going on in the world, in your life, you know? It’s kind of arbitrary, which I think is kind of fun actually. Because maybe I’ll never have to actually learn when something is done, maybe it will always just sort of realize itself in the last moments. And I think there’s a lot of power in that, and I think that’s one of the secret things about performance making is that a lot of it happens, at least for me, opening night. Where I’m like, ‘ooh, that’s how that’s supposed to go, or that’s how that lands, and that’s how this timing should work.’ And it’s a really unique experience, because you don’t have an audience until then and everything happens then. It’s kind of terrifying, but really fun, you know?

How do you work your writing into your work?

I write most every day. If I’m being honest I haven’t been doing it the last couple of weeks because I’ve been too busy. That’s real. I write my dreams a lot…I feel really inarticulate a lot of times and trying to maintain a practice in that weird cognitive gap that happens where you’re like, ‘I’m thinking all these things,’ and it’s very hard to put into words on a page for me, it always has been.

I think what keeps me doing it, honestly, sometimes I’ll go back to old things, and I’ll be like, ‘oh right I forgot I was thinking about that’ and how weird to see how my thoughts evolve over time. I think I’m just interested in having a records of these ideas.

In this piece happening soon [she laughs], next week [she laughs again], there’s very little text, there’s some. It was sourced from a rhythmic prompt, actually. We were trying to really research rhythm, this very specific rhythm inside the movement choreography, and we wanted to reflect it and balance it with text. And the way the text works in the piece is that it is obfuscated, so you can’t really discern what we’re saying, but it’s definitely there and it’s informing. So, it was then, ‘ok what’s the rhythm, how do we establish that, how do we layer that, how do we perform it together?’ It’s very minimal, but I really like it, I don’t know, we’ll see.

Performances Next Week

November 11-18, Symbolic Interactions, Willamette University Theatre Department
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Autumn Choreographers Concert, Pacific Dance Ensemble
November 17, Rather This, Then, Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens

Upcoming Performances

November
November 24, Mushimaru Fujieda: Natural Physical Poetry Performance, hosted by Water in the Desert
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 2, Tidal-the first cut, Wobbly Dance
December 7-9, Bolero + Billie, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9, Winter Dance Concert, Reed College Performing Arts
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 17, Fiesta Navideña, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January

January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

DanceWatch: Xuan Cheng and Ye Li’s ballet academy.

This week a performance by the students of a new Beaverton ballet school and a busy schedule of concerts

Did you know that Xuan Cheng (a Principal Dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre) and her husband Ye Li (a soloist with OBT from 2011-2015) co-direct their own ballet school in Beaverton? They do! It’s called Oregon International Ballet Academy (OIBA) and they are performing this weekend, one classical work and one brand new contemporary ballet choreographed by Li.

Jamuna Chiarini

I just discovered their school this week in a last-minute search online before writing this week’s DanceWatch. It’s one thing to be a performer, but it’s a whole other ball of wax when performing artists, who have spend the majority of their careers bringing other people’s artistic vision to life, venture out on their own, creating work in their own voices. Watching a rehearsal video of Li’s new work sparked my curiosity, and I had to learn more. Cheng, Li, and I met briefly for coffee during Xuan’s lunch break from OBT, and we talked about their dance life, their history together, the new school, and the new work.

The OIBA students will be performing the Second Act of Swan Lake, staged by Cheng and adapted from Lev Ivanov’s choreography, and a world premiere by Li called Black and White at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall this Saturday night. They will be joined by 18 student musicians from the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, directed by Raúl Gómez, with costumes designed by Annika Schindler, a costume fabricator for LAIKA. Cheng and OBT Principal Dancer Brian Simcoe will be guest performing as well, courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre. The set design for Black and White includes a series of different-sized black and white boxes that the dancers engage with rhythmically, and the costumes have been created to evoke a sense of time, which is the constant, and the elegance of Victorian times.

Artistic Director Xuan Cheng working with her students at Oregon International Ballet Academy. Photo by Yi Yin.

Cheng and Li joined OBT in 2011 when they were hired by Christopher Stowell after one audition. They loved Portland right away and were very happy to call it home. Prior to OBT, they both danced for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Cheng danced for La La La Human Steps. They both danced for GuangZhou Ballet in China straight out of ballet school—she became a principal dancer with the company and he a soloist.

Between the two of them there is a lifetime of experience of training and dancing ballet’s classics, as well as the works of many well-known contemporary choreographers, including William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin, Jirí Kylián, Mats Ek, Mauro Bigonzetti, Christian Spuck, Christopher Stowell, and Nicolo Fonte.

When they first came to Portland, the Chinese community was very excited and proud to see Chinese dancers performing with Oregon Ballet Theatre and asked if they would teach their children. At that point they were still focused on their performing careers with OBT and weren’t able to devote the time they would like to teaching. But as time passed, Cheng started volunteering and creating small pieces for different community shows. She found that there was a big need for them and was drawn to teaching. She and Li both felt strongly that it was important to pass on their experience to the next generation and decided to open a school.

They opened Oregon International Ballet Academy in 2015, and it now has approximately 50 students. Cheng is still performing full time with OBT and teaches ballet classes in the evening, and Li retired from performing in 2015 to run the school full time.

Young dancers at the Oregon International Ballet Academy. Photo by Yi Yin.

When we met, Cheng said that teaching and running a school was satisfying. “It’s different than dancing,” she said “I feel like my life is actually very balanced. Before, I only knew ballet, ballet, ballet. Ballet is everything in my whole life. And as a dancer it’s always me, me, me, me. So during teaching it’s actually made me a better dancer. I’m also learning from the kids, too.”

She says she is treasuring her time dancing in the studio much more these days now that she has a thousand other things to focus on when she leaves at the end of the day. “It’s made my life more full and not so one sided,” she said.

When I asked about how the two of them work together, Cheng said, “It’s very challenging but we help each other. Our whole life since we met, we’re dancing together, we are always helping each other. We help each other grow and become a better person, we’re honest with each other. Sometimes we have to really say it, touch the pain. In Chinese we have a saying, it’s like the good medicine is the bitterest.” They have known each other since 1998, were each other’s first love, and married two years ago.

Ballet students at the Oregon International Ballet Academy. Photo by Yi Yin.

They want to teach their students the connections between the ballet steps and the stage, and teach the why of it all. They want to teach them curiosity and to become active participants in the process. They want more for their students than just performing and smiling and looking pretty on stage. They want to involve the students in the creative process.

The new work by Li, Black and White, is based on an idea that came from his mother. “My mom always said when a baby is born, we are like a white paper, white colors, you put a color on there. Black is a bad thing you did. You punched the cat. You did a bad thing, You put the black color on your paper. You hug somebody, you make somebody happy, then you add another color. So basically that’s your life. So the idea is at the end, we’re going to have a lot of colorful stuff, a lot of painting on the white paper. No matter what kind of stuff you do, when you look back, those colors are what you did, or your memories.”

Li’s new work features live music with compositions by David Long, ERA, Samuel Barber, Ezio Bosso, Raul Gomez-Rojas, and Li himself, who originally wanted to be a violinist. His mother wanted him to be a dancer.

The performance also holds a few surprises, especially in reference to Li’s mother’s metaphor.

Performances this week

Diva Practice (Solo) at the Risk/Reward Festival 2017.  Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Diva Practice (Solo)
Pepper Pepper
November 2-November 5
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.
November 2 Post-Show Q+A talk back with Pepper Pepper
November 2-3 performances have ASL Interpretation

Diva Practice (Solo), is the last leg in a three-part cycle created by multidisciplinary artist Pepper Pepper who works in performance, drag, theatre, and dance.

“Diva Practice is a research project about drag and contemporary performance as a solo, duet, and ensemble,” Pepper says. “Diva Practice is a performance about queens dancing in the face of uncertainty, because being fabulous takes practice.”

I asked Pepper in an email interview what uncertainty queens have to face. Pepper said that “uncertainty is a political, choreographic, and emotional narrative throughout the show.” Using “improvisation and video interactivity” it places the character in uncertain situations where choice, impulse, and intention combine to illustrate her “practice.”

The making of Diva Practice (Solo), happened through a series of residencies, performances, and a tour through Oregon, Louisiana, Maine, Texas, and Georgia that “make accomplices of the audience and initiate conversation around gender, power, and vulnerability.”

“The diva practice research tour allowed me to experiment and practice with live audiences across the US,” Pepper said. “In a way, the practice became performing the show as a live rehearsal. This informs the ethos of the show, which is radical acceptance and discernment. The tour was also a way for me to see drag and diva worship in many different states which influenced my choreography and frame of mind.”

I interviewed Pepper back in 2016 close to the debut of D.I.V.A. Practice in Pepper Pepper explains D.I.V.A. Practice.

Polaris Dance Theatre dancers in Avalanche. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Avalanche
Polaris Dance Theatre, artistic director Robert Guitron
November 2-10
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.

Creating an arch between Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in this dance/music tribute, Polaris artistic director Robert Guitron plays with themes that were central to these artists—gender identity, diversity, sexuality, racism, spirituality, and fashion—in an evening work for thirteen dancers.

PDX Contemporary Ballet dancers attempting to read while dancing in Converge. Don’t try this at home. Photo courtesy of Briley Neugebauer.

Converge
PDX Contemporary Ballet, directed by Briley Neugebauer
November 3-5
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.

In this collaborative project, PDX Contemporary Ballet, which thrives on experimentation in ballet, has combined spoken word and contemporary ballet choreography to expand the storytelling power of both by pairing Portland choreographers with Portland writers.

The pairings are: BodyVox dancer/choreographer Alicia Cutaia and Fox and Beggar Theater Director Nat Allister; ballet dancer/choreographer Micah Chermak and poet Milly Wallace; Briley Neugebauer (artistic director of PDX Contemporary Ballet) and playwright Claire Willett; and Neugebauer and poet Lorelei O’Connor.

Due to a generous donation, PDX Contemporary Ballet is offering $5 and $10 tickets on opening night.

A moment from Linda Austin’s solo Big Real from 2004. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NW.

ICONIC
A fundraiser performance presented by Performance Works NW
7:30 pm and 9:30 pm November 4
Performance Works NW/Linda Austin Dance, 4625 SE 67th Ave.

Celebrating 17 years of engaging artists and audiences in “the process of experimentation, creation and dialog around the presentation of contemporary performance,” Performance Works NW directed by dance artist Linda Austin and lighting designer Jeff Forbes present Iconic, a fundraiser performance of 18 short works by community of artists inspired by photographic prompts highlighting memorable PWNW performance from 2000-2017.

The evening promises revelry and refreshments, and all proceeds go to supporting the awesome PWNW programming.

EARLY SHOW: 7:30pm
Linda Austin and the Boris & Natasha Dancers (Michael Chambers, Tom DeBeauchamp, Ben Martens), Gregg Bielemeier, Catherine Egan, Allie Hankins, Linda K. Johnson, Meg McHutchison, Kelly Rauer & claire barrera, edward sharp, and Lu Yim & keyon gaskin

LATE SHOW: 9:30pm
Tracy Broyles, Jeff Donaldson-Forbes, Maggie Heath, Seth Nehil, John Niekrasz, Stephanie Lavon Trotter, Leah Wilmoth with Alanna Hoyman-Browe & Simone Wood, Takahiro Yamamoto & Roland Dahwen Wu, and James Yeary.

Dancers Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe. Photo by Yi Yin.

Swan Lake Act 2 and Black and White (world premiere)
Oregon International Ballet Academy, directed by Xuan Cheng and Ye Li
Swan Lake Act II, Stage by Xuan Cheng after Lev Ivanov, World Premiere: Black and White, Contemporary Ballet Choreography by Ye Li
Featuring Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe, guest dancers from Oregon Ballet Theater,
OIBA students, and live music by members of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and Music Director Raúl Gómez
7:30 pm November 4
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

See above.

Performances Next Week

November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 11, A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 15, Horizon3 in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND, Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna

Upcoming Performances

November
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 7-9, Bolero + Billie, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January

January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

DanceWatch: A look back and a look ahead

We look back to NW Dance Project and Rejoice! before moving forward to Dancenorth and Nancy Ellis

Saturday mornings at 10:30 am Portland dance artist Tracey Durbin teaches a Luigi based, lyrical jazz class at NW Dance Project. It’s a phenomenal class that is emotional and technical and kicks my butt on a weekly basis, rendering me more or less useless for the rest of the day, but I love it.

Jamuna Chiarini

This past Saturday was extra special. Unbeknownst to me, the NW Dance Project dancers were also taking the class. It was also Ching Ching Wong’s last Durbin class before taking off on a ten-month world tour of performing and teaching. If you need to catch up with Wong and where she’s been and where she’s going, you can read our conversation in last week’s edition of DanceWatch.

Because the company (NW Dance Project) was in class, the energy and effort of everyone in the room was cranked up just a notch or two, and it became one of the most fun, most ecstatic classes I have taken. At the end of class Durbin put a piece of music on and made Wong improvise a solo for us. It was lovely—longing and poetic—and through her movement she thanked the dancers and Durbin. It was a truly memorable Saturday morning.

Saturday night was also Wong’s last performance with NW Dance Project, a performance I desperately wanted to see, but I was also performing at the same time with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre at Reed College.

That evening, after I finished dancing with Rejoice!, I booked it downtown to Lincoln Hall and caught the last two pieces of NW Dance Project’s Fall show: If at Some Hour You Return by Jiri Pokorny and Wen Wei Wang’s You Are All I See. Writer Heather Wisner saw the entire show and wrote about it for ArtsWatch. Overall she felt the evening echoed George Orwell’s 1984, and that Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opening work “felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian,” which “suffused the whole evening.”

Both pieces were darkly lit and from where I was sitting the details were difficult to see. The dancers for Pokorny’s work wore heavy black shoes, which I enjoyed. I like the weight they gave to the movements and the sounds they created on the stage. Wearing shoes also eliminates my fear of anyone slipping from dancing in socks, which these dancers wear a lot. The movements were also very angular and postmodern-like, which were beautifully juxtaposed with the circular pools of light they were dancing in.

Wang’s work felt softer and lighter in comparison, and because it said in the program that the movement was created in collaboration with the dancers, I spent a lot of time wondering which movement belonged to whom, and wondering about the dancers personal movement choices. Both pieces were superbly danced, of course.

I have a growing dislike of seeing dance far away in proscenium settings. I want to see dance up close. I want to be able to see dancers faces and feel their energy. I want to feel what they are feeling. I want to be involved. Something gets lost in translation for me if I’m sitting far away in a theatre separated by that invisible fourth wall and the space between us.

After the company bowed at the end of the performance, NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper brought out an enormous bouquet of flowers with extremely long flowing streamers attached and presented it to Wong. At this point the entire audience was on their feet clapping wildly, and several people in the front row were waving poster boards with hand drawn messages to Wong on them. The two male dancers who flanked Wong even raised her up on their shoulders and brought her to the front of the stage. It was a spectacular send off and I’m so glad to have witnessed it. It’s inspiring to see a dancer and her dancing so appreciated by an audience.

This brings me to Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, and their fifth show Uprise, which opened this past weekend at Reed College’s Greenwood Theatre.

I like the Greenwood Theatre. The dancers are close, you can see their faces, and feel their energy. There is nowhere to hide. It’s all out in the open, which makes the experience so personal and relatable.

Uprise is a collection of six dances choreographed by Oluyinka Akinjiola, the company’s artistic director and company dancers Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, in collaboration with the other company dancers: Uriah Boyd, Bethany Harvey, Juliette Nolan and Xavier “Decimus” Yarbrough.

I performed with the community ensemble in The Beast In Us, the first piece in the program choreographed by Akinjiola to the song Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti. We wore multicolored African print tunics with matching leggings and were encouraged to find our inner beast while performing a mix of steps based in the African diaspora. The ensemble included me, Christina Bazzaroni, Katie Emery, Jenny Fremont, Simeon Jacob, Jennifer Hanis-Martin, and Paige Thomas. I loved dancing the movement we were given and I had an amazing time dancing with Rejoice! and the ensemble.

The company is multi-ethnic and multicultural, and the movement forms represented in the works encompass every style imaginable from contemporary dance, dances from the African and Cuban diasporas, capoeira, hip-hop, krumping and more. A true representation of the actual world that we live in here in America.

The music ranged from Fela Kuti to Jill Scott to Portland singer/songwriter Amenta Abioto, who sang three heavenly solos interspersed between the dances. Abioto also composed the music for Quiet Strength, which was choreographed and performed by Akinjiola to Forget me not America, written by Joselyn Seid with vocals by Andrea Vernae. Against the backdrop of the rhythmic music, Akinjiola’s powerful, airborne dancing and her manipulation of yards of blue, white, and red cloth (introduced in that order, I think), the names of African-Americans killed by police were spoken with the words “Forget me not America” following.

The other pieces in the program dealt with finding the inner beast, differentiating fact from fiction in the story of Xica da Silva (a black woman who transcends slavery to become Brazilian aristocracy), keeping hope alive in the journey from oppression to awareness, using movement from B-boying, stepping, Palo, and Krumping for their roots in resistance as inspiration, and so much more.

This was a powerful performance with a purpose. The company’s work is significant and important at this moment in time, and their presence and energy to create change in this mostly white city, and Trump’s America is important.

Performances this week

Cocktail Hour: The Show-Florence
Ballets With A Twist
Artistic director/choreographer Marilyn Klaus
Presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
7 pm October 26
Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St, Florence

Cocktail Hour: The Show, created by New York choreographer Marilyn Klaus, in collaboration with Grammy-nominated composer Stephen Gaboury, and costume designer Catherine Zehr, brings back the glamour and excitement of Hollywood’s Golden Age, capturing the timeless American spirit in a series of ballet vignettes inspired by American cocktails. The “Martini” is a dangerous, super cool blonde bombshell, the “Manhattan” is a big city socialite, the “Mai Tai” is Hawaiian, and the “Bloody Mary” is styled after the original bloody Mary, the murderous Queen Mary of England.

Diva Practice (Solo) at the Risk/Reward Festival 2017.  Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Diva Practice (Solo)
Pepper Pepper
October 26-November 5
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.

Diva Practice (Solo), is the last leg in a three-part cycle created by multidisciplinary artist Pepper Pepper who works in performance, drag, theatre, and dance.

“Diva Practice is a research project about drag and contemporary performance as a solo, duet, and ensemble. Diva Practice is a performance about queens dancing in the face of uncertainty, because being fabulous takes practice.”

I asked Pepper in an email interview what uncertainty queens have to face. Pepper said that “uncertainty is a political, choreographic, and emotional narrative throughout the show.” Using “improvisation and video interactivity” it places the character in uncertain situations where choice, impulse, and intention combine to illustrate her “practice.”

The making of Diva Practice (Solo), happened through a series of residencies, performances, and a tour through Oregon, Louisiana, Maine, Texas, and Georgia that “make accomplices of the audience and initiate conversation around gender, power, and vulnerability.”

Pepper said, “The diva practice research tour allowed me to experiment and practice with live audiences across the US. In a way, the practice became performing the show as a live rehearsal. This informs the ethos of the show which is radical acceptance and discernment. The tour was also a way for me to see drag and diva worship in many different states which influenced my choreography and frame of mind.”

I interviewed Pepper back in 2016 close to the debut of D.I.V.A. Practice in Pepper Pepper explains D.I.V.A. Practice.

Dancenorth Australia. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Attractor
Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc, Gideon Obarzanek, and Senyawa
Presented by White Bird Uncaged
October 26-28
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Inspired by traditional Javanese trance ceremonies, where you enter a trance state through dance and music, Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc., Gideon Obarzanek (founder of Chunky Move), and the Javanese music duo Senyawa, have created Attractor. A work performed by eight dancers and two musicians, it aims to show how music and dance can create heightened physical states by turning performance into experience. Furthering the idea of an all-inclusive shared ritual, pre-selected audience members are invited into the performance, dissolving any demarcations between performer and audience.

Lucy Guerin Inc. is an Australian dance company established in Melbourne in 2002: “The Company is committed to the exploration of everyday events and the redefinition of the formal concerns of dance. New productions are generated through an experimental approach to creative process and may involve voice, video, sound, text and industrial design as well as Guerin’s lucid physical structures.”

Dancenorth is a contemporary dance company based in Townsville, Tropical North Queensland. “An epicenter for artistic exchange and collaboration Dancenorth balances a dynamic regional presence with a commitment to creating bold, adventurous and critically acclaimed contemporary dance.”

White Bird has presented Lucy Guerin’s and Gideon Obarzanek’s work numerous times to great acclaim, including the North American premieres of Chunky Move’s Tense Dave (2004) and Two-Faced Bastard (2009) as well as Lucy Guerin’s Weather (2013).

 

Ching Ching Wong in rehearsal for Migrants. Photo by Jim Lykins.

Migrants
Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Youth Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
7:30 pm October 27
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St.

In collaboration with Korean violinist looper Joe Kye and the Bravo Youth Orchestra, former NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong will perform “Migrants,” a solo choreographed by Portland choreographer and Princess Grace Award winner Katie Scherman.

The work is “a multi-disciplinary exploration of identity, culture, and the spirit of human migration, Migrants will also include tales of immigration from Kye and Wong’s personal journeys. The show explores many themes relevant to a rapidly globalizing world: the celebration of roots, cross-cultural interactions, and the need to recognize universal humanity across borders and artificial boundaries. At its conclusion, Migrants will offer audiences an opportunity to root themselves in their local community while simultaneously seeing themselves as part of a global village.”

Nous, on va danser by Nancy Ellis. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Nous, on va danser
Nancy Ellis
October 27-29
New Expressive Works (N.E.W.), 810 SE Belmont Street

Nous, on va danser (We are going to dance) is the third work in a triptych of autobiographical works choreographed and performed by Portland dance artist Nancy Ellis.

The series began with Nancy, four interpretations of the same solo created by longtime collaborator and New York choreographer Yanira Castro, inspired by Ellis. Ellis and Castro performed together in college and Ellis was a founding company member of Castro’s company.

From there Ellis created Nancy’s NANCY, Mid-Me, and now Nous, on va danser.

Nous, on va danser forecasts the future using Julien Blanc-Gras’s phrase from Nous Sommes Charlie as her touchstone.

I asked Ellis via email how this quote forecast the future.

I read a beautiful passage in writer Julien Blanc-Gras’s piece Un Monde Meilleur in the collection Nous sommes Charlie: 60 écrivains unis pour la liberté d’expression or We are Charlie: 60 writers united for freedom of expression back in March 2015, while I was working on Mid-Me. It concluded with the words Nous, on va danser and they became a kind of mantra for me. His message was similar to ones we told ourselves after 9/11. The show must go on. For me personally, I know that I must go on. And for me, to “go on” means to dance.

How are all three pieces connected?

Besides being autobiographical and chronological (Nancy’s NANCY is retrospective, Mid-Me was about my present, and Nous, on va danser evokes the future), I’ve discovered that they’re all about moving through fear: stage fright, fear of change, fear of being seen and heard.

The first solo in the triptych was Nancy’s Nancy, a multidisciplinary work where you used movement, set design, theatre, and music. Is this latest solo also multi-disciplinary? If so, how do you develop the different forms and weave them together to tell a complete story? What is your creative process like? What informs your choice making?

In Mid-Me, I wanted to try not talking, but I still use props and video with people speaking in it. In Nous, I ultimately wanted to use only my voice and my body. There is no video, only one minimal prop. Stephanie Lavon Trotter composed and recorded a score so that I could have music without having to “outsource” to other musicians. (Incidentally, I’ve also exclusively hired women to help me with this piece.) I’m less concerned with telling a complete narrative than using language, sound, and movement to engage with the audience and hopefully keep them engaged. I’d rather people be confused or even uncomfortable than have no thoughts or feelings about it.

Opus Cactus by Momix. Photo courtesy of Momix.

 

Opus Cactus-Eugene
MOMIX directed by Moses Pendleton
7:30 pm October 31
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Immerse yourself in the desert with giant cactuses, lizards, snakes, insects, and the dancers of Momix in Opus Cactus, an illusory work created by MOMIX artistic director Moses Pendleton that celebrates the landscape of the American Southwest.

Pendleton was the co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theater in 1971, and formed his own company, MOMIX, in 1980.

Performances Next Week

November 2-5, Diva Practice (Solo), Pepper Pepper
November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, Swan Lake Act ll & Black and White (world premiere), Oregon International Ballet Academy, Artistic Directors Xuan Cheng and Ye Li
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming

Upcoming Performances

November
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 11, A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 15, Horizon3 in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND, Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January

January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

I have a secret. Writing DanceWatch Weekly is a completely selfish venture/adventure that I deeply love. Well, maybe not so secret now. Because of DanceWatch, I get to immerse myself, or obsess (however you want to look at it), in the research of my favorite subject—dance. I get to bump up against so many different ideas and styles of movement, confront my biases, and examine the culture of dance and its forms on many levels. I also get to be in the presence of deeply insightful and inspiring artists, hear about their lives, and share their stories with you. So awesome, right? Right!

This week I spoke with NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong about leaving the company after seven years and her plans for the next ten months. That conversation unfolds below after the performance listings.

Yours truly will be performing with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater this weekend as part of its community ensemble in UPRISE. Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor A. Eggån and set designer Daniel Addy will debut their new dance-theatre work Abominable. NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with a world premiere and two returning works, and the Bolshoi Ballet will be live at a movie theater near you. Enjoy!

Performances this week

Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic-Monster. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

You Are All I See (World Premiere) by Wen Wei Wang, Post-Traumatic-Monster by Felix Landerer, and At Some Hour You Return by Jirí Pokorný
NW Dance Project
October 19-21
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

With a final performance by beloved, long time NWDP dancer Ching Ching Wong, and the introduction of two new dancers, Katherine Disenhof and Anthony Pucci, NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with three dances: You Are All I See, a brand new work by Chinese choreographer Wen Wei Wang; Post-Traumatic-Monster (2016) by German choreographer Felix Landerer; and At Some Hour You Return (2014), by Jirí Pokorný from the Czech Republic.

Dancer Taylor A. Eggån in Abominable. Photo courtesy of Taylor A. Eggån.

Abominable
Directed by Taylor A. Eggån, set and costume design by Daniel Addy, performed by both
October 20-22
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Abominable is a dance-theatre work that draws “on the medieval Scandinavian imaginary and its lineage of famed heroes” creating “a context for examining the monstrosity of heroism as well as the (self-)destructive logic of heroic consciousness, which continues to haunt white masculinity to this day.”

The work is directed by Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor Eggån in collaboration with dance artist and set designer Daniel Addy.

Eggån has performed for Gregg Bielemeier, Mary Oslund, POV, and Eliza Larson, he and keeps a blog of his writing at The Exploded View.

Addy has performed for aero/betty, Tahni Holt, Mary Oslund, Tracy Broyles, Suniti Dernovsek, Dawn Joella Jackson, and Linda K. Johnson to name a few, and has contributed to the set design of many dance works in Portland.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Oluyinka Akinjiola.

UPRISE
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola
October 20-22
Reed College, Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, an evening of choreographic premiers by artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola and company members Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, with musical guest Amenta Abioto. The works, inspired by Angela Davis’ desire to see liberation movements become intersectional, address issues of power, oppression, and community.

The company is “an ensemble of multi-dimensional dancers and musicians that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens bridging our vast history with our complex present. Rejoice! weaves dances of the African Diaspora, storytelling and live music to navigate through issues relevant to today’s world.”

Akinjiola says, “There is a reclaiming of power when we value aesthetics from the African Diaspora. Our bodies and our stories are inseparably political.”

The Bolshoi ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Le Corsaire
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
12:55 pm October 22
Playing at Century 16 Eastport, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, and Clackamas Town Center

In a live broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theatre near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Le Corsaire—a lavish ballet created in 1856 by Marius Petipa, contemporized by Alexei Ratmansky. The ballet tells the tale of shipwrecked pirates, the beautiful women who rescue them, the capture and sale of those women into sexual slavery as harem workers, and then, of course, the rescue of said ladies by the pirates in the end. It’s all about romantic love.

Interview with dancer Ching Ching Wong

Ching Ching Wong has danced for NW Dance Project for the past seven years. When she and I sat down this past weekend to talk, we estimated that she had danced approximately 70 new dances in her seven years with the company. If you’re wondering if that’s a lot? It is. It’s a whole lot. Wong’s contribution to the company is immeasurable.

This weekend she will be performing with NW Dance Project for the last time just days before she leaves on a self-directed world tour to teach and perform with her boyfriend of seven years Joe Reynolds and Korean violinist-looper and composer Joe Kye.

But before she exits Portland, Wong will perform a new solo choreographed by Katie Scherman with Kye and the Bravo Orchestra at Alberta Abbey on October 27 at 7:30 pm here in Portland. She will launch her website on October 25 as well as a fundraising campaign. Chingchingwong.com

Wong is half Chinese on her father’s side and half Filipino on her mother’s side. She was born in Manila but grew up in Southern California, and at the age of 13 moved in full time with her dance teacher Alia Harlan, the director of Allegria Dance Theater and stayed until graduation. Wang says that she was raised in a dance studio.

Dancer Ching Ching Wong. Photo (c) Peddecord Photo

Seven years ago, after graduating with a B.F.A. in Dance Performance and a minor in Education and Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine, Wong moved to San Francisco with the intention of staying. She auditioned for every dance company she could get her hands on but no success. Somewhere in there she auditioned for NW Dance Project, and artistic director Sarah Slipper hired her. She turned 22 during her first month in Portland dancing with the company.

Wong, who turned 29 in August, won the coveted Princess Grace Award for Dance in 2015 and was named one of Dance Magazine‘s 25 To Watch for 2017.

She is genuine, and kind, and makes a point to connect with every person she meets. She is fiercely positive and her bubbly nature and hopefulness is contagious. Her dancing is dynamic and quick, charming, heartfelt and emotional. She is a little body with a huge amount of energy and life.

She has been written about many times here at ArtsWatch and is dearly loved by Portland’s dance audiences. Gavin Larsen wrote about Wong in 2015 when she received the Princess Grace award. You can read that story here.

In March, Wong’s grandmother passed away and in April things began to shift.

“It’s as if something inside me was saying, ‘what are you scared of, Ching? What are you holding yourself back from? Loving and accepting more people into your life? What are some things that are important to you? What are some things that you want?’ It just stirred up a lot of questions and from those questions ignited movement.”

Her interior examination kept going, she said: “‘You’re so young, your body is capable, and your mind is capable and we are capable, so what do we want to do with these capabilities?’”

“And the thing is, I was fulfilled here, you know? Portland is my home. NW Dance Project has been my home for seven years, I have this fantastic group of people that I admire and love, and I’m rooted here. But something inside me stirred, and now I’m willing to turn my life upside down. I’m selling all my things and giving away all of my possessions and relinquishing my home and opening myself up to the world and asking if she will take me in. (Ching starts laughing) This sounds absolutely crazy, um…

I suggested that she wasn’t embarking on this course alone. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not doing this alone. I have this amazing partner in life, Joe Reynolds. You know when all of these feelings started coming up, every night I would come to him with a new idea, a new story, a new dream. And for every single one of my dreams he said, ‘OK, OK, OK, I will go with you.’ Oh my god, yeah it’s crazy. We’re both giving up our homes, our lives a little bit to open ourselves up to possibility.”

Wong rehearsing with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

It’s an emotional conversation, and we are both tearing up at this point, and then Ching starts laughing.

“I’m really emotional right now because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, so…,” Ching starts laughing again. “And the thing is I’m scared, but I don’t feel alone. I one hundred percent don’t feel alone. I feel the most supported that I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Even though I have so many questions about the next ten months…I feel sure, I feel sure that this is what I need to do and I feel ready.

We are both laughing and crying at this point.

How do you feel about leaving the company? About leaving the “it,” the thing that every dancer wants, a coveted full time dance job, for the unknown?

I love routine. I love taking class in the morning every day. I love that moment when you’re standing behind a choreographer and you are soaking up them and their past, and their movement and everything they are bringing to the table. I love that work, I love being in the studio. And I have one more week left—Saturday is my last performance, this is my last time in the studio. But it feels like nothing is going to change. When I’m in the studio, it feels like the safest place I can be. The world just kind of washes away around it. So leaving it’s hard to imagine a little bit, absolutely, right now. But I’m so excited for…I mean two things: there are only ten spots in the company. And so the dancers that get to have those spots next? It’s good, it’s a gift for them. They deserve it. And Katherine and Anthony are the two new dancers who have joined us, and they’re amazing.

So this is the thing, it’s like, I am viciously sad to be leaving the company and to be leaving these relationships that I love. But then I feel I get to take the dancers with me, you know? They’re family, they’re gonna come with me on this journey. And then what I’m most astonished with in this journey is that I’ve been reaching out to old teachers, old friends, my colleagues and asking if they want to join me. For example Charbel [Rohayem], Tatiana [Barber] and Lindsey Matheis, they are going to dance with me in Los Angeles. I’m going to Boise November 1st and Lauren Edson was one of the first choreographers I worked with. Victor [Usov] and Nicholas [Petrich], you know Victor who was formerly part of NW Dance Project, they want to join me in the Philippines to do outreach there. My friend Caili [Quan] from BalletX introduced me to ballet schools in Guam and so I am going to her home town. Ihsan [Rustem], I’m assisting him in Switzerland. I don’t feel like I’m leaving cause I feel like I get to find this this deeper and richer connection in my mobility. (like a crystal formation) That just continue to spread. If you could attach a string to me and attach it to everyone else and just keep letting that blossom and ooze out

I love this idea that our bodies are our vessels that hold our mentors and hold our past. You know my dancing and me, I’m a reflection of Donald McKayle, of Aliya, of Sarah Slipper of the dancers who have partnered me, of my family. …it’s kind of neat to think that that can continue to grow and spread and connect.

I mean, even here in Portland I have asked Katie Scherman to choreograph a solo for me…I want to open myself up to join as many people as I can, ‘cause we’re stronger together, you know?

How are you funding all of this?

No idea. I have $500 in my bank account.

How are you are so brave?

I don’t feel brave, I’m absolutely scared out of my mind. [laughing] Also I’m poor and I have big dreams. I’m launching a fundraiser on October 25th.

I’ve been avoiding the fundraising aspect of this because I’m the most scared of it. I’ve prided myself since college of you know… I worked three jobs when I was in college. When I first joined the company I was teaching 7 classes a week on top of a full 40 hour rehearsal schedule. Because there is a pride in me to be able to care for myself and be financially stable. So yes, honestly I think I’m going to need a little help with these next ten months and I’m so scared to say it, I really am.

So outreach is one of the portions that is part of this journey. I’m going to Nepal and spending some time at Kopila Valley Children’s Home. The founder is Maggie Doyne. She won CNN Hero of the year in 2015. She’s incredible. The school has 350 Nepalese kids and her home has 50. They all call her “Maggie mom.” It is incredible. And that sort of love is the kind of love I felt when I was growing up. I said I was raised in a dance studio, I truly was. I was raised in a dance village, and I still feel like I’m in a dance village. And then to see those kids in Nepal, that’s exactly how they’re growing up. There growing up loved and supported, even though it’s simple.

But yeah, I have big dreams. I want to go in there, and I want to raise money, not only to fly me to these locations, but to raise money to create a dance program for them. A couple thousand dollars can help fund a dance teacher for a whole year for them. I feel like we can do this.

So me, Joe Kye the violinist, and Joe Reynolds are going to Kopila Valley Children’s Home and we’re doing dance, music, and art with them.

On Thursday evening I did a 30 minute Skype dance class with a couple of kids in Nepal. Joe was playing live, Janelle Garland was my assistant, and it was at BodyVox. It was my way of introducing myself to the kids in Nepal and give them a taste of a dance class and let people view it. I streamed it live on FB and instagram.

Wong dancing in Summer Splendors with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

How have you changed as an artist in your time with NW Dance Project?

So dance growing up for me was this fearsome attachment. It felt like I needed dance to survive and to be whole. It was fearsome. It’s vicious and I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I am not the most talented dancer in the room, I am not the dancer with the most facility. My teacher used to say, “It’s not the dancer that has it all that’s going to make it, it’s the one that stays in the race.” And I think that’s true because no one is going to kick me out of this race because I’m going to be here whether people like it or not. I think I’m the one that just keeps coming to class and I just want to keep working on it, and I’m not the best at it. I’ve always admired all these dancers around me. Even when I first joined the company, at my audition, I remember watching Andrea Parson, she’s the most magical creature I’ve ever seen in my life: “I want to dance with her.” You know? So that was a dream of mine when I first auditioned, the moment I laid eyes on her.

I think my relationship with dance it’s as if I needed to let go of this fearsome attachment in order for myself to feel good standing in my own skin. I’m not trying to show or prove or fight or you know? I think maybe I fought so hard to dance in my early years that I slowly started to shed that, to let go of that so that, so I could finally just move and breath and just exhale in my own body a little bit. I don’t know if that makes sense.

I’ve let go a little bit. I still love dance as much. But I don’t fearsomely need it that it hurts me anymore.

What has company life been like for you?

It’s a rigorous schedule. It’s very disciplined and in a way…I mean I live a really boring life. I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, you show up to work, you do ballet class every day, and rehearse for six hours a day and you repeat the pieces, you choreograph, you make the work, you rehearse the pieces, you work on notes you wake up, you do it again. And I love it, I love that about it, you know? But that’s not for everyone, it’s not for everyone.

In terms of me and the company, I feel as if…Kate Wallich said this once to me in Seattle, she said, ‘Ching, you’re like the one that wants to mellow, to keep the waters calm, not calm, but level out the energy in the room.’ For example, if it’s too hyper I’ll kind of stay quiet, if spirits are down then I’ll crack a joke. Or if it’s a bit tense, then I’ll sacrifice myself and make fun of myself. I think it’s because I don’t like confrontations.

The dancers recently roasted me at this gala a couple of weeks ago…I think I redefined my definition of love. It just made me realize that I have so much history with each and every one of these people. There are stories that were shared in various parts of the world that no one can ever really capture. And even our tiny little dressing room: I can’t tell you the amount of laughter that’s happened inside those dressing rooms, you know, or tears, or car rides. It’s just memories. Those feelings are irreplaceable, really. Maybe that’s all we live for are just those memories, we just want to connect, maybe that’s all we want. We just want to connect with someone, we just want to feel something. We want to be part of…

This is a hard question to ask because I’m sure every choreographer you’ve worked with has been amazing but do you have any favorite choreographers?

This next program is really special. So Felix Landerer choreographed a piece last year. It’s called Post-Traumatic-Monster. I think Felix was revolutionary for the whole company. Everybody was just blown away with Felix. The way in which he approaches movement, his detail and the way he digs into the movement is so specific. It was changing, it was really mind changing.

Is it his use of language?

Its his language, how he describes it, it’s also his body. He can show us the difference. And it’s not movement that you’ve not necessarily seen before but it’s different in how he places his weight and how he pushes off the floor and the spirals and how he initiates and finishes movement and the whole process in between.

But It was really a whole mental shift in, I think, all the dancers. Which is so inspiring. And his piece in particular is special to be doing, it’s my last time dancing with Franco [Nieto]. I think maybe I’ve waited my whole life to do a role like this. Because it’s more than just movement. It kind of scares me to do it. It’s that fear that I’m not good enough for it or that I’m not brave enough to ask of myself to do it.

And then Jirí Pokorny choreographed “At Some Hour You Return” in 2015. I submitted it for the Princess Grace Award. And I love this solo, I love it, I love it. I remember when I first worked with Jiri and he set this solo on me, I went home and repeated the movement over and over and over and over, I obsessed about it. All I could think about were the movements. It’s so intricate, quirky and fast, and I loved how his body shifted in it. I’m so excited to be doing it onstage.

And the last work is You Are All I See by Wen Wei Wang. I love that we’re working with Wen Wei because he worked with us when I first joined the company. My last moment on stage is going to be his work—I’m going to get to walk off stage with him in my heart. You know? Those three are really special.

I have to say that Ihsan [Rustem] has been a huge part of my career. And he’s one that I’m taking with me onto this next side. I’m honored to be his right hand person while I’m in Switzerland, helping him restage Yidam for Concert Theatre Burn. I feel tremendously connected to Ihsan. When I started planning and thinking these next ten months, he’s one of the first people I called. I feel like he’s there with me, even if he’s not physically by my side. I know he’s holding my hand saying, “You get it girl, you got this.”

I’m launching my website on the 25th of October along with my fundraiser.

I want my website to really be a hub for everyone to come on the journey with me. I want to be able to show all the places I’m teaching and choreographing and working. All the places that I’m on tour with Joe Kye. And I also want it to be a place where I can acknowledge the tremendous amount of support from people who have backed me.

Wong and Viktor Usov rehearsing choreography by Ihsan Rustem at NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Tell me about the solo Katy choreographed.

She’s a dream. I said I made a dance bucket list, and Katie Scherman is on it. I think she’s incredible. I love the way she moves, I love how she loves and how excited she gets watching other dancers.

Do you think your princess Grace award and the recognition from dance magazine (25 to watch) made a difference? Would you have had the confidence to do what you are doing without the recognition?

I think I’m still who I am. Princess Grace and 25 to watch, for me I’m most thankful for them I feel like it’s a way I can honor my teachers and my mentors. So for me I feel like that award is for them, and to be able to acknowledge them is number one on my list. Right? Who cares about me, I’ll just keep going, it’s fine. Rememberer, I’m never going to stop this race, I’m just going to keep going. But for them, that award is for them. They have made the dancer that I am and the person that I am.

What are your plans for your last week with NW Dance Project?

Normal. I’m going to wake up and take ballet class. I’m gonna rehearse. I’m going to eat dinner and go to bed. There’s just a couple of extra things I have to do alongside of it, like try and plan my life for the next ten months. You know when food is so good and there’s that last bite and you just wanna slowly eat it and savor it and remember it and build your story around the whole evening that surrounded this bite. Then that’s it.

I want to make sure that I leave Portland letting people know how much they meant to me. Really. I’ve felt so loved and so supported. It’s important for me to make sure that all those people who have been by my side here know that. It’s going to be a gift to get be on that stage with those dancers for one last time.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 26, Cocktail Hour: The Show, choreography by Marilyn Klaus, presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
October 26-November 5, Diva Practice (Solo), Kaj-anne Pepper
October 26-28, Dancenorth Australia, presented by White Bird
October 27, Migrants, Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
October 27-29, Nous, on va danser, Nancy Ellis
October 31, Opus Cactus, MOMIX, Eugene

November
November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

DanceWatch: Paul Taylor takes White Bird back to the beginning

A busy Oregon dance week also includes Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Espacio Flamenco Portland

Jamuna Chiarini

This week in Oregon, dance delivers. Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to Portland thanks to White Bird, an evening of conversation and performance with Espacio Flamenco, and Nicolo Fonte’s Rhapsody in Blue continues for a second weekend at Oregon Ballet Theatre. The Northwest Screendance Exposition opens in Eugene featuring an evening of Portland films, and Nartana Kuchipudi presents Sri Krishna Satya. So much dance goodness in this beautiful week.

Looking back, Bob Hicks reviewed the work of Complexion Contemporary Ballet last week in The Complexion of the Times, and Matthew Andrews reviewed Narayana Katha in Narayana Katha Bharatanatyam review: enchanting dreamscape.

Performances this week

Rhapsody in Blue by Nicolo Fonte. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Rhapsody In Blue (World Premiere) and Never Stop Falling (in Love)
Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre, directed by Kevin Irving
October 7-14
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
See above
Rhapsody In Blue, a collaboration between Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale continues for a second weekend, along with Never Stop Falling (in Love), Fonte’s 2014 work created for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary. It features Pink Martini singer China Forbes and a medley of Pink Martini songs.

Two weeks ago I sat in on a rehearsal for Rhapsody In Blue. The costumes for Rhapsody are a gorgeous, textural mix of electric blues in satins, laces, brocades, and matte cottons, with swirling skirts, and tailored suits, evoking decadent sumptuousness and ease. The movement, like the chosen color, is also electric and explosive, shooting out from the dancer’s centers like arrows, creating dramatic, stretched lines with arms and legs. It sweeps and falls, rebounds and flies, describing the music and the space around the notes perfectly. Sometimes the dancing is large and uses the whole cast, and sometimes it is quiet and uses a single gesture. It’s a beautiful, dynamic work that might make you see/hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in a whole new light.

Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance. Photo courtesy of Espacio Flamenco Portland.

Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance
Presented by Espacio Flamenco Portland
Featuring Alfonso Cid (singer), Jed Miley (guitarist), Lillie Last (dancer), Christina Lorentz (dancer), Brenna McDonald (dancer), and Nick Hutcheson (percussionist)
October 11
7 pm Lecture Demonstration
8 pm Performance
McMenamins Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St.

In celebration of the flamenco language that links singing, guitar, dance, and percussion, Espacio Flamenco Portland presents Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance— a combination lecture demonstration and performance presenting world-renowned flamenco guest artists alongside some of Portland’s finest Flamenco artists.

In a pre-show interactive lecture/demonstration, professional flamenco singer Alfonso Cid will take the audience on a historical journey of flamenco, discuss differences in styles, talk techniques behind the vocals, guitar playing and dance, and introduce some of Flamenco’s most influential artists.

Arden Court, Syzygy, and Piazzolla Caldera
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Presented by White Bird
October 12-14
Newmark Theatre, Portland’5, 1111 SW Broadway
Celebrating full circle, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, who performed for White Bird’s first season, returns to perform three classic Taylor works, two of which appeared on White Bird’s inaugural program in October 1997—Arden Court and Piazzolla Caldera.

Arden Court, set to the Baroque composition of William Boyce, was originally choreographed in 1981. According to Anna Kisselgoff for the New York Times, the piece is a “continuum of non-stop movement.” Clive Barnes for The New York Post wrote that “[Arden Court is] one of the few great art works created in [the 20th] century.”

Syzygy, from 1987, hurls dancers across the stage like orbiting and eclipsing planets to a commissioned score by Donald York. ArtsWatch executive editor Barry Johnson, at the time with The Oregonian, wrote that it is: “Full of utterly brilliant and seemingly disconnected shards of choreography. A full-throttle exercise in physicality, loose-limbed and speedy… It simply continues to increase its velocity, its sense of elfin delight, as the dance goes by. Leaves the audience gasping for more.”

Piazzolla Caldera, Taylor’s tribute to the Argentine tango, from 1997, danced to Astor Piazzolla’s seductive music, captures the culture and dance of tango without a single authentic tango step.

Taylor trained with Martha Graham and José Limón, joining the the Graham Dance Company as a soloist in 1955. He also worked with Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine who created the solo work Episodes for Taylor as a 1959 New York City Ballet guest artist.

His choreographic career began in 1954 and his work became hugely influential to the advancement of modern dance in the 20th and 21st centuries, inspiring dance and choreographers worldwide.

In an interview with Jeffrey Brown for PBS, Taylor talked about his work and said, “Well, you see, dance, I think, consciously or unconsciously symbolizes life. And it reflects the human condition, or it can. It tells us the joys, the sorrows, the fallacies, the idiocies, the brilliance, anything human.”

Robert Battle, the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is recorded on video on the company’s Vimeo channel talking about how Taylor’s work has influenced his own work, and about setting Piazzolla Caldera on Ailey in his inaugural season as artistic director in 2011. You can see that video here and also an excerpt of the Ailey company performing Taylor’s Arden Court here.

A still from Libera, a film by Walter Yamazaki. Photo courtesy of The NW Screendance Exposition.

The Northwest Screendance Exposition-Eugene
Founded and Directed by John Watson
Presented by the University of Oregon Department of Dance
October 13-14
University of Oregon Department of Dance, Dougherty Dance Theatre, 1484 University St.
7:30 pm October 13, The Portland Project – films from Portland screendance film makers
10:00 am October 14, So This is Screendance! Seminar/workshop led by John Watson and Shannon Mockli (Free)
4:30 pm October 14, The Juried Films, Part 1
7:30 pm October 14, The Juried Films, Part 2

Curated by founder and director John Watson, this annual Eugene-based screendance festival celebrates artistic collaborations between dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, and sound artists on film.

The festival includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA.

The Portland Project which opens the festival on Friday October 14, will feature four films by Portland filmmakers; Eric Nordstrom’s Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present, Fuchsia Lin’s Crystals of Transformation, Gabriel Shalom’s Warehouse Samba, and Living The Room by SubRosa Dance Collective.

ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington based in Eugene previewed the entire festival, which you can read here.

Sri Krishna Satya-Thematic Dance Ballet. Photo courtesy of Nartana Kuchipudi.

Sri Krishna Satya-Thematic Dance Ballet
Hosted by Nartana Kuchipudi
3 pm October 14
Portland Community College Rock Creek, 17705 NW Springville Road

Presenting Sri Krishna Satya, a Kuchipudi dance ballet about Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama, produced, directed and presented by Guru Sri.Pasumarthy Vekateswara Sarma, performed by the students of Anuradha Ganesh.

Kuchipudi is one of the eight major Indian classical dance forms originating from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The style is a blend of dance and drama, has similar costumes to Bharatanatyam, and is known for it’s plate and pot dances where the dancer performs while standing on a brass plate while balancing a pot on her head.

Upcoming Performances

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DanceWatch Weekly: White Bird turns 20, OBT season opens

A big week in dance starts with White Bird and Oregon Ballet Theatre and then moves to Indian dance and "Moving Through Darkness"

Twenty years ago Paul King and Walter Jaffe moved to Portland from New York City and launched White Bird, Portland’s biggest dance presenter and the sole, dance-only presenter West of the Rockies.

Their 20-year contribution to Portland’s dance scene and to the dance community at large is huge. Over the 20 years they have presented 250 dance companies from around the world, commissioned and co-commissioned 36 new works in a range of styles and choreographers from Portland and beyond, and have developed some of the most enthusiastic, dedicated, and educated dance audiences I have ever seen. White Bird’s 20th season is dedicated to those audiences.

Jamuna Chiarini

Complexions Contemporary Ballet from New York, co-directed by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, opens that season. Rhoden was a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Richardson was the first Black American Principal dancer at American Ballet Theater.

The company is 23 years old itself, and has been called “America’s original multicultural dance company.” They pride themselves on being based in ballet but not limited to it, expanding their movement vocabulary into any and every genre, proposing an alternate view of classical ballet.

The company will perform three pieces, all choreographed by Rhoden: Ballad Unto…. for 14 dancers, performed to Bach, that explores love’s many facets; IMPRINT/MAYA, a solo performed by Richardson,
danced to a pre-recorded track featuring Melanie Nyema on Vocals, Ron Pedley on piano and Mat Fieldes on bass and the words of Maya Angelou; and STAR DUST, a tribute to David Bowie.

Journalist Joe Lynch, for Billboard magazine online, stated in his impassioned review of STAR DUST after it premiered at The Joyce Theatre in New York in January, that STAR DUST “isn’t a cheap attempt to capitalize on Bowie’s fame, but a thoughtful exploration by choreographer Dwight Rhoden of the way movement reveals additional layers in Bowie’s music (something Bowie himself did onstage, mimicking gifted movers from Pierrot the Clown to kabuki actors over the course of his career).” Lynch says if you’re a Bowie fan, “Star Dust is a must—whether you think you enjoy the ballet or not.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre kicks off its season this weekend with the world premiere of Rhapsody In Blue, a collaboration between Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale. With permission from the Gershwin Foundation, Lauderdale created a new arrangement of George Gershwin’s jazz classic that lengthens the score, draws out nuances in the music, and allows for more movement possibilities.

The score, originally created for a solo piano and jazz band, will instead be performed live on two grand pianos by Lauderdale and Hunter Noack. The program also includes Never Stop Falling (in Love), Fonte’s 2014 piece created for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary. It features Pink Martini singer China Forbes and a medley of Pink Martini songs.

Rhapsody In Blue the dance, softly weaves together abstract contemporary ballet choreography with a narrative describing the mood of the blue hour or “L’heure bleue.” A French phrase with no exact English translations, it describes the magical hours between daylight and night that lovers might meet before returning home to their spouses. A kind of magical time of day when things become less linear and boundaries become more fluid.

Last week I sat in on a rehearsal for Rhapsody In Blue as the costume designer was trying out different costume possibilities on the dancers. The room was abuzz with activity, full of company dancers, stage managers, costume designers, lighting designers, and other artistic personal. I am always amazed at what a massive production ballets are and how many people it takes to put a production together, compared to many smaller productions I regularly see where the choreographer does almost everything.

The costumes for Rhapsody are a gorgeous, textural mix of electric blues in satins, laces, brocades, and matte cottons, with swirling skirts, and tailored suits, evoking decadent sumptuousness and ease. The movement, like the chosen color, is also electric and explosive, shooting out from the dancer’s centers like arrows, creating dramatic, stretched lines with arms and legs. The movement sweeps and falls, rebounds and flies, describing the music and the space around the notes perfectly. Sometimes the dancing is large and uses the whole cast and sometimes it is quiet and uses a singular gesture. It’s a beautiful, dynamic work that might make you see/hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in a whole new light.

Performances this week

Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Sachyn Mital Photography

Ballad Unto…., IMPRINT/MAYA, and STAR DUST
Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Choreography by Dwight Rhoden
Presented by White Bird
October 5-7
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Eugene Ballet Company’s Mowgli. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

Mowgli – The Jungle Book Ballet-Eugene
Eugene Ballet Company directed by Toni Pimble
October 6-8
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Toni Pimble, the artistic director of Eugene Ballet, retells Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” through ornate costumes, masks, sets, and world music, in the story of orphaned Mowgli, his friend Baloo the Bear, the terrifying Tiger Shere Khan and the snake Kaa.

Dance artist Oluyinka Akinjiola performing at Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton.

Moving through Darkness
This is a Black Spatial Imaginary
Featuring Intisar Abioto, Akela Auer, and Oluyinka Akinjiola
5 pm October 7
Paragon Arts Gallery, 815 N Killingsworth St.
Moving through Darkness, is a movement and dance performance featuring writer, dancer, photographer, and the author/photographer/curator of The Black Portlanders Intisar Abioto; writer, poet, dancer, and choreographer Akela Auer; and dancer, choreographer, teacher, scholar and artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, Oluyinka Akinjiola.

“This Is A Black Spatial Imaginary’ considers the movement and fixity of Black communities, by activating past, present and future spaces for Black life. This is a Black Spatial Imaginary brings together installation, video, print media, performance, and public intervention, exploring new forms of practice at the intersection of art, collaboration, historical record, urban planning, collaboration and creative exchange.”

Bharatanatyam dancer Jayanthi Raman. Photo courtesy of Jayanthi Raman.

Dance Of The Hummingbirds
Jayanthi Raman and dancers
7 pm October 7
Dolores Winningstad Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Combining live music, poetry by Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen, artwork by Shashank Rao, and guest dancers from Chennai, India, Portland Bharatanatyam choreographer/teacher Jayanthi Raman reflects on finding inner strength to overcome life’s obstacles in her new work Dance Of The Hummingbirds.

Rhapsody in Blue by Nicolo Fonte. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Rhapsody In Blue (World Premiere) and Never Stop Falling (in Love)
Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre directed by Kevin Irving
October 7-14
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
See above.

Upcoming Performances

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