Nim Wunnan

 

Stephen Petronio: Past and present

The choreographer has recovered and re-staged several postmodern classics, which inform his own current work

Stephen Petronio returned to Portland’s Newmark Theatre four years after his company danced the haunting, longform piece Like Lazarus Did. This time, his company performed a concert that included both a recent, original work and a set of iconic and influential pieces from some of Petronio’s postmodern heroes and mentors—Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and Anna Halprin.

Starting in 2014 with Merce Cunningham’s RainForest, the company has added one or more historic pieces to its repertoire as part of the project Petronio calls Bloodlines. After celebrating his company’s 30th anniversary, Petronio began Bloodlines as a way to honor the choreographers whose works were pivotal to Petronio’s own legacy. At the same time, the series provides a new path forward for the company—each season they perform a new, original work alongside the historical pieces. As writer Melanie George explains in her excellent essay included with the program, Bloodlines establishes “a ”dialogue with itself and current and future pieces by Petronio.“ It’s a way of saying, ”this is where we’ve come from,” that doesn’t just leave Petronio’s influences in the past: The historic pieces brought to life on the stage, some of them for the first time in many years, find an equal footing with brand new work.

Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A With Flags,” performed by the Stephen Petronio Company/Photo by Julie Lemberger, courtesy of White Bird

This invites a comparative reading of the dances, new and old alike. Besides Cunningham, Petronio has focused on Trisha Brown, Halprin, Paxton, and Rainer for this exciting, ongoing project.

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VizArts Monthly: April is about photography

It's Portland Photo Month, so a bunch of photography shows are expected, but there's lots more to see, too

While we have yet to escape the various micro-seasons of post-winter, pre-spring Portland (such as Fool’s Spring, Mud Season, and Third Winter), blossoms are indeed blooming and the list of events and openings is getting fuller and fuller.

For example, we’ve got a rich crop of photography shows this April. I’m sure there’s some sort of “exposure” pun to be had from the fact that they’re going up at the same time the sun is starting to come out, but of course we’re above such jokes here at Artswatch. And in any case it probably has more to do with the fact that it’s Portland Photo Month.

If handmade images are more your thing, man have we got a group show for you. Overall, this month’s roundup features a number of colorful options that range from intensely personal to riotously social, with plenty in between.

Themes include: faces, small art spaces, and the experience of being from other places.

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Jessica Lang Dance: Classically modern

White Bird gave us a good survey of the work of forward-leaning ballet choreographer Jessica Lang this weekend

This weekend, Jessica Lang Dance, which Lang founded in 2011, visited Portland for the first time. A Juilliard graduate, Lang is a former member of Twyla Tharp’s company, THARP!, and is widely recognized as one of the most talented choreographers of her generation. Though she’s still in the prime of her career, Lang’s CV is stuffed with accomplishments and awards, including her 2014 Bessie Award and her Arison Award in 2017. Outside of her work for JLD, her choreography has been performed by prominent companies around the world, from original compositions for American Ballet Theater and the National Ballet of Japan, to her work on the production of Aida directed by Francesca Zambello for the San Francisco and Washington National opera companies.

As a company, JLD has also accomplished an impressive amount in less than a decade. The mission “to enrich and inspire global audiences by immersing them in the beauty of movement and music” takes them around the world for more than 50 annual performances at some of the most prestigious venues in the performing arts world. As part of that mission, Lang developed the LANGuage program to provide high-quality educational activities in relationship to their programming, both at home in New York with a focus on the Queens community and in cities around the world when they tour.

Jessica Lang Dance visited Portland with a set of six dances, including “The Calling.”/Courtesy of White Bird

The program for this performance was an excellent opportunity to survey the range of Lang’s choreography and the strengths of the company. Like Lang’s career, the show covered a lot of ground in a short time. The six separate pieces represent original compositions by Lang from 2006 to 2017, demonstrating the span of motifs and themes that have defined Lang’s choreography since before JLD up to some of her most current work developed specifically for the company.

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Urban Bush Women: ‘We’re going on a journey’

Urban Bush Women brought 'Hair and Other Stories' to town and a lot more than just talk

Urban Bush Women returned to the White Bird Uncaged series with a new work this weekend, Hair and Other Stories. The company’s first work with stage director Raelle Myrick-Hodges, this ambitious, multidisciplinary performance is definitely about hair and definitely about those “other stories.”

The piece runs a little more than two hours with one intermission, and is dense by nearly every measure. The themes, the movement, the performative strategies, and the direct discussion with the audience covers an enormous amount of ground as it “debates the center of perceived American ‘values’ and celebrates the persevering narrative of the African Diaspora,” in the words of the press release. Right away Urban Bush Women acknowledge that some of the territory will be difficult or uncomfortable, but the almost-superhuman generosity of the performers carries us all through it together.

Urban Bush Women brought “Hair and Other Stories” to Portland/Courtesy of White Bird

The show opens with a quiet moment between dancer Samantha Speis, who is also the company’s associate art director, and Aminata Balde, who is two years old and impossibly cute. While audio samples from interviews with black women talking about the role of hair and the rituals around its care (or destruction) in their lives, Speis picks a few plain but significant hair care products off a table and hands a comb to Aminata that looks enormous in her tiny hands. With a few deft movements, Speis bundles Aminata onto her back under a printed cloth, and walks off stage with a sense of purpose. We have begun our journey.

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VizArts Monthly: March on

You WILL make it through the last dregs of winter, and a new set of visual arts shows will help

I’ve seen March arrive in Portland more than a dozen times, and yet still some part of me thinks “Ok, it’s spring now, right?” It’s not spring, and it won’t be spring for a while. It’s still winter, still time left in the unpredictable progression from spiteful to mightful to sometimes delightful. It’s easy to think things just won’t change. But we Portlanders go through this every year, filling the outdoor cafes as soon as the sun makes an appearance. It’s built into our constitutions to look for signs of progress and renewal when all seems lost.

Checking the news at any point is a quick reminder that the weather’s not the only thing that manages to be both unexpected and depressing in 2018. Even though the clouds haven’t parted yet, some big, colorful developments are already showing. Black Panther is smashing box office records and inspiring intelligent conversation about a comic book movie, vibrant portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald break the stuffy monotony of official presidential portraits, and the tough-as-nails students of Stoneman Douglas have already managed to budge the national conversation about gun control more than Washington has ever been willing to.

Likewise, our local artists and institutions aren’t waiting for the sun to come back to add some color and light to our city. March is chock full of smart, complex, and beautiful shows representing diverse perspectives. This list should give you plenty of chances to jolt the grey away.

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New Expressive Works: Boundary pushing

Subashini Ganesan's resident choreographer program featured work by Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Crystal Jiko Sasaki, and Wolfbird Dance

New Expressive Works’ second set of resident artists for 2017 showcased their boundary-pushing new pieces this weekend. Founded in 2012 with the mission to support dancers of diverse backgrounds in developing original work, N.E.W. also provides accessible practice space and a variety of movement classes in a centrally-located, well-equipped studio.

Annually, the space serves 4500 audience members and students, and more than 200 independent performing artists have used the facilities for some aspect of their practice.The program has incubated many new projects and collaborations for its 37 resident artists choreographers working with at total of 100 collaborators.

Highlights have included:

  • Oluyinka Akinjiola forming her performance troupe, “Rejoice Diaspora Dance Theater” during her residency
  • The residency has attracted transplants such as Luke Gutgsell, James Healey, Dar Vejon Jones, Stephanie Lanckton and current residents Crystal Jiko and Madison Page who have gone on to be involved in local programs such as TBA, BodyVox, Headwater Theatre, and Skinner/Kirk.
  • Veterans Linda K. Johnson, Dawn Stoppiello, Catherine Egan, Stephanie Schaaf, and current resident Tere Mathern have produced new work and held critical feedback sessions.

Tere Mathern and Alison Heryer performed in N.E.W.’s 9th residency concert/Courtesy of New Expressive Works

Every six months, four choreographers (or in this case, three individuals and a team of two) are chosen for the residency program. They receive 144 hours of free rehearsal space, a modest stipend, and moderated, critical feedback in the form of Katherine Longstreth’s Fieldwork program. The works, whether they are finished or in progress, debut as 20-minute pieces at the end of the residency, as they did this weekend for the 9th session.

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At White Bird, ‘Attractor’ is magnetic

Australian dance talent meets Javanese musicians, and the result is transformational

Attractor could rightfully be called Condenser for how much talent is concentrated into a single show. First we have Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. Though partners in everyday life, they don’t collaborate professionally very often—about every six years by their own account. Portland’s seen some good work by Lucy Guerin Inc., and as one of the founders of Chunky Move, Obarzanek has brought some amazing work through town. However, they’ve never been to Portland at the same time. When the directors of White Bird noted this in the Q&A after the performance, they suggested that they might kidnap them and keep them here. I hope Guerin and Obarzanek didn’t sense how much the audience seemed to support the idea.

Any collaboration between these two is worth noting, but joining forces with Dancenorth brings a whole new artistic dimension. Created when Ann Roberts placed $100 on the table during a public meeting because she was tired of seeing talented dancers leave Australia or gravitate to the more populous south to pursue their careers, Dancenorth has become an artistic center in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. A multifaceted program, the company produces new work, hosts classes, and provides professional development opportunities, putting northern Australia on the map for contemporary dance. They seem to bring with them some of the coastal wildness of their part of the world.

Dancenorth and Senyawa joined forces for ‘Attractor’/Photo courtesy White Bird

Ok, so we have two award-winning choreographers in a rare collaboration and an acclaimed dance company. That’s enough Australian talent to stuff the stage, but those are just the dancers. The musicians knock this one out of the park.

Javanese duo Senyawa are not just central to the stage and the performance. Their work was the inspiration for the entire piece, and they were full creative partners in the development of the choreography. As they developed the show, sometimes the music led the movement decisions, and at other times it followed. This exchange is central to the performance itself, and belies an incredibly fruitful collaboration between these talented groups.

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