DANCE

Falling for flamenco

Laura Onizuka first encountered the art form in a video in Spanish class. Now she teaches the dance, including at an upcoming Lincoln City retreat

People come to the Oregon Coast for all sorts of reasons – the beach, the views, the seafood, the sea life. At the end of the month, they’ll come for a reason that may seem as foreign as the country that inspired it: to dance the flamenco. Portland dancer and instructor Laura Onizuka will share her talent and knowledge during the Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast, Feb. 28 through March 1 in Lincoln City. We talked with Onizuka about the art form – a combination of dance, song, and instrumental music from southern Spain. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Flamenco instructor Laura Onizuka describes flamenco as “celebratory, passionate, melancholy.” Photo by: Chris Leck

What is flamenco?

Onizuka: It’s an art form and it’s music, dance, rhythm, language, communication. There are different facets: singing, guitar, dancing. It’s categorized by singing styles, based on the regions they come from and the influences from other parts of the world. For flamenco as we know it today, the place you want to go is Andalucía, Spain. That’s where great flamenco is being born. Madrid would be the hub. A lot of people go there to collaborate and just grow.

What can you tell us about its history?

It’s so complex. Some people say it comes from Gypsies in India originally. Some say that’s not true. It has influence from the Gypsies, Spanish folklore, musical influences from South America and Africa. So much of it was in the oral tradition, so there are not necessarily records of this art form until more recently. There’s a lot of romanticizing the Gypsy culture, but it’s about a lot more than that. People are still arguing about it and figuring it out. Where did it become the flamenco art form? In southern Spain. That’s not disputed.

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A tree grows in Eugene

Eugene Ballet showcases a revival of "Alice in Wonderland" and the premiere of "The Large Rock and The Little Yew" at the Hult Center


By GARY FERRINGTON


The Eugene Ballet Company continues its 41st season on February 8 and 9 with a revival of Alice In Wonderland, last performed in 2010, and the introduction of an exciting new work, The Large Rock and The Little Yew

The new ballet “The Large Rock and the Little Yew” tells astory of life’s challenges and perseverance. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet Company

World Premiere

The world premiere of The Large Rock and The Little Yew  is based on a children’s book written by Oregon author and  arboriculturist Gregory Ahlijian and choreographed by Eugene Ballet’s resident choreographer Suzanne Haag

Ahlijian’s book tells a heartwarming story of a yew seed that falls into the crevice of a large rock. The rock awakes and, angered at the yew’s presence, tells the young seed that it will never grow into a tree. Though discouraged at first, through courage and perseverance the seed takes root and seemingly, against all the constraints and challenges the rock presents, grows into an amazingly strong yew tree full of hope and self-respect. The message of overcoming hostile environments and obstacles through determination and willpower is one not only for children, but adults as well.

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DanceWatch Monthly: February is all about the love

February in Portland dance is all about love and its many forms (not just Valentine's Day)


It’s February and love is in the air. Dance performances this month, appropriately enough, express love in a wonderful variety of ways. From the familiar romantic love to platonic love. From the love of connecting with community too connecting with oneself. From the love of music to the love of pure movement. From the love of sharing, to the love of technology, to the love of the wild. From the love of experimentation and research to the love of a good book and a good story, to the love of intimacy, and to the love of things big and small. For the love of god. For dance itself and for the gift of emotional expression. 


“To dance is to be out of yourself,” American choreographer Agnes de Mille famously proclaimed. “Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.” 

So, let’s dance, and do it with love.

Dances in February

Week 1: February 1-2

Holy Goats!
Performance Works N
2 pm February 2
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave

Holy Goats! Sunday afternoon improvisations and bagels are back!  This new iteration will be devoted to dance and music by Portland-area and visiting artists. The dancers include Allie Hankins and Caspar Sonnet, Pepper Pepper, Tracy Broyles + Adrian Hutapea + jaime lee christiana, Luke Gutgsell + Kennedy Verrett. The musicians: Catherine Lee, Caspar Sonnet, Dan Sasaki, Annie Gilbert, and Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Founded in 1999 by Artistic Director Linda Austin and Technical Director Jeff Forbes, Performance Works NorthWest || Linda Austin Dance engages artists and audiences of the Pacific Northwest in the process of experimentation, creation and dialogue around the presentation of contemporary performance. 

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Dance preview: Everything and nothing

Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram integrate classical Indian dance forms and a modern dance sensibility in "Listening to Silence"

It’s Sunday night and I’m at New Expressive Works, watching a few minutes of tech rehearsal for the upcoming Listening to Silence, a dance performance co-created by NEW founder and executive director Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram, the assistant director of Odissi Dance Company. Before heading over to interview the pair, I was sitting on my porch listening to the rain as it beat down, mulling over the idea of listening to silence and reading through the ancient Rig Vedic poem 10.129 (Nasadiya).

The poem speaks of the creation of everything, the paradoxical and complex nature of it all, and alludes back to the idea of nothingness or a great void. Knowing that the Nasadiya had been an important point of inspiration for the work, I concluded that listening to silence must be similar to the experience of that great nothingness.

Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram have collaborated on a new dance, Listening to Silence/Image courtesy of New Expressive Works

When I asked Raghuram what the process of creating Listening to Silence has done to her perception of silence, she responded succinctly. “Before this project, I thought silence meant no noise, no movement,” she said. “Now, I find silence in everything and anything.”

So how can the experience of nothingness be found in everything and anything? Ganesan and Raghuram are using their new work as a space to tackle these larger than life concepts. Traditional classical Bharatanatyam training and a keen sense for pushing boundaries intermingle as they present their findings in a 50-minute performance set for a three-show run this weekend, January 31-February 2, at New Expressive Works in Southeast Portland. 

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Listening to Silence is the result of years of Ganesan’s research. Ancient texts like the Rig Veda, writings about silence by poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Jiddu Krishnamurti, and more recently, her conversations in rehearsal with Raghuram all play into the final product.

To get a feel for the kind of imagery the work pulls from, here’s an excerpt from Rilke’s poem I have many brothers in the South, translated by Robert Bly, which served as an inspiration: 

Yet no matter how deeply I go into myself
my God is dark, and in a webbing made
of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.
I know that my trunk rose from this warmth, but that’s all,
because my branches hardly move at all
near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.

This project is the first time Ganesan and Raghuram have worked together. Last year, I got to know Raghuram when I interviewed her for my article on Portland dance-transplants. Yashaswini performs extensively in India and the U.S. She has performed in several international festivals—the International Odissi Festival, All Women’s Art Festival, Marghazhi Season at RR Sabha, and Tamara Arts Festival, among others. She is a principal dancer and the Assistant Director of Odissi Dance Company, the only actively touring Odissi company in the United States.

Ganesan, herself a South Asian immigrant, now serves as Portland’s very own Creative Laureate. She is a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer and Artistic Director of Natya Leela Academy, where she choreographs and performs potent and universally relevant movement expressions in Bharatanatyam. Her Southeast Portland art space, New Expressive Works, fosters cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. Although Ganesan’s past projects have pushed traditional bharatanatyam boundaries, her collaboration with Raghuram in Listening to Silence stands as her first work with a professionally trained classical Bharatanatyam dancer. The pair’s knowledge and years of immersion within the rich philosophy, history and spirit of Hindu culture allow for a deep dive into the concepts of silence, nothingness, and paying attention. 

As we discussed such topics our conversation about the work came to drop-off points, but Ganesan and Raghuram aim to guide the audience through their work. They hope  that audiences will leave with greater understanding of concepts that are not only deeply rooted in Hindu tradition and philosophy but also permeate the lives of all of humanity—universal concepts seen through a Hindu lens.

To achieve such a lofty goal, the creation of Listening to Silence required the duo step outside of a traditional bharatanatyam performance structure. “We spent a lot of time finding the common ground between a contemporary approach and classical bharatanatyam,” noted Ganesan.

For comparison, Raghuram explained that when a traditional bharatanatyam dance is performed, the form of the performance is set in a way similar to that of a ballet class, where each exercise has a specific placing in the flow of the hour-and-a-half dance. Avid Indian dance fans arriving late to a Bharatanatyam performance would know the exact sections they’d missed and which ones were up next, solely based on the section being performed—regardless of their familiarity with the work or the choreographer. 

Listening to Silence frees itself from this structure, although this contemporary approach to a traditional style does not parallel Western dance at all. While modern dance originated as a rebellion against ballet, “the traditional way of learning gets us here,” Ganesan explained. “We are not breaking from tradition. There is so much to learn from the ethos, or the rasas.”

The rasas are the juice, or essence, that classifies the aesthetics of the work across genres of Indian art. For more detail on that concept, check out a piece of mine from last year, when I covered a show by a visiting Bharatanatyam couple with a focus on one of the rasas: love.

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While Ganesan has been working outside of the traditional lines of the style for quite some time now, Listening to Silence marks Raghuram’s first step to a different aporach to creating Indian dance. When I asked her how that experience had been for her, she said that her main worry was that veering from the set structure of Bharatanatyam would create misunderstanding in the audience. Raghuram noted that her experience of contemporary modern dance was so unconventional that understanding it became difficult. The cloak of experimentalism covered its lack of ability to communicate meaning. It’s an art, she said, to guide the audience through your work while still giving space for their imagination and interpretation.

That’s what Listening to Silence attempts to do. Ganesan was clear that their work is “not research, and not an experiment. We are making art to make meaning,” she said. 

Listening to Silence uses a plethora of mixed-media to pull the ideas together. Among them is a sound-score by Roland Toledo, whose work focuses on the natural environment and explores the potential of data to create a fabric of immersive audio. The work also includes recordings from NASA, as well as video projection and intricate lighting design.

“We are not cultural ambassadors of an age-old practice that is dying,” Ganesan says. “We are here. We exist. We are making work.” I was reminded of a 2019 conversation with Raghuram, when we discussed the challenges of cultural separation as an Indian artist in the West, and she told me about the “extra responsibility of Indian artists here to increase sensitivity [and awareness],” surrounding such ancient and sacred forms.

After sitting with the Ganesan and Raghuram for just an hour, I began to notice just how universal the topics we traversed were. Though nuanced and rooted in Indian traditions, what Ganesan and Raghuram are talking about is inherently human, and thus, relatable to everyone. The paradoxical journey of the work is like the verses of the Nasadiya, contradicting itself only to resolve in peaceful clarity. Like nothingness containing everything, or the idea of listening to silence. 

Photo First: Hope and joy

An evening showcase of student dancers from Faubion and Harriet Tubman schools highlights the talent and promise of a new generation

Jump for Joy: Lighting up the Winter Showcase.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


There were at least two people in awe at Da Vinci Arts Middle School on a mid-January evening while attending the Winter Showcase of Faubion and Harriet Tubman Middle School: this young lady and me.

As Harriet Tubman Principal Natasha Jackson, in unison with teachers, staff and musicians from the other organizations, put it: People of all races and all backgrounds are coming together to celebrate art and the achievement of these young dancers who have worked hard to present an incredible program. Both schools have a diverse student population, with many languages on their website to get information to all those parents who have newly arrived. To see all those different faces merge into dance ensembles that became one in the movement really represented hope: for a future where unity fights back the forces of segregation.

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Dance Preview: Linda Austin’s ‘a world, a world’

Choreographer Linda Austin concludes a four-year experiment with the we way remember, forget, re-imagine and recreate art

Linda Austin’s a world, a world opens Thursday night at her home studio-theater, Performance Works NW, which she co-directs with her husband and lighting designer Jeff Forbes. Forbes also designed the lighting for a world, a world. Sound design is by Seth Nehil with visual design and costumes by Sarah Marguier. 

Austin, who grew up in Medford, Oregon, and attended Lewis & Clark College, has been making dance and performance since 1983. In the late ‘70’s she moved to New York City where she got involved with what was then called the “downtown dance scene,” which included workshops at Movement Research, whose programs carry on and extend the legacy of Judson experimentation. While in New York, her work was presented at Performance Space 122, the Danspace Project, the Kitchen, and Movement Research at Judson Church and in the early ‘90’s she lived and made work in Mexico. In 1998 she moved back to Portland, Oregon, where she and Forbes bought a small church, which she turned into a studio, and founded the performing arts non-profit, Performance Works Northwest. 

Choreographer /performer Linda Austin in part 3 of (Un)Made in 2017. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Since her move back to the West Coast, Austin has presented work at PWNW, Conduit, On the Boards’ Northwest New Works, Velocity, and PICA’s TBA Festival, and back in New York.

Austin has been awarded numerous prestigious awards, including the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Merce Cunningham Award (2017), a Fellowship in Performing Arts from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (2014), as well as Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (1992) and the Oregon Arts Commission (2007 & 2019). Her work has been supported by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and Movement Research, as well as residencies at Djerassi and Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center. Her writing has appeared in The Movement Research Performance Journal, Tierra Adentro (Mexico), the literary journal FO A RM and a 2003 collection from MIT Press, Women, Art & Technology.

In 2015 when Performance Works NW celebrated its 15 anniversary, I interviewed Austin, which you can read here. In the interview she talks about how her experimental style developed in New York and her move back to Portland. This year Austin, Forbes, and Performance Works NW will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Part 3 of (Un)Made in 2017. Pictured here are dancers claire barrera, and Noelle Stiles. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

This new work, a world, a world,  is a visually arresting dance for seven dancers: claire barrera, Muffie Delgado Connelly, Nancy Ellis, Hannah Krafcik, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles and Austin. It drops the viewer into the same, saturated, arena-like environments that the dancers themselves inhabit. The work offers an immersive experience that is an amalgamation of movement, sound, image, and language. a world, a world continues through January 25. Seating is limited because it is built into the set—there are 30 seats total each night. 

a world, a world is the culmination of a four-year-long choreographic process that began with (Un)Made, a solo created and performed by Austin, who then passed it down in relay fashion, like a game of telephone, to eight other performers: Jin Camou, keyon gaskin, Matthew Shyka, Linda K. Johnson, Nancy Ellis, Robert Tyree, Tahni Holt, and Jen Hackworth. These performers then in turn passed it down to a group called the Dream Team—Claire Barrera, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, and Takahiro Yamamoto— and it was finally performed again by Austin herself.

The experience played out what it looks like to remember, misremember, and adapt. Austin was interested in investigating new ways of authorship and finding “a way of dissolving self importance,” she said when we spoke last weekend. “I had an initial idea about losing your boundaries…in a devotional sense.”

Part 3 of Linda Austin’s (Un)Made in 2017 at Performance Works NW. Pictured here are dancers Nancy Ellis and Danielle Ross.
Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

We, the audience, tracked the details from Austin’s original performance through each one of the performers, observing what was lost, what remained, and what was changed. The entire process was chronicled on the (Un)Made website and includes performance and rehearsal photos as well as writing by Austin and Allie Hankins, the dramaturg for the project.

The second phase was called (Un)Made Part 2: the last bell rings for you, and was a collaborative, large ensemble score (a structured framework for improvisation) that featured movement artists Claire Barrera, Jin Camou, Nancy Ellis, Jen Hackworth, Allie Hankins, keyon gaskin, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles and Takahiro Yamamoto and involved 18 new participants with varying levels of performance experience. In this phase, Austin was interested in having “people experience making something together, performing it together, and also being able to watch the result.”

Philosophically, she wanted to create community but also wanted to challenge herself “as a choreographer to make something satisfactory out of simple elements and people who aren’t dancers.” Austin also sees dance in everyday movement and honors the trained and untrained moving bodies, also honoring her own experiences as an untrained dancer in the beginning of her career by balancing the pieces movement style between both worlds.

Part three, a world, a world, is a collection of movements taken from the other two phases of the process, reworked and re-imagined into a completely new idea that is performed in two disparate worlds—one oversaturated with repeated patterns in darkness, and the other quiet, clean, and peaceful and full of light.

Part 3 of Linda Austin’s (Un)Made in 2017. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

In watching this process unfold over the past three years I have become acutely aware of how imperfect and suspect my own memory is. I definitely don’t remember everything; I survive day-to-day on a collective memory shared by my family and close friends. If I can’t remember something, someone else definitely will. We are an inseparable unit that acts as one.

Austin seems to be tracking memory in this choreographic process, in turn creating her own collective memory and community with the performers involved. Legacy comes to mind.

For myself, the making of a dance becomes inseparable from the experiences I am having outside the studio. The questions I have, my relationships, what I’m interested in, they all consciously and unconsciously inform the choices I am making in my art eventually creating a cyclical relationship where you can’t extract one from the other. Maybe it’s always been that way. We recreate the world we live in, in our art.

So, Austin is curious about how we are influenced by culture, our awareness of those influences, whether we like who we are, is it changeable, can identity be fluid, can we keep our individuality while living harmoniously in a community, and what are different ways that we author/alter the narrative of our lives. All of those questions and possibly some answers can be found in a world, a world.

a world, a world, January 16-25, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.

Vision 2020: Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson

Beyond the arts bubble, the Wobbly duo see a dangerous world: "Hate based crime directed against people with disabilities has gone up."

“From a choreographer’s point of view,” Portland choreographer Yulia Arakelyan told ArtsWatch in 2015, “the more body diversity there is, the more opportunity for creativity and uniqueness.” Arakelyan and her artistic and life partner Erik Ferguson have spent the last decade and a half contributing their unique creativity to Portland’s dance and film scenes, in multifaceted, sometimes whimsical performances whose movement and imagery resemble nothing else in Oregon.

Erik Ferguson and Yulia Arakelyan, at work and play.

In 2006 the pair, both of whom use wheelchairs, created Wobbly, a Portland multidisciplinary performance company influenced by improvisational dance and Butoh. Their work focuses on “the unavoidable exploration of the body weathered by life,” according to its website. “Wobbly is a way of life, an expression of the belief that disability is a natural variation of the human form and in this variation there is art.”

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