DANCE

White Bird on the brink

The venerable Portland dance presenter faces a major deficit due to concert cancellations during the pandemic

Have you noticed that it’s the arts we are all turning to right now to survive? 

While we wait out our “sheltering at home” and attempt to dodge the covid-19 virus long enough to keep our hospital beds and intensive care units from overfilling, it’s the free dance performances, free music concerts, free books, free museums exhibits, free art classes—all online—that are making this horrible situation bearable. 

But the question is, will these same arts organizations be there when life gets back to normal, whenever that is? 

Unfortunately, from where I stand right now, it doesn’t look good.

On Tuesday afternoon White Bird, Portland’s biggest dance-only presenter and one of the few dance-only presenters left in the United States, announced that if the organization can’t make up a $350,000 shortfall by June 30, it will have to consider the painful possibility of shutting down for good. The shortfall is the result of show cancellations due to the pandemic. You can read their full announcement here

In addition, White Bird will also see a 20 percent increase in rent from Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, which comprises the Schnitzer, Winningstad, Keller, Newmark, and Brunish halls: White Bird is a frequent renter of the Schnitzer and Newmark halls. The venues are owned by the City of Portland and managed by the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission for Metro.

The situation is dire, White Bird co-founder Walter Jaffe said to me this morning when we spoke on the phone, but it’s dire for all arts organizations, he stressed. 

White Bird is a nonprofit organization that brings a variety of well-known and emerging, national and international dance companies and choreographers to Portland. It was launched in 1997 by Walter Jaffe and Paul King and was named for their beloved cockatoo, Barney, who is now 32.

Paul King, Walter Jaffe and Barney, of White Bird. Photo by Jennifer Alyse.

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Kathy Coleman, beyond disability

The disability-arts champion's unexpected death shocks the community. But the organization she built vows to keep building.

When Kathy Coleman had cancer many years ago, the treatments changed her body. She wanted to understand those changes, and as someone who loved to dance, she thought dance might help.  “I really wanted to explore my body,” she said in a 2014 interview with Cheryl Green.  “And I really wanted to connect with it in a way and learn about it differently.” She began taking dance classes, then joined a dance company, where one of her teachers — herself not standard dancer-size — had the unusual notion that “you didn’t all have to look the same way. [That] was really powerful to me.” 

That mind-opening experience helped inspire Coleman to found Portland’s Disability Art & Culture Project, which over the past 15 years has shown artists and audiences alike that art doesn’t have to be limited to narrow traditional notions of what is beautiful, or who can create it. It’s spawned a groundbreaking dance company, a festival dedicated to art created by people with disabilities, a leadership training project, and more. And under her leadership, DACP showed how the arts can uniquely contribute to social change.

Kathy Coleman, far right, and dancers.

Coleman, who died unexpectedly last month in Portland, left a lasting impression on Oregon artists and audiences — that rare figure who not only creates an enduring new institution, but also an enduring new perception, by expanding artists’ and audiences’ idea of what art can be. 

“She was just a force, an irreplaceable piece of Portland arts,” says Wobbly Dance co-founder Erik Ferguson.

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Striking a reckoning with death

Jess Evans and Lyra Butler-Denman's paired solo shows "Delicate Fish/BARDO" take a tender look at grief, pain, and death

To die is a process whose edges are feathered in all directions

To grieve is to feel love that has nowhere to go. 

These words followed me around in the weeks leading to the show, first arriving in the press release that landed so casually in my inbox while I was paying my electric bill and answering mundane emails. A  few days later, it arrived in caption-form… mixed into the chaos of my instagram feed and blaring with depth amidst everyone’s social worlds. Finally, it reappeared on the simple one-page program I was handed at Shaking the Tree Theatre when I arrived to see Delicate Fish/ BARDO. Created as a split bill between local choreographers Jess Evans and Lyra Butler-Denman, the performance was just as haunting as those words that wafted in and out of my mind leading up to opening night. 

The poetic nature of Delicate Fish/BARDO , which repeats at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 5-7, pulled me in the first time I saw its marketing. The tender words chosen to describe the works, the curiosity of the title, and the simplicity of its presentation as it emerged into the public eye brought wonder to its existence. The program takes an intimate look at grief, pain, and one of the most challenging aspects of life: death. With such a clear thematic pathway of the show, the collaboration was surprisingly more organic than you’d expect.  “The way that our two pieces communicate or compliment was purely by synchronicity,” says Evans. “Both of us, in very different ways, had been interfacing with the energies that surround and infuse death, grief, and healing.”  I’ll share more of our interview below, but first, let me get you up to speed on what opening weekend had in store. 

Jess Evans. Photo: Chris Larson

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DanceWatch: Dear March, come in!

Oregon's dance month marches in like a lion, and a tango, and some ballet, and some butoh, and some funk, and bootleggers, and more

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –


This is the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s Dear March – Come in –, a poem that describes the month of March like an old friend who has finally arrived, long awaited, but will soon leave because April is knocking at the door. Spring has arrived! The poem seems to express that time is fleeting, patience is a virtue, and we should enjoy things and life while they last. Our Portland winter hasn’t been as challenging as some, but it’s definitely been dark, and I am so glad to see the light again and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

To me there is such an obvious connection between nature and dance. The body is nature. We are born of the earth, sustained by it, and return to it when we die.  Like nature, dance is also fleeting and lives in the moment. Dance and dancers, like seasons, grow and change, bloom, age, are affected by their environments, and flourishes when they are loved. 

March’s dance offerings are an interesting combination of the political and personal, the historical and imagined, and nature and connectivity, with a bit of comedy and religion sprinkled in. Enjoy!


DANCES AND DANCE EVENTS IN MARCH


Week 1: March 1-8

Marta Savigliano, Tango and the Political Economy of Passion
Presented by the Reed College Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies Colloquium Series and moderated by Reed College Dance Professor Victoria Fortuna
Noon March 4 
Reed College, Vollum College Center, Room: 120, 3203 S.E. Woodstock Blvd., Portland

Offering both an insider and outsider point of view, Marta Savigliano – an Argentine political theorist and dance professor at the University of California at Riverside –, discusses her book Tango and the Political Economy of Passion (1995); a text on tango’s national and global politics that received the Congress of Research on Dance Award for Outstanding Book 1993-1996.
The event is free, and all are welcome. Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to cwilcox@reed.edu so that the right amount of food can be provided. 

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Darvejon Jones Dance Ensemble: Light and shadow

Darvejon Jones dances love and joy, but he understands the darker shadows, too, in his company's first concert

Ashley Roland, the co-artistic director of BodyVox, did the introductions for the first concert by Body Vox’s  resident artist and his new company, Darvejon Jones Dance Ensemble. “He emits extreme joy,” Roland said, almost as if Jones was a force of nature.

Roland’s observation held true as the company and Jones moved through the  program. But though joy rang out loudly in the virtuosity and pizzazz of the choreography and the dancers, there was shadow, too. Jones, whose work shared the eight-dance program with company dancers/artistic associate choreographers Brent Luebbert, Jillian St. Germain, and Sara Parker, transmits his account of the darker rumblings of American culture clearly as well.

Javan MnGrezzo and Paige Moreland in Darvejon Jones’ Allegiance/Annika Abel Photography

Think of this first concert as a sampler platter, perhaps: a little sweetness, then a helping of something more complicated. That’s how both Acts of the show played out. The sweet came first, then the longer commentaries of Parker’s The Reckoning and Jones’ Allegiance acted as closers, adding depth and social context to the evening.

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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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