Back in March and April, when cities began closing up due to the spread of Covid-19, many folks were prophesying that the pandemic would change art forever. They said artists would come up with great ideas, that the pandemic would force into existence incredible art, create new and beautiful things, and develop solutions. Artists would show the world how to adapt.
I thought this to be true, but I had never experienced a pandemic before, so it was hard to imagine how this new world would look.
Well, here we are eight-ish months later, and the creativity is flowing. Portland’s dance scene is adapting.
In good news this week…
NW Dance Project, one of Portland’s innovative contemporary dance companies, directed by Sarah Slipper, is switching to a project-based model. First up, fans can look forward to a series of new solos created by 19 international choreographers set on five dancers via Zoom. The performers will include familiar company members from past seasons.
Because of the switch to a project-based model, NW Dance Project’s pool of talented dancers is now free to disseminate out into the community to create new projects of their own. Which is exciting!
One of those dancers, Franco Nieto, the captivating, athletically powerful principal dancer, is opening a dance studio of his own. Feeling stifled and restless during the shutdown and wanting to respond to institutional and systemic problems in the dance world, Nieto felt that it was time for him to step forward and take a leadership role to guide the next generation of movers.
His new studio will be located inside the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland and will be called Open Space. This studio was formerly occupied by the Flock Dance Center, which has moved across the river to the North West Marine ArtWorks Building #5. Nieto’s vision for Open Space is a collaborative one. He wants it to be a welcoming creative, accessible container for dance and movement free of judgment where curiosity is encouraged, and “play is the way.”
Having worked closely with choreographers worldwide in his 10 years with NW Dance Project and enjoyed the mentorship of legendary Portland jazz dancer and teacher Tracy Durbin, Nieto brings a lot to the table for the Portland dance community. And let’s not forget the Princess Grace Award for Dance that he won in 2012, a coveted award given to emerging talent in dance, theater, and film. Nieto was just one of six US dancers to be awarded that year.
For Nieto, this will not be just another studio. It’s his baby. If you’ve ever seen him perform, you know that he will bring his heart into every event at Open Space.
Nieto will be holding a virtual open-house fundraiser on November 14 from 8 am-4 pm to raise money for his Capital Campaign, which will fund the studio space’s build-out. As a precursor of good things to come for Open Space, the fundraiser is a series of dance classes taught by an A-list of dancers from the former NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong to dancer Jermain Spivey, who performed in Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit, when White Bird brought the company Kidd Pivot to town.
Classes are free, or pay what you can. Check out the Open Space website for the full schedule, teacher lineup, and registration information.
Speaking of heart, I was fortunate this week to see BodyVox’s film BloodyVox: Lockdown from the comfort of my own home, thanks to director Jamey Hampton. Sadly I missed it last month when it screened as a drive-in movie performance.
BloodyVox: Lockdown is a “spooky” feature-length Halloween dance film directed by award-winning Oregon screendance cinematographer Robert Uehlin with choreography by BodyVox’s directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland. The film consists of a series of funny, ridiculous, and bizarre short films threaded together to tell a story and give a Halloween vibe.
Of course, there are vampires, zombies, ghosts, killer spiders, and a maniacal Miss Muffet, but it’s not scary at all; it’s all camp and fun.
The show begins with a headless 17th-century-looking gentleman (Jamey Hampton) with a lace ruff who is hopelessly trying to communicate with wild gestures of his arms and hands, but can’t. He claps his hands and summons his page, food taster, and attorney, Mr. Asbestos Fumar (Daniel Kirk), who hands him an iPad with a face on it— Hampton’s face. Hampton then attaches the iPad to his neck. The eyes on the face pop open, he takes a big breath and he’s off introducing himself as the Vox of BloodyVox and cracking witty jokes.
There are big beautiful dancing numbers where the dancers are ghosts and zombies and whatnot, which is made extra interesting by close up camera angles and special effects.
Probably the most “terrifying” parts of the film, which I particularly loved, was Northwest Nightmare, A Tale of Terror Told Through Contemporary Dance, With Supertitles For Those Who Don’t Read Dance. Hampton and Roland performed several tongue and cheek duets, explaining the sometimes hard to interpret modern dance form with closed captioning. For example, “She searches for illumination, and he searches for the buffet,” referring to two searching gestures that were performed by Hampton and Roland.
With a vaccine possibly insight, the dance world will change again. I hope choreographers, companies, and dancers bring some of the creativity and adaptability of the quarantine time with them.