PCS Clyde’s

Dance Preview: Jefferson Dancers 2024 Spring Concert

Portland’s longest running dance company celebrates their 48th season at their annual performance, as artistic director Steve Gonzales marks his 25th year leading the nationally recognized high school dance program.

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The Jefferson Dancers performing Lauren Smith's "Without Words" at the Theatre Pasino Grand, Aix-en-Provence, France. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
The Jefferson Dancers performing Lauren Smith’s “Without Words” at the Theatre Pasino Grand, Aix-en-Provence, France. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

The Jefferson Dancers Annual Spring Concert, April 18-20 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, will once again feature the versatility and range of this renowned dance troupe.The performance will feature nine new works spanning and sometimes fusing such diverse dance styles as ballet, tap, modern, jazz, and high-energy African and hip-hop. The evening will also spotlight the choreography of senior dancer Finn Chisholm, whose piece “Peaks and Valleys” took top honors at the Regional High School Dance Festival in February.

"Interlude 1," danced and choreographed by Lila Wendroff and Henry Roth in the first of several two-minute pieces choreographed by the students themselves. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
“Interlude 1,” danced and choreographed by Lila Wendroff and Henry Roth in the first of several two-minute pieces choreographed by the students themselves. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

The performance marks the culmination of the 48th year of the Jefferson Dancers, which is composed of the most advanced dance students from Jefferson High School’s nationally recognized magnet arts dance program. That longevity makes it Portland’s longest running dance company. The program is known for an athleticism and grace that is honed by the rigorous training of its dancers, who, in addition to attending high school full-time, participate in daily dance classes and rehearsals.

Kaelei Wilford (front) and the Jefferson Dance company in Sara Martin's "Batida." Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
Kaelei Wilford (front) and the Jefferson Dance company in Sara Martin’s “Batida.” Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

Alumni from the Jefferson Dancers program have gone on to perform on Broadway, at the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York, and with dance companies worldwide. Former Jefferson Dancers have also toured with major music artists, including Beyonce, Janet Jackson, and Lady Gaga. Last fall, Jefferson High School alumnus Jonte’ Moaning, a choreographer and dancer for Beyoncé, returned to his alma mater to hold a master class with the current crop of company dancers.

The Jefferson Dancers in Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams's "Hunters Return." Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
The Jefferson Dancers in Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams’s “Hunters Return.” Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

Showcasing Finn Chisholm’s award-winning choreography

The spring performance also showcases the company’s ongoing excellence in student choreography. Senior Finn Chisholm’s student-choreographed piece, “Peaks and Valleys,” was awarded first place for Outstanding Student Choreography at February’s Regional High School Dance Festival

Finn Chisholm's award-winning "Peaks and Valleys." Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
Finn Chisholm’s award-winning “Peaks and Valleys.” Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

“I spent several months brainstorming and concepting this piece,” says Chisholm. “It tells the story of my life this far. It’s about how it felt to have a father who came in and out of my life, mostly leaving me and my brother living paycheck to paycheck with my mom as a single parent. But these experiences taught me to face challenges and showed me the people in my life – including my best friend, my mom, the dance community and others – who are there for me no matter what.”

The ensemble piece features Chisholm and eight other dancers, and is in the first half of the two-hour showcase. The evening also includes six two-minute Interludes choreographed and danced by current Jefferson Dancers.

Sponsor

All Classical Radio James Depreist

Finn Chisholm’s autobiographical piece “Peaks and Valleys” tells the story of his life so far. Video: Courtesy of Jefferson Dancers and Portland Public Schools.

A French connection

The Jefferson Dancers are fresh off of a tour of southern France where they previewed the pieces for the annual Newmark Theatre performance in front of French audiences, an opportunity which came about through both relationships and hard work.  

Each year the Jefferson Dancers bring in guest choreographers, many of them former Jefferson Dancers themselves, to set pieces for the company. This year these included Charlotte Faillard, a former exchange student from Aix-en-Provence, who danced with the Jefferson Dancers during her time in Portland. Since then, she has stayed deeply engaged with the dancers and has facilitated several dance trips to France.

The Jefferson Dancers in Charlotte Faillard's "Éclat d’Instant." Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
The Jefferson Dancers in Charlotte Faillard’s “Éclat d’Instant.” Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

Last fall Charlotte visited Portland to choreograph one of the pieces that would be performed both in France and will be performed this weekend on the Newmark stage.

All 17 Jefferson Dancers were able to participate with their fellow dancers on the trip to France, but making this happen took a lot of coordination, personal and group fundraising, and planning. While there, they performed for a French boarding school and a full two-hour show at Theatre Pasino Grand. 

Dancers Jay’Quan Lewis-Price and Devon Watters in Charlotte Faillard's "Éclat d’Instant." Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
Dancers Jay’Quan Lewis-Price and Devon Watters in Charlotte Faillard’s “Éclat d’Instant.” Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

“The spring shows will mirror much of what we performed in France,” says artistic director Steve Gonzales. “It was a wonderful opportunity to present in front of a new audience and also prepare for our Newmark performances.”

As part of their trip, the dancers also explored Aix-en-Provence, toured the sites including Carrieres des Lumineres, Chateau de Beaux de Provence, and the towns of St. Remy and Marseille. While in France, they also participated in and taught dance classes with local dancers. 

Sponsor

MYS Oregon to Iberia

Kristi Bacon-Trad's "Upon Awakening," featuring dancers (l-r) Jay’Quan Lewis-Price, Piper Bott, and Finn Chisholm. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
Kristi Bacon-Trad’s “Upon Awakening,” featuring dancers (l-r) Jay’Quan Lewis-Price, Piper Bott, and Finn Chisholm. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

Steve Gonzales celebrates 25 years as artistic director

This year also marks Steve Gonzales’ 25th year leading the dance program. The company has had just three artistic directors over its 48 years, including Gonzales.

Gonzales himself is a former Jefferson Dancer with a distinguished career in performance, choreography, and teaching. After graduating from the Jefferson Dancers, he performed with Pacific Ballet Theatre, now Oregon Ballet Theatre. He continued his dance training at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he was a member of the Second Avenue Dance Company. He went on to dance MOMIX’s entire repertoire worldwide and continues to choreograph pieces performed internationally.

Dancers Harlow Kleffner and Henry Roth (front) in "Gravity," choreographed by Steve Gonzales. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
Dancers Harlow Kleffner and Henry Roth (front) in “Gravity,” choreographed by Steve Gonzales. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

As the artistic director of the Jefferson Dancers, he has continued a tradition of working to develop dancers as whole people, to show them that they are part of a larger community, and that the discipline and focus they are learning will benefit them in all aspects of their lives. 

"Interlude 7," danced and choreographed by Piper Bott. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.
“Interlude 7,” danced and choreographed by Piper Bott. Photo: Isabelle Faillard.

“As the artistic director, I have the privilege of working with so many talented young dancers,” says Gonzales. “It’s an honor, honestly, working with them, because they are very inspirational.”

More information 

The Jefferson Dancer Spring Concert performances will take place at 7:30 pm on April 18, 19, and 20, with an additional 2 pm matinee performance on Saturday, April 20. Tickets are available on the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts website.

Sponsor

WESTAF Shoebox Arts

The Newmark Theatre is located inside Antoinette Hatfield Hall at 1111 SW Broadway Avenue in downtown Portland.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jean Zondervan does communications work and enjoys creating content for causes. She has written and produced collaborative projects for print, web, exhibits, and video and has a particular interest in exploring environmental and social issues through the arts. Prior to settling in Portland, she taught English as a first and second language in Texas and South Korea, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and a small gallery in England, and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She currently tends to kids, pets, and a large garden in North Portland.

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