All Classical Radio James Depreist

Dance Preview: Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest

A new four-day showcase of talented and innovative women choreographers from Oregon and Washington features both live dance performances and films.

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Dancers Grace Armstrong and Anna Ellis in rehearsal for WCPNW co-founder and 2024 choreographer Carlyn Hudson’s new work, "Maker." Photo: courtesy of Carlyn Hudson.
Dancers Grace Armstrong and Anna Ellis in rehearsal for WCPNW co-founder and 2024 choreographer Carlyn Hudson’s new work, “Maker.” Photo: courtesy of Carlyn Hudson.

While women make up 75-85% of the workforce in the dance industry, they hold leadership positions in far fewer numbers than their male counterparts, and – you guessed it – are paid less, as well. Need more in-depth, depressing stats to believe it? This month’s DanceWatch recommends you spend some time sifting through The Dance Data Project for a quick recap on how women hold the entire dance world on their backs and get the short end of the stick in turn. (I’m writing that with only the slightest hint of sarcasm.)

So what is there to do about it? Carlyn Hudson and Kailee McMurran – dancemakers, artistic collaborators and friends – have an idea for their community here in Portland. Over the course of the past year, the pair has been hard at work conceptualizing and actualizing a brand new showcase, Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest (WCPNW). Set to premiere at New Expressive Works this upcoming weekend, May 16-19, the showcase includes a blend of live performances and dance film, and features the work of nine women choreographers. 

The cast of 2024 WCPNW choreographer Eva Stone’s new work "Me Over You." Photo: courtesy of Eva Stone.
The cast of 2024 WCPNW choreographer Eva Stone’s new work “Me Over You.” Photo: courtesy of Eva Stone.

Live performances

Amy Leona Havin a Portland-based choreographer, writer, filmmaker and founder of the dance company The Holding Project;

Japanese born Makino Hayashi, a choreographer, dancer, filmmaker and former company dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer based in Portland;

choreographer and teacher Carlyn Hudson, who educates students in classical ballet and pointe technique in both Washington and Oregon states while producing original works of contemporary dance;

Sweta Ravishankar, a Bharatanatyam and Nattuvangam (cymbals) performing artist, teacher, choreographer and the founder and director of the Sarada Kala Nilayam school in Beaverton, OR; 

Sponsor

WESTAF Shoebox Arts

and Eva Stone, faculty member at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet School where she initiated New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance and the founder, producer, and curator of CHOP SHOP: Bodies of Work, an annual contemporary dance festival;

Films

I Will Remember What I Forgot by Heidi Duckler, a pioneer of place-based contemporary practice and the founder/artistic director of Heidi Duckler Dance/Northwest in Portland;

Signal by Heather Hindes, a Portland-based a professional dancer and choreographer whose current research involves the integration of dance, live music and film;

Confluence by Suzanne Haag, the resident choreographer of Eugene Ballet, co-founder of #instaballet, and frequent collaborator with videographer Katherine Frizzell of Gravy Media;

and i am woman by Kailee McMurran, a Portland-based multi-disciplinary artist with one foot in dance & dance film and the other in graphic design & stationery.

Classical Bharatanatyam dancer and WCPNW 2024 choreographer Sweta Ravinsankar’s new work, "Imagining Pain; The Menster Saga," is set to premiere at the showcase. Photo: courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.
Classical Bharatanatyam dancer and WCPNW 2024 choreographer Sweta Ravinsankar’s new work, “Imagining Pain; The Menster Saga,” is set to premiere at the showcase. Photo: courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

The goal of the showcase is not just to put on a good show, though I’m sure it will accomplish that with no problem. What’s really behind WCPNW is the desire to give these women a platform and as many resources as possible both before and after the showcase happens. While WCPNW will include dance film, the primary focus of the resource distribution is going towards the choreographers presenting live dance. By offering each choreographer a monetary stipend, a residency space for development, quality photos and video footage of the performances, WCPNW is setting their choreographers up for success both at their showcase and in future endeavors. Many connections in the dance world are made at live events like WCPNW or through access to high quality footage of your work, which can then be shared for grant purposes, festival applications, etc. The hope? These efforts will move the needle towards equity for women in the choreographic field. 

Sponsor

MYS Oregon to Iberia

When I chatted with Hudson and McMurran last week, I wanted to get to the why of it all. While you don’t need to convince me why a festival like WCPNW is important, I was curious why the pair took it on themselves. It’s certainly no small undertaking to develop and present a show on your own, let alone facilitate a four-day performance for nine artists. Hudson was matter of fact in her response: “I had an idea for a new piece burning a hole in my pocket. If I was going to go through all of the administrative work [to present something new], it would be a shame to not use that effort towards other artists.” When coupled with the awareness of the blatant disparities for women in the choreographic field, WCPNW starts to come into picture. “Someone needs to do it, and we are capable… so, let’s do it!” Hudson says, adding that statistics “are clear, and personal experiences aside, women don’t have the same amount of opportunity as men in the choreographic field. We want to restore the balance.” It’s a tale as old as time: Women figuring out a way to lift themselves and one another up despite the odds. 

WCPNW 2024 Choreographer Amy Leona Havin will present a new work, titled "motor." Photo: Adam Cedar Nafziger
WCPNW 2024 Choreographer Amy Leona Havin will present a new work titled “motor.” Photo: Adam Cedar Nafziger

Most of our conversation revealed this go-getter spirit. Hudson explained that when she first pitched the idea to McMurran last year, it was McMurran’s swift and resounding “yes!” that got the ball rolling and gave the duo the confidence to make WCPNW happen. But confidence and talent aren’t the only thing you need to put on a show of this scale. After securing a coveted grant from RACC, the showcase was still looking at a large remaining balance to cover the costs. McMurran noted that a lot of the financial support that has supplemented WCPNW’s inaugural year has come from family, friends and other dance companies in Portland. The timing of receiving their RACC grant posed certain challenges, as well. The majority of their decisions about the size and scope of WCPNW “were determined by getting the RACC grant. It was hard to take a leap into something without having this base funding,” McMurran explained. Heading into performance weekend, Hudson and McMurran are hopeful about their grass roots approach to crowdfunding the remaining costs from donations. 

In addition to presenting and managing the entire showcase, both McMurran and Hudson are presenting new works. As they’d hoped for the other choreographers participating, both women are taking this as an opportunity to “showcase how I want to present my work in the world,” as McMurran puts it. As the director of Portland Dance Film Festival, it’s no surprise that her new work is in film form. McMurran performs as a solo woman in the new film, titled i am woman, which reflects on the natural cycles of emotion that happen on a day to day. 

Former OBT dancer and WCPNW 2024 choreographer Makino Hayashi rehearses her work What Do You See (2018). Photo: courtesy of Makino Hayashi .
Former OBT dancer and WCPNW 2024 choreographer Makino Hayashi rehearses her work “What Do You See (2018).” Photo: courtesy of Makino Hayashi .

Hudson’s new work, titled Maker, will be performed live by herself and four dancers, including McMurran. Maker follows the story of an artist, through the vulnerabilities of creating and presenting work. “I am going to be dedicating this work to women in the past who felt like artists at heart, but didn’t have the platform or resources to explore that,” Hudson says. She continued on to reflect on the generations of women who “had a voice, a creative vision, and the talent to make incredible work, but never got to do that. How sad for them… but how sad for our culture that we’ve missed out on incredible innovation.” 

After chatting with Hudson and McMurran for only an hour, I could tell that this notion was the heart of WCPNW. A showcase handcrafted by women and for women, to create the space for that exact innovation Hudson is referencing to not only exist, to not just be seen, but to thrive. 

Schedule and ticket information

Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest will run May 16-19 at New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont St. in Portland.Tickets are available to purchase in advance online.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Elizabeth Whelan is a movement-based artist based in Portland. As a freelance dancer and choreographer, she has presented work through the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s Night Lights, Downright Productions’ Amorphous, Polaris Dance Theater’s Galaxy Festival, Performance Works Northwest and FLOOR Center for Dance. Prior to Portland, Beth completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance at George Mason University and freelanced in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Her writing on dance is published in Philadelphia’s The Dance Journal and Oregon ArtsWatch. In her beloved free time, Elizabeth enjoys spending time in nature on her bike, listening to music, and drinking a good cup of coffee with her cat. See her work at beth-whelan.com 

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