WESTAF Shoebox Arts

Dance Review: Jefferson Dancers Annual Spring Concert

The acclaimed high school dance company surprises and delights with a packed program of original choreography performed with energy, versatility, and joy.

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Nya Brown leaps forward alongside the cast of “Hunter’s Return," choreographed by Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
Nya Brown leaps forward alongside the cast of “Hunter’s Return,” choreographed by Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

The Jefferson Dancers – a rigorous company of students from the Jefferson High School dance program – took to the Newmark stage April 18-20 to perform their Annual Spring Concert for a crowd of community, family, and fans. I had the pleasure of attending opening night. This show came on the coattails of the company’s recent performance/training trip to Aix-en-Provence of France, where they were hosted by Charlotte Faillard, a former Jefferson Dancer and choreographer who contributed work to this concert. Save for a short intermission, the evening offered non-stop dancing, volleying between forms such as contemporary dance, tap, hip hop, ballet, and even aerial work, all with lighting design by Michael Mazzola and costuming by Amethyst Robinson. The program consisted predominantly of performances by faculty and guest choreographers, as well as brief interludes choreographed by students dancing in them. 

The Jefferson Dancers’ opened with a work entitled “Without Words,” choreographed by faculty member Lauren Smith. This full-company ensemble was backed with a moody sound score and textured utterance of syllables. The dancers, costumed in pants and crop tops, exacted floorwork and frequent lifts in a showing of seasoned continuity and spirit. 

Piper Bott and Finn Chisholm in "Upon Awakening," by guest choreographer Kristi Bacon-Trad. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
Piper Bott and Finn Chisholm in “Upon Awakening,” by guest choreographer Kristi Bacon-Trad. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

Following this, Henry Roth and Lila Wendroff showed partnering prowess in an interlude set to piano music. Roth acted as a powerful cavalier and Wendroff as a brave flier – at one point, launching onto Roth’s shoulders in a display of trust.  

The Jefferson Dancers came out of the gate in style with these two numbers – drawing heavily on ballet and contemporary technique. Other performances of the evening echoed this skillbase, including Faillard’s work “Éclat D’Instant,” a geometric exploration of formations of dancers; Kristi Bacon-Trad’s “Upon Awakening, a group piece featuring a ghostly solo by Piper Bott, who danced on a fog-ladened table; and company Artistic Director Steve Gonzales’ “Gravity,” a competition-style ensemble complete with triple turns, group lifts, and extensions. 

The Jefferson Dancers performing “Gravity,” choreographed by Steve Gonzales. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
The Jefferson Dancers performing “Gravity,” choreographed by Steve Gonzales. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

“Peaks and Valleys” by current Jefferson Dancer Finn Chisholm also fell into this vein of ballet and contemporary dance influence. Chisholm was awarded first place for Outstanding Student Choreography at the Regional High School Dance Festival in 2024 for “Peaks and Valleys,” and, the night I attended, the cast performed this dance with palpable commitment to its emotional content. Chisholm’s choreography explored sensitive partner motifs of woven limbs, with some dancers wearing ripped dresses and others in pedestrian pants and shirts. The hug that concluded this performance, between partners Bott and Wendroff, read as full of particular sweetness. 

I found myself delighted by the versatility of the Jefferson Dancer’s as the show continued, their multifaceted training and talent. 

Guest choreographer Michael Munday’s work “No Name Just Vibes” was preceded by a stunning hip hop interlude by Kaelei Wilford, who wore a relaxed pants and a flowing green shirt, and Akayla Cole, who wore shorts and a pink top in contrast. The two dancers brough distinct styles to this duet: Cole with sharp hand performance and relaxed countenance and Wilford with flowing arms and smiling presence. My attention bounced between their complementary movements. “No Name Just Vibes” flowed into this duet, backed by a quick medley of popular hip hop tracks. The dancing ebbed along with song changes, allowing each company member their moment to shine with complex footwork and impressive full-bodied articulations.  

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A little later in the program came another crowd pleaser: a charming interlude danced by Nabors-Hilburn and Jay’Quan Lewis-Price, who played out a classic cheerleader-jock romance through their movement. The two moved together easefully with big smiles, smooth lifts, and even a letterman jacket handoff from Lewis-Price. 

Payton Nabors-Hilburn in “Batida," by guest choreographer Sara Martins. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
Payton Nabors-Hilburn in “Batida,” by guest choreographer Sara Martins. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

I was not expecting any aerial antics this evening, and so “Do You” by former Jefferson Dancer Victoria Holt unfolded as a pleasant surprise. Three pairs of dancers, dressed in iridescent unitards, took turns performing on two rods suspended from the ceiling, showcasing athleticism and flexibility. Later, “Batida,” by guest choreographer Sara Martins, surprised me again with the largest group tap number I had seen in ages. This work used tap dancing as a base, but pulled in related vocabulary, including flamenco and jazz influences. The dancers – styled in black pants and pink vests and shirts – tapped out crisp, nuanced rhythms. For the finale, they formed a shadowy line and posed at the front of the stage in an homage to tap stage performance of years gone by. 

The Jefferson Dancers performing “Batida" by guest choreographer Sara Martins. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
The Jefferson Dancers performing “Batida” by guest choreographer Sara Martins. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

The concert wound down with a slideshow created by company member Nya Brown, featuring pictures from the company’s rehearsals and recent trip to France and highlighting senior students’ plans for the future. 

To conclude, the full company performed “Hunter’s Return” by Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams, Artistic Director of Jefferson Dancers II, a second company at the high school. This African Dance featured the exceptionally bright contributions of Brown and her exuberant capacity to meet the live percussion for this piece with precision. Accompanying musicians included local drummer and guest choreographer Derrell Sekou Soumah Walker. 

Conlan Savalli-Smith (left) and Jay’Quan Lewis-Price (right) in the foreground of “Hunter’s Return” choreographed by Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams. Photo: courtesy of The Jefferson Dancers
Conlan Savalli-Smith (left) and Jay’Quan Lewis-Price (right) in the foreground of “Hunter’s Return” choreographed by Bunky Demetria Holden-Williams. Photo: courtesy of the Jefferson Dancers

At the conclusion “Hunter’s Return,” duos and trios of dancers performed charismatic bows to the audience, waving at us until the curtain closed. If I had anything to critique about this evening’s show, I would venture that the students might benefit from a few less dance numbers to master and more space between each to rest and recalibrate, which would forge a sustainable practice for future professional pursuits. Even still, all The Jefferson Dancers’ dove into each piece (some of which I was not even able to speak to here) with obvious skill and joy for being on the stage with one another, making it a priceless experience to behold. 

For those who missed the Spring Dance Concert, the Jefferson Dancers will also be highlighted this coming June 6-9 in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s second production of Made in Portland, featuring local choreographers and talented dancers. 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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