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DanceWatch: A rich cultural stew


Welcome to DanceWatch for March, the month that enters like a lion and retreats like a lamb, or so they say. While it’s still cold and dark outside, you can think of this month’s dance offerings like a warm winter stew: hearty, rich, varied, and soul-soothing. And don’t forget that spring is a mere 22 days away!

Let’s start this month’s column with Native American dance. Last fall, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art caught my attention with this statement in its Time-Based Art catalog: “The land now known as Portland rests on the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia (Wimahl) and Willamette (Whilamut) rivers.”

I didn’t know this. Did you? I was struck. I rarely hear about the native tribes of Portland and the surrounding areas and I even more rarely see dance representing these cultures. I feel weird about this. I can’t go back to not knowing. In fact, this information made me want to learn more about Native American dance artists in Oregon and beyond, and recently, I did.

This past Sunday, I attended the Alembic artist performance at Performance Works NorthWest, where choreographer Olivia Camfield, a resident artists and a Muscogee Creek Tribal member from Texas Hill Country, choreographed and performed a powerful contemporary piece about indigenous people reclaiming their narratives. She welcomed everyone with this statement, a reminder to be respectful when we’re visiting someone else’s territory.

“Hensci (hello), estonko (how are you), Olivia Cvhocefkv Tos (my name is Olivia). I come from the Muscogee Creek nation of Oklahoma. Originally we come from the southeastern region of this continent. I would like to acknowledge that I am a visitor here today and in the spirit of reciprocity, I would like to bring medicine and movement prayer to this land and the people of it. These nations include the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala Bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya, and many other indigenous nations of the Columbia River valley region. I would like y’all to acknowledge whether you are a settler occupier of this stolen land, an indigenous visitor, or you are of this land and this is your ancestral territory. I would like to ask to come here and be in a good way and walk this land as a caretaker and a medicine giver. I would like y’all to do the same, be here in a way that is respectful and honorable to the people and spirits who have taken care of this land since time immemorial. Mvto (thank you).”

Camfield is also a member of Dancing Earth, a Bay Area company that focuses on indigenous dance. It’s represented by my friend and Portland resident Andre Bouchard, who’s a good source of information on Native American dance and culture. Born and raised on Montana’s Flathead Reservation, of Kootenai and Ojibwe descent, Bouchard is nationally recognized for his work in Native American contemporary performing arts. In 2001, he founded Walrus Performance Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities to choreographers, playwrights, and multi-disciplinary performing artists in the Pacific Northwest.

Bouchard told me that there are 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., that they are not necessarily similar, and that their members prefer to be recognized by their tribe name of origin rather than by the general term Native Americans. He also said that because of changes in laws, policy, and funding, these artists are thriving and their work is enjoying a resurgence and being recognized nationally and internationally today. This August, Bouchard will be a keynote speaker at the Asia Pacific Dance Festival Conference at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, where he will present a paper on contemporary Native American dance.


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

Also last week, ahead of their company’s performance in Hillsboro (see below), I had a wonderfully engaging phone conversation with Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company executive producer Mary Hager and dance director Damon Keller. The company, established in Portland in 2005 and composed of 12 or so dancers, is an intertribal organization that honors Native American culture by building awareness through performance and education. The company has taught and performed nationally and internationally; its repertoire includes traditional dance forms as well as blended contemporary styles. Its goal is to break down stereotypes, myths, and urban legends about Native American people, and to build bridges and create friendships. I am looking forward to seeing this performance, meeting Hager and Keller in person, and seeing how these ideas translate onstage.

As I work to de-colonize my own dancer body (and this column) of Western ideology, I’m excited to learn more about Native American culture and dance, and will continue to share what I discover along the way.

Indigenous and international dance styles

Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company (pictured: Aiyanna Bennett) performs traditional and blended contemporary dance styles. Photo courtesy of Mary Hager.

Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company
2 pm March 9
Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 East Main St., Hillsboro
See above.

Sankalpa Dance Ensemble members Sweta Ravisankar, Sridharini Sridharan, and Yashaswini Raghuram embody feminine power. Photo by Gidu Sriram.

Sankalpa Dance Ensemble, Sweta Ravishankar, Sridharini Sridharan, and Yashaswini Raghuram
5:30 pm March 9
Hindu Education and Cultural Society of America, Portland Balaji Temple, 2092 NW Aloclek Dr., Suite 522, Hillsboro
Bharatanatyam dance company the Sankalpa Dance Ensemble presents Shakti, an evening of five dances created around the theme of feminine energy and power, The company is directed by, and features, dancers Sweta Ravishankar, Sridharini Sridharan, and Yashaswini Raghuram performing to live music.

The program opens with a dance dedicated to the goddess Parvati, wife of the Hindu god Shiva; she is the goddess of fertility, love, beauty, marriage, children, and devotion, and represents divine strength and power. The second dance is a varnam, the main dance in a typical Bharatanatyam concert, which emphasizes nritta (footwork) and abhinaya (expressions). This varnam praises the beautiful fish-eyed goddess Meenakshi. The third dance is dedicated to Devi, the Mother Goddess who speaks beautifully, walks majestically, and epitomizes music and the arts. She takes care of the afflicted, rids people of sin, and is a delight to all. The program also features a dance depicting pure love and compassion, a humble prayer to the mother as goddess. The finale is set to a collection of verses written by Tamil poet and Indian independence activist Mahakavi Subramania Bharati, also known as Bharathiyar, who was a vocal supporter of women’s rights in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bharathiyar envisioned feminine power transforming the earth into a better place and uplifting mankind.

Modern and contemporary: local


NW Dance Project celebrates 15 years of working with dancers (pictured here: Julia Radick) in “Trip the Light Fantastic.” Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Trip The Light Fantastic
NW Dance Project
February 28-March 1
Gala and performance March 2
Expensify, 401 SW 5th Ave.
Limited capacity
In this 15th anniversary event, NW Dance Project performs pieces by artistic director Sarah Slipper, resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, and Oregon Ballet Theatre founding artistic director James Canfield in and around the 40,000-square-foot former First National Bank building, now the headquarters of tech company Expensify. The event celebrates the company’s artistic achievements: work with more than 1200 professional and pre-professional dancers (including four Princess Grace Award winners) and the performance of more than 280 original pieces by nationally and internationally known choreographers. The evening will include a dance-cooking skit between Portland actor Susannah Mars and company dancer Andrea Parson, music by Pink Martini pianist Hunter Noack, and a post-performance dance party in the basement vault, hosted by former NW Dance Project star Viktor Usov.

Sisters Willow and Marley Swanson pair contemporary dance and martial arts at A Taste of Dance: A Wine and Dance Pairing. Photo courtesy of Willow Swanson.

A Taste of Dance: A Wine and Dance Pairing Performance
Produced by Chapel Theatre
6 pm March 10
Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie
As part of Chapel Theatre’s Second Sundays Winter Performance Series, choreographers whose work spans flamenco to tap will describe their artistic processes and Wine:30 wine steward Lenny Bennett will pair wine with each of the dances on the program, explaining how they relate to, and enhance, one another. Featured choreographers include Stephanie Seaman, Willow Swanson, Jessica Zoller, and Elena Villa.

See why Anya Pearson’s “Made to Dance in Burning Buildings” earned her a $10,000 grant. Photo courtesy of Shaking The Tree Theatre.

Made to Dance in Burning Buildings
Written by Portland playwright Anya Pearson
Directed by Jamie Rea with choreography by Jeff George
February 15-March 16
Shaking The Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St.
Made to Dance in Burning Buildings is a fusion of poetry, theater, and violent-visceral contemporary dance that poses this question: How do we heal from trauma? The story, performed by a multi-ethnic cast of 10, follows a young black woman who is raped, develops PTSD, and metaphorically fractures into five different women as a result. It’s from these five points of view that the story is told. Based on a true story, and inspired Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, the work earned Pearson the inaugural $10,000 Voice is a Muscle Grant from the Corporeal Voices Foundation.

Linda Austin explores the life of the aging body in her solo “Ordinary Devotions.” Photo by Ian Douglas

Ordinary Devotions (premiere)
Linda Austin
March 14-23
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
With her solo Ordinary Devotions, award-winning Performance Works NorthWest founder, director and choreographer Linda Austin has created what she is calling “a meditation-in-action on the ordinary/extraordinary life of the aging body and a tactile apprehension of the world to hand.”

The work—which explores beauty, humor, rebelliousness, and awkwardness—pairs task-like movement with the unorthodox use of objects including a vinyl tarp, a twig, stones, a lamp worn on the body, cassette tapes, and multiple spools of thread. The piece, Austin says, will “yield to poetically and emotionally charged movements, text, and images—evoking vulnerability and hints of mortality.” The piece will be framed by field recordings by Juniana Lanning and video by Kelly Rauer.

Austin has been making dance and performance works since 1983. She was active in the dance and performance communities in New York City during the 1980s, lived and worked in Mexico during the mid-1990s, and relocated to Portland, Oregon, in 1998, where she established PWNW and Linda Austin Dance. I interviewed her in 2015 when PWNW turned 15. You can read our conversation here.

Oluyinka Akinjiola, Decimus Yarbrough, Michael Galen, Bethany Harvey, and Jamie Minkus revisit “A Midsummer Night at the Savoy.” Photo by Andy Batt.

A Midsummer Night at the Savoy
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 16-17
Self Enhancement, Inc., 3920 N. Kirby Ave.
Set in Harlem’s historic Savoy Ballroom, but using Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the dramatic framework, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater weaves together four contemporary choreographers’ work (Oluyinka Akinjiola, Decimus Yarbrough, Michael Galen, and Jamie Minkus) into one piece that highlights the massive contributions African-American artists have made to the American cultural landscape. Actor Kevin Jones narrates as Langston Hughes.


Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

Send in the clowns! Imago Theatre remounts “To Fly Again.” Photo courtesy of Imago Theatre.

To Fly Again
Imago, Jerry Mouawad
March 22-April 6
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave.
As part of its Next Wave Festival this spring, Imago stages three original works: Leonard Cohen is Dead (March 1-16), Pebble (May 10-25), and, sandwiched between the two, Jerry Mouawad’s movement-heavy To Fly Again (March 22-April 6). ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks reviewed To Fly Again last year and says that “Mouawad’s own description, from the show’s press release, perhaps explains the simple mystery of the thing as well as it can be explained: ‘A zany group of clown musicians and a clan of clay-tossed dancers roam a barren land … The clowns’ thoughts arise and pass like clouds, the dating game appears out of nowhere in clashes of absurdity, while joy and pathos skim their nonsensical wordplay as the clowns search for a suitable place to make camp. Psychedelic and existential humor pervades; the clowns are constantly interrupted by a clan of dusty dancers who live in a world beyond speech. Tater, the most vulnerable of the clowns, yearns to fly again. Questions open up to further questioning, and talk of sadness is eclipsed by looking at the stars.’”

Queer burlesque performer and voguer Bouton Volonté shares new work at the N.E.W. residency show.  Photo by Ms. Lopez.

New Expressive Works Residency Performance
March 29-31
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St. (in the Wyse Bldg.)
The 11th New Expressive Works residency performance will showcase work by its newest resident choreographers, Bouton Volonté, Sarah-Luella Baker, Kayla Banks, and Hannah Krafcik with Emily Jones.

Volonté, a queer burlesque performer and voguer, will perform LABOR,, a love letter. In Without a Map, Baker, a multi-disciplinary artist, combines original music and movement with theatricality to create non-linear storylines where the personal and political intersect. Banks, a Colorado native who danced professionally with Impact Dance Company and trained with NW Dance Project, will present the contemporary dance work Mixology. Krafcik and Jones, who met three years ago and began combining their interests in writing, somatics, bodywork, and a variety of dance practices into a practice in Krafcik’s living room, present their work switch.

The residency program, which N.E.W. founder Subashini Ganeshan began in 2012, supports the making of dance in all genres. The program offers four choreographers per session 144 hours of free rehearsal space over six months; “fieldwork,” or peer-to-peer feedback sessions facilitated by dance artist Katherine Longstreth; and a fully produced, ticketed performance at the end.

Modern and contemporary: imported

Fierce and fabulous: Compagnie Hervé Koubi returns with “The Barbarian Nights or The First Dawns of the World.” Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Compagnie Hervé Koubi
Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2
Newmark Theatre, 111 SW Broadway
French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi and his company of 13 male street dancers from Algeria and Morocco present The Barbarian Nights or The First Dawns of the World. Set against the musical backdrop of Wagner, Mozart, French composer Gabriel Fauré, and traditional Algerian melodies, the dancers, dressed in Swarovski crystal masks and long dark skirts, use capoeira, martial arts, and urban and contemporary dance to explore the idea of otherness. The barbarians of the title come from the term that Greeks and Romans used to describe foreigners who did not speak their languages or understand their customs.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard draws from the poetry and paintings of Belgian artist Henri Michaux in “Henri Michaux: Mouvements.” Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Presented by White Bird
March 7-9
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
“My source has always been the body itself,” Montreal-based choreographer Marie Chouinard notes on her company’s website, “and especially the silence and the breath which make up the ‘invisible’ stuff of life. At the root of each new work there is always what I call the ‘mystery,’ an unknown wavelength that calls out to me in an almost obsessive manner. My work consists of capturing this primordial wavelength, of ‘tuning’ it in a sense, and of arranging it in space and time with a structure and form proper to it.”


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

Chouinard makes a fourth visit to Portland through White Bird with a two-part program. One part is Henri Michaux: Mouvements, a 35-minute one-act ballet that she choreographed between 2005 and 2011, inspired by the India ink drawings and poetry of Belgian artist Henri Michaux. The other part is 24 Preludes by Chopin, a work she created in 1999, inspired by Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28. She has fashioned, she says in her description, “ a composite dance consisting of solos, duos, trios, and group movements that marry gentleness with strength, and subtlety with rawness.” Portland State University music professor and pianist Susan Chan will play the preludes live.

Send in the clowns, part 2: Cirque du Soleil returns with “Corteo.” Image courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil
Written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca
March 14-17
Moda Center, 1 N. Center Ct. St.
In the mysterious space between heaven and earth, a clown imagines his own funeral taking place in a carnival-like atmosphere, guided by a benevolent group of angels. Steeped in Old World circus charm, Corteo (the Italian word for a joyous procession), combines theatricality, acrobatics, comedy, and wit. As the company describes it, “The story juxtaposes the large with the small, the ridiculous with the tragic, and the magic of perfection with the charm of imperfection. Corteo highlights the strength and fragility of the clown, as well as his wisdom and kindness, illustrating the humanity in all of us.”

Ballet: local and imported

PDX Contemporary Ballet dancers find symbolism in a white dress this season. Photo by Andy Batt.

PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 1-3
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.
PDX Contemporary Ballet’s artistic director Briley Neugebauer chose the image of a white dress as an overarching theme for the company’s 2018-2019 season. To Neugebauer, the dress, which appears onstage, symbolizes womanhood, tradition, potential, and the passage of time. In Materialize, the season’s second installment, company dancers Muriel Capdepon, Victoria Lauder (who also sewed the dress), Tessa Salomone, and Katherine Evans have created four new works based on their own interpretations of what the white dress symbolizes, from virgin bride to rampant consumerism.

Ballet Fantastique goes adventuring in “The Odyssey.” Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

The Odyssey
Ballet Fantastique, Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager
March 1-3
Hult Center, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Choreographers Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager retell Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey using the language of contemporary ballet. Featuring music from Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody and Audiomachine, and live looping from electric violinist Cullen Vance, the ballet chronicles a great warrior hero’s journey home and the trials and tribulations that journey entailed.

Eugene Ballet and the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance play well together in Interplay. Photo by Aran Denison.

Eugene Ballet
March 8-10
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Interplay, the way two or more things have an effect on each other, is both the title and the subject of a new collaboration between Eugene Ballet and the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance.

The program includes choreographic work from University of Oregon associate professor of dance Walter Kennedy, dance professor Steven J. Chatfield, associate professor of dance Shannon Mockli, and dance instructor Sarah Ebert. Eugene Ballet is represented be resident choreographer Suzanne Haag, associate artistic director Jennifer Martin (staging Marius Petipa), and artistic director Toni Pimble.


Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Eugene Ballet and UO dancers will share the stage in Kennedy’s Whorl, Ebert’s The Exchange and Haag and Mockli’s Between Your Eyes and You, which they created using music from Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs and spoken word read by actors Craig Phillips and Milagro Vargas. UO dancers will perform Chatfield’s Bach to Bach, while Eugene Ballet dancers will perform Petipa’s Don Quixote Grand Pas de Deux and a pas de deux from Common Ground, a sensual contemporary ballet Pimble choreographed for Atlanta Ballet in 1991.

Wake up! The Bolshoi Ballet brings “The Sleeping Beauty” to the big screen. Photo courtesy of Pathe Live.

The Sleeping Beauty
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema
Presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
12:55 pm March 10
Check local theater listings for more information
The Bolshoi Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty, filmed live Jan. 22, 2017, and screening at a movie theater near you. Choreographed in 2011 by Bolshoi Ballet ballet master and choreographer Yuri Grigorovich after Petipa, the ballet tells of the evil fairy Carabosse (played by Alexei Loparevich), who curses Princess Aurora (played by prima ballerina Olga Smirnova) to a 100-year sleep, from which she is awakened by a magical kiss. Performed to Tchaikovsky’s score, the ballet features dancing by memorable characters including fairies, Little Red Riding Hood, and Puss in Boots.

Upcoming Performances

April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, presented by White Bird
April 4-20, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 5-6, The Field Network Conference
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 14, Student Flamenco Show, Portland Flamenco Events, Directed by Laura Onizuka
April 12-27, A Little Less Human: A Ghost Story, Trip The Dark Dance Company
April 13, Koichi and Hiroko Tamano, Butoh College 2019
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, choreographed by Suzanne Haag
April 20, Kudo Taketeru, Butoh College 2019
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, X-POSED, works by Polaris Dance Theatre and ELa FaLa Collective
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project
April 25-28, Cypher Culture Conference
April 26-28, Shadow Tender: Liber II, artistic director Natalya Kolosowsky
April 26-May 4, Pathways, works by Kelly Koltiska and Amelia Unsicker
May 5, Interwoven: Kathak/Tap, and sitar, a shared evening featuring Seema Mehta, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Josh Feinberg, and Nilan Chaudhuri
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (world premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 11, Feria de Portland, Presented by Espacio Flamenco Portland
May 12, In The Rough: Works in Progress showing, Floor Center For dance
May 16-18, Sea Foam, Jana Kristi Zahler
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Mercedes Ruíz & Santiago Lara Live in Portland, Hosted by Portland Flamenco Events
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 24-26, Portland Tap Festival, Portland Tap Alliance
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Premiers, NW Dance Project
June 28-30, World Beat Festival, Salem

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jamuna Chiarini is a dance artist, producer, curator, and writer, who produces DanceWatch Weekly for Oregon ArtsWatch. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., she studied dance at The School of The Hartford Ballet and Florida State University. She has also trained in Bharatanatyam and is currently studying Odissi. She has performed professionally throughout the United States as a dancer, singer, and actor for dance companies, operas, and in musical theatre productions. Choreography credits include ballets for operas and Kalamandir Dance Company. She received a Regional Arts & Culture Council project grant to create a 30-minute trio called “The Kitchen Sink,” which was performed in November 2017, and was invited to be part of Shawl-Anderson’s Dance Up Close/East Bay in Berkeley, Calif. Jamuna was a scholarship recipient to the Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, “Undoing Racism,” and was a two-year member of CORPUS, a mentoring program directed by Linda K. Johnson. As a producer, she is the co-founder of Co/Mission in Portland, Ore., with Suzanne Chi, a performance project that shifts the paradigm of who initiates the creation process of new choreography by bringing the artistic vision into the hands of the dance performer. She is also the founder of The Outlet Dance Project in Hamilton, N.J.


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