For most dancers, the ability to maintain a career over a lifetime is nearly impossible. If the body doesn’t give out, the funds aren’t there to eat and pay rent. There are few opportunities, and the dance culture isn’t supportive of dancers growing families AND careers. And it definitely doesn’t take a dancer’s mental health into consideration. It really isn’t supportive of the whole dancer at all.
There are many reasons that dancers exit their dance careers to no fault of their own. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. The odds against you succeeding worsen if you are an independent dance artist working outside of a major non-profit dance organization and have to secure funding on your own. And it gets even more difficult if you are a woman and an artist of color.
But there are exceptions. And it is these folks that I look to as examples of how to carve out my own future in dance. Because there is going to be one.
For me, Portland dance artist Linda Austin and dance and visual artist Bobby Fouther exemplify how to live as an artist FOREVER. Austin is 66 years old, and Fouther is 70. Slowing down or stopping anytime soon isn’t a consideration for either of them. And lucky for you, there are several opportunities to connect with them both this month!
Austin is an award-winning dancer, choreographer, performance artist, and writer who founded Performance Works NW in 1999 with technical director Jeff Forbes. PWNW is a studio theatre in Southeast Portland that engages artists and audiences in experimentation, creation, and dialogue around contemporary performance. Austin’s work, which she has been making since 1983, is both improvisational and highly choreographed. It contains interesting and unusual visual elements, is humorous and poetic, and purposefully disrupts what is considered dancerly. This month Austin will be hosting a 20-year retrospective of group works that she has made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Performance Works NW.
When the history of the performing arts in Portland is written, the chapters from 1980 to the present will include a host of references to Bobby Fouther. Fouther, also affectionately known as Mr. B., is a lifelong creative in the fields of dance, fashion design, and visual art, and his career has touched many of the mainstream arts organizations in the city, including Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox Dance Center, and White Bird dance, and has tracked many of the most influential African American arts groups from that time: His own Herero Dancers, Bruce Smith’s Northwest Afrikan American Ballet, and such theater companies as Portland Black Repertory Theater, Sojourner Truth Theater, and PassinArt: A Theatre Company. Fouther will be speaking on an artist panel as part of Union PDX-Festival of Contemporary Dance later this month on the importance and impact of making art during social and political unrest.
When it comes to the secrets of longevity in a dance career, Austin and Fouther had similar thoughts: you do what makes you happy, just keep going, and ignore the pressures to be liked. In an interview for a book called Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond, by Emmaly Wiederhold with photographs by Gregory Bartning, Austin said, “If you are stubborn enough and love it enough, you’ll find a way to keep going. You do need some outside validation from time to time. I’ve always gotten just enough to keep me going but not enough to make me comfortable. The carrot is always just ahead.”
When I spoke to Fouther about it, he said, “What else am I supposed to do? I was born into this. My mom was a dancer. It wasn’t to become anybody but myself. I diversify, visual [art] and performing, singing, playing in a band, and and and and…I understand enough about creativity to not worry about becoming famous or not. My art is for me. If you like it, fine. If you don’t, fine.”
So with that, I bid you farewell until December. Hang in there, don’t let the politics get you down, and have an excellent November!
Important Funding Opportunity
The Artist Relief Program
Oregon Arts Commission
Grant Deadline November 10
The Artist Relief Program provides relief funding to Oregon artists who have experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program supports professional artists who have experienced or anticipate experiencing revenue loss of $1,000 or more between March 1 and December 31, 2020. Awards range from $1,000 to $5,000. Artists from underserved communities, including (but not limited to) rural communities and communities of color, as well as artists with disabilities, are especially encouraged to apply.
November Dance Performances
OBT has been busy creating online content for ballet audiences performance clips, behind-the-scenes videos, dancer-made films and tik tok videos, dance classes for kids and adults, and a tutorial video with instructions and a supply list on how to make your own ballet barre at home. All of which you can find at OBT@Home.
For November, the company will stream excerpts from famous ballets by American ballet choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine and contemporary ballet choreographer Nacho Duato, from Spain. OBT Resident Choreographer Nicolo Fonte will also present work along with San Francisco-based ballet choreographer Val Caniparoli who just finished choreographing a full-length Jekyll and Hyde for the Finnish National Ballet via Zoom. Fonte just finished creating a new work called Faraway Close for Ballet West, which will premiere on November 6.
Jayanthi Raman’s Traditions Transitioned
Webinar Series featuring artists of the Pacific NorthWest
Curated and moderated by Jayanthi Raman
November 7-Manipuri dancer and academician Sohini Ray
November 14- Poets Emmett Wheatfall and Paulann Petersen
Renowned Portland Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Jayanthi Raman will host a weekly Saturday morning conversation via Zoom with distinguished artists in music, dance, and literary artists, from the Pacific Northwest. To join the conversation, click ‘going’ by Thursday on the Facebook event page, and Raman will send you a Zoom link. Participants will be admitted from 8:45-9 am, with no late admittance.
PWNW Retrospective: Linda Austin Dance—Ensemble Works
4 pm November 8
Streamed Live on Twitch
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Performance Work NW, an inclusive rehearsal and performance space in SE Portland, founding artistic director Linda Austin will host a retrospective watch party of her group choreography from 2000 till now. Check out the PWNW website for program details and performer list.
The celebration continues with more watch parties!
4 pm December 13: Cabaret Boris & Natasha
4 pm January 10: Linda Austin Solo Works
4 pm February 14: Alembic Resident Artists Retrospective
Autumn Choreographers Concert
From on-campus and across the country, Pacific University Dance Ensemble members return to the stage to present a collection of solos created during the pandemic celebrating the human connection. The concert features a new dance work by senior Leiana Petlewski, who will present Gallery, inspired by the landscape paintings of Charles Burchfield. Petlewski will also perform Robert Muczynski’s Cello solos Gallery Suite accompanied by cellist Olivia Oetker.
A-WOL After Hours
9 pm November 14
Livestreaming from Alberta Rose Theatre with a small handful of in-person tickets
In this steamy, late-night, make-you-blush kind of show, A-WOL Dance Collective, known for blending dance and aerial work, will continue to amaze with feats of physicality on the ground and in the air creating magic and wonderment.
Union PDX – Festival of Contemporary Dance
Presented by Push/fold
Live-streamed and in person
With the purpose of connecting audiences to artists, Union PDX, in its second iteration, is adapting to the times and will present a series of master classes that cover the gamut of dance styles and artist panel discussions instead of performances this year.
Master class teachers and panelists include: push/Fold and Union PDX artistic director Samuel Hobbs, dance and visual artist Bobby Fouther, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola, NW Dance Project dancer Andrea Parson, street dancer and filmmaker Conrad “Icon Sleepy Tut” Kaczor, artistic director of ELa FaLa Collective Barbara Lima, and Bharanatayam dancer and teacher Sweta Ravasinkar.
PWNW Fall Happy Hour Series
Featuring Allie Hankins and Pepper Pepper
5 pm November 19
In a mindful approach that provides financial support to artists of color in the community while centering dance and experimental performance, PWNW has created a Happy Hour on Zoom that features a variety of artists. The evening includes a cocktail demo, a toast, a performance, PWNW-themed Bingo, and prizes, of course!
Happy Hour this week will feature Portland-based artist Allie Hankins and Pepper Pepper. Hankins will guide the audience through her reflections on the words “trace,” “transparency,” and “control,” the writings of Beatriz Colomina, the houses of architect Eileen Gray, and faces: a house’s face, Allie’s own face, your face, your face as her face, and facing it.” Pepper will experiment with digital image manipulation and mythopoetics in non-linear essay form.
Flamenco Happy Hour featuring Diego Amador Jr
Hosted by Savannah Fuentes
4 pm November 19
Join flamenco singer, percussionist, and “flamenco royalty,” Diego Amador Jr, guitarist Carlos de Jacoba, and flamenco dancer Savannah Fuentes for an intimate evening of music and history. In addition to playing traditional and contemporary Flamenco compositions, Amador will also talk extensively about Flamenco history and culture, translated from Spanish to English by Fuentes.
Conceived, written, and performed by Charles Grant
A co-production of Many Hats Collaboration and Portland Playhouse
Matter will indefinitely be available for free viewing at Many Hats Collaboration and Portland Playhouse websites and on the websites of writer and performer Charles Grant, director James Dixon, videographer Tamera Lyn, and sound designer Sharath Patel.
This very personal portrait of a Black Everyman follows writer and performer Charles Grant on his journey to find answers to police brutality and gun violence. While not strictly a dance work, Matter does include a lot of movement, as life should. It also contains sections that could be considered dances with movement direction by Many Hats Artistic Director Jessica Wallenfels.
Inspired by recent and not so current events, Matter centers on the embodied experience of being continually bombarded with systemic racism and injustice.
Last month I previewed Matter and interviewed Charles Grant and Jessica Wallenfels, which you can read here.