All Classical Radio James Depreist

DanceWatch: Pandemic downs and ups

How have dancers and choreographers negotiated the pandemic? Jamuna Chiarini tells her particular story.


At the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns last March, it was exciting to have EVERYTHING go online. Dance classes, performances, lectures, and community conversations were suddenly available at the touch of a button. 

In the past, as a dance artist, I’d felt like I was never in the right place at the right time to get what I needed to succeed in my dance career. It felt like I was living in the wrong place, wasn’t studying with and being seen by the right teachers, and was missing out on auditions and opportunities. I felt like I was always out of step. FOMO (fear of missing out) was real for me. This was significantly exacerbated when I decided to have a baby, which took me right out of the game. But not anymore, thanks to Covid-19. (I feel yucky saying that.) Because suddenly everything I ever wanted was online. 

But, as you all know now, it’s hard to go at it alone in our tiny houses month after month. As you also know, trying to get time and space alone to be creative in a house with other people is REALLY HARD.

I tried connecting to what was available online. Still, it couldn’t keep my attention, and the sheer volume of choices became overwhelming. 

And then I couldn’t figure out why I felt the need to keep going as I had in the past when I had no idea when or where or if we would be dancing together again. Time is meaningless, and who the fuck cares anyway, I thought. No one. So I stopped trying. 

Instead, I worried. I read a lot of news, closely watched the Covid numbers, cursed Donald Trump, bought a puzzle, colored, went on an RV road trip, and wrote an occasional DanceWatch from my hammock in the backyard. 

I also spent an exorbitant amount of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Being a homemaker is repetitive and monotonous. Before Covid-19, I used to break up my day by leaving the house to attend dance classes, have lunch with friends, and see performances in the evening. But now that I was stuck at home, I felt trapped in the continuous cycle of cooking and cleaning. It was awful! My poor husband, who already worked from home before the pandemic and traveled for work, turned into a manic builder. So far he’s built a fence, a hot tub, a fireplace mantle, a built-in buffet in the dining room, and renovated the basement. We also have a teenager, and the whole online school thing was a bear to contend with. All of our efforts seem like a wash at this point because the school announced that grades don’t matter, and no one will be held back. It barely seems worth fighting for now. And let me tell you, there was a lot of fighting.


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But there is nothing like frustration and boredom to push you toward new things. 

The turning point for me was an Odissi workshop that I took online last June with my teacher’s teacher, Aparupa Chatterjee, who is a student of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra and Sujata Mohapatra. I’ve been studying Odissi for four years under the astute tutelage of Portland-based Odissi dancer/teacher Yashaswini Raghuram. In the Zoom workshop, I learned a 10-minute solo in 10 days. It’s called Batu. Batu honors Lord Batuka Bhairava, one of the 64 aspects of Lord Shiva, and expresses the rhythm and patterns of Odissi instead of an abhinaya dance that is emotional and story-driven. 

Odissi is one of India’s eight classical dance forms. It originated in India’s eastern state of Odisha and draws from the Mahari temple dance tradition, the Gotipua tradition (male dancers who dress as women), and the Bandha Nritya and Chau martial arts traditions. It also draws on information gleaned from the relief sculptures on temple walls and from the Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit text on the performing arts written by Bharata Muni sometime between 200 BCE and 500 CE.

To support my Odissi dancing and the learning of Batu, which we continue perfecting every week, I had to start back exercising in some form. I had to be regular about it, too, or Odissi would kill me, figuratively speaking, of course. This moment allowed me to reevaluate what was important to keep and set aside in my dance and physical fitness training. Being alone allowed me to step outside the competitive body-conscious dance world.

Artwork created by Emily Quintero based on the emotion fear for the Feelings Festival. Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Jones Art Center.

It also forced me to practice regularly and often, which I hadn’t done in a while. I also started using video as a tool to give myself feedback as I practiced. All of this, plus regular studio sessions at Performance Works NW and regular classes with my teacher over Zoom, got me going again. You cannot show up to an Odissi class having not practiced. Our classes are small and rigorous. My teacher is mere inches from me and watches my every move with a hawk’s eyes, expecting nothing less than perfection. If you haven’t practiced, it shows, and that’s embarrassing. This hasn’t changed one bit with Zoom, and I love it!

This gave way to creating new modern dance choreography, which I videotaped and shared online, which brought support from friends and new collaborators into my life. I no longer feel invisible or that I’m missing out on something, and I have grown to love watching myself dance on video and appreciate whatever I make. 



MYS Oregon to Iberia

This brings me to the Feelings Festival 2021! A brand new performance event curated and hosted by the Elisabeth Jones Art Center that celebrates human emotions through music, poetry, dance, and theatre. More specifically: admiration, awe, disgust, envy, fear, joy, lust, sadness, surprise, wrath. The premise behind the festival is best described by American painter Jasper John: Take an object, do something to it, do something else to it (repeat). For the festival, each music group, poet, and playwright was given an emotion to create a composition around. That was then interpreted by a visual artist, then interpreted by a choreographer. The festival includes the work of more than 30 artists, including yours truly and Portland dancers Megan Dawn, Franco Nieto, Andrea Parson, and Sweta Ravisankar, to name a few. The festival will be live-streamed on April 24 from two music venues, The 1905 and Artichoke Music, and will be a perfect way to cap the end of an emotionally fraught year. 

Performances this month!

The gorgeous flamenco dancer, Savannah Fuentes, will accompany musician Diego Amador Jr on a journey through flamenco history, from the past to the present. Photo courtesy of Savannah Fuentes.

Flamenco Happy Hour featuring Diego Amador Jr
Hosted by Savannah Fuentes
4 pm April 8

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. 

Artists Stephanie Lavon Trotter, Maxx Katz, and John Niekrasz. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NW.

PWNW Fall Happy Hour Series
Featuring Stephanie Lavon Trotter + IXNAY (Katz and Niekrasz)
5 pm April 15

In this month’s happy hour, Performance Works NW will feature the work of three experimental musical artists: Stephanie Lavon Trotter, Maxx Katz, and John Niekrasz. Trotter, a composer, improviser, and performer, will share her improvisational practice, somatic revelations, songs created from the moment, and a score that invites the audience to play along. Katz and Niekrasz, who are the duo IXNAY, will debut Participatory Flow State Tour #3, a new work using sound, video, and action, to make patterns for the third brain. 

The evening also includes a cocktail demo, a toast, a performance, PWNW-themed Bingo, and prizes, of course! 


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A gallery of work by the visual artists participating in the Feelings Festival. Photo courtesy of The Elisabeth Jones Art Center.

The Feelings Festival
April 24
Exact time and performance schedule TBA
Artists interviews TBA

See the discussion of the festival above.

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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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