DanceWatch Weekly: Choreography XX in the park

Oregon Ballet Theatre makes for Washington Park, the last Spectacle Garden, the Improvisation Summit, more!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been a lucky, lucky fly on the wall at Oregon Ballet Theatre, watching the making of three new ballets by three, extremely talented women choreographers—Nicole Haskins, Helen Simoneau, and Gioconda Barbuto, the winners of the company’s Choreography XX competition. An initiative created by OBT artistic director Kevin Irving to discover new female ballet choreographers, Choreography XX attracted 91 applicants from across North America, and three were selected to create new ballets for the company.

Because I am curious about the direction that classical ballet is headed and how it relates to the the changing world at large, and the differences in how women lead/direct/choreograph verses men, I asked if I could sit in on the rehearsals and watch and write about it. It was an awesome experience.

Over the first three weeks I spoke with the choreographers about their artistic processes and what they thought about the dearth of women choreographers in ballet. I also sat down with OBT artistic director Kevin Irving to hear about his future vision for the company. You can read Simoneau’s interview here, Haskins interview here, and Irving and Barbuto’s interview here.

In watching rehearsals I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of limitations in what was being created and the borrowing of movement concepts from the modern dance world. I was also surprised at the amount of experimentation that was being asked of the dancers—and how open and comfortable they were with that process. I think being a part of the making process of a dance creates a different relationship between the dancer and the choreography, one that the dancers are much more invested in.

I felt that each choreographer’s way of speaking and the energy each emitted, created a different environment in the studio. That in turn created the environment within the dance. The choices around language, music, the steps, the attack, the imagery, the energy, the focus, and the costumes, are all aspects of who the choreographer is, and it is all reflected in the dance.

I noticed that each choreographer emphasized relationships within their choreography, and that the partnering models moved away from the typical male-female ballet partnering to include same-sex partnerships for both men and women. Also the expectations of what women could do physically within the partnering was altered because of the introduction of contemporary dance partnering principles, which see men and women as equals in physical ability. Seeing women lifting and supporting other women in ballet is new for me.

I also noticed a shared theme of group connection and how the whole group is affected when one person moves. At some point in each piece, the dancers gather and connect in a circular, amoeba-like group, try and move across the room together, and are affected by each other.

Watching these three pieces unfold over the last four weeks has been a completely enlivening experience and has reiterated that the road to successful choreography is about getting into the studio often, getting out of your own way, and letting “mistakes” happen.

Performances this week

OBT dancers Jacqueline Straughan and Martina Chavez in rehearsals for Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX, presented June 29 ­ 30th, 2017 at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. Photo by Yi Yin.

Choreography XX
World premiers by Gioconda Barbuto, Nicole Haskins, and Helen Simoneau
Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 29-30
FREE
Washington Park Amphitheater, 410 SW Kingston Ave.
See above.
Because parking at the Washington Park Amphitheater is severely limited, TriMet is encouraging folks to take public transportation to OBT’s Choreography XX performance with this fun video featuring OBT2 dancers Erika Crawford and Daniel Salinas. Don’t forget to get there early to get a good seat.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End, hosted by Ben Martens , 7:30 pm June 30 at The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Image by Cullen Siewert.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End
Hosted by Ben Martens
7:30 pm June 30
The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.

Sadly the spectacle is coming to an end. Ben Martens, who has been curating monthly performances at the Headwaters theatre for over a year now, is calling it quits. This monthly showcase has provided a free platform to experimental performers of all kinds to “work-it-out in real time, in front of a real live audience.” As far as I know, there isn’t another regular showcase of its kind in Portland, so Spectacle Garden will be greatly missed.

Spectacle Garden 13: The End, will be your last chance to catch some of Portland’s finest experimental artists under one roof. The program includes Natasha Kotey, Benja Farber, Elzza Doll, Katherine Rose, Simeon Jacobs, Ben Martens, Patrick McCulley, Laura Blake, Draven, Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, and a sci-fi/music video By Port City’s Project Grow.

As always the evening will continue into the wee hours of the morning with the musical stylings of Amenta Abioto, Phil Stevens, Tig Bitty, and Angel 11.

Martens is a poet, electronic music producer, emcee, mover, organizer and performance artist with an interest in revolution, existentialism, comedy, mindfulness and environmentalism. He studied music and performance at Naropa University and has been studying Butoh with Mizu Desierto since his arrival in Portland in January 2015.

We look forward to future manifestations of Martens combined talents. Until then…dance on.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks performing for a dress rehearsal at the Joyce Theater in Brian Brooks’ Some of a Thousand Words. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Photo by Timothy A. Clary.

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan-a film
A film starring former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan
June 30-July 6 daily 4:30, 8:20
Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave.

This film, directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger, is an intimate, emotional portrayal of prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to leave New York City Ballet after dancing with the company for 30 years. In an interview with Vulture magazine online, Whelan spoke with former Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Mia Leimkuhler, about retirement, sexism, and ageism in the ballet world, and about making the choice to shoot the film: “{…} I’m at a crossroads in the company, I don’t know where I’m going to end up.” {…} I didn’t feel in control of my emotions at the time, because so many emotions were coming and going. It was scary to say how I really felt. Sadness, anger, fear, shame. Those were the big words at the time, and I was feeling those for a couple of years. To expose these feelings in front of a camera felt so foreign. Ballerinas don’t show those things. Ever. That’s just not what we’re taught to do.”

Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017. Photo of Intisar Abioto, courtesy of Danielle Ross.

Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017
Curated by Danielle Ross
Hosted by The Creative Music Guild and Disjecta
June 30-July 1
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Dance/Performance Lineup
Friday, June 30th
7 pm Andrea Kleine and Linda Austin
8:15 pm Danielle Ross, Lisa Schonberg and Heather Treadway

Saturday, July 1st
7:15 pm Carla Mann and Brandon Conway
8:15 pm Andrea Kleine’s Ships w/ Linda Austin, Catherine Egan, Taylor Eggan, Kaj Anne Pepper, Danielle Ross and Noelle Stiles
9:30 pm Amenta Abioto and Intisar Abioto

Opening Friday night, the Improvisation Summit of Portland 2017 will features select members of the Portland dance community in improvised pairings, curated by Portland dance artist Danielle Ross. Since its inception in 2012, the Improvisation Summit, a subset of the Creative Music Guild, has brought together dancers, musicians, filmmakers and other experimental artists to create improvised, one-of-a-kind performances. Ross is interested in shaking up the audience’s relationship with the performance space by introducing movement and by showing how different choreographers play with, and relate to sound. Check out Creative Music Guild’s website for the full list of artist bios and clicking on the artist name.

Jon Peterson as the Emcee and the national touring cast of Cabaret, at Keller Auditorium. Photo: Joan Marcus

Cabaret
Roundabout Theatre Company
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 27-July 2
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
In pre-war Germany, as the Nazis gain power, drama unfold between a young writer and Sally Bowles, a singer at the seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Club. Nightlife is alluring, but dangerous, and times are uncertain. The Emcee, a ghoulish persona, tantalizes the crowd with his raucous, debauched performers, helping them to forget. In the musical’s final scene, as the Emcee is giving his Auf Wiedersehens, Sally Bowles says, “It’ll all work out, it’s only politics, what’s it got to do with us?”

Upcoming Performances

July
July 5, ARCOS studio showing, ARCOS Dance
July 6, Éowyn Emerald & Dancers
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 14-15, Rantum Skoot, Linda Austin, Gregg Bielemeier, Bob Eisen (NYC), and Sada Naegelin & Leah Wilmoth
July 14-16, Apparatus, by Danielle Ross
July 15, Rush Hour, Heidi Duckler Dance Theater Northwest
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 26, Movement and Flow: Portland Dance Films, Hosted by NW Film Center featuring films by Conrad Kazcor, Fuchsia Lin, Dylan Wilbur Media, Gabriel Shalom, Jackie Davis, and Amy Yang Chiao
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

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