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DanceWatch Weekly: keyon gaskin’s self-portrait


“I mean that’s not really the title: I don’t really like that that gets used as the title, but the title is actually the ‘color’ lavender.”

This is the Portland dance artist keyon gaskin speaking about the title of his new work, [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait over coffee last week at Bushel and Peck Bakeshop in northeast Portland. [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait opens Wednesday, July 11, at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

“I feel like if there was any language I would use for the piece, it would be ‘a self portrait’,” he said. “But I prefer that the visual (color) representation be the language for the piece.”

“A self portrait,” which actually debuted in January at American Realness in New York, is a container for all that is keyon gaskin.

The work, involves a rotating group of 18 Portland performers, three different people for each performance, of which there are six. The performers are: Oluyinka Akinjiola, Linda Austin, Claire Barrera, Gregg Bielemeier, Derrais Carter, Jin Camou, Roland Dahwen, Lucy Doughton, Bart Fitzgerald, Jen Hackworth, Allie Hankins, Nyx Maurice, Grant Miller, Sidony O’neal, Sharita Towne, Takahiro Yamamoto, among others.

“I like to work with friends and people I know,” gaskin says. “I think I make this work, too, to be with people and to connect with people and spend time with people I’m interested in.”

keyon Gaskin and Lu Yim in Tahni Holt’s “Duet Love/Photo by Eugenie Frerichs

“I think with this piece, I’m really trying to value and center all the ways in which we receive information,” gaskin continues. “I also think about feminist ways of engagement with it. I think the whole piece in general is very decentralized. It’s not about WATCHING. Things are happening all around you. You can’t possibly see everything the whole time because there are three different people moving throughout the room at any given time….trying to center text and experience, and sensations, smell, feel, as equally receiving of information.”


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When you arrive at the performance, according to gaskin, you are handed a book, designed by Sharita Towne, which is a compilation of an email conversation between gaskin, Litia Perta and sidony o’Neil. It’s given when you come in and taken back when you leave.

“The book I consider a part of the performance as well,” gaskin says. “So, it kind of only exists in the performance.”

When I asked gaskin to talk about the intellectual content in “a self portrait” and his making process, he said, “I make work through performance.”

“There’s something about the performance modality that gives me a lot of information,” gaskin explains. “I don’t really need it to be mastered, I’m not so into this mastery of authorship: ‘Oh, I’ve created this brilliant thing that you all need to come witness.’ I think I’m so interested in performance because I’m so interested in what happens in rooms when we gather together. And I like that energy, and that intention, and that sort of thing. Like, having an idea of what I want to do, but not really knowing how it shows up and that energy really affecting how the material comes to be. For me it feels generative, feels like a way I like working or I’m interested in working.”

“I’ve been really into objectivity as an impossibility as humans,” he continues. “Like, were all making from our subjective experience, you know? Nobody’s not. In that idea, I think it also gets mired to me into this thing of how, certain folks, our bodies are always getting called to represent their identity or representing their subjective experience in front of an audiences, and others aren’t, when we are all making from our identified subjective experiences.”

“I think this is also why I was doing the self portrait myself, but then decided to put it on other bodies, to do three other bodies,” gaskin says. “One, to complicate this notion of identity or who’s representing who or what and this sort of thing. So if three other people who look totally different than I do or whatever but are performing a self portrait of me, then what does that do to my identity, to their identity, to the identity as a whole project, you know, this sort of thing. I think is a big part of the reason I put it on other bodies.”

Gaskin always writes his name is lowercase letters and never includes a bio in any of his programs. For ages I have been wanting to ask him about these choices.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Why do you write your name in all lowercase letters?

“Capitalization is capitalist.”

“I’m all about these rules of engagement that we don’t really question or challenge, you know? Little ways of fucking with these. I feel like there are so many things I could talk about as to why I make my name lower case. I think even why not make my name lower case is a way to approach that too. Why not?

Why don’t you include a bio in your programs?

“I think people do other things with them. I’ve read some bios that I’ve actually loved and really get to the heart of the person. But generally, they are used to show why people should find someone valid or respect them or something like that. And they’re often just a list of people’s credentials. I went to school here, I performed at these places, yada yada. You know, you list the most important things or you list people: ‘Oh I value this institution thus I should value this person.’ I don’t respect any of those institutions. You know? I don’t want you to respect me because you respect those institutions.

I did this performance and somebody came up to me afterwards and she was like ‘where did you go to school?’ She was so moved by the performance and the first question was where did you go to school. I was like, where I went to school has no credit to where this performance came from. The better question would be, which backyards did I perform in when I was eight. You know? The more that I do my work, I recognize that those experiences are actually what shows up more, like actually how my mother is, is actually so much more a part of my work than where I went to school. You know? That’s not where this is coming from. And the fact that we center those things over these other things, just no, no, I’m over that. I’m not interested in that and I’m not interested in you finding me valid because you find where I went to school valid. Schools are tired, these things are tired…I feel like you always have to find ways to duck and dodge”

Gaskin’s work is complex and layered, deeply intellectual and questioning. His work butts up against normative performance practices and can disturb, confuse, and upend.


Washougal Art & Music Festival

“I don’t mind people not getting things,” gaskin says. “I don’t mind people being confused. I don’t mind you coming in like, ‘what?’ But what did happen for you? And sometimes I feel like if we could just sit more with not getting something, you would get something else. You know? I’m definitely more interested in that something else.”

Performances this week

Dance artist keyon gaskin. Photo courtesy of PICA.

[A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait
keyon gaskin
July 11-27
PICA at Hancock, 15 NE Hancock St.
See above.

Linda Austin and Stephanie Lavon Trotter. Photo courtesy of Linda Austin.

Beaverton Ten Tiny Dances
Directed by Mike Barber
10 am July 14
The Beaverton Round, 12600 SW Crescent St., Beaverton
(adjacent to the Beaverton Central light rail station)
Celebrating its 10th year in Beaverton, Ten Tiny Dances, created in 2002 by Portland dance artist Mike Barber, showcases contemporary performance of all kinds on a 4 x 4-foot stage challenging the choreographers and audiences alike.

This year’s performances include a wide array of dance styles like Egyptian Folkloric, break dance, Taiko, Bharatanatyam, improvisation, modern dance, Ballet, Butoh, Irish Step, Mexican Ballet Folklorico, and Contemporary Ballet.

Performers include Linda Austin in collaboration with Stephanie Lavon Trotter, Taiko artist Michelle Fujii and her comaphy Unit Souzou, Subashini Ganesan and her Bharatnatyam troupe Natya Leela, among many others.

Click here for a full breakdown of performers, times, and locations of performances.


Washougal Art & Music Festival

LAUNCH participants at NW Dance Project. Photo by William Anthony.

Pretty Creatives Showing
NW Dance Project
Featuring the choreography of Kristen Céré and Menghan Lou
7:30 pm July 14
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
The two winners of NW Dance Project’s tenth annual Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition, Kristen Céré and Menghan Lou, will present new works featuring the 31 professional dancers selected to take part NW Dance Project’s annual LAUNCH project. LAUNCH is a two week dance intensive for professional dancers seeking exposure and the opportunity to work with working choreographers in the field.

Canadian-born choreographer Céré performed with the Nederlands Dans Theater and has choreographed works for companies and festivals across Europe and Canada.

Lou danced for the Nederlands Dans Theater for over nine seasons and runs his own production company called Lou Motion and has staged productions in Europe, Asia and North America.

Ekaterina Krysanova as Juliet and Vladislav Lantratov as Romeo in Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Damir Yusupov/ Bolshoi Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet
Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series
Presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
7 pm July 16
Click HERE for participating theatres and locations
Captured live at The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, the Bolshoi Ballet presents Alexei Ratmansky’s contemporary take on Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

Russian born Ratmansky was the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director of from 2004-2008 and is currently Artist in Residence at American Ballet Theatre.

This Romeo and Juliet was originally choreographed in 2011 for the National Ballet of Canada and the leading rolls will be danced by Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov.

“It’s Ratmansky that makes it unique,” says National Ballet of Canada’s artistic director, Karen Kain in an article by Joseph Carmen for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s extremely physicalized, which is a much more contemporary way to tell a story in this day and age. I really think it’s a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for ballet dancers of today.”


Oregon Cultural Trust

Upcoming Performances

July 11-27, [A Swatch of Lavender]: A Self Portrait, keyon gaskin
July 14, Ten Tiny Dances, Produced by Mike Barber
July 14, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 16, Romeo and Juliet, Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
July 19-21, RELATIVES // Rubble Bodies, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
July 23, Swan Lake, Bolshoi Ballet Summer Series, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
July 27, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, Washington Park Summer Festival

August 2-4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-Wol Dance Collective
August 3, #INSTABALLET NO.27, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-WOL Dance Collective
August 10-12, JamBallah Northwest
August 12, India Festival, produced by the India Cultural Association of Portland

September 1, #INSTABALLET NO.28, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag

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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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