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December DanceWatch: Cupcakes, Nutcrackers, and more

After a long year of mostly virtual performances, the dance world celebrates the season by throwing the doors open to live shows again.

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It’s been a bizarre year, with a whole lot of twists and turns that began with virtual-only dance performances and thankfully ended with a return to regular old live ones. “We’ve come a long way, baby,” a line from a song made famous by American country music singer Loretta Lynn, best sums up the pandemic dance journey of 2021. 

In the meantime, December has plenty to offer Oregonians eager to see some live dance. 

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Continuing through January 15, New York choreographer Faye Driscol’s Come On In, installed at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, invites audiences to gather and engage in their senses. Upon entering the carpeted gallery space, each person is instructed to choose a listening station that features a unique soundtrack with verbal instructions by Driscol. Through the immersive sensorial experience, participants become audience members and performers alike. 

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Serious Cupcakes. Photo: Michael Shay, Polara Studio

Serious Cupcakes, a new evening of choreography by current and former BodyVox dancers, seems to suggest that the petite confectionery treat, used for every kind of celebration with seemingly endless flavor and decorative combinations, requires deep consideration. Or is it a reference to the 1940s slang term for a beautiful woman? Who knows? What I do know is that the show runs for two consecutive weekends December 2-11 at the BodyVox Dance Center. It features choreography by Gregg Bielemeier, Alicia Cutaia, Éowyn Emerald, Theresa Hanson, Brent Luebbert, Daniel Kirk, Sara Parker, and Skye Stouber, and promises to be as fun and yummy as those cupcakes.

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FOR THE FIRST TIME IN TWO YEARS, The Nutcracker is back in theaters, live, with viewing options. It’s now synonymous with the holiday season in America, and performed by ballet companies nationwide; there are four versions to choose from in Oregon this winter. 

Of mice and friends: Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®” Photo: James McGrew

Oregon Ballet Theatre will perform George Balanchine’s large-scale, two-hour version (with one 25-minute intermission), accompanied by the OBT orchestra, December 11-26 in Keller Auditorium. In this Nutcracker, little Marie is the protagonist. She parties hard at the family Christmas party, fights with her brother Fritz over a wooden Nutcracker gifted to her by her godfather, Herr Drosselmeier, and witnesses a tree magically grow to the size of a tall building. She meets a handsome prince, fights off giant mice with her slipper, flies to the Land of Sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, and witnesses glorious dancing snowflakes and delicacies from around the world taking off to the sky in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer in the end.

Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble and accompanied live by Orchestra Next, runs December 17-23 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene. In this version, The Nutcracker becomes a story of young love. In Clara’s dream, the Nutcracker transforms into Hans, a young man who works for Drosselmeyer, instead of changing into a prince. The couple take off on their journey in hot air balloons instead of a sleigh, and encounter culturally sensitive dances that borrow from the folk dances of each country represented. 

Student performances, which tend to be less expensive and shorter (great for the younger set), include A Nutcracker Tea, performed by student ballet company Northwest Dance Theatre, December 18-19 at The Newmark. This abridged Nutcracker follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes, choreographed by June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek.

An acrobatic candy cane performing something twisty in The Oregon Symphony’s Cirque Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of The Oregon Symphony.

If you’re looking for something completely different, the Oregon Symphony offers a Cirque Nutcracker December 18-19 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Los Angeles-based theatrical circus company Troupe Vertigo, founded in 2009 by Aloysia Gavre (Cirque du Soleil) and her husband, Rex Camphuis (Pickle Family Circus), join forces with the Oregon Symphony to bring a hybrid of cirque, dance, and acrobatics to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker music.

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The dancers of Ballet Fantastique ready to take flight in their new holiday extravaganza, “Arrivals: Rio.” Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

BALLET FANTASTIQUE takes the holiday celebration to a new level with Arrivals: Rio, an armchair travel adventure that transports audiences to mid-century South America. From December 31-January 2 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene, BFAN will take you on an imaginary tour of Brazil and Argentina from the comfort of your theater seat, exploring Carnival, the beaches of Ipanema, and the Amazon. Following the performance will be a New Year’s Eve Party with light Latin fare, live music, and a DJ dance party. Dress code: Festival formal/vintage Pan Am. 

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Lastly, don’t forget that you need proof of complete vaccination against Covid-19 or a negative Covid-19 test and a mask before you can see any live performances. Portland performing arts organizations have united to form a vaccine coalition for indoor performances. They’ve put protocols in place to prioritize the health and safety of audience members, artists, staff, volunteers, and the community. So take care.

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That’s a wrap. We’ll see you in the new year with more dance!

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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