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December DanceWatch: ‘Tis the Season for Nutcrackers and so much more

Celebrate the triumph of light over darkness with a bevy of seasonal productions, plus new work from some of our region’s most noted choreographers.


Oregon International Ballet Academy’s “Nutcracker” has taken to the air in this spectacular version of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Winter is a magical time. It’s the season of light and dark, hope and joy, and every culture celebrates it. Since pre-historic times, the winter solstice, the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, has been honored with festivals and rituals that symbolize the death and rebirth of the Sun. Some ancient cultures celebrated with bonfires, sacrifices, feasts, and gift-giving. In India, Diwali, the festival of lights, is that celebration. It represents the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. It also celebrates Lord Rama and his wife Sita’s return to their kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years in exile and after Lord Rama killed the demon Ravana–the story of the famous Hindu epic, the Ramayana. 

Historically, because winter celebrations are fluid and constantly evolving to encompass new ideas and traditions, it makes perfect sense that The Nutcracker ballet, with parallel themes of light and dark, good vs. evil, would fit neatly with other existing winter celebrations. It’s the story of a little girl who goes on an epic adventure with a Nutcracker-turned-prince. Spring and all its abundance are represented in the magical growth of the giant Christmas tree. The girl and the Nutcracker battle a rat king and a horde of mice and win. They travel through a snowstorm made of beautiful dancing snowflakes and experience fascinating cultures from far and wide. It’s full of imaginative play; it centers the struggle for good over evil, light over dark, and gives hope for a bright, colorful future. It’s an evocative story to get us through a long winter, and it’s a perfect nonsecular celebration for a diverse American audience. It has also become a significant income generator for America’s largest ballet companies, which generate approximately 40% of their annual ticket revenues from The Nutcracker.

A quick search on the Google for Nutcracker performances in the Portland area brings up about 25 or so different performances. There are your more traditional Nutcracker productions, like those of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Eugene Ballet, but then it takes a turn…

December Dance Performances

Dancers Sarah Ebert, Karen Daly, Carlos Rasmussen, and Dakota Celeste Bouher have collaborated with University of Oregon Associate Professor of Dance, Shannon Mockli in four duets. Photo courtesy of Shannon Mockli.

Choreographed by Shannon Mockli in collaboration with dancers Sarah Ebert, Karen Daly, Carlos Rasmussen, and Dakota Celeste Bouher
7:30 pm, December 3
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont Street, Portland

Exploring individual and group movement identities and histories, how those differences synthesize, where meaning comes from in making dances, and how to create a structure for dancing in which all participants can thrive is the basis of a series of collaborative duets facilitated by Eugene-based choreographer Shannon Mockli. The works feature sound artist Jon Bellona and dancers Dakota Bouher, Karen Daly, Sarah Ebert, Carlos Rassmussen, and Mockli. 

Mockli is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Oregon, where she choreographs, performs, and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in contemporary dance practices, improvisation, dance history, ballet, and pedagogy. 


PCS Clyde’s

The dancers of Shaun Keylock will perform four works by Portland choreographers in an evening titled “Counterpoints”. Photo courtesy of Shaun Keylock.

Features choreographic works by Josie Moseley, Jessica Hightower, Nicholas Le-Jurica, and Shaun Keylock performed by the Shaun Keylock Company dancers.
December 8-10
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Annex, 15 NE Hancock Street, Portland
(Enter on NE San Rafael Street)

The work of four choreographers – Josie Moseley, Jessica Hightower, Nicholas Le-Jurica, and Shaun Keylock – share the stage in this performance, allowing the audience to view a variety of movement ideas and forms. The exploration ranges from absurdist comedy to investigations of atmospheres, from showing the power and resilience of the community to the degradation of memory. Performing the works will be the dancers of the Shaun Keylock dance company: Sophie Beadie, Jackson Conn, Maile Crowder, Jillian Hobbs, Anna Hooper, Irvin Torres-Hernandez, Nick Weaver, and Simone Wulfhorst. 

The Reed College dance students will perform and evening of choreographic work by Reed dance professors Carla Mann and Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola. Photo courtesy of Reed College.

Winter Dance Concert
Reed College
December 10-11
Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab (first floor), 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard, Portland

Reed College student dancers will perform a collaboration between Reed College professor of dance Carla Mann and Brazilian/Portland dance artist Barbara Lima. They will also perform a new work by Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater artistic director and Reed Assistant Professor of Dance Oluyinka Akinjiola titled Work and play do mix set to live music. And students of 335 Political Bodies class will perform a provocative piece inspired by The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love.

Mann has been a member of the dance faculty since 1995 and has made dance works for the stage, site-specific locations, installation, and video, and has performed with Oslund+Co/Dance, tEEth, Bonnie Merrill, and Minh Tran & Company, among others. Mann was awarded a 2015 Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship. Lima is the artistic director of her own company, Ela FaLA Collective, which works to create bridges between art, technology, culture, education, and science through a holistic vision of the world.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater is a dance and music ensemble that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens. The performance Work connects the past to the present – from African roots to modern-day Jazz and House to current political issues of police brutality – through new choreography by Michael Galen, Jamie Minkus, and Oluyinka Akinjiola.

Oregon International Ballet Academy’s “Nutcracker” has taken to the air in this spectacular version of “The Nutcracker”. Photo courtesy of Oregon International Ballet Academy.

The Nutcracker
Oregon International Ballet Academy
Choreography by Xuan Cheng  / Ye Li after Marius Petipa / Lev Ivanov
December 10-11
Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 SW Crescent Street, Beaverton


PCS Clyde’s

Oregon International Ballet Academy, directed by Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Xuan Cheng and her husband, former OBT soloist Ye Li, present a full-length production of The Nutcracker. The ballet features student performers alongside guest artists from Portland, Los Angeles, and Kumamoto, Japan. Guest Japanese dancer Tango Hayato Fujita-Gomez will dance the role of the Nutcracker prince.

Photo courtesy of Open Space Dance Company and School.

Presented by Open Space Dance Company and The School at Open Space
December 10-11
Royal Durst Theatre, 3101 Main Street, Vancouver, WA 

The NOT-Cracker, a brand new production choreographed by Open Space’s Dance Company Artistic Director Franco Nieto and The School at Open Space directors of Charlene Hannibal and Maeve Dougal, follows Ted, a non-binary person danced by Colleen Loverde, who thinks they cannot dance. Ted enters a magical realm where they are swept up by a band of wild creatures who show them all the different ways one can experience dance. Along the way, Ted meets a waddle of penguins, a band of Polichinelles, a mischievous garden of flowers, a drag queen, and much more.

Northwest Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker and Mouse King dueling it out.
Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

A Nutcracker Tea
Northwest Dance Theatre
Artistic Directors June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek
December 10th-18th
PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave

An abridged Nutcracker, this version follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes, with choreography by June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek.

NWDT is a youth ballet company in its twenty-seventh season.

Mother Ginger is back! Portland’s Poison Waters returns to the stage in their 13th season in “The Nutcracker” as the larger-than-life character who houses a gaggle of kids under her gigantic skirt. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®
Oregon Ballet Theater, interim artistic director Peter Franc
December 10 – 24
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay Street, Portland


All Classical Radio James Depreist

In this large-scale, two-hour version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by George Balanchine (with one 25-minute intermission), little Marie 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 growing magic tree. She meets a handsome prince, valiantly fights off giant mice with her slipper, flies to the Land of Sweets, meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, witnesses mystical dancing snowflakes, and exits across the sky in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Accompanied live by the OBT orchestra. Mother Ginger is back with Poison Waters! Conductor, violinist, and violist Raúl Gómez-Rojas steps in as guest conductor of the OBT Orchestra for both The Nutcracker and the upcoming La Sylphide production in February. As Music Director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Gómez-Rojas is known for inspiring audiences of all ages with the joy of music. It’s a glittery romantic affair with twinkling lights, growing tree, mothers with giant skirts, snowflakes, and glimpses of faraway lands.

The dynamic and colorful students of Polaris Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Winter Student Performances
Polaris Dance Theatre 
December 15-18
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1820 NW 18th Avenue, Portland

Polaris Dance Theatre, a professional dance company, and school co-founded by Robert Guitron and Sara Anderson in 2002, welcomes the next generation of dancers to the stage in this showcase of young talent. 

Guitron and Anderson have taught, choreographed, and performed worldwide. They have created performance opportunities for the larger Portland dance community through programs like Groovin’ Greenhouse, the dance arm of the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, and the Galaxy Dance Festival, a yearly summer performance at the Simon and Helen Directors Park every summer that showcases the rich diversity of the Oregon dance community. 

NW Dance Project presents a night of dancer-driven choreography in their upcoming benefit performance,In Good Company-Starry Night”. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

In Good Company – Starry Night
A Benefit Performance
NW Dance Project, artistic director Sara Slipper
16-17 December
NW Dance Project’s Creative Center, 211 NE 10th Ave, Portland

Continuing with their mission to support the making of new contemporary dance works by up-and-coming choreographers, NW Dance Project presents In Good Company – Starry Night, a benefit performance featuring the work of a new group of company dancers alongside resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem. Set at a “dreaded” school winter dance, the choreography will be a medley of ridiculousness and fun with a “cheeky” Christmas can-can by Rustem. If you want to re-live your own school dance nightmare or just have fun, stay after to hit the dance floor with the company and enjoy a little nosh.

Eugene Ballet principal dancer Danielle Tolmie as the sugar plum fairy
and Mark Tucker as Hans. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

The Nutcracker
Eugene Ballet, artistic director Toni Pimble
December 17-24
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Silva Concert Hall, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble and accompanied live by Orchestra Next, this version of The Nutcracker is 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 takes off on their journey in hot air balloons instead of a sleigh and encounters culturally sensitive dances that borrow from the folk dances of each country represented.


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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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