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March DanceWatch: A dance for Ukraine

In a time of crisis, the art and dance of a vibrant culture find a light. Plus highlights of Oregon's dance calendar.

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When I sit down to write DanceWatch, I often have to go through a process of extracting my personal feelings about world events and politics from what I’m writing about, so outside events don’t distort or overshadow the point of this column. But today, I can’t separate out the two. There is just too much going on that’s big and scary.

I initially thought I would summarize the past two years of the pandemic, because this month marks the second anniversary of its beginning. But, we don’t need to do that. We all lived it; it’s been awful, it permanently harmed the dance world, so I won’t entirely go there right now. 

Now, and for the past week, my heart and mind have been with Ukraine. It’s been heartbreaking watching Vladimir Putin invade and destroy Ukraine and kill people while the world watches, unable to get boots on the ground to help fight for fear of a nuclear attack. This seems fluid. But President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are awe-inspiring. I wonder if I could do what they are doing? My privilege of living in a country that never gets attacked (except Pearl Harbor) by outsiders makes it possible for me to just wonder. But I’m pretty sure I would take up arms against a Russian invasion. Does anyone remember the 1984 movie Red Dawn that starred Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen? It’s about a group of American high school students who resist the occupation of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua through guerrilla warfare. I was ten at the time, and the threat of a nuclear attack from Russia seemed very real. In school, we practiced hiding under our desks in case of a nuclear attack, which never would have saved us. My parents and I also designated a spot in town where we would meet if we were ever attacked and were separated. I was terrified of dying without them. I thought about that a lot. 

It is also distressing to watch the world join in solidarity against Putin, but not for the people of Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Syria, and so many others. Millions of people from these countries also had to flee their homelands for their safety, leave family and friends, and never return. Maybe the world will look differently at refugees now. 

So while I’ve been anxiously switching between TikTok, Twitter, Youtube, and The New York Times for up-to-the-minute info on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, art has magically trickled in. As it always does. I discovered a lot about Ukrainian culture that I didn’t know before. 

The Kokum scarf. A shared sacred item between Cree First Nations people and Ukrainians.

I learned that the traditional Ukrainian flower scarf, also called the Kokum scarf, is a special item for the Cree First Nations people living in Alberta, Québec, and Saskatchewan. There is a long history of trade and commerce between the original people and the Ukrainian settlers, and in times of significant hardship and famine, they helped each other out. The scarves became a symbol of matriarchal strength and hard work and were incorporated into traditional native regalia and everyday fashion. 

Ukrainian Easter eggs or pysanka.

While scrolling TikTok, I found someone painting a pysanka, a Ukrainian Easter egg, intricately decorated with traditional folk designs using a wax-resist method, or batik. This is a shared custom throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and the designs differ depending on the region. Over time, the meaning behind the egg has changed from being a pagan symbol of spring to commemorating, with the advent of Christianity, the Resurrection of Christ. Today, friends exchange pysanky on Easter morning that have been blessed. If you are interested in learning how to make a pysanka, here is one video to get you started, but there are hundreds to choose from. These eggs are so gorgeous; I want them all! I see a new collecting compulsion coming on. 

Two Parrots Took a Walk Together in Spring, 1980, by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko.

Through regular news, I discovered Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko. On February 28, via Twitter, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a fire from a Russian attack had destroyed 25 paintings by Pryimachenko. I have also read that maybe not as many paintings were destroyed. I don’t know for sure. 

The celebrated, award-winning Pryimachenko (1909-1997) was born to a peasant family in the village of Bolotnya in the Kyiv region. She received no formal art training and learned embroidery from her mother. Her work was inspired by Ukrainian folk traditions, fairy tales, and the natural world, and depicted fantastical animals and plants. Over time her art transitioned from embroidery to watercolors to vibrantly colored gouache paintings. In the 1970s she added short phrases or sayings onto the backs of her canvases relating to the topic of the work. Her work is colorful, strong, and bold, and it conveys sweetness. Each painting is an explosion of emotion and life.

After visiting a Prymachenko exhibition in Paris, Pablo Picasso once said, “I bow down before the artistic miracle of this brilliant Ukrainian.”

And, of course, I had to check out the Ukrainian professional dance community. From what I gleaned online, there are many ballet schools and ballet companies in Ukraine, and some contemporary dance. But the language barrier made my research a little tricky. Because ballet has primarily been associated with Russia, forging an independent Ukrainian national identity separate from Russia has been crucial, so ballet is sort of a landmine. I focused my attention on the deep well of Ukrainian folk dances instead.

Dance has been performed in Ukraine since the third millennium BC. It served as an important ritual function combined with music, poetry, and song. When Christian missionaries arrived, they incorporated Christian themes into the songs and poetry and used the dances to spread their religion. 

Initially, Ukrainian folk dances were improvised. Participants formed a circle, and members took turns entering the center, showing off their best moves. The movements performed included high kicks, arm raises, and symbolic gestures. 

The Ukrainian costumes and dances we see today are beautiful and exciting to watch but are often contemporary recreations of the dances rather than an authentic historical representation. 

Sponsor
Portland Center Stage Rent Portland Oregon
Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian National Folk Dance Ensemble.

The hopak, which means to hop, is often referred to as the National Dance of Ukraine. It’s a Ukrainian folk dance that originated as a male dance among the Zaporozhian Cossacks and evolved into a dance for couples, male soloists, and mixed dancers.

It was a celebratory dance performed on the return from a victorious battle. The performers were young, boisterous mercenaries and the dance steps performed were mostly improvisational, reflecting the men’s personal sense of manliness, heroism, speed, and strength. The movement included big acrobatic jumps and re-enactments from the battlefield through pantomime, using real swords, lances, and other weaponry. 

There is so much that is lost when a culture is destroyed through war, but the Ukrainian people have a long history of prevailing under dire circumstances, so I know they will survive. Still, the cost to rebuild Ukraine after this war will be staggering. Will there be homes for everyone to return to, and will they all come back? Irreparable damage has been done, and only time will tell us how it all turns out. I hope Ukraine gets to dance the hopak very soon, and when they do, I will join them.

Performances in Oregon this month

NW Dance Project company dancers. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Spring Premiers
NW Dance Project 
March 4-5
Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland

Experience movement concepts from around the world in three world premieres by choreographers Joseph Hernandez, Yin Yue, and NW Dance Project resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem. Each choreographer blends various dance genres with wit, theatricality, and inventive technical feats. All realized by the company’s brand new group of dancers.

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Beauty and the Beast” by Ballet Fantastique. Photo: Bob Williams.

Beauty and the Beast
Ballet Fantastique
Featuring Trio Voronezh
March 4-6
Soreng Theatre, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Way, Eugene

6:30 p.m. March 4: Opening night introduction to Beauty and the Beast by University of Oregon Professor of Practice in Literature Dr. Barbara Mossberg. Dr. Mossberg is a teacher, thespian, poet, environmentalist, lecturer, and scholar. 

Live or Livestream, a complimentary live stream link will be given with each ticket purchase for flexibility. 

The transformative power of love remains central to Ballet Fantastique’s new version of Beauty and the Beast. The story, which is now a ballet, is replete with 18th century French-inspired costumes, gothic architecture, and live music by Trio Voronezh, a Russian folk music band known for inventive arrangements of classical music played on Russian musical instruments such as the bayan, a chromatic button accordion, and the stringed domra and balalaika. The ballet also includes beloved characters from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast including the Teapot, the Feather Duster, the Butler, and the Clock, but in Ballet Fantastique’s version, the inanimate objects have legs and dance on pointe. This chamber-sized rendition is also shorter, ideal for children and short attention spans. It has two 40-minute acts and one 20-minute intermission.

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Dancers Skye Stouber and Theresa Hanson in”NINETEEN * TWENTY.” Photo: Michael Shay, Polara Studio

Nineteen Twenty
BodyVox Dance and Chamber Music Northwest
March 17-19
Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 SW Crescent St., Beaverton

In collaboration with Chamber Music Northwest, the world premiere of Nineteen Twenty, BodyVox’s newest creation, initially set to premiere in 2020, celebrates the explosion of creativity in music, art, culture, and dance of the 1920s. It will also help introduce dance into the programming at the Reser, Beaverton’s new, $55 million cultural and performing center. Defined by great economic prosperity and social change, the decade was a time to throw off the social shackles of past generations and define a new one. 

The accompanying music for the evening was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Marc Mellits, Francis Poulenc, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Erik Satie and Maurice Ravel. It will be performed by Akropolis Reed Quintet, with special arrangements by Dan Schlosberg.

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Something Else 
Choreographed by Carlyn Hudson
March 25-27
Echo Theater, 1515 S.E. 37th Ave, Portland

Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Something Else, an evening of five world premieres: two quintets, two solos, a duet, and a dance film, each with its own unique story. The subjects of the dances range from a portrait of anger ignited from living in a patriarchal society to Greek mythology and fantasy. The dancing will be accompanied by music of Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Schubert, George Frideric Handel, and more. Featured dancers include Kailee McMurran, Amy Russell, Lindsay Dreyer, Lupe Martínez, and Anna Olmstead. 

Hudson’s work slips between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weaves humor, heartache, and beauty, reflecting an array of contrasting ideas. Hudson performed with Connecticut Ballet and Polaris Dance Theater, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi. She has choreographed many works for SubRosa Dance Collective and has produced two full-length evenings of her own work. Her work has also been seen at the Chop Shop Contemporary Dance Festival, Union PDX Festival of Contemporary Dance, Unveiled Dance Festival, Pacific Dance Makers, and Ballet Alliance Festival. 

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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