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May DanceWatch: Celebrating women dancemakers

A busy bloom of storybook ballets, world premieres, film festivals and experimental dance is highlighted by a festival featuring the work of women choreographers.

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We’re entering the merry month of May, and Oregon’s dance world is blooming!

This month brings an exciting mix of storybook ballets, world premieres, experimental works by highly seasoned visiting contemporary choreographers, a couple of film festivals, an evening of new choreography by Oregon Ballet Theater dancers, a 20th-season anniversary celebration, and a new choreographic festival May 16-19 just for women. 

The festival is called Women Choreographers of the Pacific NorthWest (WCPNW), and Portland dance artists Carlyn Hudson and Kailee McMurran direct it. It will feature the choreographic work of Sweta Ravisankar, Eva Stone, Makino Hayashi, Amy Leona Havin, Hudson, and McMurran, as well as the work of women dance filmmakers of the Pacific Northwest through a partnership with Portland Dance Film Fest, which McMurran directs.

Why is a choreographic festival just for women important, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. 

One of the most glaring hypocrisies in the dance world is the gender disparity. The majority of dancers are women, but it’s men who hold the most power, prestige, and financial opportunities. It’s well-known that if a man decides to become a dancer, the red carpet is practically rolled out for him. Tuition might be free at any dance school of his choosing, and recruitment from dance companies will be high, even if he is a mediocre dancer. Women dancers are held to an impossibly high standard, told they are a dime a dozen and are replaceable. Men, on the other hand, are considered a rare commodity and too often get away with sexual harassment, physical abuse, psychological abuse — you know; the regular stuff. If you don’t believe me because “I’m an overly emotional female, and I must be making things up in my head” (all things I’ve been told before), check the numbers. Statistics don’t lie. 

The Dance Data Project, founded by Elizabeth Yntema in 2015, began as an independent project researching the lack of new female choreographic works in ballet. The project has grown and now promotes equity in all aspects of ballet by providing a metrics-based analysis through its database while showcasing women-led companies, festivals, competitions, venues, special programs, and initiatives. The research has also grown to examine modern and contemporary dance organizations and leaders. You can check out their exciting research and see the statistics on their website here

The data says that between 2018 and 2023, the largest 50 ballet companies in the United States commissioned 78 full-length world premieres. Fourteen (18%) were choreographed by women, 60 (77%) were choreographed by men, and 4 (5%) were choreographed by teams of co-choreographers of both men and women. These findings highlight the lack of opportunities for women to create new full-length works.

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

Why does this matter? “We’ve found that women can be siloed into creating works for mixed repertoire productions or ‘one-off’ gala performances,” says DDP Research Coordinator Jenna Magrath on the DDP website. “While these commissions can help choreographers build their portfolio and confidence, they are effectively being trusted with less – less resources, less time, and less exposure, sharing the news headlines with two or three other choreographers.”

If you are a foundation or someone with lots of money who likes to support dance, check out this opinion piece by Nicole Haskins titled 5 Things Foundations Can Do To Help Female Choreographers on the DDP website. 

Interestingly, all four major ballet and contemporary dance companies in Oregon are currently directed by women. Dani Rowe was the first woman appointed artistic director of Oregon Ballet Theater in its 34-year history. Toni Pimble co-founded and has been directing Eugene Ballet since 1978. Donna Marisa Bontrager founded Ballet Fantastique in 2000, and Sarah Slipper is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her leadership at NW Dance Project. Dani Rowe and Eugene Ballet have recently received two Gender Equity Index awards from Dance Data Project: Best Overall and Best of Commissions.

But let’s return to Women Choreographers of the Pacific NorthWest (WCPNW). The selected choreographers are not all ballet choreographers. The issue of women choreographers needing support to make work and platforms to show it exists across all dance genres. Not only does WCPNW provide four performances to showcase their work, but it also offers monetary stipends, a residency for rehearsal and development, and photos and video footage of the performances for future promotion. The group is contributing toward the promotion of equal opportunities for women choreographers and directors, lighting designers, stage managers, and all adjacent arts jobs — and so should you be, by going to see them and all of the other wonderful performances this month.

See you in the theater!

May Dance Performances

Dancers Ariel Freedman and Meredith Webster. Photo by Benjamin Wardell.
Dancers Ariel Freedman and Meredith Webster. Photo by Benjamin Wardell.

Open Ended // Empress Archer
Presented by Open Space and BodyVox
May 3-5
BodyVox,1201 N.W. 17th Ave, Portland
ADA Accessible
Post-performance Q&A

In a collaboration that spans continents and decades, dance artists Ariel Freedman and Meredith Webster come together from their respective homes in Israel/Palestine and San Francisco to achieve something together that can’t be done alone. Webster danced with Alonzo King Lines for nine seasons and was the rehearsal director for six, during which she won a Princess Grace Award. Freedman graduated from Julliard and danced for the Batsheva Dance Company, among many other esteemed companies. Their work explores the complexities of motherhood, loss, and the search for meaningful connection. 

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

The program will also feature the world premiere of Squeezing Honey from a Stone by Canadian, New York-based choreographer Elijah Labay. The excerpt, which is a sneak peek of a larger iteration that will debut at Open Space in June, delves into the dichotomy of our public and private selves and the resilience we develop to maintain them. Labay danced for eight years with NW Dance Project, Ballets Jazz Montréal, and as a freelancer, worked with LED, Salt, Salt 2, Open Space, Ballets Jazz Montreal, and others. 

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A still from the Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival. Photo courtesy of D2D.
A still from the Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival. Photo courtesy of D2D.

Cinevox: Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival
Presented by BodyVox
May 9-11
BodyVox,1201 N.W. 17th Ave., Portland

This three-day international film festival, based in Los Angeles, will feature film screenings, workshops, and a live on-site performance before each screening. D2D is a platform for screendance, specifically for dance that happens in the public sphere outside of studios and off traditional stages. Dance that explores place and space engages the unsuspecting public and intersects creatively with film.

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Ballet Fantastique's "Alice in Wonderland" by Donna Marisa Bontrager, with an original score by High Step Society. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.
Ballet Fantastique’s “Alice in Wonderland” by Donna Marisa Bontrager, with an original score by High Step Society. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

Alice in Wonderland
Ballet Fantastique, directed by Donna Marisa Bontrager
May 9-12 
Hult Center, One Eugene Center, Eugene

Follow the adventurous Alice and a zany cast of characters down the rabbit hole into the unknown in Lewis Carroll’s classic with a steampunk twist. It stars the international artists of Ballet Fantastique, and Cirque du Soleil artist Raymond Silos as the White Rabbit. The production also features a custom electro-swing score by the High Step Society.

Sponsor

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The Portland Ballet in rehearsal for "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.
The Portland Ballet in rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo courtesy of The Portland Ballet.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Choreographed by John Clifford and performed by The Portland Ballet; artistic director Nancy Davis
1 and 5 p.m. May 11
Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland

Prepare to be transported into Shakespeare’s world of romance, mischief, and magic with The Portland Ballet’s presentation of John Clifford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production boasts lavish sets and costumes and features a cast of more than 70 dancers performing to the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Following every performance, the audience is invited to meet the cast for photo ops and to obtain autographed programs.

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"The Rose," by choreographer Makino Hayashi, one of six choreographers being presented by the new Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy of Makino Hayashi.
“The Rose,” by choreographer Makino Hayashi, one of six choreographers being presented by the new Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy of Makino Hayashi.

Women Choreographers of the Pacific NorthWest (WCPNW)
Directed by Carlyn Hudson and Kailee McMurran 
May 16-19 
New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont St., Portland

The Women Choreographers of the Pacific Northwest (WCPNW) is bringing women choreographers from the Pacific Northwest region together in Portland for a weekend-long showcase. The concert will feature the choreographic work of Sweta Ravisankar, Eva Stone, Makino Hayashi, and Amy Leona Havin, as well as the works of Carlyn Hudson and Kailee McMurran and a film festival.

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"And Everybody Hertz," presented by Third Angle Music in partnership with BodyVox, with choreography by Derion Loman and music by Third Angle New Music. Photo courtesy of Third Angle New Music.
“And Everybody Hertz,” presented by Third Angle Music in partnership with BodyVox, with choreography by Derion Loman and music by Third Angle New Music. Photo courtesy of Third Angle New Music.

And Everybody Hertz
Presented by Third Angle Music in partnership with BodyVox
Choreography by Derion Loman with music By Third Angle New Music
May 16-18
BodyVox, 1201 S.W. 17th Ave., Portland
This performance contains partial nudity

Sponsor

All Classical Radio James Depreist

Derion Loman, a Los Angeles-based dancer, choreographer, and director known for his work with Ballet Hispanico, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, and Diavolo Architecture in Motion, as well as his appearances on America’s Got Talent and NBC’s World of Dance, is interested in how humans are deeply connected to sound. In this new work featuring dancers Gretchen Rose Ackerman and Cody Brunelle-Potter, Loman explores how vibrations and frequencies can heal, influence mood, remind us of the past, and evoke emotions. 

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"History of Empires" photo courtesy of Boom Arts.
Photo courtesy of Boom Arts.

The History of Empires
Produced by Boom Arts, directed and choreographed by Dan Safer/Witness Relocation 
May 16-19
Ellyn Bye Studio at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave., Portland
May 16th: Opening Night Toast
May 17/18: Post-show Q&A with artists
May 18: ASL interpreted
May 19: Season Closing Pizza Party following performance

The History of Empires is a dance theater production by New York-based theater company Witness Relocation that uses dance, projections, and text to portray the rise and fall of various empires throughout history. Described as “cheerfully nihilistic,” the show comprises a solo directed and co-choreographed by Dan Safer, performed and co-choreographed by Marcus McGregor, and a duet with Daniel Pettrow and McGregor. The show marks McGregor’s return to performance after a 15-year hiatus, following a long and distinguished career as a dancer with Dance Theater of Harlem and Feld Ballet. Daniel Pettrow is known for his work with The Wooster Group, directed by Arthur Nauz.

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Photo of "Peter Pan" ballet. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

Peter Pan
Eugene Ballet, directed by Toni Pimble
May 17-19
Hult Center, One Eugene Center, Eugene

Join Wendy, John, and Michael on their adventures with Peter Pan to Neverland in the world premiere of Toni Pimble’s full-length ballet, Peter Pan. The ballet features a new commissioned score by Kenji Bunch and will be performed live by Orchestra Next.

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

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NW Dance Project's "20th Anniversary Toast!" poster. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.
Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

20th Anniversary Toast!
NW Dance Project
5 pm May 18
NW Dance Project Creative Center, 211 N.E. 10th Ave, Portland

Join NW Dance Project at their creative center and celebrate two decades of all-original dance created in Portland! For this event, you can enjoy delicious food, live music from cellist Scott Allen, and a new dance work created by Artistic Director Sarah Slipper and Resident Choreographer Ihsan Rustem for the event.

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Poster for Sultanov Balley Academy's "Cinderella." Photo courtesy of Sultanov Ballet Academy.
Photo courtesy of Sultanov Ballet Academy.

Cinderella
Sultanov Ballet Academy, directed by Artur Sultanov
May 18-19
Lake Oswego High School Auditorium, 2501 Country Club Road, Lake Oswego

Immerse yourself in a world of magic and romance with Sultanov Ballet Academy’s production of Cinderella. This timeless tale follows the journey of a strong, kind-hearted girl in her quest for true love and justice. The show features the choreography of artistic director Artur Sultanov and guest artist Artem Kalistratov, formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, who will portray the role of the prince. 

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Graphiv image of Oregon Ballet Theatre's "OBT by Design." Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

OBT by Design
Oregon Ballet Theater
7:30 p.m. May 25 
Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 S.W. Crescent St., Beaverton

For a one-night-only performance, Oregon Ballet Theater dancers will showcase their new choreographic works created on and performed by OBT’s junior company, OBT2. The choreographers are Lauren Flower, Mathilde Lambert, Charlotte Nash, Juliette Ochoa, Isichel Perez-Rivero, Bailey Shaw, Benjamin Simoens, and Ben Youngston.

Sponsor

Oregon Cultural Trust

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NW Dance Project dancers Anthony Milian and Alejandra Preciado. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert
NW Dance Project dancers Anthony Milian and Alejandra Preciado. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Moving Stories
Presented by NW Dance Project
NW Dance Project 20th Anniversary Season
May 31-June 1
Newmark Theatre, 111 S.W. Broadway, Portland

To finish out their 20th anniversary season celebration, NW Dance Project will present a double-bill performance featuring world premieres by NW Dance Project’s Artistic Director Sarah Slipper and Resident Choreographer Ihsan Rustem, performed at downtown Portland’s Newmark Theatre.

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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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