Dancers process ideas and feelings, comprehend the world, and express themselves through movement as a writer would with words on a page. So what you see in a dance isn’t just beautiful abstract movement; it means something. It’s a package of ideas that are being expressed and talked about in the only way dancers know how to do so, which is by moving their body.
I know this is a weird concept for many people, but everybody communicates with their bodies without realizing it. You can read a person if you’re paying attention. Through facial expressions and body gestures, which are essentially tiny dances, you can tell what is going on inside.
Having been raised in American culture, I’ve always felt I needed to conceal my emotions and that being emotionally expressive was frowned upon. I constantly heard remarks about being overly sensitive and bossy, along with other hurtful comments people felt entitled to make. However, I’ve never been adept at masking my emotions; I experience them profoundly, and my emotions are readily evident. This experience is probably the reason I gravitated towards dance. It offered me a sanctuary where I could convey my emotions freely.
So, I’m particularly excited about all the new and exciting ideas in the choreographic mix this month that challenge humans and reimagine culture in every way possible. Culture is all a construct, after all, so why not let the artists construct the next version?
I’m excited about Abby Z and the New Utility and her thought-provoking work Radioactive Practice, brought to Portland by White Bird. Z questions the meaning and function of dance across cultures.
The work is performed in the round, essentially saying we are ALL part of this conversation. As you see her dance, you also see everyone else in the audience. You can’t be individualist even if you try, because everywhere you look is someone. We are all connected, and we are all responsible for each other, and you can’t cut anyone out of the picture. It’s an immersive experience, and you feel part of the performance.
It’s how many other cultures experience cultural events – collectively rather than individually. As Americans, we could benefit from this idea, where we are all responsible for one another and our behavior. There are many ideas present in this circle concept for you to ponder. You can participate in the experience by buying a ticket to sit on stage or watching from a distance from the theater seating; it is your choice, no judgment.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker is back after skipping Portland on its national tour last year, which was sad. It’s a reimagined Nutcracker danced to the original Tchaikovsky music but set in urban New York City and performed by some of the best hip-hop and street-style dancers you will ever see. It’s directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber and features Kurtis Blow, one of hip hop’s founding fathers, as the MC.
When I attended the concert two years ago, it energetically felt like the best house party you can imagine, with people eating and drinking, singing along, and dancing in their seats and the aisles. Everyone was having the best time. It was also the largest multicultural audience I’ve ever seen at a Portland dance performance. The performance was at the Keller Auditorium, which seats about 3,000, and the theater was packed! That speaks volumes.
I’m also thrilled about the wide array of “traditional” and nontraditional seasonal performance offerings this year, which gives something for everyone to enjoy. From The Hip Hop Nutcracker to Open Space’s Not Cracker, there are exciting options to choose from. With the increasing number of shows, I’m optimistic that audiences will once again fill the theaters, reminiscent of the pre-COVID era.
One must-see production is Ballet Fantastique’s Babes in Toyland: A Holiday Story in Eugene Nov. 25-26. Set to Duke Ellington’s jazzy rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, this retro-glam contemporary ballet ingeniously weaves characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a festive dance extravaganza.
Looking a little farther into the holiday season, Open Space’s Dance Company presents The Not Cracker, choreographed by artistic director Franco Nieto, along with the guidance of The School at Open Space directors Charlene Hannibal and Maeve Dougal. The story follows Ted, a nonbinary individual who initially believes they can’t dance. However, a group of whimsical creatures reveals the myriad ways to experience dance. Along Ted’s journey, they encounter a waddle of penguins, a band of Polichinelles, a mischievous garden of flowers, a drag queen, and much more. The show plays at the Newmark Theatre Dec. 16 and 17.
Additionally, there’s the grand-scale production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®. This ballet showcases the story of young Marie, who attends a family Christmas party, battles with her brother Fritz over a wooden Nutcracker, witnesses a magical growing magic tree, meets a dashing prince, bravely fends off giant mice with her slipper, soars to the Land of Sweets, encounters the Sugar Plum Fairy, admires mystical dancing snowflakes, and departs through the sky in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Catch Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of this timeless classic Dec. 8-24 at the Keller.
See you in the theater!
Ephrat Asherie Dance
Presented by White Bird Dance
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland
Ephrat Asherie, an award-winning New York City b-girl, dancer, and choreographer, presents ODEON, an original dance production featuring six dancers set to the music of Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. The movement is rooted in African American and Latinx street and club dances and explores the expansive narrative qualities of various vernacular forms such as breaking, hip hop, house, and vogue. The music blends 20th-century romantic sounds with samba and other popular Afro-Brazilian rhythms. These forms are used to tell stories, develop innovative imagery, and find new modes of expression that challenge the dancers to adapt to unfamiliar spatial and choreographic contexts.
You Can’t Be Serious
Written and Performed by Andrea Parson
Directed by Katherine Murphy Lewis
Original Music by Joe Kye
Presented by From the Ground Up Presents in partnership with BodyVox
BodyVox, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave, Portland
Choreographed and performed by veteran NW Dance Project dancer and Princess Grace Award winner Andrea Parson, You Can’t Be Serious is an autobiographical solo that fuses dance, standup comedy, and storytelling to explore the memories and scenes surrounding the loss of Parson’s younger sister to breast cancer in 2020. It explores a final bow in Germany, a cancer diagnosis, a death, a cookie, and a conversation with God. The work strikes a nuanced balance between humor and tragedy, creating a hilarious and tragic story about witnessing and struggling with death.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker
Presented by Portland’5
7:30 pm November 14
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay Street, Portland
Directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is a contemporary dance spectacle set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music. This evening-length production is a unique and joyful event performed by a supercharged cast of a dozen all-star dancers, a DJ, a violinist, and MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip hop’s founding fathers, who opens and closes the show.
Just as in the original, in The Hip Hop Nutcracker Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker prince go on a dream adventure, battling a gang of mice, visiting the land of sweets, and learning the lessons of the holiday season. Innovative digital graffiti and visual effects transform the landscape of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s beloved story from traditional 19th-century Germany to the vibrant, diverse sights and sounds of contemporary New York City.
Through this remixed and reimagined version of the classic, the dynamic performers of The Hip Hop Nutcracker take us on a journey that celebrates love, community, and the magic of the holiday season.
Shaun Keylock Company Fall Fête Party and Performance Benefit
7:30 p.m. Nov. 15
SKC Dance Center, 5511 N. Albina Ave., Portland
In this one-night-only performance fundraiser, The Shaun Keylock Company will present the debut performance of choreographer Derek Brockington’s Banner, which explores the complexities of freedom and the harsh realities of injustice and oppression to a musical composition by Jessie Montgomery. Following will be Gregg Bielemeier’s Suit Side In from 1996 and Keylock’s Calamus, set to an original score by sound artist and drag queen Evan Swope, also known as Heavy Scene Macaque. Following the performances will be an after-party and reception.
Abby Z and the New Utility
Presented by White Bird
Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland
Stage and Theater seating available
Choreographer Abby Zbikowski is about digging deep into the big questions while throwing some awesome moves into the mix. Her latest group creation, Radioactive Practice, is a wild ride. She’s pulling inspiration from everywhere — street dance, African dance styles, martial arts — to shake up what we think we know about dance and make us question what it means to live in this crazy world today.
If you’re the kind of person who wants to be right in the middle of the action, guess what? You can snag tickets to sit on the stage itself. If not, regular theater seating is available too.
Union PDX – Festival of Contemporary Dance
Presented by push/FOLD, directed by Samuel Hobbs
Hampton Opera Center, 211 S.E. Caruthers St., Portland
In-Person and Livestream
Nov. 17 and 18: Artist talks and Q&A
Nov. 19: Festival Sorée
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the Union PDX – Festival of Contemporary Dance, directed by push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs, presents an immersive dance experience spanning four days that includes performances by local, national, and international contemporary artists in the genres of Street, Bharatanatyam, and Contemporary dance, as well as master classes, workshops, post-show artist talks, and a closing Sorée. The festival’s featured local performers include Franco Nieto of Open Space Dance, Bharathanatyam dancer Sridharini Sridharan, and push/FOLD. Check the Union PDX website for ticket and master class information and registration.
Presented by Oregon International Ballet Academy
Choreography by Xuan Cheng / Ye Li after Marius Petipa / Lev Ivanov
Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 S.W. Crescent St., Beaverton
The Oregon International Ballet Academy (OIBA), directed by renowned choreographers Xuan Cheng and Ye Li, is excited to present a full-length production of The Nutcracker. The performance will feature Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Brian Simcoe and rising star Isichel Perez Rivero. In an interesting twist, OIBA students will share the stage with guest artists from Casa de Arte in Kumamoto, Japan, known for their expertise in traditional ballet and Argentine tango, and founded by Hernan Gomez and Maki Fujita, a former member of Stuttgart Ballet. This summer, OIBA students will embark on a tour of Japan and China, culminating in their participation in Casa de Arte’s 20th anniversary performance.
Performed by the Kyiv Grand Ballet
Presented by Artistic Space Productions and Portland’5
Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland
Performed by the Grand Kyiv Ballet, displaced from Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, this romantic ballet tells the bleak tale of Giselle, a humble peasant girl who discovers that her aristocratic suitor, Albrecht, is betrothed to another. Overwhelmed by heartbreak, Giselle descends into madness and meets a tragic demise. In a haunting twist, she returns from the grave as a Wili, a vengeful spirit, joined by a spectral sisterhood of unmarried girls betrayed by their lovers. Together, they compel Albrecht into a dance of doom, sealing his tragic fate.
The Enchanted Toyshop
Performed by The Portland Ballet
Choreographed by John Clifford
Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland
In John Clifford’s The Enchanted Toyshop, two children are left behind in a toyshop and entertained by a parade of dancing dolls. The ballet was originally titled La Boutique Fantasque and was choreographed by Leonide Massine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919. Clifford, who adapted the story ballet for The Portland Ballet, cut out much of the original libretto but kept the original sets and costumes. Clifford, a protégé of George Balanchine, is an artistic advisor to The Portland Ballet and provides a link for the company to one of America’s most influential ballet choreographers. This performance marks the return to live music played by the PSU Orchestra after four years, and celebrates the 20th anniversary of the ballet’s creation in 2003.
Babes in Toyland: A Holiday Story
Ballet Fantastique, artistic director Donna Marisa
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Silva Concert Hall, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
This retro-glam contemporary ballet, set to Duke Ellington’s jazzy rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, loosely weaves together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed dance extravaganza. Choreographed by the mother-daughter artistic team of Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, this reimagining of Babes in Toyland will transport some people back to the technicolor holiday television specials of yore and will introduce new generations to the wonderfully bizarre, vintage entertainment for the first time.