Good news: The Oregon dance scene continues to thrive, as evidenced by the ten performances you’ll find in this month’s column. Almost all of the groups will be performing live for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, which is a big deal! Especially because performing live is a huge financial risk for dance companies considering the uncertainty in audience attendance and the possibility of Covid resurfacing. But it is important to note that most of the companies coming back strong are the larger, more established ones with bigger budgets.
As optimistic as I’m feeling, I’m also feeling trepidation as I watch a steady stream of talented dancers and choreographers leave Oregon for opportunities elsewhere. Their departure means that what they need isn’t here. I rarely see big-name dance artists move to Oregon to grow their careers.
I recently interviewed one of the founding fathers of rap, Kurtis Blow. He is featured in the upcoming Hip Hop Nutcracker performing at Keller Auditorium on Nov. 16. I asked him what contributes to the longevity of his success. He said it was being surrounded by all the other incredibly talented artists of his time who have inspired him. It’s important to be in proximity to other artists to stay inspired. Stay tuned for the full interview.
Madison Cario, executive director of Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, recently announced they would be leaving effective Dec. 4 to become CEO of the Minnesota Street Project and the Minnesota Street Project Foundation in San Francisco. Cario came to RACC in 2019 and radically reshaped RACC, laying off many longtime staffers and hiring new ones. Cario has more than 20 years of professional experience as an artist, presenter, producer, and arts leader, and is a significant advocate for dance. Dance always seems to be the least understood and least respected of the arts. I was excited to have someone with a dance background in a leadership position in Portland politics to advocate for it. This loss of talent does not bode well for the growth and health of our dance scene, or say a lot about our city or state as a growing center of culture.
Over the next couple of months, I will be talking with former Oregon dance artists to see where they are now and why they decided to leave. I will also be talking with Oregon dance artists about what they need as artists right now and how to radically reimagine a dance culture that is strife with abuse and neglect. Maybe this is that watershed moment where things are still enough and quiet enough to talk about transformation.
November Dance Performances
BodyVox Dance Company
In-person at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave.
BodyVox’s “scary” show, originally choreographed in 2010 and revamped over the years, celebrates co-founders Jamey Hampton’s and Ashley Roland’s favorite holiday, Halloween. This family-friendly dance theater extravaganza touches on all aspects of Halloween, offering work that turns dark, mysterious, magical, beautiful, ironic, odd, hilarious, and absurd. The show, composed of several short dances, incorporates standard Halloween fare such as vampires, zombies, ghosts, and killer spiders, as well as some nonstandard material, like creepy identical twins and a new work called “Victorian Secret.” This year’s production also includes a costume contest and prizes for the best Halloween costume or mask.
3 miles of possible (the first mile)
Performance Works NW | Linda Austin Dance
Oct. 28-Nov. 2
In-person at Performance Works NW, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave.
In her new durational solo, PWNW director Linda Austin explores the “the possible” in a world of fluctuating personal, material, political and artistic contingencies – a future event or circumstance that cannot be predicted with certainty. Austin animates and travels along a series of spatial paths envisioned as giant drawings, spells, and/or runes in a work whose length is measured by distance. These paths are threaded with various movement scores, choreographies, tasks, interactions with objects, texts, songs, and environmental sounds.
This work-in-progress is estimated to last from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m., and the audience can come and go and change seats as available.
A maximum of 12 tickets is available for each performance.
Following the performance, weather permitting, guests are invited to join the artist in the backyard for beverages and socializing.
Austin is an award-winning dancer, choreographer, performance artist, and writer who founded Performance Works NW in 1999 with technical director Jeff Forbes. PWNW is a studio theater in Southeast Portland that engages artists and audiences in experimentation, creation, and dialogue around contemporary performance. Austin’s work, which she has been making since 1983, is both improvisational and highly choreographed. It contains interesting and unusual visual elements, is humorous and poetic, and purposefully disrupts what is considered dancerly. This month Austin will be hosting a 20-year retrospective of group works that she has made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Performance Works NW.
Union PDX – Festival:21
Presented by push/FOLD and Samuel Hobbs
Hampton Opera Center, Portland Opera, 211 S.E. Caruthers St.
Artist Talks and Q&A follow each public performance.
Created as a platform to address the issues of visibility and accessibility in the dance community, Union PDX-Festival of Contemporary Dance, presented by push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs, offers four days of dance performances, master classes, workshops, and post-show artist talks.
The festival includes solo performances by contemporary dancer Rebecca Margolick, from Brooklyn, New York; street dancer Evelyn Tejeda, from the Dominican Republic via Paterson, New Jersey; contemporary breakdancer Tom Tsai, from Los Angeles; and contemporary dance company push/FOLD, from Portland. The festival also includes a group work by Portland dance company Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater, whose vocabulary is based on Afro-Cuban and Afro Contemporary dance. The works center on themes of memory, identity, home, transforming grief, and the medicinal and spiritual properties of a plant.
Masterclasses include investigating the sweeping technique of breakdancing with Tom Tsai, urban contemporary dance with Evelyn Tejeda, Kinetic Listening and Movement Generation with Rebecca Margolick, Visceral Movement Theory™—Flow & Power with Samuel Hobbs, and exploring the Bakongo Cosmogram through an Afro-contemporary lens with Oluyinka Akinjiola, artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. If interested in attending, please read the extended class descriptions for more information on the class and the physical requirements and equipment needed.
The workshops, donation-based professional-development classes geared toward artists, include Deciphering Grant Writing with Ahsante Sankofa Foree and Cultivating Leadership: An Introduction to Agile and Balanced Team and Project Management with Hailey Bill and Emily Rizzo.
A-WOL Dance Collective: Aerial Without Limits Presents
Alberta Rose Theatre 3000 N.E. Alberta St., Portland
This show is 21+, no minors
In this steamy, late-night, make-you-blush kind of show, A-WOL Dance Collective, known for blending dance and aerial work, will perform feats of physicality on the ground and in the air, aiming to create magic and wonderment.
NW Dance Project, artistic director Sarah Slipper
Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway
Performing live for the first time in 18 months, NW Dance Project, made up of an almost entirely new cast of dancers, will perform two world premieres, one by NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper and the other by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem. The edgy, highly physical contemporary choreography is filled with dynamic solos, romantic duets, and synchronized ensemble work with a smattering of songs by the ’80s Irish rock band The Cranberries.
Eugene Ballet, artistic director Toni Pimble
Composer Sergei Prokofiev
Eugene Ballet and Orchestra NEXT
Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Originating in ancient Greece and China, and with hundreds of versions of the story worldwide, the tale of rags to riches will be brought to life again through the choreography of Eugene Ballet’s artistic director Toni Pimple and live music by Orchestra Next. The production includes lavish sets, glittering costumes, and Sergei Prokofiev’s electrifying score.
Featuring works by Gregg Bielemeier
Presented and performed by the Shaun Keylock Company
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
As part of a personal initiative to preserve the choreographic work of LGBTQ+ elders, Portland dance artist Shaun Keylock will present an evening retrospective of Portland choreographer Gregg Bielemeier. Shaun Keylock dance company members will perform Bielemeier’s choreography: Annie Borden, Liane Burns, Jillian Hobbs, Sarita Persaud, Aaron Peite, and Jacob Tavera, along with guest dancer Kenneth Frechette and former company member Edromar Undag.
Gregg Bielemeier is an Oregon-born dance artist who started his career with the Portland Dance Theater in 1970. As a freelance artist, he has worked on the West Coast and in Europe as a featured choreographer, performer, and teacher for more than 50 years. He is a frequent improviser/collaborator with musicians, actors, and visual artists. His dance works have been described as “wonderfully inventive” by the Los Angeles Times and “marvelously goofy” by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The Northwest Professional Dance Project has commissioned his choreographic work, D-9 Dance Collective, School for New Dance (Amsterdam), Tere Mathern Dance, Reed College, Polaris Dance Theater, Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble, Modern Dance Lab, aero/betty aerial dance theatre, Imago Theatre, Paufve|Dance, BodyVox and White Bird, among others.
Bielemeier’s choreography has been presented in Los Angeles by Dance Kaleidoscope, in Seattle at On the Boards Northwest New Works Festival, at Holland’s International Dance Festival, and in Portland by PSU’s Contemporary Dance Season, Portland Art Museum, and for White Bird’s inaugural and 11th contemporary dance performance series.
The Process Project
6 pm Nov. 13
Performance Works NW, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave.
Stemming from the idea that the work that goes into a final product is unseen, this newly formed company of six dancers directed by Jessica Roe and Jimee Lynn reveals dance-making’s inner workings. Using sound footage of their rehearsals as audio, they drawback the “curtain” to demonstrate their techniques for turning movement into a story. Preceding the live performance will be two dance films.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker
Decadancetheatre, artistic director Jennifer Weber, featuring Kurtis Blow
Presented by Portland’5 Centers for the Arts
7:30 p.m. Nov. 16
Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St.
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.
John Clifford’s A Christmas Carol: The Ballet
Choreography by John Clifford
The Portland Ballet
Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave
With new music and choreography, John Clifford, founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles Ballet, and former protégé of George Balanchine, reimagines the classic Christmas tale to be less gloomy and scary and more focused on love.
Guest artists include former Portland Ballet dancers Michael Jurica, his brother Nicholas Le-Jurica, and Lauren Lane, who recently retired from a long professional career at Saint Louis Ballet, is now Assistant Artistic Director of The Portland Ballet will be playing Mrs. Cratchit.