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Oregon DanceWatch: The summer edition

With the sun shining, Oregon's dance scene skips happily into the great outdoors (and a few indoor performances, too).


It’s finally summer, and summer in Portland is magnificent, so I’m taking August off — but dance isn’t, and there’s plenty of it! I’ll be back in September to tell you about White Bird’s new season, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s new Time-Based Arts Festival, Eugene Ballet’s tribute to Artistic Director Toni Pimble in her final season as artistic director after 46 years, and so much more! But first, before I leave, let’s explore June, July, and August dance performances indoors and out.

Late June

The inaugural performance of Blue Screen, a new performance collective directed by Seattle-based choreographer/dancer and writer Joseph Hernandez, will take place inside at 7:30 p.m. on June 28 at the Open Space Creative Center, 8371 N. Interstate Ave, Portland. Hernandez became an associate choreographer at NW Dance Project in 2022, so you might have seen his work if you had seen NW Dance Project’s Secret Stories at the end of March. His work “Fistful,” a lively, frenetic quartet, used improvisation in performance to explore ideas of freedom and how one person’s freedom might infringe on another’s.

His new work, Big Feelings, “is an hour-long dance/theater performance that tries to hold too many things simultaneously,” he told me in an email. “The piece positions itself as a kind of literary criticism for dance, existing in the slippery non-space between fact and fiction. Inspired by writers like Maggie Nelson, Katherine Profeta, and Karl Ove Knaussgard, the piece attempts to create something personal from the didactic nonsense of art making. The piece is also a party/elegie for performance in an uncertain world, blasting techno and bombastic moves sandwiched between post-ironic internet lingo diatribes. There is also a horse.”

Dancers Michael Arellano (formerly of Whim W’him), Maya Tacon (a Seattle-based freelance dancer), and Cydney Covert (a dancer for LED Lauren Edson and Ballet Idaho) will perform alongside Hernandez to the music of Barret Anspach, a frequent collaborator of Hernandez’.

July performances

Previous JamBallah performer Emilie Lauren. Photo by Casey Campbell Photography.

JamBallah NW Dance Festival, directed by Narcissa Productions/Elise Morris, will take over Lewis & Clark College’s Chapel Theater (615 S. Palatine Hill Road, Portland ) July 5-7. The festival is a three-day celebration of Middle Eastern dance and its American fusion counterparts. It will feature a range of classes for all skill levels, lectures, an artisan vendor fair, and curated evening performances by regional, national, and international dance artists.


On July 12, at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. at NW Dance Project’s Creative Center (211 NE 10th Ave., Portland), Swiss/British performer and choreographer Nicole von Arx, along with Canadian dancer and choreographer Ethan Colangelo, will debut new work they have created on 20 young professional and rising dancers from across North America during the two-week NW Dance Project MOVE residency. The program is designed to provide time and space for up-and-coming choreographers and to challenge advanced dancers with new work.


Oregon Cultural Trust


Photo courtesy of Laura Cannon/ProLab Dance.

From July 19 through July 28, Break to Build Part 2: After the Anthropocene — the vision of Laura Cannon, artistic director of ProLab Dance — will once again transform the historic Zidell Yards ( 3121 S. Moody Ave.) at Portland’s South Waterfront into a magnificent multimedia playground.

The performance, born from last year’s rendition into something new, integrates dancers, aerialists, composers, musicians, puppeteers, and media artists into the shipyard surroundings to create an expansive evening-length commentary on our entwinement with the natural world, our impact on it, and the question of our survival. It is a lullaby to our shared endings and new beginnings.

The event will feature video installations by Fernanda D’Agostino and Hungry Mantis, music by Jana Crenshaw, Jennifer Wright, Chopper, and the ProLab Sound Team, and dance performances by the ProLab Dance company.

During the evening performances, audiences will be safely guided through the old shipyard while the show unfolds around them. Wear comfortable walking shoes and clothes suitable for an outdoor event on uneven ground at a historic shipyard. And don’t worry; plenty of onsite parking and seating are available.


Photo courtesy of A-WOL Dance,

Every summer the dancers of A-WOL Dance (short for Aerial Without Limits) dance suspended from trees under the stars for their annual Art in the Dark performance at Mary S. Young Park in West Linn (19900 Willamette Drive, West Linn), along the Willamette River. This troupe creates magic as its members twist and turn through the treetops, creating an unpredictable performance somewhere between the tangible and the ethereal.


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This year’s production, featuring live music by Michael Wall and audio description by Susannah Mars (Friday, July 26 only), explores interconnected systems and highlights how one element can affect the entire system. Performances are July 25-Aug. 3. Bring your picnic blankets, chairs, and food, and have fun while getting comfy with AWOl under the stars by the river.


Face King will be one of this year’s featured Ten Tiny Dances performers in Beaverton. Bernard Okuley Tetteh, known as Face King, came to Portland from Ghana to perform Ghanaian traditional dance and music. Photo courtesy of Beaverton Ten Tiny Dances.

Ten dance groups will perform on a 4-by-4-foot stage at 7 p.m. July 13 at The Round amphitheater (12600 SW Crescent St, Beaverton), showcasing their creative potential. Founded in 2002 by Portland dance artist Mike Barber, Ten Tiny Dances has become an essential part of Oregon’s dance scene. The goal is to explore as many creative solutions to choreographing on a small stage as possible, providing the audience with a unique viewing experience. The dancers may perform on or under the stage, or the stage itself may be turned on on its side or altered in other unexpected ways. The creative possibilities are seemingly endless.

Featured Ten Tiny performers include Amel Tafsout (North African Desert Dance); Starling/Jaime Belden and Leo James (Queer(ed), Argentina Tango, Contemporary); Ritual Azteca Huitzilopchtli (Azteca); Shaun Keylock (contemporary dance); Addam Stell and TJ Yale (tap); Face King (cultural contemporary); Sarada Kala Nilayam/Sweta Ravisankar (Bharatanatyam); Ben Youngstone and Hannah Davis (ballet); Push/FOLD (contemporary dance); and Painted Sky Northstar (Native American). For more information on the performing artists, click here.

Following the Ten Tiny performances, there will be a talkback with Ten Tiny founder Mike Barber and participating artists, offering insight into the dances and the creative processes used to make them.

August outdoor performances

The India Cultural Association of Portland presents India Festival 2024 from 11 am to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at Beaverton City Park, 12500 S.W. Fourth St, Beaverton.

August is filled with exciting outdoor festivals celebrating dance, art, and culture, beginning with the Vancouver Arts & Music Festival Aug. 2-4 in downtown Vancouver (415 W. Sixth Street, Vancouver, Wash.). I know this isn’t Oregon, per se. Still, they are a close neighbor, and Oregon dance companies Sarada Kala Nilayam/Sweta Ravisankar, Shaun Keylock/Conduit Dance, and push/Fold Dance, among others, will be performing. Check the schedule for times and locations.



Washougal Art & Music Festival

The 2024 Chinese Festival, organized by the Oregon Chinese Coalition, will be held at Pioneer Courthouse Square (701 S.W. Sixth Ave.) in downtown Portland, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 3. The festival will feature delicious food, visual arts and crafts, and a full-day showcase of dance performances representing the Chinese American dance diaspora.


The Pan African Festival, organized by the Pan African Cultural Foundation (PACF), will also occur from noon to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Pioneer Square, (701 S.W. Sixth Ave, Portland). The festival will be a lively one-day celebration of performing arts, entertainment, and community spirit, featuring performances, activities, health screenings, career awareness, dance, drumming, comedy, street arts, family entertainment, and all things celebrating Pan-African culture.


The India Cultural Association of Portland presents India Festival 2024, an annual celebration honoring India’s independence from British rule, recognized as a holiday in 65 countries worldwide. The festival will take place 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the newly chosen venue of Beaverton City Park (12500 S.W. Fourth St., Beaverton), across the street from the Beaverton City Library. The picnic-style event will have a splash fountain for kids, live music, dance, food, and entertainment throughout the day.


Photo courtesy of Heidi Duckler Dance Northwest.

It’s not a festival, but outdoors nonetheless: Heidi Duckler Dance Northwest will perform Ordena! at Portland Mercado, 7238 S.E. Foster Road, Portland, Aug. 23-24. As an audience member, you may order from a menu of dancing dishes at the performance food cart. Diners can order specials such as the “Romantic Platter” or “House Salad with Tango Dressing” delivered to your table and performed live by Heidi Duckler Dance/Northwest artists. Stop by and order up! with Heidi Duckler Dance Northwest. The performance food cart will be open for “lunch” from noon to 2 p.m. and “dinner” 5-7 p.m. 


Oregon Cultural Trust

Ten percent of proceeds from ¡Ordena! will go toward construction costs for rebuilding the interior spaces at the Mercado that were damaged by fire.

August Indoor performances 

Photo of Jess Pretty by Rachel Keane.

Physical Education is back! The SAY WHEN Festival, hosted by the P.E. crew Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins, Takahiro Yamamoto, and Lu Yim, will take place at Performance Works NW, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave. Portland, over three days Aug. 1-3.

The festival schedule is as follows:

  • Thursday, Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m.: Screening of Lu Yim’s film “Pieces of Earth We Eat,” followed by “Cosmos Dark,” a performance art exploration of absurdity by musician Vaughn Kimmons of Brown Calculus.
  • Saturday, Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.: Performance by Jess Pretty from Minneapolis, featuring call-and-response.
  • Sunday, Aug. 3, 1:30 p.m.: Final performance “Thyme Thyme Thyme: Yarrow for the Stoned and the Stoner” by Midori Hirose.


Photo courtesy of Open Space Dance.

Combining crazy ingredients and makin’ that Summer Soup is Open Space Dance and its sister company LED from Boise, Idaho. Directed by Lauren Edson, Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch, LED will bring Edson’s newest creation, “an Arm and a Leg,” featuring both LED and Open Space dancers with live music by Andrew Stensaas. Open Space’s artistic director and Princess Grace Award winner Franco Nieto will share excerpts from his newest creations from 2023-24. Summer Soup will also feature Portland street artist NØIR on Aug. 16-24 at Open Space Creative Container, within Oregon Contemporary at 8731 N. Interstate Ave., Portland. Seating in the round; ADA accessible. 



Washougal Art & Music Festival

Dancers of Sarada Kala Nilayam, directed by Portland Bharatanatayam dancer Sweta Ravisankar, performing in “Chakras – The Wheel of Energy.” Photo courtesy of Sweta Ravisankar.

SKN Dance Fest ’24 will take place at 2 and 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont Street in Portland. The event, presented by Sarada Kala Nilayam/Sweta Ravisankar, will showcase a new Bharatanatyam piece choreographed by Sweta Ravisankar titled “Guru Vandana.” This piece explores the concept of the Guru as a literal dispeller of darkness. It will be performed by 12 dancers and accompanied by a live orchestra of Indian musicians.

The work delves into a teacher’s profound influence on learning and personal growth. The performance will also highlight the chosen Kalpana artist, a program created by Ravisankar to encourage young artists of any genre to collaborate. Applications for Kalpana open in February. The event will also feature a Jathi recitation, intricate rhythmic constructs learned by students during a workshop with S. Ravisankar, Sweta Ravisankar’s father, who is a mridangam exponent. Outside New Expressive Works, there will be a vibrant array of vendor booths to explore before and after the performance. Tickets here.


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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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