A-WOL Dance Collective

DanceWatch: Dear March, come in!

Oregon's dance month marches in like a lion, and a tango, and some ballet, and some butoh, and some funk, and bootleggers, and more

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –


This is the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s Dear March – Come in –, a poem that describes the month of March like an old friend who has finally arrived, long awaited, but will soon leave because April is knocking at the door. Spring has arrived! The poem seems to express that time is fleeting, patience is a virtue, and we should enjoy things and life while they last. Our Portland winter hasn’t been as challenging as some, but it’s definitely been dark, and I am so glad to see the light again and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

To me there is such an obvious connection between nature and dance. The body is nature. We are born of the earth, sustained by it, and return to it when we die.  Like nature, dance is also fleeting and lives in the moment. Dance and dancers, like seasons, grow and change, bloom, age, are affected by their environments, and flourishes when they are loved. 

March’s dance offerings are an interesting combination of the political and personal, the historical and imagined, and nature and connectivity, with a bit of comedy and religion sprinkled in. Enjoy!


DANCES AND DANCE EVENTS IN MARCH


Week 1: March 1-8

Marta Savigliano, Tango and the Political Economy of Passion
Presented by the Reed College Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies Colloquium Series and moderated by Reed College Dance Professor Victoria Fortuna
Noon March 4 
Reed College, Vollum College Center, Room: 120, 3203 S.E. Woodstock Blvd., Portland

Offering both an insider and outsider point of view, Marta Savigliano – an Argentine political theorist and dance professor at the University of California at Riverside –, discusses her book Tango and the Political Economy of Passion (1995); a text on tango’s national and global politics that received the Congress of Research on Dance Award for Outstanding Book 1993-1996.
The event is free, and all are welcome. Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to cwilcox@reed.edu so that the right amount of food can be provided. 

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‘Pole Disclosure’: Acrobatics meets #MeToo

The contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado join physical skill to moving disclosures

When I arrived at A-Wol Dance Collective’s warehouse space on Saturday night to see Pole Disclosure, the line to get in stretched down the block and around the corner. That’s a sight I am not used to seeing here in Portland. By the time I got to the door, the show— a brand-new work by contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado, accompanied live by cellist Yoko Silk—was sold out and they were turning people away. Lucky for me I already had a ticket. From what I learned later on, all three shows of the run were sold out! 

Inside, the welcoming reception area was festooned with twinkling lights and catered food and drink were available. The performance area was deeper into the space,  a wide-open area with a vaulted ceiling, black walls, a chair and a music stand set up to the far left. A single pole connected floor to ceiling in the middle of the room. The space was sparse, undecorated, and it exposed the vulnerable inner workings of the show.

Law and Alvarado hanging out on the Chinese pole. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Pole Disclosure, began with Law and Alvarado, dressed in Evel Knievel-inspired denim jumpsuits, standing across from each other with the pole in the middle. They were smiling. In between climbing up the pole, supporting each other in various death-defying, off-center feats of balance, hanging off of each other in mid-air, and sliding down the pole towards the floor at breakneck speeds and stopping just inches from catastrophe, they spoke happily and warmly about their working partnership. They reflected on its successes and its inner workings, all the while visually demonstrating and supporting the words with their movements and poses.

Law supporting Alvarado on the cyr wheel. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Then the story veered. Law revealed that she hadn’t always been a good partner and that nine years ago she was in another fantastic partnership that she “ruined” by getting pregnant. “She got to go to Cirque du Soleil,” Law mourned about her partner, “and all I got was a fucking baby.” The audience laughed. An uncomfortable truth. 

Then the story turned again, more severely this time, when Alvarado spoke of her own personal story of sexual assault. It turns out that this was Alvarado’s #MeToo reveal moment—as she had never told any of her friends —about the assault.

The guilt that Alvarado felt for not seeing and acting on the red flags in her relationship, is with her all the time and was represented by her duet with the cyr wheel, a heavy metal acrobatic apparatus that trapped and created an energy of chaos around her. It became a giant object hanging off of her shoulder with its obvious weight pressing against Alvarado’s small frame. 

Throughout the rest of the evening, in between flying through the air and playing teeter-totter on a suspended shell-shaped apparatus, Law and Alvarado continued to unravel their thoughts and feelings around birth, the unrelenting pressures of motherhood, gender roles, society’s pressure to stay quiet in the face of a sexual assault, guilt, how the concept of “having it all” is actually a lie, identity, “aging out” of a performance career, and the lack of free childcare. This wasn’t all dark I assure you. There were plenty of jokes and lots of laughter. 

All the while, the cello, played by the incredibly talented Silk, completely and seamlessly supported and followed the action and emotion of the performance, like a film score. If the moment was funny, the music reflected it. If the movement was big and sweeping, so was the music. The music’s presence was so masterfully harmonized with the performance that I wasn’t always aware of it, though I always felt it.  

In the middle of the Pole Disclosure, Silk moved her chair to the center of the stage where Alvarado joined her on the ukulele and sang the song Elastic Heart, by Sia. Law accompanied them in the air on elastic ropes, perfectly expressing the mood and the lyrics of the song with her movements.

The last stanza of the song goes like this:

“Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart
But your blade it might be too sharp
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard
But I may snap when I move close
But you won’t see me fall apart
‘Cause I’ve got an elastic heart”

At the very end of the show, Alvarado told us that taped under each chair was a pen and note card. “It would mean so much to us if you would just write down anything that you want us to know,” she said, “or anything that you want the people around you to know. There’s no wrong answers here, you can even fold it up into a little paper airplane if you want.” 

Law and Alvarado gathered up all of our crumpled note cards, stuffed them in their shirts, climbed to the top of the pole, read a few, and tossed the rest down making it rain notecards. The note cards were made available for us to read after the performance. 

Alvarado hanging precariously off of Law’s neck on the Chinese pole in the final scene of Pole Disclosure. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Alvarado and Law have 20 years of circus arts experience between them. They have attended some of the most prestigious circus schools in the country, studied with many famous teachers, and have performed around the world. Their expertise was evident in this fantastic and very relatable show. It was exciting and inspiring to witness their feats of physical strength and flexibility, and to watch them effortlessly maneuver their way through and around all of the different apparatuses. Pole Disclosure was satisfying, and moving, and stayed with me long after the show, like a good book. 

In the end, the show seemed to say, “not only do women have to constantly fight for equality, and for their dreams, but they also have to do it while climbing up poles, swinging through hoops, hanging upside down by their feet, and supporting themselves, friends, and family, in dangerous, precarious ways.” Metaphorically speaking, of course—sort of. 

July: Dancing after dark

Oregon's summer dance season takes to the open air and starry nights with salsa, silent disco, and even a few indoor shows

The international Silent Disco movement: Next stop Tillikum Bridge on July 4.

We’re heading outside this month for much of our dance intake, enjoying performances under the stars—although in some cases, we are the performers; you might find us dancing under the fireworks along the Tilikum Bridge as part of the July 4th HeatBeat Silent Disco. We’ll be drinking in new and veteran talent, too, some of it homegrown, the rest of it from well beyond our city limits. Isn’t this time of year delicious?


International and cultural dance styles


Dancing on the roof with Son Latino, June 2018. Next stop: Gateway Discovery Park Plaza.


Salsa in the Park
Son Latino/Portland Parks and Recreation
6 to 8 p.m., July 20
Gateway Discovery Park Plaza, 10520 N.E. Halsey St.

You may have met up with Son Latino around town, maybe at a Norse Hall Salsa Sunday or one of those Rooftop Salsa nights: the Latin dance and event company stages performances and hosts weekly and monthly dance socials as well as classes and workshops. If you’re not yet a confirmed salsero, however, this evening should be a friendly, low-pressure introduction to Latin dance. Founders Rosi and Leo, veterans of salsa congresses up and down the West Coast, perform first, to show us how it’s done, then teach introductory salsa, bachata and merengue lessons in the park, accompanied by a DJ. A community dance follows: two-left-footers are welcome, and you don’t need to bring a partner. Pack a picnic and make a night of it.

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Drama Watch: A clown’s tale

"Going Down in Flames" traces a great clown's fall. Plus: critical changes at The New Yorker, what's up on Oregon stages in June.

One of the things about Joan Mankin was, she was always a surprise: always in the moment, rarely the same thing twice, an improvisational spirit whose free-form antics could throw her fellow performers for a loop, delight her audiences, and send her shows spinning into another dimension. So when the sound of a train rumbling down the tracks behind The Headwaters Theatre during a performance of Going Down in Flames on Saturday night broke the action and prompted Joan Schirle, who was playing the late, great American clown Mankin, to break into an ad-lib wisecrack, it was like a side-splitting visitation from beyond: Queenie Moon, upending expectations and stealing the scene again. And the audience cracked up.

Jeff Desautels (left), Joan Schirle as Joan Mankin, and Michael O’Neill in Danny Mankin’s Going Down in Flames at The Headwaters.

Mankin, or Queenie Moon, as her famous clown persona was called, was a shining light of the West Coast new vaudeville/agitprop theater scene that thrived from the 1960s forward, employing old-fashioned theatrical styles for new and often culturally subversive purposes. She worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the physical-theater stalwarts the Dell’Arte Players, as well as a lot of mainstream companies. I remember her best, and most fondly, as a star of the Pickle Family Circus, the wonderful San Francisco-based acrobatic and clowning company whose traveling shows I would seek out whenever they were in rational range, from Grant Park in Northeast Portland to the Southwest Oregon timber town of Coquille.

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Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to DanceWatch Monthly! We’ve decided to switch from a weekly to a monthly format for awhile to see if we like it better. (If you have an opinion on weekly vs. monthly, let us know; we’re here to serve you.) We’re still writing about Oregon dance performances and related events, but we’re organizing them by genre now, to help you more quickly find what interests you. February’s plentiful dance performances, 17 in total, offer celebration, cultural exploration, romance, joy, comedy, and deep dives into a variety of concepts. We hope you enjoy our new monthly edition: remember to check back with us on February 27 for the March DanceWatch.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Welcome to Urban Bush Women

White Bird brings back Urban Bush Women for a movement-based discussion of race, gender, identity, body image, and economics

This week I am excited to introduce you to Hair and Other Stories, a new collaborative work by Brooklyn-based Urban Bush Women (UBW). The piece blends dance, theatre, voice, and visual elements, focusing on hair and specifically African American women’s hair, and Urban Bush Women use it as a platform to discuss race, gender, identity, body image, and economics. The work, presented by White Bird, opens at the Newmark on Thursday, March 1, and runs through March 3.

I am also personally thrilled to introduce Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and UBW to you because Zollar was one of my dance teachers at Florida State University way back in the day. I was also very fortunate to perform in her work Shelter, a dance about the physical and emotional deprivation of homeless people, and to receive a full scholarship to the very first Summer Leadership Institute on undoing racism and creating a new dancer for a new society. Working with Zollar and UBW opened up my point of view to a much broader concept of what dance could be, what a dancer could look like, and to new ideas of how to move and live in the world.

Hair and Other Stories, described by the company as the “urgent dialogue of the 21st century,” actually began its development in 2001 as Hairstories, a work by Zollar and the company at the time, that discussed the cultural significance of black women’s hair through a collection of individual women’s hair stories and humor.

Zollar founded the company in 1984 and has received many awards for her work, including three Bessie Awards and two Doris Duke Awards. These days, she has taken on a different role in the company’s creative process and is the project’s dramaturg. This updated version of Hair and Other Stories has been choreographed by associate artistic directors and company dancers Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis in collaboration with the company dancers, and it’s directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges with costumes by DeeDee Gomes, projection design by Nick Hussong, and lighting by Xavier Pierce.

Celebrating it’s 34th year, UBW “seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance.” They do this “from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.”

The company’s core values include: validating the individual; catalyzing for social change; building trust through process; entering community and co-creating stories; celebrating the movement and culture of the African Diaspora; and recognizing that place matters.

In addition to developing a large body of work, creating new works (for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and others), touring internationally, and teaching dance at Florida State University, UBW has developed community engagement programs like BOLD (Builders, Organizers, & Leaders through Dance), the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), and the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center.

In a behind-the-scenes video of Hair and Other Stories, associate artistic director Samantha Speis explains that what we will see in the performance “is our practice. This is what we are doing and you have an hour and 15-20 minutes to be inside of that and experience it and examine some things about yourself. It’s also really about lifting everyone’s humanity because we’ve all been dehumanized by the construct and its about understanding how we all sit inside of it.”

You can also catch a preview of the work in the companies teaser here.

In a video interview for The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in 2016, Zollar, discusses her evolution as a choreographer and the importance of embracing risk throughout her practice. “Risk,” she says, “exists on the edge of failure…so if you’re not right on that edge of failure…you’re not in a place of risk. Living on that edge and learning from that edge to me is a really exciting place.”

For Dance Magazine earlier this month Zollar opened up about her creative process, and the hardest parts of sustaining a dance company.

“I have a three-idea rule: Whenever I see other performances, I have to come out with three ideas—maybe it’s costumes, lighting, staging. Don’t dismiss anything. If it was a waste of your time, you didn’t enter with the right mind-set.”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Move it, own it

Dance doesn’t just belong to the young or skinny or white or “trained” or "educated” or able-bodied. Claim it. Shape it. Make it your own.

Because it’s Valentine’s day/week, and love is in the air, I thought I would reflect on loving relationships in regards to dance, more specifically my evolving relationship with dance, with our bodies, why I think we should all dance, and how I think dancing can change the world. I have big ideas, I know.

Remember when you were a kid and you would be talking away and suddenly a word would pop out that sounded really strange like it was from another planet, and then you would repeat it over and over and over again (much to the chagrin of your parents), until it completely lost its meaning, and became an amorphous sound? Well, that’s kind of what’s happened to dance for me since I started writing DanceWatch. But this isn’t a bad thing, I promise. Let me explain.

Because I spend so much time looking at, thinking about, reading about, writing about, dance, and dancing myself, all of the boundaries that I once upon a time created to define dance have been blown apart to form a new, much more inclusive definition. I so narrowly defined dance that I almost defined myself right out of it. I highly recommend immersing yourself in something you don’t understand, to understand it.

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