Anjali School of Dance

DanceWatch Weekly: Bobby pins, hairspray and glitter

This is the season of dance recitals and so much more!

It’s recital time again! Spring is when dance students far and wide hit the stages to demonstrate a year’s worth of hard work, and Portland’s dance students are no exception. For some dancers this will be their first performance, and for others it will be their last one with their home school, before heading out into the world. Performing is always an emotional experience, mixed with excitement and apprehension, bobby pins, hairspray, and for some, lots of glitter. For a dancer, this moment is what it’s all about.

This weekend also features the award-winning touring musical theatre production of An American in Paris, an afternoon of Bharatnatyam with Anita Menon and her students at New Expressive Works, dance performances by regional cultural groups at Lan Su Chinese Garden as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Dance Wire’s annual work in progress showcase, a show of female power in The Future is Female by Mixed Dance Company, and a one year anniversary celebration of Ben Martens monthly performance gathering, Spectacle Garden.

Performances this week

An American in Paris Broadway Tour, May 16-21. Photo courtesy of An American in Paris Broadway Tour.

An American in Paris
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 16-21
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
This award-winning touring production, inspired by George Gershwin’s time spent in Paris during the 1920s, features music by George and Ira Gershwin as well as choreography by the former New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer, Christopher Wheldon. Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

Junior Artist Generator dancer Avery Wagner. Photo by David Krebs.

Junior Artist Generator
Hosted by BodyVox Dance Company
May 19-21
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
BodyVox’s Junior Artist Generator is a performance training program that provides dance students with the opportunity to work with renowned Portland dance professionals and culminates in an annual concert.

This year’s program will include work by BodyVox Artistic Directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, Alicia Cutaia, Tracey Durbin, Éowyn Emerald, Thorey Mountain, Josh Murry, Sara Parker, Katie Scherman, Rachel Slater, and Jenelle Yarbrough.

Spring Performance
Classical Ballet Academy, Directed by Sarah Rigles
May 19-21
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
Classical Ballet Academy’s Spring Performance is a mixture of works performed by the tiniest of dancers to pre-professional ones, and will include the ballet “Don Quixote” and other dances ranging from modern to jazz, choreographed by Classical Ballet Academy faculty members.

The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance, 2 pm May 20. Photo courtesy of New Expressive Works.

The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance
Hosted by New Expressive Works and Anjali School of Dance
2 pm May 20
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St.
Marking the culmination of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program through Oregon Folklife Network, Bharatanatyam teacher, choreographer, and Regional Arts and Culture Fellow Anita Menon presents, an afternoon of South Indian Classical Music and Dance.

Menon has passed on the art of Nattuvangam, the rhythmic playing of cymbals for Bharatanatyam, to her student Maya Jagannathan. Accompanying Jagannathan will be vocalist Archana Mungara and dancers Vipanchi Mungara, Sharika Pillai, Ankitha Krishnamurthy, Sagarika Ramachandran and Sanya Surya.

This event is free but requires an RSVP to attend because seating is limited.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 6-28. Photo of courtesy of Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Lan Su Chinese Garden
May 20-21
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes.

This weekend’s programs includes performances by Portland Taiko, Kalabharathi School of Dance, One With Heart, and the Portland Chinese Dance Troupe.
Check out the full schedule for specific dates and times.

Polaris Dance Theatre Spring Performance, May 19-21. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Spring Student Performances
Polaris Dance Theatre
May 19-21
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
Showcasing energy, technique, playfulness and fun, Polaris dance students ages 3 – 18 will perform an array of dances choreographed by Polaris faculty members.

 

The Future is Female by Mixd Dance Company, May 20-21. Photo courtesy of Mixd Dance Company.

The Future is Female
Mixd Dance Company, co-directed by Megan Armand & Lindsay Duus
Choreography by Megan Armand, Lindsay Duus, Amanda Harry, Jacki Mascorro and Shannel Williams
May 20-21
World Trade Center, 121 SW Salmon St.
Mixd Dance Company, a 20-strong team of dancers, brings together a variety of dance styles and stories told through the eyes of strong women.

Dance Wire Refinery, May 21. Photo courtesy of Dance Wire.

Refinery: A Work in Progress Showcase
Hosted by Dance Wire
4 pm May 21
Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge, 4834 N Lombard St.
Dance Wire, a Portland dance resource and service organization, presents Refinery: A work in Progress Showcase, featuring Hector Zaragoza Valentin, Olivia Camfield, Trip The Dark, and WolfBird Dance. The evening is free and provides a glimpse into the creative process, and will provide an opportunity to give feedback to the choreographers at the end.

Spectacle Garden Birthday Show
Curated by Ben Martens
6 pm May 24
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Ste 9
Celebrating its one-year anniversary, this monthly, interdisciplinary showcase, curated by composer/Butoh artist Ben Martens, will feature Katie Piatt, Kiel Moton, Jme Antonick & Jana Zahler, Alex and Alexa, Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, Anet Ris-Kelman, Project Grow/Port City, and Cagil Harmandar. The evening will also include an homage to performances past with one-minute solo performances by Spectacle Garden alumni performers, and of course an after party, and a few surprises, as to be expected.

Performances next week

May
May 25, PCC Spring Dance Concert, Hosted by the Portland Community College Dance Program
May 26, Dancing In The Rain!Hosted by Portland State University Art and Social Practice
May 26, 6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26-27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
May 26-28, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 27, La Peña: ¡Baila, Canta, Toca!, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland

Upcoming Performances

June
June 1, Jefferson Dancers Spring Recital, Jefferson Dancers
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 14-15, SHUT DOWN: The Final Performance from PSU Dance Students
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 3-5, Galaxy Dance Festival, Hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

DanceWatch Weekly: A Flamenco evening via Sevilla

Find the castanets and prepare for Flamenco, por favor

In Sevilla, Spain, about a week or so after Holy Week (a yearly Catholic tribute to the Passion of Jesus Christ that takes place during the last week of Lent), the people throw a really big party celebrating Andalusian culture, with loads of flamenco dancing, music and tapas. It’s called Feria de Abril.

Thanks to Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland, both the brainchild of Flamenco dancer Brenna McDonald, we Portlanders can celebrate Feria de Abril right here in our own home town on Saturday night at the AudioCinema under the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge. From 5 pm to midnight, under the warm glow of string lights and fragrant flowers, you can experience the pulse and heat of flamenco music and dance, and the flavors of Spanish food.

Feria de Portland as it is called in Portland, will transport us to Sevilla while celebrating Oregon’s own Flamenco community with performances by dancers from Portland Flamenco Events, Beach Elementary Dance Program, Espacio Flamenco Portland, Elena Villa, 3shine Flamenco, guitarist Ricardo Diaz, Los rumberos, Pepe Raphael and DJ Blas. The tapas will be supplied by Morgan St Theater – Inspired ice creams, Crown Paella, M&M Catering, and J.Molina Pasteleria.

Flamenco, an improvisational form of dance, is a folkloric tradition that combines song, dance, instrumentals (guitar mostly), hand clapping and finger snapping. This art form is an amalgamation of centuries of cross-pollination between the many cultures that have existed in Spain. Because it is a folkloric tradition passed down orally until the mid-18th century, its history is imprecise. Its evolution is widely debated, but it is thought to be greatly influenced by the Roma people, called Gitanos, who migrated from Rajasthan (Western India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, bringing with them tambourines, bells, castanets and a variety of songs and dances. The arm, hand and foot movements of Flamenco closely resemble those of classical Indian dance styles. These traditions combined with the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and Moors make up the Flamenco we see today.

The Flamenco dance (baile) can be characterized by the light graceful arm movements of the female dancer and the contrasting stomping foot drills of the man. It is intense, passionate, sexual and deeply emotional.

The song (canto) which is the core of Flamenco has three forms: grande or hondo (grand or deep) which is intense, profound, tragic in feeling and steeped with duende, which is the transformation of the musician by the depth of emotion; intermedio (intermediate), which is moderately serious; and pequeño (small), marked by light, energetic songs of love.
The Spanish playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, who grew up in southern Spain and was greatly inspired and influenced by the Roma culture, spoke in depth about duende in his essay Theory and Play of the Duende, written in 1933.

Performances this week

Feria de Portland, 5 pm-12 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Brenna McDonald.

Feria de Portland
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
5 pm-12 pm May 13
AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison St.
See Above.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 6-28. Photo courtesy of Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 6-28
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett St.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a month chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843. May also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. (Chinese workers made up a large part of the workforce for the line.)

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes.

This weekend’s programs includes performances by the Thai Association of Oregon, Vancouver Dance Troupe, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, and the Haiyan International Dance Academy. Check out the full schedule for specific dates and times.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 pm May 13. Photo courtesy of Anita Menon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Anjali School of Dance, Anita Menon
Hosted by Walters Cultural Arts Center
2 pm May 13
Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E Main St., HIllsboro
Anita Menon, the founder and director of Anjali School of Dance, a Bharatanatyam dance school in Hillsboro is interested in finding ways to help connect her Indian dance students to the dual cultures that they live in, and to connect American audiences to Indian culture.

This “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” combines Shakespeare and Bharatanatyam. When it debuted in 2012, ArtsWatch Bob Hicks wrote, “Anjali’s “Midsummer Night” is gorgeous to look at, from its rich temple-inspired costumes to the architectural snap of its precise group formations, which suggest a singularity of movement and purpose that a Radio City Rockette would understand. This is spectacle, in a good sense, a work that saturates the eyes and pleases the senses. It’s in constant motion, shape-shifting to a mix tape that’s authentic to the spirit of the American stewpot: it tosses in a little bit of everything from classical Indian music to Beethoven’s Fifth, Bollywood songs, and hip-hop. In that sense it reflects the shifting multiplicities of everyday life in Indian American communities. And unlike compressed ballet versions set to Mendelssohn’s brilliant score, Anjali’s “Midsummer” is leisurely and expansive, playing out most of the comedy’s major themes and using a narrator (actor G. Scott Brown, as Shakespeare himself) to set up the action and summarize the scenes.” You can read Hick’s full review of the production here.

Memories of Mom, May 13-14. Photo courtesy of Wanderlust Circus.

Memories of Mom
Presented by Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso
May 13-14
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.
Portland’s Wanderlust Circus and 3 Leg Torso pair together to tell the phantasmagorical story of ringmaster William Batty’s early boyhood in the Victorian slums, his boyhood shenanigans, and his ailing actress mum, in this blend of circus arts, dance, melody and rhythm.

An American in Paris Broadway Tour, May 16-21. Photo courtesy of An American in Paris Broadway Tour.

An American in Paris
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 16-21
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
This award-winning touring production, inspired by George Gershwin’s time spent in Paris during the 1920’s, features music by George and Ira Gershwin as well as choreography by the former New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer, Christopher Wheldon. Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

Performances next week

May 6-28, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Lan Su Chinese Garden, dance performances representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more
May 19-21, Junior Artist Generator, BodyVox Dance Company
May 20, The Art of Nattuvangam: South Indian Classical music and dance, Hosted by New Expressive Works and Anjali School of Dance
May 20-21, The Future is Female, Mixed Dance Company
May 21, Refinery: A Work in Progress Showcase, Hosted by Dance Wire
May 24, Spectacle Garden Birthday Show, Curated by Ben Martens

Upcoming Performances

May
May 25, PCC Spring Dance Concert, Hosted by the Portland Community College Dance Program
May 26-28, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Presented by the Portland Tap Alliance
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26, 6×6: A PDX Choreographers Showcase, PDX Dance Collective
May 26-27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
May 27, La Peña: ¡Baila, canta, toca!, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and La Peña Flamenca de Portland
June
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 2-17, The Goblin King, A David Bowie and Labyrinth Tribute, Trip the Dark Dance Company
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 9, Kúkátónón 2017 Showcase!, Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe
June 9-11, Jazz Around the World, Presented by Wild Rumpus Jazz Co
June 10-11, Dance Out Loud Choreographers Showcase, Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola and Donna Mation
June 23-24, Risk/Reward Festival Of New Performance, Produced by Jerry Tischleder
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
June 29-30, Choreography XX, Oregon Ballet Theatre
July
July 8, Ten Tiny Dances, Beaverton Farmers Market, Directed by Mike Barber
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
July 29, Hafla, Portland Bellydance Guild
August
August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil

Dance: A midsummer night in southern India

Temple dance meets Shakespeare. Good match!

A flight through the forest, bharatanatyam-style. Photo: Anjali School of Dance

More than 1.2 billion people, or roughly one of every six in the world, live in India. I mention this because, even though I consider myself relatively well-acquainted with the traditions of the dance world, I know next to nothing about bharatanatyam or any of the other classic dance forms of the world’s second-most-populous nation. My ignorance is far from unusual in the West, even among dance devotees: when we speak blithely about the dance “world,” there are worlds we know little or nothing about.

So it’s something of a blessing for Portland that Anita Menon’s Anjali School of Dance has been around since 1996, training students in the classical traditions, helping to keep Indian culture alive for the metropolitan area’s small but thriving ethnic Indian community (many concentrated in the high-tech corridor of the western suburbs; the Anjali school is in Hillsboro), and bringing at least a taste of Indian dance to mainstream audiences.

Menon has long been interested in bridging Eastern and Western traditions in her dances – after all, her Indian audience is also American, and her Western audience can use a familiar peg to hang its hat on as it enters unfamiliar territory – and so she’s grafted any number of Western tales and legends to her story-dances, from “Red Riding Hood” to “Pegasus.” Last weekend, in a pair of performances in downtown Portland’s Newmark Theatre, she presented what might have been her most ambitious such project, a fusion of bharatanatyam technique with the story of Shakespeare’s grand comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The dance world (there we go again) sometimes gets into arguments about “authenticity” in what it calls “ethnic” dance – an odd rubric, given that one way or another, everyone’s ethnic. But the truth is, especially in the cultural polyglot of the United States, authenticity is a great and vibrant scramble. Here, we mix things up.

Anjali’s “Midsummer Night” is gorgeous to look at, from its rich temple-inspired costumes to the architectural snap of its precise group formations, which suggest a singularity of movement and purpose that a Radio City Rockette would understand. This is spectacle, in a good sense, a work that saturates the eyes and pleases the senses. It’s in constant motion, shape-shifting to a mix tape that’s authentic to the spirit of the American stewpot: it tosses in a little bit of everything from classical Indian music to Beethoven’s Fifth, Bollywood songs, and hip-hop. In that sense it reflects the shifting multiplicities of everyday life in Indian American communities. And unlike compressed ballet versions set to Mendelssohn’s brilliant score, Anjali’s “Midsummer” is leisurely and expansive, playing out most of the comedy’s major themes and using a narrator (actor G. Scott Brown, as Shakespeare himself) to set up the action and summarize the scenes.

Oberon (Poorna Sridhar) and Puck (Alisha Menon). Photo: Mahendra Ramachandran

In Menon’s version Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen, play the central roles, and they’re performed with fine mimetic skill by Poorna Sridhar (Oberon) and Shaila Ramachandran (Titania). Because I don’t know the vocabulary of what is obviously a highly codified and ritualized dance form, it’s difficult for me to describe their performances: there are, for instance (I learn with a little research), 108 karanas, or key transitional movements, that dancers must master, and dozens of hastas, those elegant hand movements that are such an expressive and sometimes even startling part of Indian dance; strictly codified movements of the head, neck and eyes also play significant roles. Do I know how well these skills have been mastered? I do not. But I do know the rough shape of skill when I see it: Sridhar and Ramachandran dance with a good deal of precision, using their hands and elbows to sharply chiseled effect. Their feet can move in bursts of astonishing speed, and, as all good performers do, they transcend technique to convey personality and joy. As in mime, acting is a good part of their performance, from body movement to facial expression (at times I felt almost as if I were watching a silent movie in live action), and both displayed deft comic skills: I could imagine them cast in a good French farce.

The dance we see has been inevitably altered from its original form. Bharatanatyam is a revived and recodified 19th and 20th century version of Cathir, the temple dances of Southern Indian tradition, which in turn were rooted in ancient dance forms. Its distinctive look is derived from sculptures at Thillai Natarajah Temple, a Hindu temple devoted to Shiva, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. (I learn all of this through the magic of the Internet, and specifically from that font of immediate information, Wikipedia.)

A combined word that includes expression, rhythm, beat or music, and dance, bharatanatyam is considered a fire dance, manifesting “the metaphysical element of fire in the human body.” Anjali’s performance also incorporates snippets of kathak (sky) and kuchipudi (earth), as well as some folk-dance forms. Taken out of its original contexts and away from its traditional audiences, the dance obviously shifts in both form and meaning. Menon suggests as much in her program notes: “Since this ancient dance originated in the temples of South India, almost all the dances are in praise of the Gods of the Hindu religion. While I have been diligent about passing on this dance in its original form to my students, I’ve also been very passionate about adapting it to tell stories, myths, and legends from around the world.”

That passion translates well to the performance. Among the other core performers are Alisha Menon as Puck, Tara Sengupta as Bottom, Kamya Chandra as Hermia, Meera Nair as Helena, Abinaya Srikanthan as Lysander, Varsha Kalavar as Demetrius, Srividhya Chandrasekaran and Lavanya Karunakaran as Duke Theseus and Hippolyta (whose impending nuptials kick the whole tale into action), and the charming young Sanya Surya as the Changeling Boy who prompts Titania and Oberon’s jealous spat.

Most of the dancers in this very large cast are young – the production is, after all, a showcase for the Anjali school – but I found that not at all troublesome or limiting. It was obvious that the students were well-prepared, and also that they were enjoying themselves: the show might have seemed overly long, but it was ebullient. It struck me that this form of dance is a little like flamenco: it’s a genuinely community form in which there’s room for people of all ages and skill levels. Those chorus lines of young fairy dancers had their place. So did Sridhar and Ramachandran, as Oberon and Titania, with their more complex skill sets.

And for audiences – and writers – used to seeing dance through Western eyes, a whole subcontinent waits to be discovered.

Temple dance meets Beethoven’s Fifth. Photo: Mahendra Ramachandran