bodyvox

How Portland’s big dance organizations responded to Black Lives Matter

Portland's very white dance companies attracted blowback from the dance community and agreed to change

For the past several weeks, conversations and arguments around race and the arts have arisen nationally and locally. In the Portland dance community, they’ve been driven by the dancers themselves, many of whom  have concluded that the city’s big companies—Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox and NW Dance Project, along with its major dance presenter, White Bird—could do a lot more than they’ve done in addressing systemic racism in both the art form and their own organizations. And they’ve taken to Instagram and Facebook to express their opinions. 

“It takes someone in a position of power to advocate for someone who is disenfranchised,” said DarVejon Jones, a Black choreographer, teacher, and dancer in Portland. Jones explained what he and many Black Americans have experienced: that you can’t speak up because you fear the systems of power in place around you. “That’s what white supremacy says, it makes you feel like you have no agency to talk about your own life. When you do, you feel like a squeaky wheel,” he said recently in an interview with me. 

Nonetheless, he and many other local dancers have been speaking up. And having been prodded, the dance companies have responded, often defensively and often without the clarity that might satisfy their dancers, the dance community and even their boards of directors.

ArtsWatch asked the leadership of the Big Four some questions about how they are reacting to Black Lives Matter and its implications. Each company is different: different history, different financial arrangements, different artistic focus. But for the first time in some cases, they are hearing criticism from the dance community itself and they are all looking intensely at the same problem. Here’s what we found.

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Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

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Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

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ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

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Oregon arts news: Covid-19 updates

Literary Arts has an emergency fund for writers, BodyVox is drawing blood, Shakespeare festival goes digital, more!

All arts news these days is Covid-19 news, at least in part. But then I suppose that extends to every central sector of the society. Arts organizations in Oregon are trying to raise enough money to keep enough staff on board to keep planning for their eventual return. Oh, and enough money to stage or hang the art they’re involved with when audiences can finally gather safely.

As George Thorn says, “We can’t wait to be in a room together with artists.”

There are two themes for this edition of News and Notes, and all subsequent ones, I expect. The first is the happier one: creative initiatives that artists and arts groups are coming up with to keep their connections with us possible, even though we’re isolated from each other.

Give blood then go to BloodyVox/Photo by Blaine Covert

The second includes funds that have been established to help artists in need and pleas for immediate help from groups in trouble. Two Portland venues, The Old Church and the Alberta Rose Theatre, are in that latter category. You know them, you love them, and if you can, this is a great time to support them.

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Writers need to eat, too, not to mention pay the rent, and they are rarely tethered to corporate support systems. To help them out, Literary Arts has designated money from its Brian Booth Writers’ Fund to create the Booth Emergency Fund for Writers, designed to provide meaningful financial relief to Oregon’s writers, including cartoonists, spoken word poets, and playwrights. Grants of $1,000 each will go to 100 eligible writers, and if more money shows up, a second round of applications will open in June.

The deadline to apply for Round One is May 13. Literary Arts is prioritizing money for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color. 

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has launched O!, a digital content platform the company has had in the works since Nataki Garrett became artistic director. With the theater closed, O! becomes a primary outlet until its stages are filled again, but the company intends to keep working on the site, even when we’re back in the theater again.

Right now, you can hear audio from a 1951 version of Twelfth Night, with founder Angus Bowmer himself as Sir Toby Belch. Or download an audiobook version of 2015’s Pericles, with recordings of King Lear (2013, directed by Bill Rauch), Romeo and Juliet (2012, dir. Laird Williamson), and Julius Caesar (2017, dir. Shana Cooper) soon to come. And there are documentaries and classes to sift through, too. For now, it’s all free. Click here to get started.

Profile Theatre’s eNewsletter this week brought two excellent pieces of news, and believe me, excellent news has been hard to come by lately. They are so excellent that I don’t know which to feature first. 

We’ll start with the money. The company’s Be a Light fundraiser brought in $100,193, exceeding the $75,000 Profile needed to keep operations going, move community engagement programming online, and prepare for a return to the stage when the pandemic has subsided enough for audiences to return. The key word: EXCEEDING. Cash contributions reached $82,861 by the April 24 deadline, and donations of previously purchased tickets totaled $17,332. (If you have tickets for performances of any sort, please consider donating them to the issuing organization, if at all possible.)

Profile artistic director Josh Hecht and Paula Vogel/Courtesy Profile Theatre

And now to the art! Profile’s featured writer this year, Paula Vogel, has been teaching playwriting for 30 years, using her“playwriting bake-off’ idea—a method for creating new work quickly with a recipe of “ingredients,” including characters, settings, props, and source material. Earlier this month she established a “Covid Bake-Off,” using the structure of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, with its 10 pairs of lovers, and characters from around the globe from Wuhan to Milan and beyond. 

Profile has enlisted playwrights Hilary Betis, Philip Dawkins, Hansol Jung, EM Lewis, Dan Kitrosser, Harrison Rivers, EM Lewis, Christopher Oscar Peña and Anna Ziegler to collaborate with Vogel in this special Bake-Off. Their creation will be recorded as an audio-play and released as a podcast. We’ll keep you apprised here at ArtsWatch.

The Alberta Rose Theatre is seeking support now that Covid-19 has wiped out its concerts and events. Portland doesn’t have nearly enough arts facilities as it is, so if you’re able and inclined, you can help keep this Alberta street institution going.

The theater’s online streaming fundraiser has already begun, but you can still hook-up to hear a long roster of Portland musicians perform. Tonight, for example, singer-songwriter Colin Hogan performs. You can buy a single ticket, a 10-concert flex package, or a full-access package. Well, they aren’t actually “tickets,” but the more you buy, the cheaper they are. The 20-concerts-for-$100 is still the best deal overall, even though a few have already taken place. You can get sorted out at the website.

Speaking of crucial performance venues, one of the city’s very best, The Old Church, is under pressure, too. “We are working around the clock to find funding to stay afloat for what is feeling like it will be an extended closure,” the organization announced. “Without funding we will be out of cash by mid-July.”

The nonprofit has been working on a campaign to ensure that some of the federal money that has gone to states will trickle down to the arts, including venues like The Old Church. They are hoping you will write the Oregon legislators from their district and advocate for arts funding and The Old Church: Rep.AkashaLawrenceSpence@oregonlegislature.gov and  Sen.GinnyBurdick@oregonlegislature.gov

The Old Church has also started a Better Together campaign, which features online benefit performances to support the work they do and the building they have renovated so well. 

If Portland reopens without The Old Church, we’ll always regret it.

One of the many things that BodyVox is known for (along with its great dance films, comic stylings, fine dancing, etc.) is its Halloween send-up BloodyVox. So, it makes sense (at least to me) that the dance company would host a community blood drive with the American Red Cross. The drive runs from 9 am to 2:30 pm on May 7 at the BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., in  Portland.

Speaking of BloodyVox, it kicks off the company’s 2020-21 season. Full details are available on the website.

BodyVox’s penchant for film and video is evident in its fifth annual Contact Dance Film Festival, available to stream starting April 30. The four-day festival features three different programs, showcasing award-winning collaborations between filmmakers, dancers, and choreographers from around the world. Maybe watch some dance and then give some blood?

Home front: arts at a distance

ArtsWatch Weekly: As the coronavirus crisis reshapes the world, culture shifts gears and our virtual and physical realities overlap

HOW IS SOCIAL DISTANCING WORKING IN YOUR CORNER OF THE WORLD? Are you out and about at all – one of the vital people in our food and delivery and public utility and medical-care systems, maybe, keeping things going through the crisis? Are you busily creating a makeshift world while you keep inside your home, bringing the outside in virtually, via emails and social media and radio and television and music downloads? Are you keeping a sense of the actual, physical territory of our lives that we take for granted until it’s not under our feet anymore?

It’s been five weeks since I’ve been anywhere but home, and my reality has shifted both very little and very much. I’ve been lucky. I have good shelter, and food, and I’m sharing space with close family (including one indispensable and highly entertaining cat). I work from home, anyway, so the adjustment hasn’t been nearly so abrupt as it has been for many people. I miss my afternoon coffee-shop breaks, and going out for conversations with writers or news sources, and real-time, face-to-face interaction with performing and visual art. But those things are small potatoes. I’ve been spared the horrors the COVID-19 pandemic has visited on so many.

The difference between the real and the virtual becomes stark when the real is taken away from us. The other day I was reading Out of Time: Mortality and the Old Masters, a particularly timely column in The New Yorker by the veteran art critic Peter Schjeldahl in which he ponders why “the art of what we term the Old Masters (has) so much more soulful heft than that of most moderns and nearly all of our contemporaries.” It’s an imaginative and provocative piece of writing, bound to raise a few hackles and also prompt a lot of nods of agreement. In it he comments on the real and the not-quite-real – “… the art in the world’s now shuttered museums: inoperative without the physical presence of attentive viewers. Online ‘virtual tours’ add insult to injury, in my view, as strictly spectacular, amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience. Inaccessible, the works conjure in the imagination a significance that we have taken for granted.”

El Greco, “View of Toledo,” 1596-1600, oil on canvas, 47.8 x 42.8 inches, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.

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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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DanceWatch Monthly: February is all about the love

February in Portland dance is all about love and its many forms (not just Valentine's Day)


It’s February and love is in the air. Dance performances this month, appropriately enough, express love in a wonderful variety of ways. From the familiar romantic love to platonic love. From the love of connecting with community too connecting with oneself. From the love of music to the love of pure movement. From the love of sharing, to the love of technology, to the love of the wild. From the love of experimentation and research to the love of a good book and a good story, to the love of intimacy, and to the love of things big and small. For the love of god. For dance itself and for the gift of emotional expression. 


“To dance is to be out of yourself,” American choreographer Agnes de Mille famously proclaimed. “Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.” 

So, let’s dance, and do it with love.

Dances in February

Week 1: February 1-2

Holy Goats!
Performance Works N
2 pm February 2
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave

Holy Goats! Sunday afternoon improvisations and bagels are back!  This new iteration will be devoted to dance and music by Portland-area and visiting artists. The dancers include Allie Hankins and Caspar Sonnet, Pepper Pepper, Tracy Broyles + Adrian Hutapea + jaime lee christiana, Luke Gutgsell + Kennedy Verrett. The musicians: Catherine Lee, Caspar Sonnet, Dan Sasaki, Annie Gilbert, and Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Founded in 1999 by Artistic Director Linda Austin and Technical Director Jeff Forbes, Performance Works NorthWest || Linda Austin Dance engages artists and audiences of the Pacific Northwest in the process of experimentation, creation and dialogue around the presentation of contemporary performance. 

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Keep the stories coming

An invitation to be a part of ArtsWatch. Plus: centenarians Lenny and Merce; Lauren Hare's America; a little song and a little dance.

AS WE MOVE CLOSER TO THANKSGIVING DAY, all of us here at ArtsWatch would like to thank you for the support you’ve given us and ask you to join us as we prepare for another year. You, our readers and financial contributors, make what we do possible. We’ve published more than 450 stories so far in 2019 – news, reviews, previews, analyses, portraits, and deeper insights about the arts. Here’s just a taste of what you’ve helped make happen this year:
 

  • Exquisite Gorge: Friderike Heuer’s 11-part series chronicling Maryhill Museum’s epic 66-foot print project to document the Columbia River.
  • Visual arts coming and going: Bob Hicks’s extensive inside look at the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, and Barry Johnson’s comprehensive coverage of the Oregon College of Art and Craft’s demise, which topped our most-read list for 2019.
  • Monumental undertakings: Brett Campbell’s in-depth take on the collaboration of PHAME, which provides training and opportunities for developmentally challenged performers, with Portland Opera to premiere the opera The Poet’s Shadow.
  • Theater profiles: Deep portraits by Bobby Bermea and Marty Hughley of Asae Dean, Rodolfo Ortega, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Bill Rauch, the OUTwright Festival, PassinArt’s Black Nativity, and the state of Oregon theater.
  • On the move: Elizabeth Whelan’s profiles of a new generation of dancers and choreographers who are turning Portland into a creative mecca.
  • Minding the gap: Damien Geter’s examination of the diversity deficit in classical music performances and suggestions to remedy it.
  • Picture this: Photo essays of Beaverton Night Market, Nrityotsava, Día de Muertos, colors of India, Waterfront Blues Festival, to name a few.
Ghanaian drumming and dance by Nii Ardey Allote & Nikome at Beaverton Night Market, subject of one of many ArtsWatch photo essays in 2019. Photo: Joe Cantrell

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