Carlyn Hudson

Union PDX: Making the case for dance

Samuel Hobbs created a dance festival to showcase dance and to confront the problems the art form faces in Portland

“Don’t make work or make it work,” said Samuel Hobbs during the talk-back session of the inaugural Union PDX new contemporary dance festival in Portland. He was referring to the two options a choreographer faces in Portland, a city where the dance scene is full of creativity, but low on funding, visibility, and connectedness as a community.

Hobbs and the push/FOLD company he serves as artistic director are working toward solutions for unifying dance artists in town, and their latest idea came to reality this weekend in the form of Union PDX. The festival packed performances, master classes, educational outreach for young dancers, audience talk-backs, and Portland Dance Community Awards all into four days’ time. 

When I sat down with Hobbs to chat about what sparked the idea for Union PDX, which ran September 26-29 in the Hampton Opera Center, he reiterated that it’s come from the struggles of being a working artist in a city where two or three big names in dance are thriving. Meanwhile, the rest of the local companies and independent choreographers are all battling for their slice of the funding pie.

Under such limited conditions for artists in the city, with most mid-level companies paying out-of-pocket for rehearsal space, dancers, venue rental, videography, photography, and you-name-it, it seems natural that a lack of unity in the community has arisen due to the stress of an unbalanced system. This all equates to a lack of visibility for the dance community, especially for those artists who can’t keep up with the pay-to-play nature of presenting work here in Portland. 

So what gets lost in the mess of it all? The art. So let’s spend the next few paragraphs talking about that.

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A new festival addresses dire conditions for dance

Union PDX - Festival:19 opens on Thursday with an agenda that goes beyond the onstage performances

“As Portland (dance) artists, we aren’t provided the opportunities that we really need,” Portland choreographer Samuel Hobbs says. “ We are all scrambling for the same scraps…we need visibility and accessibility.”

Hobbs was explaining both the dire condition of local dance artists and the reason he created Union PDX – Festival:19, a brand new contemporary dance festival. Union PDX debuts September 26-29 at the 180-seat Hampton Opera Center on the river in Southeast Portland, close to MAX with ample free parking also available.

The festival, curated and directed by Hobbs, will feature world premieres by Portland choreographers Amy Leona Havin—artistic director of The Holding Project, choreographer Carlyn Hudson, and Hobbs, who also directs his own company, push/FOLD Contemporary Dance Company

“Doing your own show is great, but maybe there’s a way that we can come together and lift each other up,” Hudson said when I met up with her, Hobbs, and Havin to hear about the festival and their work. 

Artistic director of push/FOLD dance company, Samuel Hobbs, rehearsing his new work, Ash, to be debuted at his new festival, Union PDX – Festival:19, from September 26-29 at the Hampton Opera Center. Pictured left to right are Holly Shaw, Briley Jozwiak, Ashley Morton, Samuel Hobbs, and Liane Burns.
Photo by Jingzi Photography.

Hobbs has commissioned both Havin and Hudson to create new work for the festival on his company’s four dancers—Holly Shaw, Briley Jozwiak, Liane Burns, and Ashley Morton. ”Right now funding is huge! Funding and platform. To be commissioned by established institutions and to receive funding are the two biggest things that would absolutely change the game for me at this point,” Havin said.

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This is a really big week for NW Dance Project. The company, directed by Sarah Slipper, celebrates its 15th season; premieres Slipper’s new work, Room 4; remounts the dark, quirky Carmen by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem; says goodbye to four longtime company dancers, and welcomes two new ones.

Room 4, which I saw in rehearsal Tuesday, is a dance/conversation/argument for two women, two men, and four desks. It takes place in a small, dark, windowless office. The source of tension is a coveted promotion to “the outer office,” which causes strife among the office workers. The work is loosely inspired by Counterpart–a science-fi-thriller television series that takes place in parallel dimensions full of intrigue, espionage, and government conspiracies–and the witty repartee between characters in Monty Python’s absurdist comedy sketch Argument Clinic. Owen Belton’s score for this piece is a cinematic mix of found sounds that he recorded out and about in the world, like the sound of a buzzing electric light, mixed with a recording of four Seattle actors performing a script Slipper wrote. The costumes are genderless; instead, color is used to distinguish each character.

Rustem’s Carmen, which premiered in 2017, is back, deeper and richer than ever. His twist on Georges Bizet’s Carmen sets the story in a beauty parlor and barber shop instead of the bullrings of southern Spain, and this time out, there’s a new character, Rusty, who is just a little too keen on the scissors. What hasn’t changed is the wealth of seduction, secrecy, betrayal, and death: enough to satisfy all your carnal desires. And there is fierce, exhaustive dancing with quite a bit of comedy to balance it all out. This 40-minute work uses Bizet’s Carmen Suite without the vocals, and features sets by Spanish designer Luis Crespo and costumes by Portland fashion designer and Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak. In 2017, ArtsWatch senior editor/writer Bob Hicks reviewed it, which you can read here.

The dancers leaving the company are Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, and Julia Radick. Labay and Radick, who were married this summer, are headed for Quebec, in Labay’s native Canada. Campbell, who has been with the company since 2009, plans to transition into arts administration, and McGill, who has been with the company since 2012, will return to her native Texas to pursue a range of interests, including dance.

The company has added dancers Colleen Loverde and Kevin Pajarillaga, both of whom Slipper chose through NW Dance Project’s summer Launch program this July.

Performances this week

NW Dance Project Carmen dress rehearsal, Ihsan Rustem choreography. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Carmen and Room 4 (World Premiere)
NW Dance Project, Ihsan Rustem and Sarah Slipper
September 27-29
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Ahmet Luleci
Presented by Ruby Beh
8 pm September 29
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St

Turkey native and Boston resident Ahmet Luleci, an expert in Anatolian folk dances, comes to Portland for two days to present workshops, lectures, and a Saturday evening performance focused on regional styles of folkloric Turkish dance and music. Luleci, a choreographer, performer and dance teacher, serves as artistic director of the Boston-based Collage Dance Ensemble.

Super dancer Carlyn Hudson leaping through the cosmos. Photo by Design By Goats.

Some Are Silver
Carlyn Hudson
7:30 pm September 29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Some Are Silver, a collection of three world premieres and several older works that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weave together humor, heartache, and beauty. The choreography reflects an array of contrasting ideas performed to jazz, classical, and folk music. The cast includes Briley Jozwiak, Amelia Unsicker, Elle Crowley, Anna Marra, Kara Girod, Mari Kai Juras, and Hudson herself.

Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is the daughter of a dancer and a visual artist/woodworker. She earned her BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi.

ArtsWatch writer Elizabeth Whelan reviewed Some Are Silver, which you can read here.

Dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

China In Dance
Beijing Dance Academy
Presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre
7 pm September 30
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Beijing Dance Academy, a state-funded professional dance school in China that specializes in ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance, musical theater, and contemporary dance, will debut 30 of its most talented dancers performing ten classical dances. The program includes Liang Zhu (Butterfly Lovers, known as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Yellow River, which depicts the origin of Chinese culture and spirit.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 4-6, Come to your senses, Pilobolus, Presented by White Bird
October 5-6, Shiny Angles in Angular Time, Melinda Ring, and Renée Archibald
October 6-13, Napoli, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 6-7, Hamlet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
October 9, The New Chinese Acrobats, Eugene
October 11-15, Portland Tango Festival
October 11-16, Circa, Presented by White Bird
October 11-20, Bloody Vox: Deadline October, BodyVox
October 12-13, Change(d) Together, The Circus Project
October 12-20, A Spine Tingling Soiree, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 12-21, Portland Dance Film Fest
October 18-20, Lucy Guerin Inc, Presented by White Bird
October 19, Everything’s Copacetic, The Skylark Tappers
October 20, Clock that Mug or Dusted, Cherdonna Shinatra, Presented by Risk/Reward
October 20, As You Like It-A Wild West Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
October 20-21, The Man Who Forgot, The Portland Tap Company
October 22, Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin, Reed College
October 26, Star Dust, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Eugene
October 26, Flamenco Pacifico, Presented by Berto Boyd
October 28, Matices Criollos, Peruvian Cultural Festival

November
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Contemporary dance befriends vaudeville in ‘Some Are Silver’

Lighthearted antics thread through new and vintage pieces by Carlyn Hudson

Carlyn Hudson wants you to have a good night, and her new show, running this Saturday at BodyVox Dance Center, is designed to help you do just that. The pieces in the Portland-based dancer-choreographer’s new program Some Are Silver seamlessly weave together contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudevillian comedy. And the program itself meshes new and old, offering the premieres of three works–The Royal Fireworks!, Façade in B Flat Minor, and I May Be Wrong–alongside six older works.

Hudson is a native New Yorker with a lifelong love for ballet. However after starting training late, at age 13, and witnessing the cutthroat competition of the ballet world, she realized that she wanted more creative control over her output.  My long obsession with ballet gave me the training I needed to articulate ideas using dance as my language,” said Hudson when I spoke with her prior to the show. Perhaps the hyper-perfectionism of ballet helped her find the voice she used to create Some Are Silver. Though it includes classical ballet technique, the program has a more forgiving view of failure: its lighthearted antics and vaudevillian sensibility provide a laugh for the audience and make the performers relatable and likeable.

Carlyn Hudson pairs new and old works in Some Are Silver. Photo courtesy Design by Goats.

To give the content some context, consider the period in which vaudeville flourished in the U.S. It was the turn of the last century: The Wright Brothers had just successfully taken flight, the first World Series was played, the women’s suffrage movement was gaining significant traction, Henry Ford started his motor company, and in theaters across the country, thousands flocked to vaudeville shows. Stringing together comedians, actors, ventriloquists, acrobats, and essentially anyone who could keep the audience’s attention with some slapstick humor, vaudeville provided an escape from a rapidly changing industrialized landscape. An evening of shows typically consisted of 10 to 15 unrelated acts whose sole purpose was to entertain.

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