Ching Ching Wong

ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

Continues…

DanceWatch: A look back and a look ahead

We look back to NW Dance Project and Rejoice! before moving forward to Dancenorth and Nancy Ellis

Saturday mornings at 10:30 am Portland dance artist Tracey Durbin teaches a Luigi based, lyrical jazz class at NW Dance Project. It’s a phenomenal class that is emotional and technical and kicks my butt on a weekly basis, rendering me more or less useless for the rest of the day, but I love it.

Jamuna Chiarini

This past Saturday was extra special. Unbeknownst to me, the NW Dance Project dancers were also taking the class. It was also Ching Ching Wong’s last Durbin class before taking off on a ten-month world tour of performing and teaching. If you need to catch up with Wong and where she’s been and where she’s going, you can read our conversation in last week’s edition of DanceWatch.

Because the company (NW Dance Project) was in class, the energy and effort of everyone in the room was cranked up just a notch or two, and it became one of the most fun, most ecstatic classes I have taken. At the end of class Durbin put a piece of music on and made Wong improvise a solo for us. It was lovely—longing and poetic—and through her movement she thanked the dancers and Durbin. It was a truly memorable Saturday morning.

Saturday night was also Wong’s last performance with NW Dance Project, a performance I desperately wanted to see, but I was also performing at the same time with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre at Reed College.

That evening, after I finished dancing with Rejoice!, I booked it downtown to Lincoln Hall and caught the last two pieces of NW Dance Project’s Fall show: If at Some Hour You Return by Jiri Pokorny and Wen Wei Wang’s You Are All I See. Writer Heather Wisner saw the entire show and wrote about it for ArtsWatch. Overall she felt the evening echoed George Orwell’s 1984, and that Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opening work “felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian,” which “suffused the whole evening.”

Both pieces were darkly lit and from where I was sitting the details were difficult to see. The dancers for Pokorny’s work wore heavy black shoes, which I enjoyed. I like the weight they gave to the movements and the sounds they created on the stage. Wearing shoes also eliminates my fear of anyone slipping from dancing in socks, which these dancers wear a lot. The movements were also very angular and postmodern-like, which were beautifully juxtaposed with the circular pools of light they were dancing in.

Wang’s work felt softer and lighter in comparison, and because it said in the program that the movement was created in collaboration with the dancers, I spent a lot of time wondering which movement belonged to whom, and wondering about the dancers personal movement choices. Both pieces were superbly danced, of course.

I have a growing dislike of seeing dance far away in proscenium settings. I want to see dance up close. I want to be able to see dancers faces and feel their energy. I want to feel what they are feeling. I want to be involved. Something gets lost in translation for me if I’m sitting far away in a theatre separated by that invisible fourth wall and the space between us.

After the company bowed at the end of the performance, NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper brought out an enormous bouquet of flowers with extremely long flowing streamers attached and presented it to Wong. At this point the entire audience was on their feet clapping wildly, and several people in the front row were waving poster boards with hand drawn messages to Wong on them. The two male dancers who flanked Wong even raised her up on their shoulders and brought her to the front of the stage. It was a spectacular send off and I’m so glad to have witnessed it. It’s inspiring to see a dancer and her dancing so appreciated by an audience.

This brings me to Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, and their fifth show Uprise, which opened this past weekend at Reed College’s Greenwood Theatre.

I like the Greenwood Theatre. The dancers are close, you can see their faces, and feel their energy. There is nowhere to hide. It’s all out in the open, which makes the experience so personal and relatable.

Uprise is a collection of six dances choreographed by Oluyinka Akinjiola, the company’s artistic director and company dancers Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, in collaboration with the other company dancers: Uriah Boyd, Bethany Harvey, Juliette Nolan and Xavier “Decimus” Yarbrough.

I performed with the community ensemble in The Beast In Us, the first piece in the program choreographed by Akinjiola to the song Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti. We wore multicolored African print tunics with matching leggings and were encouraged to find our inner beast while performing a mix of steps based in the African diaspora. The ensemble included me, Christina Bazzaroni, Katie Emery, Jenny Fremont, Simeon Jacob, Jennifer Hanis-Martin, and Paige Thomas. I loved dancing the movement we were given and I had an amazing time dancing with Rejoice! and the ensemble.

The company is multi-ethnic and multicultural, and the movement forms represented in the works encompass every style imaginable from contemporary dance, dances from the African and Cuban diasporas, capoeira, hip-hop, krumping and more. A true representation of the actual world that we live in here in America.

The music ranged from Fela Kuti to Jill Scott to Portland singer/songwriter Amenta Abioto, who sang three heavenly solos interspersed between the dances. Abioto also composed the music for Quiet Strength, which was choreographed and performed by Akinjiola to Forget me not America, written by Joselyn Seid with vocals by Andrea Vernae. Against the backdrop of the rhythmic music, Akinjiola’s powerful, airborne dancing and her manipulation of yards of blue, white, and red cloth (introduced in that order, I think), the names of African-Americans killed by police were spoken with the words “Forget me not America” following.

The other pieces in the program dealt with finding the inner beast, differentiating fact from fiction in the story of Xica da Silva (a black woman who transcends slavery to become Brazilian aristocracy), keeping hope alive in the journey from oppression to awareness, using movement from B-boying, stepping, Palo, and Krumping for their roots in resistance as inspiration, and so much more.

This was a powerful performance with a purpose. The company’s work is significant and important at this moment in time, and their presence and energy to create change in this mostly white city, and Trump’s America is important.

Performances this week

Cocktail Hour: The Show-Florence
Ballets With A Twist
Artistic director/choreographer Marilyn Klaus
Presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
7 pm October 26
Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St, Florence

Cocktail Hour: The Show, created by New York choreographer Marilyn Klaus, in collaboration with Grammy-nominated composer Stephen Gaboury, and costume designer Catherine Zehr, brings back the glamour and excitement of Hollywood’s Golden Age, capturing the timeless American spirit in a series of ballet vignettes inspired by American cocktails. The “Martini” is a dangerous, super cool blonde bombshell, the “Manhattan” is a big city socialite, the “Mai Tai” is Hawaiian, and the “Bloody Mary” is styled after the original bloody Mary, the murderous Queen Mary of England.

Diva Practice (Solo) at the Risk/Reward Festival 2017.  Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Diva Practice (Solo)
Pepper Pepper
October 26-November 5
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.

Diva Practice (Solo), is the last leg in a three-part cycle created by multidisciplinary artist Pepper Pepper who works in performance, drag, theatre, and dance.

“Diva Practice is a research project about drag and contemporary performance as a solo, duet, and ensemble. Diva Practice is a performance about queens dancing in the face of uncertainty, because being fabulous takes practice.”

I asked Pepper in an email interview what uncertainty queens have to face. Pepper said that “uncertainty is a political, choreographic, and emotional narrative throughout the show.” Using “improvisation and video interactivity” it places the character in uncertain situations where choice, impulse, and intention combine to illustrate her “practice.”

The making of Diva Practice (Solo), happened through a series of residencies, performances, and a tour through Oregon, Louisiana, Maine, Texas, and Georgia that “make accomplices of the audience and initiate conversation around gender, power, and vulnerability.”

Pepper said, “The diva practice research tour allowed me to experiment and practice with live audiences across the US. In a way, the practice became performing the show as a live rehearsal. This informs the ethos of the show which is radical acceptance and discernment. The tour was also a way for me to see drag and diva worship in many different states which influenced my choreography and frame of mind.”

I interviewed Pepper back in 2016 close to the debut of D.I.V.A. Practice in Pepper Pepper explains D.I.V.A. Practice.

Dancenorth Australia. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Attractor
Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc, Gideon Obarzanek, and Senyawa
Presented by White Bird Uncaged
October 26-28
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Inspired by traditional Javanese trance ceremonies, where you enter a trance state through dance and music, Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc., Gideon Obarzanek (founder of Chunky Move), and the Javanese music duo Senyawa, have created Attractor. A work performed by eight dancers and two musicians, it aims to show how music and dance can create heightened physical states by turning performance into experience. Furthering the idea of an all-inclusive shared ritual, pre-selected audience members are invited into the performance, dissolving any demarcations between performer and audience.

Lucy Guerin Inc. is an Australian dance company established in Melbourne in 2002: “The Company is committed to the exploration of everyday events and the redefinition of the formal concerns of dance. New productions are generated through an experimental approach to creative process and may involve voice, video, sound, text and industrial design as well as Guerin’s lucid physical structures.”

Dancenorth is a contemporary dance company based in Townsville, Tropical North Queensland. “An epicenter for artistic exchange and collaboration Dancenorth balances a dynamic regional presence with a commitment to creating bold, adventurous and critically acclaimed contemporary dance.”

White Bird has presented Lucy Guerin’s and Gideon Obarzanek’s work numerous times to great acclaim, including the North American premieres of Chunky Move’s Tense Dave (2004) and Two-Faced Bastard (2009) as well as Lucy Guerin’s Weather (2013).

 

Ching Ching Wong in rehearsal for Migrants. Photo by Jim Lykins.

Migrants
Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Youth Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
7:30 pm October 27
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St.

In collaboration with Korean violinist looper Joe Kye and the Bravo Youth Orchestra, former NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong will perform “Migrants,” a solo choreographed by Portland choreographer and Princess Grace Award winner Katie Scherman.

The work is “a multi-disciplinary exploration of identity, culture, and the spirit of human migration, Migrants will also include tales of immigration from Kye and Wong’s personal journeys. The show explores many themes relevant to a rapidly globalizing world: the celebration of roots, cross-cultural interactions, and the need to recognize universal humanity across borders and artificial boundaries. At its conclusion, Migrants will offer audiences an opportunity to root themselves in their local community while simultaneously seeing themselves as part of a global village.”

Nous, on va danser by Nancy Ellis. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Nous, on va danser
Nancy Ellis
October 27-29
New Expressive Works (N.E.W.), 810 SE Belmont Street

Nous, on va danser (We are going to dance) is the third work in a triptych of autobiographical works choreographed and performed by Portland dance artist Nancy Ellis.

The series began with Nancy, four interpretations of the same solo created by longtime collaborator and New York choreographer Yanira Castro, inspired by Ellis. Ellis and Castro performed together in college and Ellis was a founding company member of Castro’s company.

From there Ellis created Nancy’s NANCY, Mid-Me, and now Nous, on va danser.

Nous, on va danser forecasts the future using Julien Blanc-Gras’s phrase from Nous Sommes Charlie as her touchstone.

I asked Ellis via email how this quote forecast the future.

I read a beautiful passage in writer Julien Blanc-Gras’s piece Un Monde Meilleur in the collection Nous sommes Charlie: 60 écrivains unis pour la liberté d’expression or We are Charlie: 60 writers united for freedom of expression back in March 2015, while I was working on Mid-Me. It concluded with the words Nous, on va danser and they became a kind of mantra for me. His message was similar to ones we told ourselves after 9/11. The show must go on. For me personally, I know that I must go on. And for me, to “go on” means to dance.

How are all three pieces connected?

Besides being autobiographical and chronological (Nancy’s NANCY is retrospective, Mid-Me was about my present, and Nous, on va danser evokes the future), I’ve discovered that they’re all about moving through fear: stage fright, fear of change, fear of being seen and heard.

The first solo in the triptych was Nancy’s Nancy, a multidisciplinary work where you used movement, set design, theatre, and music. Is this latest solo also multi-disciplinary? If so, how do you develop the different forms and weave them together to tell a complete story? What is your creative process like? What informs your choice making?

In Mid-Me, I wanted to try not talking, but I still use props and video with people speaking in it. In Nous, I ultimately wanted to use only my voice and my body. There is no video, only one minimal prop. Stephanie Lavon Trotter composed and recorded a score so that I could have music without having to “outsource” to other musicians. (Incidentally, I’ve also exclusively hired women to help me with this piece.) I’m less concerned with telling a complete narrative than using language, sound, and movement to engage with the audience and hopefully keep them engaged. I’d rather people be confused or even uncomfortable than have no thoughts or feelings about it.

Opus Cactus by Momix. Photo courtesy of Momix.

 

Opus Cactus-Eugene
MOMIX directed by Moses Pendleton
7:30 pm October 31
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Immerse yourself in the desert with giant cactuses, lizards, snakes, insects, and the dancers of Momix in Opus Cactus, an illusory work created by MOMIX artistic director Moses Pendleton that celebrates the landscape of the American Southwest.

Pendleton was the co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theater in 1971, and formed his own company, MOMIX, in 1980.

Performances Next Week

November 2-5, Diva Practice (Solo), Pepper Pepper
November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, Swan Lake Act ll & Black and White (world premiere), Oregon International Ballet Academy, Artistic Directors Xuan Cheng and Ye Li
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming

Upcoming Performances

November
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 11, A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 15, Horizon3 in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND, Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January

January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

I have a secret. Writing DanceWatch Weekly is a completely selfish venture/adventure that I deeply love. Well, maybe not so secret now. Because of DanceWatch, I get to immerse myself, or obsess (however you want to look at it), in the research of my favorite subject—dance. I get to bump up against so many different ideas and styles of movement, confront my biases, and examine the culture of dance and its forms on many levels. I also get to be in the presence of deeply insightful and inspiring artists, hear about their lives, and share their stories with you. So awesome, right? Right!

This week I spoke with NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong about leaving the company after seven years and her plans for the next ten months. That conversation unfolds below after the performance listings.

Yours truly will be performing with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater this weekend as part of its community ensemble in UPRISE. Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor A. Eggån and set designer Daniel Addy will debut their new dance-theatre work Abominable. NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with a world premiere and two returning works, and the Bolshoi Ballet will be live at a movie theater near you. Enjoy!

Performances this week

Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic-Monster. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

You Are All I See (World Premiere) by Wen Wei Wang, Post-Traumatic-Monster by Felix Landerer, and At Some Hour You Return by Jirí Pokorný
NW Dance Project
October 19-21
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

With a final performance by beloved, long time NWDP dancer Ching Ching Wong, and the introduction of two new dancers, Katherine Disenhof and Anthony Pucci, NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with three dances: You Are All I See, a brand new work by Chinese choreographer Wen Wei Wang; Post-Traumatic-Monster (2016) by German choreographer Felix Landerer; and At Some Hour You Return (2014), by Jirí Pokorný from the Czech Republic.

Dancer Taylor A. Eggån in Abominable. Photo courtesy of Taylor A. Eggån.

Abominable
Directed by Taylor A. Eggån, set and costume design by Daniel Addy, performed by both
October 20-22
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Abominable is a dance-theatre work that draws “on the medieval Scandinavian imaginary and its lineage of famed heroes” creating “a context for examining the monstrosity of heroism as well as the (self-)destructive logic of heroic consciousness, which continues to haunt white masculinity to this day.”

The work is directed by Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor Eggån in collaboration with dance artist and set designer Daniel Addy.

Eggån has performed for Gregg Bielemeier, Mary Oslund, POV, and Eliza Larson, he and keeps a blog of his writing at The Exploded View.

Addy has performed for aero/betty, Tahni Holt, Mary Oslund, Tracy Broyles, Suniti Dernovsek, Dawn Joella Jackson, and Linda K. Johnson to name a few, and has contributed to the set design of many dance works in Portland.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Oluyinka Akinjiola.

UPRISE
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola
October 20-22
Reed College, Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, an evening of choreographic premiers by artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola and company members Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, with musical guest Amenta Abioto. The works, inspired by Angela Davis’ desire to see liberation movements become intersectional, address issues of power, oppression, and community.

The company is “an ensemble of multi-dimensional dancers and musicians that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens bridging our vast history with our complex present. Rejoice! weaves dances of the African Diaspora, storytelling and live music to navigate through issues relevant to today’s world.”

Akinjiola says, “There is a reclaiming of power when we value aesthetics from the African Diaspora. Our bodies and our stories are inseparably political.”

The Bolshoi ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Le Corsaire
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
12:55 pm October 22
Playing at Century 16 Eastport, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, and Clackamas Town Center

In a live broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theatre near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Le Corsaire—a lavish ballet created in 1856 by Marius Petipa, contemporized by Alexei Ratmansky. The ballet tells the tale of shipwrecked pirates, the beautiful women who rescue them, the capture and sale of those women into sexual slavery as harem workers, and then, of course, the rescue of said ladies by the pirates in the end. It’s all about romantic love.

Interview with dancer Ching Ching Wong

Ching Ching Wong has danced for NW Dance Project for the past seven years. When she and I sat down this past weekend to talk, we estimated that she had danced approximately 70 new dances in her seven years with the company. If you’re wondering if that’s a lot? It is. It’s a whole lot. Wong’s contribution to the company is immeasurable.

This weekend she will be performing with NW Dance Project for the last time just days before she leaves on a self-directed world tour to teach and perform with her boyfriend of seven years Joe Reynolds and Korean violinist-looper and composer Joe Kye.

But before she exits Portland, Wong will perform a new solo choreographed by Katie Scherman with Kye and the Bravo Orchestra at Alberta Abbey on October 27 at 7:30 pm here in Portland. She will launch her website on October 25 as well as a fundraising campaign. Chingchingwong.com

Wong is half Chinese on her father’s side and half Filipino on her mother’s side. She was born in Manila but grew up in Southern California, and at the age of 13 moved in full time with her dance teacher Alia Harlan, the director of Allegria Dance Theater and stayed until graduation. Wang says that she was raised in a dance studio.

Dancer Ching Ching Wong. Photo (c) Peddecord Photo

Seven years ago, after graduating with a B.F.A. in Dance Performance and a minor in Education and Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine, Wong moved to San Francisco with the intention of staying. She auditioned for every dance company she could get her hands on but no success. Somewhere in there she auditioned for NW Dance Project, and artistic director Sarah Slipper hired her. She turned 22 during her first month in Portland dancing with the company.

Wong, who turned 29 in August, won the coveted Princess Grace Award for Dance in 2015 and was named one of Dance Magazine‘s 25 To Watch for 2017.

She is genuine, and kind, and makes a point to connect with every person she meets. She is fiercely positive and her bubbly nature and hopefulness is contagious. Her dancing is dynamic and quick, charming, heartfelt and emotional. She is a little body with a huge amount of energy and life.

She has been written about many times here at ArtsWatch and is dearly loved by Portland’s dance audiences. Gavin Larsen wrote about Wong in 2015 when she received the Princess Grace award. You can read that story here.

In March, Wong’s grandmother passed away and in April things began to shift.

“It’s as if something inside me was saying, ‘what are you scared of, Ching? What are you holding yourself back from? Loving and accepting more people into your life? What are some things that are important to you? What are some things that you want?’ It just stirred up a lot of questions and from those questions ignited movement.”

Her interior examination kept going, she said: “‘You’re so young, your body is capable, and your mind is capable and we are capable, so what do we want to do with these capabilities?’”

“And the thing is, I was fulfilled here, you know? Portland is my home. NW Dance Project has been my home for seven years, I have this fantastic group of people that I admire and love, and I’m rooted here. But something inside me stirred, and now I’m willing to turn my life upside down. I’m selling all my things and giving away all of my possessions and relinquishing my home and opening myself up to the world and asking if she will take me in. (Ching starts laughing) This sounds absolutely crazy, um…

I suggested that she wasn’t embarking on this course alone. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not doing this alone. I have this amazing partner in life, Joe Reynolds. You know when all of these feelings started coming up, every night I would come to him with a new idea, a new story, a new dream. And for every single one of my dreams he said, ‘OK, OK, OK, I will go with you.’ Oh my god, yeah it’s crazy. We’re both giving up our homes, our lives a little bit to open ourselves up to possibility.”

Wong rehearsing with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

It’s an emotional conversation, and we are both tearing up at this point, and then Ching starts laughing.

“I’m really emotional right now because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, so…,” Ching starts laughing again. “And the thing is I’m scared, but I don’t feel alone. I one hundred percent don’t feel alone. I feel the most supported that I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Even though I have so many questions about the next ten months…I feel sure, I feel sure that this is what I need to do and I feel ready.

We are both laughing and crying at this point.

How do you feel about leaving the company? About leaving the “it,” the thing that every dancer wants, a coveted full time dance job, for the unknown?

I love routine. I love taking class in the morning every day. I love that moment when you’re standing behind a choreographer and you are soaking up them and their past, and their movement and everything they are bringing to the table. I love that work, I love being in the studio. And I have one more week left—Saturday is my last performance, this is my last time in the studio. But it feels like nothing is going to change. When I’m in the studio, it feels like the safest place I can be. The world just kind of washes away around it. So leaving it’s hard to imagine a little bit, absolutely, right now. But I’m so excited for…I mean two things: there are only ten spots in the company. And so the dancers that get to have those spots next? It’s good, it’s a gift for them. They deserve it. And Katherine and Anthony are the two new dancers who have joined us, and they’re amazing.

So this is the thing, it’s like, I am viciously sad to be leaving the company and to be leaving these relationships that I love. But then I feel I get to take the dancers with me, you know? They’re family, they’re gonna come with me on this journey. And then what I’m most astonished with in this journey is that I’ve been reaching out to old teachers, old friends, my colleagues and asking if they want to join me. For example Charbel [Rohayem], Tatiana [Barber] and Lindsey Matheis, they are going to dance with me in Los Angeles. I’m going to Boise November 1st and Lauren Edson was one of the first choreographers I worked with. Victor [Usov] and Nicholas [Petrich], you know Victor who was formerly part of NW Dance Project, they want to join me in the Philippines to do outreach there. My friend Caili [Quan] from BalletX introduced me to ballet schools in Guam and so I am going to her home town. Ihsan [Rustem], I’m assisting him in Switzerland. I don’t feel like I’m leaving cause I feel like I get to find this this deeper and richer connection in my mobility. (like a crystal formation) That just continue to spread. If you could attach a string to me and attach it to everyone else and just keep letting that blossom and ooze out

I love this idea that our bodies are our vessels that hold our mentors and hold our past. You know my dancing and me, I’m a reflection of Donald McKayle, of Aliya, of Sarah Slipper of the dancers who have partnered me, of my family. …it’s kind of neat to think that that can continue to grow and spread and connect.

I mean, even here in Portland I have asked Katie Scherman to choreograph a solo for me…I want to open myself up to join as many people as I can, ‘cause we’re stronger together, you know?

How are you funding all of this?

No idea. I have $500 in my bank account.

How are you are so brave?

I don’t feel brave, I’m absolutely scared out of my mind. [laughing] Also I’m poor and I have big dreams. I’m launching a fundraiser on October 25th.

I’ve been avoiding the fundraising aspect of this because I’m the most scared of it. I’ve prided myself since college of you know… I worked three jobs when I was in college. When I first joined the company I was teaching 7 classes a week on top of a full 40 hour rehearsal schedule. Because there is a pride in me to be able to care for myself and be financially stable. So yes, honestly I think I’m going to need a little help with these next ten months and I’m so scared to say it, I really am.

So outreach is one of the portions that is part of this journey. I’m going to Nepal and spending some time at Kopila Valley Children’s Home. The founder is Maggie Doyne. She won CNN Hero of the year in 2015. She’s incredible. The school has 350 Nepalese kids and her home has 50. They all call her “Maggie mom.” It is incredible. And that sort of love is the kind of love I felt when I was growing up. I said I was raised in a dance studio, I truly was. I was raised in a dance village, and I still feel like I’m in a dance village. And then to see those kids in Nepal, that’s exactly how they’re growing up. There growing up loved and supported, even though it’s simple.

But yeah, I have big dreams. I want to go in there, and I want to raise money, not only to fly me to these locations, but to raise money to create a dance program for them. A couple thousand dollars can help fund a dance teacher for a whole year for them. I feel like we can do this.

So me, Joe Kye the violinist, and Joe Reynolds are going to Kopila Valley Children’s Home and we’re doing dance, music, and art with them.

On Thursday evening I did a 30 minute Skype dance class with a couple of kids in Nepal. Joe was playing live, Janelle Garland was my assistant, and it was at BodyVox. It was my way of introducing myself to the kids in Nepal and give them a taste of a dance class and let people view it. I streamed it live on FB and instagram.

Wong dancing in Summer Splendors with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

How have you changed as an artist in your time with NW Dance Project?

So dance growing up for me was this fearsome attachment. It felt like I needed dance to survive and to be whole. It was fearsome. It’s vicious and I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I am not the most talented dancer in the room, I am not the dancer with the most facility. My teacher used to say, “It’s not the dancer that has it all that’s going to make it, it’s the one that stays in the race.” And I think that’s true because no one is going to kick me out of this race because I’m going to be here whether people like it or not. I think I’m the one that just keeps coming to class and I just want to keep working on it, and I’m not the best at it. I’ve always admired all these dancers around me. Even when I first joined the company, at my audition, I remember watching Andrea Parson, she’s the most magical creature I’ve ever seen in my life: “I want to dance with her.” You know? So that was a dream of mine when I first auditioned, the moment I laid eyes on her.

I think my relationship with dance it’s as if I needed to let go of this fearsome attachment in order for myself to feel good standing in my own skin. I’m not trying to show or prove or fight or you know? I think maybe I fought so hard to dance in my early years that I slowly started to shed that, to let go of that so that, so I could finally just move and breath and just exhale in my own body a little bit. I don’t know if that makes sense.

I’ve let go a little bit. I still love dance as much. But I don’t fearsomely need it that it hurts me anymore.

What has company life been like for you?

It’s a rigorous schedule. It’s very disciplined and in a way…I mean I live a really boring life. I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, you show up to work, you do ballet class every day, and rehearse for six hours a day and you repeat the pieces, you choreograph, you make the work, you rehearse the pieces, you work on notes you wake up, you do it again. And I love it, I love that about it, you know? But that’s not for everyone, it’s not for everyone.

In terms of me and the company, I feel as if…Kate Wallich said this once to me in Seattle, she said, ‘Ching, you’re like the one that wants to mellow, to keep the waters calm, not calm, but level out the energy in the room.’ For example, if it’s too hyper I’ll kind of stay quiet, if spirits are down then I’ll crack a joke. Or if it’s a bit tense, then I’ll sacrifice myself and make fun of myself. I think it’s because I don’t like confrontations.

The dancers recently roasted me at this gala a couple of weeks ago…I think I redefined my definition of love. It just made me realize that I have so much history with each and every one of these people. There are stories that were shared in various parts of the world that no one can ever really capture. And even our tiny little dressing room: I can’t tell you the amount of laughter that’s happened inside those dressing rooms, you know, or tears, or car rides. It’s just memories. Those feelings are irreplaceable, really. Maybe that’s all we live for are just those memories, we just want to connect, maybe that’s all we want. We just want to connect with someone, we just want to feel something. We want to be part of…

This is a hard question to ask because I’m sure every choreographer you’ve worked with has been amazing but do you have any favorite choreographers?

This next program is really special. So Felix Landerer choreographed a piece last year. It’s called Post-Traumatic-Monster. I think Felix was revolutionary for the whole company. Everybody was just blown away with Felix. The way in which he approaches movement, his detail and the way he digs into the movement is so specific. It was changing, it was really mind changing.

Is it his use of language?

Its his language, how he describes it, it’s also his body. He can show us the difference. And it’s not movement that you’ve not necessarily seen before but it’s different in how he places his weight and how he pushes off the floor and the spirals and how he initiates and finishes movement and the whole process in between.

But It was really a whole mental shift in, I think, all the dancers. Which is so inspiring. And his piece in particular is special to be doing, it’s my last time dancing with Franco [Nieto]. I think maybe I’ve waited my whole life to do a role like this. Because it’s more than just movement. It kind of scares me to do it. It’s that fear that I’m not good enough for it or that I’m not brave enough to ask of myself to do it.

And then Jirí Pokorny choreographed “At Some Hour You Return” in 2015. I submitted it for the Princess Grace Award. And I love this solo, I love it, I love it. I remember when I first worked with Jiri and he set this solo on me, I went home and repeated the movement over and over and over and over, I obsessed about it. All I could think about were the movements. It’s so intricate, quirky and fast, and I loved how his body shifted in it. I’m so excited to be doing it onstage.

And the last work is You Are All I See by Wen Wei Wang. I love that we’re working with Wen Wei because he worked with us when I first joined the company. My last moment on stage is going to be his work—I’m going to get to walk off stage with him in my heart. You know? Those three are really special.

I have to say that Ihsan [Rustem] has been a huge part of my career. And he’s one that I’m taking with me onto this next side. I’m honored to be his right hand person while I’m in Switzerland, helping him restage Yidam for Concert Theatre Burn. I feel tremendously connected to Ihsan. When I started planning and thinking these next ten months, he’s one of the first people I called. I feel like he’s there with me, even if he’s not physically by my side. I know he’s holding my hand saying, “You get it girl, you got this.”

I’m launching my website on the 25th of October along with my fundraiser.

I want my website to really be a hub for everyone to come on the journey with me. I want to be able to show all the places I’m teaching and choreographing and working. All the places that I’m on tour with Joe Kye. And I also want it to be a place where I can acknowledge the tremendous amount of support from people who have backed me.

Wong and Viktor Usov rehearsing choreography by Ihsan Rustem at NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Tell me about the solo Katy choreographed.

She’s a dream. I said I made a dance bucket list, and Katie Scherman is on it. I think she’s incredible. I love the way she moves, I love how she loves and how excited she gets watching other dancers.

Do you think your princess Grace award and the recognition from dance magazine (25 to watch) made a difference? Would you have had the confidence to do what you are doing without the recognition?

I think I’m still who I am. Princess Grace and 25 to watch, for me I’m most thankful for them I feel like it’s a way I can honor my teachers and my mentors. So for me I feel like that award is for them, and to be able to acknowledge them is number one on my list. Right? Who cares about me, I’ll just keep going, it’s fine. Rememberer, I’m never going to stop this race, I’m just going to keep going. But for them, that award is for them. They have made the dancer that I am and the person that I am.

What are your plans for your last week with NW Dance Project?

Normal. I’m going to wake up and take ballet class. I’m gonna rehearse. I’m going to eat dinner and go to bed. There’s just a couple of extra things I have to do alongside of it, like try and plan my life for the next ten months. You know when food is so good and there’s that last bite and you just wanna slowly eat it and savor it and remember it and build your story around the whole evening that surrounded this bite. Then that’s it.

I want to make sure that I leave Portland letting people know how much they meant to me. Really. I’ve felt so loved and so supported. It’s important for me to make sure that all those people who have been by my side here know that. It’s going to be a gift to get be on that stage with those dancers for one last time.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 26, Cocktail Hour: The Show, choreography by Marilyn Klaus, presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
October 26-November 5, Diva Practice (Solo), Kaj-anne Pepper
October 26-28, Dancenorth Australia, presented by White Bird
October 27, Migrants, Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
October 27-29, Nous, on va danser, Nancy Ellis
October 31, Opus Cactus, MOMIX, Eugene

November
November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

Ching Ching Wong’s princess path

The Northwest Dance Project stalwart enters the company's "New Now Wow!" with a new crown: She's the project's fourth Princess Grace Award winner since 2010.

By GAVIN LARSEN

Ching Ching Wong’s gentle voice pipes up: “Julia, do you want to do some dance moves?”

It’s a couple of minutes into a five-minute rehearsal break at Northwest Dance Project. Jiri Pokorny, choreographer of a new piece for the company’s New Now Wow! program opening Thursday at Lincoln Performance Hall, steps out for a moment, and the nine dancers meander off the studio floor in various directions to refill water bottles, rummage for a bite of trail mix, glance at a phone, or give Hank, the sleepy company dog, a tummy rub.

“Yeah, I do…” Wong’s colleague Julia Radick replies. In a small patch of sunlight in the studio’s corner, the two start to move—quietly—through their duet, taking advantage of a private moment to explore their way through Pokorny’s choreography before he returns to scrutinize. Wong is well-wrapped in sweatpants, a quilted vest, and knee pads, only her pink socks hinting at her natural ebullience. The two dancers are silent, but there is clearly a strong communication between them. The duet keeps them very close together, rarely touching or making eye contact—as if a fiercely strong magnet compels their movements and dictates their relationship. It’s serene, yet the emotional undercurrent is strong. They are rivetingly beautiful to watch.

Ching Ching Wong, Northwest Dance Project's newest Prince Grace Award winner. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Ching Ching Wong, Northwest Dance Project’s newest Prince Grace Award winner. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The NWDP dancers’ seemingly casual demeanor—loose warmup clothes, relaxed faces, the generally easy vibe in the studio—belies their crystal-clear focus, strength, and intention, both physical and mental. Even the newest company member, Kody Jauron, working with company veteran Andrea Parson as Pokorny creates a new duet for them, throws off his status as “newbie.” An onlooker would never know he was still being indoctrinated into the group. These dancers’ overall prodigy is reflected—strikingly, and prominently—by the fact that within the past five years, four of them have been nominated for, and received, the prestigious Princess Grace Foundation fellowship award.

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New Now Wow! – a shaft of light

In a trio of premieres, Minh Tran's light-hearted "Unexpected Turbulence" leavens a program's serious tones

Northwest Dance Project’s annual New Now Wow! season openers have in recent years been predictable in tone, showcases for dark new works about dark subjects, invariably well-performed by this company’s versatile dancers. This year’s opener–again, an evening of world premieres–contains plenty of darkness, but ends quite unexpectedly on a light-hearted, humorous note.

New Now Wow! inaugurated NWDP’s eleventh season on Thursday night at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall (it repeats Friday and Saturday evenings) with Yin Yue’s opaque Between Rise and Fall and concluded with Minh Tran’s Unexpected Turbulence. In between was Czech choreographer Jiri Pokorny’s very dark indeed At Some Hour You Return.

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