Conduit Dance

ArtsWatch Weekly: Conduit’s last dance, Russian lost love, the color of race, chamber tales

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

For more than 20 years Conduit was a vital link – in many ways, the vital link – in Portland’s chain of contemporary dance organizations. A home base for some of the city’s most creative dancemakers, it was also the place that visiting choreographers and dancers made their temporary work home when they were in town. Major work and vital experiments were created here by a host of talented people. Mary Oslund, Tere Mathern, Linda K. Johnson, Gregg Bielemeier, V. Keith Goodman, Jim McGinn, Katherine Longstreth: the list goes on and on, creating a tapestry of the tale of a very large and significant chapter in the history of the city’s dance.

It’s all history now, or will be as of July 23, when Conduit hangs up its hat for good, at least in its current form. The party’s over – but not before an actual party, A Wake for Conduit, fills the Ford Building for a final celebration this Wednesday, July 13. Bring your stories, and put on your dancing shoes. Jamuna Chiarini has the story for ArtsWatch readers.

There Mathern's "Gather: a dance about convergence," performed in 2012 in Conduit's original home in the Pythian Building. Photo: Gordon Wilson

There Mathern’s “Gather: a dance about convergence,” performed in 2012 in Conduit’s original home in the Pythian Building. Photo: Gordon Wilson

 


 

A TALE OF RUSSIAN LOVE LOST. Bruce Browne reviews Portland Opera’s new production of Eugene Onegin, which continues in the relatively cozy Newmark Theatre through July 26. Tchaikovsky’s opera, based on Alexander Pushkin’s extraordinarily popular Russian verse novel, is re-set in this production to the late years of the Soviet Union and the early years of the post-Soviet era, a switch that works for Browne: “The reason this production works so well is that the actors/singers embraced the change.” He particularly praises Jennifer Forni as Tatiana, the country miss who’s spurned by the cold title character: “Forni’s voice has the power and brilliance of a roman candle, and yet is never pushed, always in control. She has the best messa di voce (getting softer and louder on one note) I’ve heard in a long time. And she convincingly brought to life the facets of her teenage angst, brought about attempting to deal with Onegin.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Hello Drammys, farewell Conduit, back to Bach

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

GET ON YOUR TUX AND YOUR EVENING GOWN (or, this being Portland, your jeans and flannels and Doc Martens): It’s Drammy Time. The 2016 Drammy Awards ceremony, the 38th annual celebration of outstanding work on the city’s theater stages, is ready to rock the Newmark Theatre on Monday, June 27. This year’s festivities will be emceed by a gaggle of hosts – the legendary sketch comedy troupe The 3rd Floor, coming out of retirement for the night.

drammyslogo_printcmykThe Drammys always include a little backstage drama, and this year’s nominations have generated some heat among theater insiders, both for shows that were nominated and shows that weren’t: some shows have fierce partisans. That’s not unusual, though the temperature might be a little higher this year. The fireworks might add some spice to the ceremony, or everything might burst into daffodils and roses. Enthusiasm usually runs high. One thing bound to spike interest is the addition this year of an awards-ceremony-in-the-awards-ceremony: the equity advocacy group Age & Gender Equity in the Arts will announce $30,000 in grants for equity projects. Jane Vogel, AGE’s founder, reveals the whys and hows in this story for ArtsWatch.

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After 20 years, Conduit is on the move

Evicted from the Pythian Building, the dance nonprofit is looking for a new home

After nearly 20 years in the beautiful 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building in downtown Portland, Conduit Dance is leaving its old homestead, evicted by its landlord Nia Technique. Nia had been instrumental in helping Conduit weather economic problems in 2010, but on Tuesday, it informed the nonprofit that it had a week to leave the premises, according to Tere Mathern, Conduit’s artistic director. On March 18, Conduit’s run in the Pythian will be history.

Nia had given Conduit a verbal notice to leave in early February, according to Mathern. “We thought they said we could take time to plan an exit strategy,” Mathern said. But after some discussions, the hammer dropped Tuesday. “The email came, and I literally cried,” Mathern said. “The timing of it, the quickness, seemed overwhelming.”

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

A class at Conduit Dance studio/Conduit dance

Conduit had been planning to move anyway, because the space wasn’t large enough for the nonprofit Conduit to succeed financially. But finding space—Mathern figures Conduit needs room for two dance studios, storage space and an office—takes time. Now, Mathern figures that Conduit will have to find temporary quarters to keep things going while it tries to find a more permanent space. It’s holding a community meeting at 7:30 Monday night (March 16) to rally support for its next move, including help in locating the 4,000 square feet or more it will need.

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Early members of Conduit: Linda K. Johnson, left, and Mary Oslund/Photo by Julie Keefe

Conduit is a Portland modern dance institution. When it was founded by Mary Oslund and Linda K. Johnson in August 1995, the city’s dance community had been cast adrift after the closing of the dance department at Portland State University. The new studio started as a cooperative, with Michael Menger, the late Keith Goodman, and Gregg Bielemeier joining Oslund and Johnson in using the studio for classes, rehearsals and performances. Gradually, it moved toward becoming more of a community resource, used by many independent choreographers in the same ways, and Conduit is now a nonprofit.

Those of us who follow modern dance locally have a multitude of memories from performances at Conduit. The studio is intimate, but its high ceilings and large windows can make it seem light and airy, too, and performances seemed almost in your lap, especially if you arrived late and had to sit on the floor in front of the first row of seats. I saw terrific dances and terrific dancing at Conduit over the years, much of it coming from the very loose companies of dancers that assembled around Oslund and Mathern. And yes, occasionally I worried that a dancer wouldn’t be able to stop in time and come careening into me. They never did.

But this isn’t a eulogy for Conduit. Mathern, the Conduit board and staff, and the Conduit community are determined to keep the nonprofit going, Mathern said. It’s just a matter of finding a space. And Conduit isn’t alone: at this point, Oregon Ballet Theatre is also looking for a new home, and three other companies have just found and/or moved into new digs—AWOL, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris.

Still, I’ll miss the long climb to the 4th floor studio in the Pythian Building, a rite of passage made by dancers, choreographers and modern dance fans for two decades.

News & Notes: Turner shakes things up; weekend dance & theater

Dance at Conduit, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris; a short double feature at Imago; 'Invasion! returns

When Grant Turner accepted his Special Achievement Award at the Drammy ceremonies Monday night, he advised the theater crowd to keep its ears tuned for an announcement “soon” about his future.

It didn’t take long.

Turner

Turner

On Tuesday morning, Portland Shakespeare Project announced that Turner will join the company as co-artistic director with co-founder Michael Mendelson. Turner founded Northwest Classical Theatre Company in 1998, and is resigning from that post because he’s moving to LaGrande in eastern Oregon, where his wife has taken a job, and Northwest Classical needs a full-time artistic leader in Portland. But he wanted to continue to do projects in Portland, and the Shakespeare Project, which Mendelson founded with Karen Rathje in 2011 as a summer program in the Artists Rep complex, seems a good fit.

Mendelson, who is also a core company member at Artists Rep, continues to be one of the busiest actors in town. And he credits Turner with some of the inspiration for founding his own company. “His inviting me to play Shylock in 2009 was a re-awakening of my passion for classic work and I have Grant to thank for that,” Mendelson said in a statement. “We have like minds in our faith in the words and the power of the text, and our different approaches to the material complement one another beautifully.”

Turner will help Northwest Classical make its transition to new leadership through the end of this year.

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Which came first, the dancer or the choreographer? Friday through Sunday, Conduit Dance will host Co/Mission, an intriguing program of dance that flips the tables on the ordinary way of doing things. Four soloists will present a new work each – and each soloist chose a choreographer to set the piece on her, rather than the usual other way around. The show is produced by dancers Suzanne Chi and Jamuna Chiarini (a contributing writer to ArtsWatch), who’ll be joined by dancers Jen Hackworth and Rachel Slater. Choreographers taking up the challenge include veteran contemporary dance makers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, plus Lindsey Matheis and Franco Nieto, performing mainstays at Northwest Dance Project. Will the flip-flopped nature of the dancer/choreographer relationships make a difference? Let’s find out.

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Matheis and Nieto, meanwhile, will be busy performing in the final weekend of Northwest Dance Project’s appealing and very strong season-ending program, Summer Splendors, at the company’s Mississippi District studios. If all goes as planned, it’ll be the company’s last program in that space before a projected move to a much bigger home on the close-in East Side. Final performances are Wednesday through Sunday; Saturday night’s show is sold out. I reviewed the program after last weekend’s opening.

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"Homegrown" at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

“Homegrown” at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

Also finishing its two-weekend run will be Polaris Dance Theatre’s choreographers’ showcase, Homegrown. Artistic director Robert Guitron wanted to emphasize the work of local artists, so he charged each of his choreographers – himself, Gerard Regot, former Oregon Ballet Theatre star and interim artistic director Anne Mueller, and company dancers Kiera Brinkley, Briley Neugebauer, M’Liss Stephenson, and Blake Seidel – with finding a Portland musician or sound designer to create work for his or her new dance. In some cases, the search stopped close to home. Guitron wrote his own music, an easygoing, danceable piece called Moot. Regot wrote music for his own piece, and also for Brinkley’s nervous, edgy Post-Op, a down-in-the-trenches dance punctuated with hospital beeps. The most interesting soundtrack on the program may well be playwright Claire Willet’s memoir-like taped monologue One of Everything, for Neugebauer’s dance of the same name. Choreography and story are about growing up in a family of four siblings, and the attendant pleasures and pains of wherever you happen to land in the chronology. It made me think of Sibling Revelry, the sweet but pointed cabaret act of the singing sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway: all things equal, much better to have a sister than not.

The level of dancing at Polaris is less sophisticated than what you’ll find at the likes of BodyVox, Oregon Ballet Theatre, or Northwest Dance Project. But the company’s developed a true sense of community (in addition to a lot of work: Guitron says it’s introduced 304 new works, including pieces by 37 guest choreographers) and ways to connect with its audiences that other companies might emulate. Part of it is Guitron’s low-key, genuine friendliness in his brief talks with the audience. Another is the company’s simple acceptance, with utterly no sensationalizing, of all sorts of people as dancers. I first saw the terrific and wheelchair-using Yulia Arekelyan and Erik Ferguson of Wobbly Dance at a Polaris show. Current Polaris dancer Brinkley is a quadruple amputee, and she can be an electrifying performer. Another plus: Homegrown demystifies the dance process and pulls audience members into the company fold highly effectively by screening short video interviews (by Mike Dawson/Soulplay) with each choreographer before her or his dance takes the stage. It’s a humanizing, stress-relieving technique: audience members get to know a little bit about the dance makers and the dances, and it helps them relax and enjoy what follows.

Homegrown finishes its run with performances Friday through Sunday, June 13-15. Ticket and schedule information here.

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Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in "Pimento" at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in “Pimento” at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

What are Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre up to these days? Fresh off of Allen Nause’s best-actor win at the Drammys for his Mouawad-directed performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Imago’s unveiling a very short run of an intriguing-looking double feature: Thornton Wilder’s rarely performed one-act metaphysical comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha; and Mouawad’s own Pimento, which features, in his words, “three clowns in innocent yet ‘accidentally’ lewd encounters.” We can only imagine – or catch the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15. One way or another, Mouawad’s experiments tend to be highly interesting. Ticket and schedule information here.

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One of last year’s most audacious shows, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s satiric political comedy Invasion!, reopens Wednesday night right where it left off, onstage at Miracle Theatre. Director Antonio Sonera and his original cast – Gilberto Del Campo, Chantal DeGroat, John San Nicolas, and Nicole Accuardi – are back in the saddle, rocking the horse of expectation until it darned near tips over. Invasion! was the debut show of Badass Theatre Company, and as word of mouth grew it became a hit. A.L. Adams reviewed last year’s production for ArtsWatch, declaring, “I went from wanting to punch the actors, to wanting to hug them.” That’s quite an arc. The run continues through June 27. Ticket and schedule information here.

Del Camp, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in "Inasion!" last year. Russell J Young Photography

Del Campo, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in “Invasion!” last year. Russell J Young Photography