dance

DanceWatch: Virtual Nutcrackers and Happy Hours

This month the dancers are playing remotely with the holiday favorites

In a normal year, December is a bustling time for dance in Oregon with Nutcrackers and holiday shows busting out all over. But this isn’t a normal year, and without the holiday shows, dance is comparatively quiet. But don’t fret, dance performances haven’t disappeared entirely. Technology and dancer ingenuity are here to save your holiday dance watching traditions. So put on those festive jammies, grab a hot toddy if you’re old enough, and get out your Nutcracker collection ‘cause December dancing is here!

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Pandemic Ed: Dancing remotely and well

Dancers will dance, together in the studio or, these days, together on Zoom

As dance studios start to look towards re-opening—clad in masks and doused in hand sanitizer—ArtsWatch takes a moment to look at what’s been happening at home for the past four months. That involved dancers and instructors re-arranging their bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms to create makeshift dance spaces at home. And specifically for dance teachers, it also has meant adapting a new technology for an old form: dance classes on Zoom.

While the rest of us may have been using the video chatting app for tedious work meetings (with your camera off to shield your coworkers from the fact that you’ve been in pajamas since March), dancers (perhaps also in pajamas) have found a different use for the software: joining meetings a few times a week to wiggle and move around in their homes making that 8-count work from their alternative spaces. 

I entered the reporting for this story skeptical of dance via Zoom. I was certain that in interviewing kids, teachers, and adult students about their thoughts on Zoom class for this article, I’d be putting a nail in the coffin of online dance. After taking a few classes via Zoom myself, I’d hit about every piece of furniture in my room, knocked over a cactus plant, and reckoned with the fact that I could only hear every 6th beat of the music—not to mention half of the instructor’s words. To put it in a nutshell, I wasn’t satisfied. Thinking everyone felt the same, I was expecting this article to end up being an ode to the beloved practice of dancing together in studios and how much the community is struggling without it.


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


Well, I was wrong. Thanks to a dose of creativity, there’s been a lot of progress made in training via Zoom. Those coffin nails are back in their boxes and the dancers are moving about the world just fine.

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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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Dance on film: Making contact

The Contact Dance Film Festival, an eclectic weekend of international dance films presented by BodyVox, returns for its fourth year.

The Contact Dance Film Festival, a weekend of eclectic international dance films presented by BodyVox, returns for its fourth year this weekend. “Festival” might seem like a bit much to describe a three-night event, but the company has managed to pack an impressively broad selection of independent, dance-centric films into the weekend. Running May 9 to 11, the festival is divided into three programs, each with its own perspective on the intersection between dance and film.

Founded, as the company says, to support and promote new independent dance films, the Contact Dance Festival offers a slate of international films, a feature-length film, and another collection of short films guest-curated by Ohio State University students.

The Dancing Over Borders program features “Unfolding,” a film with work created and performed by Portland’s Muddy Feet contemporary dance collective.

The Dancing Over Borders program, running on both opening and closing nights, is a collection of 11 films from nearly as many countries, including one from Portland. Unfolding, shot in part in a classic Portland bungalow, adds recognizable local flavor to this worldwide survey.  The alternately surreal and playful piece within it is choreographed and danced by the Muddy Feet contemporary dance collective, featuring local mainstays Suzanne Chi, Rachel Slater, Kailee McMurran, and Lena Traenkenschuh.

The longest piece of the night, Les Sirènes—Chant XII, is also one of the standouts. Directed by Philippe Saire, this Swiss film is broadly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s “transposition” of it in Ulysses. Three women in vibrant but simple outfits stumble and slide gracefully down giant piles of sand, bottles in hand, three sheets to the wind as they embark on a journey from the sand to the water, exploring the environment through improvised but intentional movement.

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Suzanne Haag plays with fire

"The Firebird" tests the former Eugene Ballet dancer's transition from performer to choreographer

By GARY FERRINGTON

On a recent flight home to Eugene, former Eugene Ballet dancer Suzanne Haag struck up a casual conversation with the man seated next to her. He asked her the questions non-dancers usually ask: What are pointe shoes made of? What’s a typical workday like? Then he asked her what it was like to retire after dancing with the company for 15 seasons, and whether she had any regrets. It wasn’t the first time she has fielded that question, Haag told ArtsWatch: “I keep getting asked ‘How do you feel, you know, now that you are done?’”

In retrospect, she said, there are things she might have done differently: working out and practicing more on her days off, asking for additional feedback and guidance on how to improve, seeking different roles.  But, she concluded, “… that’s not regret, just my older, more experienced self assessing my work.”

As the plane prepared to land, Haag acknowledged to her seatmate that while her life in dance was indeed about to change, it wasn’t about to end. Reflecting on her career made her realize that she had been preparing for this transition since she was a young dancer.

Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in "Surrounding Third." Photo by Antonio Anacan
Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in “The Surrounding Third.” Photo by Antonio Anacan.

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There has often been a social and cultural distance between an institution of higher education and the city that surrounds it. This detachment between town and gown dates back to the European Middle Ages when academic and non-academic worlds often eyed each other with some sense of conflict and mutual suspicion.

Fortunately, there is far less distance these days as more academic centers and local communities find unique opportunities to become mutually engaged in social and economic projects, research, and artistic efforts. Interplay, a collaborative project of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance Department and the Eugene Ballet Company, provides evidence of this in a March 8-10 production.

Shannon Mockli and Suzanne Haag collaborated on "Between Your Eyes and You" Photo courtesy of UO School of Music and Dance

Shannon Mockli and Suzanne Haag collaborated on “Between Your Eyes and You” Photo courtesy of UO School of Music and Dance.

The idea behind Interplay, the way in which two or more things have an effect on each other, is to explore ways in which four choreographers from the university and three from the Eugene Ballet, along with dancers from both organizations, can become creatively engaged with one another and share the results with audiences in the intimate environment of the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

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DanceWatch Weekly: The spaces we move through

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with castles: their architecture; their scale; their permanence; their connections to history; their construction; their inhabitants. Castles are lasting, tangible creations, unlike dance pieces, which are fleeting. But they share some commonalities.

I recently had a conversation with someone about how being a dancemaker is similar to being an architect. I explained that when constructing a dance, a choreographer considers the same things that an architect might: style, time, space, design, scale, etc. Like architects, dancemakers create work in collaboration with other skilled artists and craftspeople, using the materials at their disposal. Architects and choreographers experiment as they work, and their creations often reflect their surroundings and culture. (I’m even more aware of the dance-architecture relationship now that I’m studying Odissi, a classical Indian dance form partially derived from relief sculptures, found on temple walls, that depicted movement.)

Ultimately, architects and choreographers both create structures that organize bodies in space. This week’s dance events do that too, removing barriers and bridging divides in the process.

The Oregon Dance Education Organization, for example, is creating an infrastructure of sorts with its conference Building Bridges, Connecting the Field. Dance can be divisive and competitive, so the conference is a welcome attempt to unite its different factions under one roof. The conference, staged in partnership with Portland Community College’s Dance Department, features BrainDance creative movement founder Anne Green Gilbert as keynote speaker. She will guide participants through a five-part dance class focused on building community through relationships and emphasizing skill development, choreography, and reflection. Additional presenters will include Terra Lyn Anderson, Sherrie Barr, Sarah Ebert, Laura Haney, Amy Werner, Sara Parker, and Mary L. Seereiter. Building Bridges will be held Saturday, January 19, at the PCC Sylvania campus. For more information, see oregondeo.org.

DanceAbility in performance. Photo courtesy of DanceAbility.

Eugene’s DanceAbility International, a program that Alito Alessi and Karen Nelson created in the 1980s to connect people with and without disabilities through movement classes, events, and teacher trainings, is one of 10 international programs selected to participate in the 2019 Zero Project Impact Transfer Program in Austria. The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program, which promotes solutions to the problems that people with disabilities face, prepares organizations to develop their programs into business models for worldwide application. Connie Vandarakis, vice president of DanceAbility’s board of directors, issued a statement on what selection means for the organization: “This opportunity has helped us shift our organization from an arts initiative program to a social entrepreneur program. One cannot overestimate the potential of being selected for the Zero Project and the Impact Transfer Program. The impact will magnify the DanceAbility methodology all over the world.”

Northern California Ballet, which lost its dance studio and costumes in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California this fall, is rebuilding with help from Eugene Ballet. The two companies have had a longstanding relationship ever since 2001, when Eugene Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Martin began guest teaching and dancing for NCB; since then, many Eugene Ballet dancers have participated in NCB programs as instructors and guest artists. This year, Eugene Ballet director Toni Pimble packed up and sent her company’s Nutcracker sets and costumes to NCB, which will perform the ballet January 18-20 in Oroville, California.

A window onto the choreographic process opens during a low-key work-in-progress show from dance artists Joanna Furnans (Chicago), Hope Goldman (Seattle), Allie Hankins (Portland), and Linda Austin (Portland). The show is held 3-5pm Saturday, January 19 at Flock Dance Center. Donations are welcome at the door and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

A still from the film “sweetgrass” by Portland artists Amy Leona Havin/The Holding Project and Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

How does dance translate to a one-dimensional format? You have two opportunities to find out: the nine international dance films that won awards at the 2018 Portland Dance Film Fest will screen January 19 at the Clinton Street Theater. And the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow is back with La Bayadère on January 20. Presented by Fathom Events, La Bayadère, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to music by Leon Minkus, tells the tragic tale of temple dancer Nikiya and her doomed love affair with the warrior Solor.

Finally, two dance-centric productions created largely by female artists and artists of color continue this week. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show plays January 19 at The Vault, in Hillsboro. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird

February

February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett, and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23-24, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-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-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
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 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, 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