DanceWatch

June DanceWatch: Back on stage

Oregon Ballet Theatre leads the way as Portland dancers perform for live audiences for the first time since the pandemic hit.

Summer is back and so are the dancers. Live and in-person, as a matter of fact! Throughout June, you can find dancers in the courtyard at the Oregon Museum of Industry and Science (OMSI), on the lawn of a private residence in Lake Oswego, at Zidell Yards in Portland’s South Waterfront district, throughout Portland’s public parks, in the trees at Mary S. Young Park in West Linn, and at the experimental performance hub, Performance Works NW in Southeast Portland. Suddenly, dancers are everywhere!

Who knows what the future may bring, but at this moment, the veil has lifted, and life as we knew it—with dancers performing for live audiences—is returning. But don’t worry, all of the performance venues require masks and social distancing, so you will be safe. And just to warn you, you might be shocked at how much you missed the dancers, so bring the tissues. Things might get emotional. 

From left to right OBT dancers Xuan Cheng, Brian Simcoe, Christopher Kaiser, and Jessica Lind rehearsing Nicolo Fonte’s 𝘊𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘰𝘴. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

One of the companies gearing up to perform outside is Oregon Ballet Theatre. The state’s biggest dance company will be performing June 5-12 on the new Jordan Schnitzer CARE Summerstage at OMSI. The outdoor stage is a shared vision between Portland Opera, the ballet, and the science museum to safely bring back live ballet and opera performances to Oregon audiences. 

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Strike up the virtual festival band

ArtsWatch Weekly: Online Fertile Ground fest marches on, film fest updates, Hal Holbrook on jackasses & politics, monthly guides

BELLS ARE NOT RINGING AND NO MARCHING BANDS OR HIGH-STEPPING HORSES are sashaying through the center of town, but it’s festival time in Portland. We’re talking, of course, about Fertile Ground, the city’s annual festival of new performance works, which in an ordinary year would see revelers scurrying high, low, and in between across the metropolitan area, into basement and attic spaces and grand theater halls, to be among the first people on the planet to see the beginnings of upwards of a hundred new creative works, in all stages of development, from first readings to workshops to full-blown world premieres. Over its dozen years Fertile Ground has become something like a localized Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with the restriction that shows aren’t imported – they have to be made here, by people who can plausibly claim to live here.
 

A whirlwind of dance, circus, and aerial action awaits in Petra Delarocha’s “Prismagic Radio Hour,” premiering at 9 p.m. Friday in Fertile Ground.

This year everything’s changed: What had been known and celebrated for its in-the-moment acts of performance has transformed because of Covid restrictions into a virtual festival. As the 2021 festival moves into its final days – it began on Jan. 28 and closes on Saturday, Feb. 7, although projects can be viewed online through Feb. 15 – ArtsWatch’s writers have racked up a lot of screen time. We haven’t seen everything, but we’ve spent hours watching, and we’ll be watching more. One thing that’s stood out has been the ability of some projects to think like hybrids, making the most under the circumstances of the possibilities of both film and live performance. 

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The year in dance: 2020, go away!

A look back at a year of closures, crises, streamings and reimaginings, and ahead to a more cheerful 2021

I have been trying to summarize 2020 Oregon dance events in my head for days now in anticipation of writing this piece, but every time I sit down to write, something catastrophic happens in my personal life that takes my attention away. It seems fitting that 2020, the year of Donald Trump’s impeachment, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor by the police, the evisceration of the performing arts industry, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide from Covid-19, should end so badly. 2020 has been the saddest, loneliest, most tragic year I have ever known.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Ironically, the first 2020 DanceWatch was a preview of Marquee TV, the newish streaming service for dance, opera, and theatre. Who knew that this idea would no longer be an anomaly a couple of months later and that ALL performing arts would end up online. 

Part 3 of Linda Austin’s (Un)Made. Choreographed by Linda Austin in collaboration with the cast. Visual design and costumes by Sarah Marguier; Set design by Linda Austin; Set construction by Seth Nehil; Sound design by Seth Nehil; Lighting design by Jeff Forbes; Performed by Austin, claire barrera, jin camou, Nancy Ellis, keyon gaskin, Jen Hackworth, Allie Hankins, Danielle Ross, Noelle Stiles, and Takahiro Yamamoto. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

January, which feels like a thousand years ago, was a month packed full of dance performances. One was part three of Linda Austin’s a world, a world, which I previewed. This iteration of the four-year-long project was a collection of movements taken from the earlier two phases of the process, reworked and reimagined into a completely new idea performed in two disparate worlds. The entire process was chronicled on the (Un)Made website and includes performance and rehearsal photos and writing by Austin and Allie Hankins, the project’s dramaturg.

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Live theater’s back in town

ArtsWatch Weekly: In a pandemic era first, Triangle opens a show indoors. Plus: Art in the Pearl, Venice & elsewhere, virtually and "real."

“WE HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD,” Don Horn, who founded Portland’s Triangle Productions more than 30 years ago, said on the phone. “I would rather have the house used than vacant. I think spaces die if they’re not used.”

Somebody had to be first. And in Portland theater, when Triangle opens a 10-performance run of Rick Cleveland’s solo play My Buddy Bill next Thursday, Sept. 10, it’ll be the first time since Covid-19 restrictions shut down theater spaces almost half a year ago that anyone in the greater metro area’s put on a show inside an actual theater space, with a paying audience in the seats. (At least a couple of other companies in Oregon have done live shows, too: Medford’s Collaborative Theatre Projects has been doing indoor radio plays with paying audiences, and Ashland’s Oregon Cabaret Theatre has been doing The Odd Couple.)

Grocery stores, hardwares, and big box stores are open. Restaurants are open, for sidewalk and some indoor seating. Zoos and gardens and aquariums are open. Beaches and hiking trails and camping sites are open, at least many of them, and you can book rooms at motels and vacation getaways. A little bit of outdoor theater and concertizing’s happened. Museums and art galleries have reopened, with restrictions. But live theater, dance, and music have lagged behind, mostly because of strict limits on audience size and spacing inside performance halls, the cost of running shows for the resulting relatively tiny audiences, and the tougher logistics of making tight theater spaces safe enough to use.

Buddy and buddy in the Oval Office. Photo: Barbara Kinney/White House/1997

Triangle’s auditorium, inside The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza on close-in Northeast Sandy Boulevard, ordinarily seats 154 people. Because of a state restriction of 25 people in such a space at a time, the audience for My Buddy Bill will be limited to 23, leaving room for one actor (Joe Healy, playing Rick, the playwright) and one tech person. The bigger the cast and crew, the smaller the allowable audience. In the meantime, Horn and crew are busily getting everything ready so the space can meet multiple safety requirements. “I’ll be spending Friday cleaning everything out of the lobby so we can shampoo,” he said. 

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August DanceWatch: Streaming right along

Dance doesn't hibernate: It dances. Even during a pandemic.

Welcome back to DanceWatch. The dancers are still here and they are dancing!

I know, I know, watching virtual dance performances isn’t the same as watching live performances, but who cares? This is where we happen to be. So let’s celebrate and enjoy it as it is, in all of its uniqueness. Someday we may even look back on this moment nostalgically, though I’m not taking any bets.

There are some benefits to these new viewing conditions. You don’t have to get dressed up and put on those uncomfortable shoes you only wear to performances. You don’t have to fight traffic and time and look for parking. And if you don’t like what you are watching, you can turn it off or switch the channel and no one will be the wiser, and no one will be offended. Sometimes you can even watch it again, if you want.

So get comfy, invite your friends (virtually), order or make some great food, grab a cold drink, ‘cause it’s really hot out there, and enjoy the virtual dance world brought to you by a whole lot of dancers who just want to keep dancing, no matter what!

Dance performances in August!

Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater.

Virtual Last Thursday Online
Hosted by Last Thursdays On Alberta and Alberta Main Street
7-9pm July 30
Live streamed from the Blind Insect Gallery
To view go to YouTube #SummerofAlberta

Take a virtual art walk down Alberta Main Street and experience live streamed performances by African drummer Alex Addy; singer, songwriter and performer Justin Leon Johnson; and dance company Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater.

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White Bird on the brink

The venerable Portland dance presenter faces a major deficit due to concert cancellations during the pandemic

Have you noticed that it’s the arts we are all turning to right now to survive? 

While we wait out our “sheltering at home” and attempt to dodge the covid-19 virus long enough to keep our hospital beds and intensive care units from overfilling, it’s the free dance performances, free music concerts, free books, free museums exhibits, free art classes—all online—that are making this horrible situation bearable. 

But the question is, will these same arts organizations be there when life gets back to normal, whenever that is? 

Unfortunately, from where I stand right now, it doesn’t look good.

On Tuesday afternoon White Bird, Portland’s biggest dance-only presenter and one of the few dance-only presenters left in the United States, announced that if the organization can’t make up a $350,000 shortfall by June 30, it will have to consider the painful possibility of shutting down for good. The shortfall is the result of show cancellations due to the pandemic. You can read their full announcement here

In addition, White Bird will also see a 20 percent increase in rent from Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, which comprises the Schnitzer, Winningstad, Keller, Newmark, and Brunish halls: White Bird is a frequent renter of the Schnitzer and Newmark halls. The venues are owned by the City of Portland and managed by the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission for Metro.

The situation is dire, White Bird co-founder Walter Jaffe said to me this morning when we spoke on the phone, but it’s dire for all arts organizations, he stressed. 

White Bird is a nonprofit organization that brings a variety of well-known and emerging, national and international dance companies and choreographers to Portland. It was launched in 1997 by Walter Jaffe and Paul King and was named for their beloved cockatoo, Barney, who is now 32.

Paul King, Walter Jaffe and Barney, of White Bird. Photo by Jennifer Alyse.

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Sketching ‘Volcano!’ at the museum

ArtsWatch Weekly: Big crowds & small artists take in the Portland Art Museum's big boom, March's new art & dance, a fresh film fest

ON SATURDAY I DROPPED BY THE PORTLAND ART MUSEUM to spend a little quality time with Volcano!, the sprawling exhibit designed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. (The mountaintop blasted sky-high on May 18, 1980; the museum’s show closes on May 17, a day before the anniversary.) On a rainy afternoon the place was packed with curious or nostalgic visitors. Some came to revisit their experiences of one of the most memorable days in modern Pacific Northwest history. Some came eager to learn a little more about a cataclysmic event they didn’t live through themselves but knew was a Really Big Deal. And most seemed engaged: The crowd wasn’t just walking through quickly with a glance here and a glance there – people were studying the paintings and photographs, sometimes doubling back to take a closer look at something they’d already seen. One way or another, this show seemed a part of their lives.

Lucinda Parker, “The Seething Saint,” 2019, acrylic on canvas, in the exhibition “Volcano!” at the Portland Art Museum. Courtesy Lucinda Parker and Russo Lee Gallery

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