Helen Simoneau

ArtsWatch Weekly: flood & mosaic

A look back, a look ahead: This week, the big news is the Vanport Mosaic Festival

SEVENTY YEARS AGO ON MAY 30 FLOODWATERS SWEPT IN from the Columbia River and burst through a 200-foot section of dike just north of Portland, inundating the city of Vanport, killing 15 people and wiping the city off the face of the Earth. Vanport was Oregon’s second-largest city at the time, with a population of 40,000 at its wartime peak before falling off after the end of World War II.

Henk Pander, “Vanport,” watercolor, 40 x 60 inches, 2018. On view at Cerimon House through Sunday in his Vanport Mosaic exhibition “Artworks of Henk Pander: War Memory, Liberty Ships, Vanport.” It then moves to the White Stag Building May 29-June 12.

Vanport was an “instant city” created primarily to house workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. It was for a time the most racially integrated city in the state, with a large African American population and many Asian Americans, too. Many white workers moved out after the war; black workers and their families largely stayed because of exclusionary housing practices in neighborhoods across Portland. The memory of Vanport remains strong in the city’s African American community.

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Oregon Ballet Theatre: Come ‘Closer’

OBT’s season-ending program at BodyVox puts premieres in your lap

When they named it “Closer,” they weren’t kidding.

The Oregon Ballet Theatre show title is a play on words: “Closer,” now running through June 3, closes the 2017-2018 season. And as danced in the intimate confines of BodyVox’s studio, it offers a much better view of OBT’s dancers than you get at the Keller or Newmark.

“They’re actually people-sized,” rightly observed BodyVox dancer Daniel Kirk, who served on the opening-night crew. From this vantage point, you can see rib cages heaving and sweat flying, a reminder of the sheer effort involved in looking effortless.

And, too, the four world premieres on the program offer a closer look at the creative potential of ballet and its practitioners, something dancers already understand and viewers may be happily surprised to discover.

Following 2017’s Choreography XX Project, for which OBT Artistic Director Kevin Irving commissioned new works from international female ballet choreographers (a vastly underrepresented group in the dance world), “Closer” drew new talent from closer to home. OBT company members were invited to submit a proposal and show five minutes of work to be considered for this program. OBT dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi and Peter Franc, plus OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, made the cut. Each collaborated on original music for their pieces with Portland resident Andre Allen Anjos (aka RAC), who also happens to be a Grammy-winning remix artist; you might know him from The Shins’ “Sleeping Lessons (RAC Mix).”

Xuan Cheng and Michael Linsmeier performing Makino Hayashi’s world premiere ‘What do you see…’, part of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Closer, May 24 – June 3, 2018 at the BodyVox Dance Center. Photo by Chris Peddecord

“Closer” is an evening in two parts; the premieres debut in the latter half. Because they’re all set to the same composer, they feel in some sense like a suite of dances, although they’re choreographically divergent. Kipp, whose Trance of Wondrous Thought is the most classically balletic of the four, traces the different stages of a dancer’s career through ballet’s hierarchy. Three couples, from apprentice Alexa Domenden to principal dancer Chauncey Parsons, sail through lyrical pas de deux, the women en pointe. It’s deliberately pretty: As Kipp noted in her onstage introduction, “Sometimes it can be very touching to see something pretty.”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Helen Simoneau and “Closer”

Oregon Ballet Theatre ends its season at BodyVox with an intimate program, led by Helen Simoneau's "Departures"

This week Oregon Ballet Theatre closes out its 2017-2018 season with “Closer,” an intimate showing at BodyVox Dance Center of new works choreographed by OBT rehearsal director Lisa Kipp, OBT company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc, alongside Helen Simoneau’s Departures. Simoneau’s ballet was commissioned by OBT in 2017 as part of OBT’s Choreography XX project to discover new women choreographers in ballet. The works by OBT dancers will be accompanied by commissioned musical compositions from Grammy award-winning remix artist, Andre Allen Anjos.

Additionally, OBT artistic Director Kevin Irving will rehearse the dancers in a Nacho Duato duet, live, as a means to open up the creative process experience for audiences to see. Each night—and there are eight of them—will involve a lottery to choose which of the company dancers gets to dance in the open rehearsal that night.

Last summer I sat down with choreographer Simoneau, to learn about her work, her process, and her dance company. Included in my conversation with Simoneau were questions I had at the time about how Portland State University’s shuttering of its dance program would affect the Portland dance community, how she defines classical ballet, and where ballet is headed.

Simoneau is an independent choreographer, dancer, and teacher, who, at the time of our interview, lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and directed her own 12-member dance company. Helen Simoneau Danse had a yearly season in North Carolina and seasons every other year in New York.

Since I spoke with her last, Simoneau spent the rest of summer 2017 at the Banff Centre in Canada performing in a work by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Chekaoui, provided choreography for a Joan Baez music video performed by New York City Ballet dancer Claire Kretzschmar, worked with LA-based company BODYTRAFFIC at The National Choreographic Center in Akron, was a Fall Fellow at the New York University Center for Ballet (where she created a new ballet on pointe for six dancers), toured her evening-length work Land Bridge with her company, created and restaged works for the students of University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Goucher College in Baltimore, and for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She is currently an artist-in-residence at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY, while maintaining a performing season in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Simoneau is an incredibly inspiring artist, to me, and one of the few people I know actually making a living full-time as a dance artist. Our conversation unfolds below.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Amy Leona Havin’s ‘Crane’ and other migrations

In a busy mid-May dance week, Amy Leona Havin talks about her choreography, cranes and other matters

“Why did you decide to choreograph Crane in the round?” I asked choreographer Amy Leona Havin on Monday morning over coffee, after watching a run-through of her work.

“I was tired of feeling like I had to work back and forth and frontally,” Havin answered. “I wanted to do something that had more depth, and when I found that theater [Shaking the Tree Theatre], I was like ‘this is perfect, I can set up the space however I want’…If someone comes and sees the show four times, it will be a completely different experience each time.” It was also the perfect space to create the intimacy she wanted the audience to feel, she said, and was also supportive of the circular motifs that are a central theme in the dance.

If you haven’t met Havin yet, she’s a 27-year old, Portland-based, Israeli-born choreographer, filmmaker, and artistic director of The Holding Project. I first interviewed Havin in 2016 when she made HAVA | חוה, a work that combined film and live movement, and wrote about her again when she and her company performed Lines of Pull as part of a four-month residency at Disjecta. This is Havin’s third major work since moving to Portland in 2013.

The Work

Crane, performed by eight beautifully skilled contemporary dancers in the middle of a large circle of 50 chairs, runs for an hour and fifteen minutes and is a “kaleidoscope of natural imagery, forming an intimate and ambient stage atmosphere from which the dancers do not exit.”

The Research

“A lot of things came into play. I put them all together, and I said this is what we’ll try. Play is the key word…”

First came the cranes, actually geese and cranes, but cranes won out in the end.

In her research, Havin discovered that Common Cranes stops over in the Hula Valley in Israel on their migratory flight from Europe to Africa. This connected with Havin, whose work is deeply rooted in her Israeli culture and heritage. She also discovered that the largest number of migratory birds come to rest in the Hula Valley, that cranes mate for life, that female cranes care for their babies during flight, and that if a crane gets lost, the rest of the flock will wait for it and then look for it until it’s found. Cranes work as a pack. There is a lot of camaraderie and community, and some research says that female cranes dictate the speed at which their flock goes because of the young cranes that are flying along.

Dancers of The Holding Project in Crane. Photo by Jess Garten.

Imagery

“The imagery came to me first. We were playing with velvet, furs, the ‘90’s classic pointed toe shoes. I had these angry, slicked down, vogue, supermodel images in mind. This pissed off, ultra femininity…almost unapologetic without yelling at you. In your face…they are clearly upset…”

“I looked back at all these photographs of supermodels from the ‘90’s, and I started drawing the imagery and attitude from there. During that same time I started researching the migration patterns of cranes. So it’s both of those things that came together. I tried to give it a lot of room and it’s grown into this.”

Havin also collected information from conversations she had with her dancers on what their experiences have been like so far as women, how they relate to other women, and what they identify as feminine.

The Circular Motif

“I think flying is circular, nesting is very circular, grouping is circular…all imagery that came to me was very rounded.”

Words that came to mind when I watched the dance, not in order of importance

Ritual
Myth
Matriarchy
Women
Femininity
Feminism
Empowerment
Collection
Communal
Sensual
Sisterly solidarity
Egalitarian

The Music

“All of the music I used is Jewish Yemenite music or Hebrew or Israeli music. I have used one of the oldest Hebrew love poems. It’s all coming from the music that is familiar to me that I grew up with. I find that music is very sensual: I can’t help but want to dance. I want to undulate to that sound, and I also find it’s very strong, its drums, its vocalization. And it’s very loud and drastic, and it’s sexy and that’s why I wanted to use it. It feels like home to me. When I hear Hebrew it’s comforting.

“I also know that most of my audience won’t understand Hebrew. So, if I have lyrics in my work they won’t be distracting to people, and if there are people who understand Hebrew who come to my show, then it will inform the work. Yeah, it felt right. I wanted to mix it with more electronic metronome and downbeat so it wasn’t a completely Middle Eastern soundscape and did have some of that current American electronic beat. It just felt right.”

The Plant Life

Havin uses a variety of dried and fresh cut plants and flowers as a way to add a texture and fill the performance space.

“It came from nest building. I wanted to have this idea that we are building this nest. We’re surrounded by the greenery and the plant life. We’re using this, and gathering this as building material. But we are also women; we also have this idea of women with flowers in their hair, and little girls in floral dresses, and weddings with bouquets, and processions. I felt like it had a dual identity and I was interested in playing with that.”

“I feel a sense of home and comfort and care and happiness in nature. It’s this youthful feeling. It reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of my mother. I love flowers, plants and foliage. I wanted something soft that I had a desire to cradle, and I find that baby’s breath is something like that for me. It’s a plant life that I want to hold and cover myself in. But it’s also so tiny, and the flowers are so detailed that there is so much to focus in on for me to explore.”

Dancers of The Holding Project in Crane. Photo by Jess Garten.

Why do you need a dramaturg?

Havin’s dramaturg is Rachel Levens, whom she met in college at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Levens now lives and works in New York.

What does a dramaturg do? According to Clare Croft in an article on dramaturgs for Dance Magazine, “The primary job is to support the choreographer and creative team by helping them do research, like tracking down historic or visual material, documenting the rehearsal process and weighing in on creative choices.”

“She[Levens] looks at it from the outside and pulls a narrative that is already emerging and then meshes it with the research so that it’s one, so that it’s not just two separate sections.”

“I created the skeleton of the work and gave her my basic research on the birds, and she would give me back different verbs, different actions, different relationship possibilities. She would take what we were doing and connect it to the research to create a narrative. She would ask me a lot of questions about why my dancers were interacting with each other, why does so and so meet up…She was pretty much my outside eye. She helped me with my research and connecting my research to us as women in 2018.”

The Philosophy

“I feel like if it’s too choreographed, if it’s too concrete, if it’s too clean, some of the chance gets lost. I want there to be a lot of chance involved.”

“I want to give credit to my audience, in that I want people to sit there and think about it and decide for themselves. I want there to be room. I think that’s why I never work with a concrete narrative because I want there to be room for someone else to put their own experiences onto it. Because that’s what I find enjoyable in seeing art. And if I see something that holds my hand or tells me what it’s about, sometimes I lose the opportunity to involve myself in what’s happening.”

Since working on this piece, Havin noted that it has changed her life. “At this point it’s been 14 months so I don’t really know who I am without this work right now. I find myself looking up at the sky more often. I think I have a deeper appreciation for birds… for trees and bushes…”

“The more I make work the more I accept in a positive way that I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything, I don’t need to know anything, I just need to be able to absorb, and to feel, and to explore, right? Because If we think we know everything and the choreography is this known entity and we’re just placing it on top of people, then you might as well make a vase. Why are you making dance? So for me, not knowing isn’t a hindrance, and because of that, I’m willing to try different approaches that aren’t necessarily natural to me.”

Crane, created by Amy Leona Havin in collaboration with company members Lyndsey Gray Parsons, Heather Hindes, Jillian Hobbs, Briley Jozwiak, Lena Traenkenschuh, Carly Nicole Ostergaard, and Catherine ‘Caty’ Raupp, opens Thursday May 17 and runs through May 20 at Shaking the Tree Theatre in South East Portland. The projection mapping is by Joseph Wells and video by Tomás Alfredo Valladares.

Performances this week

BodyVox dancer Jillian St. Germain in Rain & Roses. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Rain & Roses
BodyVox
May 17-19
The North Warehouse, 723 North Tillamook Street, Portland OR 97227
Set in an expansive and atmospheric North Portland Warehouse, BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, along with choreographers and company members Alicia Cutaia, Jeff George, and Daniel Kirk celebrate the end of their 20th season with Rain & Roses; a collage of dance and live music that explores the evolution of human character.

Dance writer Elizabeth Whelan previewed Rain & Roses for Oregon ArtsWatch and gives five reasons here why you might want to see the show.

Portland dancer Marko Bome aka Skoolie B will be speaking as part of Cypher Culture Conference 2018. Photo courtesy of Decimus Yarbrough.

Cypher Culture Conference 2018
Hosted by Decimus Yarbrough and Michael Galen
May 17-20
Held in various locations throughout Portland, check website for details

Over four days and four nights, Oregon’s inaugural Cypher Culture Conference will collaboratively create space to unify and strengthen the Pacific Northwest urban dance community through discussion panels, parties, battles, and workshops. Check the Facebook schedule for full conference details and event locations.

Crane dancers Amy Leona Havin, Heather Hindes, Catherine ‘Caty’ Raupp, and Lena Traenkenschuh. Photo by Jess Garten.

CRANE
The Holding Project, directed by Amy Leona Havin
May 17-20
Shaking The Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant Street
There will be a post-performance Q&A on May 18 with choreographer Amy Leona Havin
See above.

Dancer/choreographer/artistic director of Ate9, Danielle Agami. Photo courtesy of Danielle Agami.

Framed
A solo show created and performed by Danielle Agami/Ate9 Dance Company
May 18-19
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Avenue
The performances will be followed by a brief Q & A with Agami
Framed is an intimate solo look into womanhood as experienced and understood by Israeli choreographer and former Batsheva Dance Company dancer, and artistic director of Ate9 Dance Company, Danielle Agami. The experience of growing up in Israel, strong women role models, her mother, fragility, and a ceaseless drive for perfection, set the tone for this solo.

“In this solo performance,” Agami says in her press release that she “unravels her experience as a woman as she hosts groups of curious, expecting audience members. She wonders about the mission of hosting an audience, asking herself, what is expected for me to provide? Will dance be enough? Am I enough?”

After dancing for Batsheva Dance Company in Israel for eight years, Agami moved to New York and served as senior manager of Gaga U.S.A. (Gaga is the movement practiced developed by Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin.) In 2012, she relocated to Seattle where she founded her dance company Ate9, relocating the following year to Los Angeles. Agami was one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to watch in 2015, and was recognized with the Princess Grace Award for Choreography in 2016.

Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company. Photo courtesy of Durante Lambert.

The “B” Project
Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company
9 pm May 18
Paris Theatre, 6 SW 3rd Avenue
LYFE Dance Company, directed by Portland hip-hop choreographer Durante Lambert, will present The “B” Project, a full-length dance experience inspired by musical artist Beyonce. Lambert was a principal dancer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet and danced for the WNBA Portland Fire Jam Squad and the Portland Trail Blazers Hip Hop Squad.

OBT dancer Xuan Cheng in Helen Simoneau’s Departures. Photo by Yi Yin.

Closer
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Choreography by Peter Franc, Makino Hayashi, Katherine Monogue, and Helen Simoneau
May 23-June 3
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Avenue
Oregon Ballet Theatre closes out its 2017-2018 season with an intimate showing at BodyVox Dance Center of new works created by company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc, alongside Helen Simoneau’s Departures—a work commissioned by OBT in 2017 as part of OBT’s Choreography XX project. Additionally, OBT artistic Director Kevin Irving will rehearse the dancers for a new project, live, as a means to open up the creative process experience for audiences to see.

Upcoming Performances

May
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by Peter Franc, Makino Hayashi, Katherine Monogue, and Helen Simoneau
May 25-28, Portland Tap Festival, produced by the Portland Tap Alliance

June
June 1, #INSTABALLET NO.25, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
June 1-2, J (()) Y by Leralee Whittle and a work-in-progresss by Mizu Desierto
June 2, Passages-The Journey of Our Ancestors, presented by the Tamburitzans
June 3, Shobana’s Trance, presented by Rasika
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, This Time Tomorrow-Danielle Agami, NW Dance Project
June 15-23, Waters of the World, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 16, Dance Film Double Feature: Standing on Gold and Moving History, hosted by Eric Nordstrom
June 22-23, Waters of the World, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest at the Faired-Haired Dumbbell Building
June 22-23, Recipe: A Reading Test (1983) and Raw Material (1985), Linda Austin
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem
June 29-July 1, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance

July
July 6, #INSTABALLET NO.26, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
July 19-21, RELATIVES // apples & pomegranates, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
July 27, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, Washington Park Summer Festival

August
August 2-4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 3, #INSTABALLET NO.27, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-WOL Dance Collective
August 10-12, JamBallah Northwest
August 12, India Festival, produced by the India Cultural Association of Portland

September
September 1, #INSTABALLET NO.28, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag

ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

We’re able to bring smart coverage to dance and other disciplines 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. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

 


 

A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

We’ve been able to tell their stories 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. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Helen Simoneau’s work in progress

Choreography XX at Oregon Ballet Theatre give three women choreographers a voice, including Helen Simoneau

For two weeks now the dancers at Oregon Ballet Theatre have been in the studio rigorously working out new, exciting choreography by Gioconda Barbuto, Helen Simoneau, and Nicole Haskins. The three talented choreographers were selected in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Choreography XX competition, an initiative specifically created to discover new women choreographers in the male-dominated ballet world.

The three have extensive dance world credits. Barbuto is an Italian-Canadian dancer and choreographer who was a soloist with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and danced with Nederlands Dans Theater III. Haskins works as a freelance choreographer and dances with Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, and she received a fellowship grant to New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute. Simoneau, an independent choreographer and teacher based in North Carolina, is also the founder of Helen Simoneau Danse.

Gioconda Barbuto’s new work for OBT’s Choreography XX, presented June 29 ­30th, 2017 at the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. Photo by Yi Yin.

Since February after seeing OBT’s new Swan Lake, choreographed by artistic director Kevin Irving, I have been mulling over exactly what classical ballet is, and how it fits into the current world view. While watching Swan Lake I was struck by the lack of diversity in the company, and the sexist, oligarchic assumptions in the story line, which may have seemed cute and acceptable as a children’s fantasy once upon a time but now seems wildly out of place. In the real world different cultures struggle to coexist and discrimination is illegal, stereotypes are rude, we are trying to understand the ethics of cultural appropriation, there are no happy dancing peasants (poor people), child brides are illegal and women are not commodities to be traded for money and power, and democracy is the desired form of governance. Are we doing our children a disservice, especially girls, by replaying these classical ballet stories over and over? Can ballet companies escape their dependence on story ballets and their feudal view of the world? And what would replace those ballets?

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