Jiri Pokorny

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.

 


 

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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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NW Dance Project: Darkness falls, great dancing continues

The company's fall program was full of dances on the dark side, but the dancing met their considerable technical demands

By HEATHER WISNER

There were echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opener of NW Dance Project’s fall season concert, which played Lincoln Hall over the weekend. The piece felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian—a feeling that suffused the whole evening.

In his Monster program note, Landerer, a German choreographer, gave viewers this to chew on: “What stands between two parties or people can be described as an organism that at some point might develop a dynamic of its own. So what we intend to form and build might eventually turn into something that gets out of control and shapes us instead.” (Before we go on, for a bit of grim fun, take a minute to apply that idea to any number of historical events in the last century.)

Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong in Felix Landerer’s “Post-Traumatic-Monster”, NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Landerer’s vision of fractured dynamics was built around two groups of dancers dressed in utilitarian black, save the two leads, Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong, who wore more flesh-and-blood tones of red and tan. Propelled by an electronic score punctuated with clicks, clangs and breaths, the two groups seethed and heaved en masse, lifting and manipulating Nieto and Wong as puppeteers might. The pair ultimately got their moment alone in a sinewy duet, but the group dynamic tended to dominate. There were only occasional moments of individualism—memorably, when Andrea Parson bent back to lean against something that wasn’t there, then slowly dissolved to the floor, unnoticed by the others swirling around her.

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NW Dance Project: now and wow

World premieres by Pokorny and Landerer and the return of Ihsan Rustem's brilliant "Mother Tongue" get the company's season off to a seductive start

It’s getting a little tough to remember that Northwest Dance Project was just a scrappy little startup eleven years ago – as Gavin Larsen reported for ArtsWatch earlier this week, a $30,000 summer program that since then has blossomed into a $1 million resident and touring company that’s known far beyond its Portland home.

This is what life’s like for the Project these days: a quick tour to Mongolia just weeks ago, then back to the company’s spacious new East Side studios and headquarters to prepare for the newest New Now Wow! program. Seduce yet another opening-night crowd, no matter what it might have thought of the program’s three pieces, with the dancers’ intense focus, flexibility, and ability to make a scene pop off the stage.

From left: Kody Jauron, Ching Ching Wong, Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay in "What We've Lost on the Way." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

From left: Kody Jauron, Ching Ching Wong, Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay in “What We’ve Lost on the Way.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

New Now Wow!, which opened Thursday night at Lincoln Performance Hall and repeats Friday and Saturday evenings, is one of the Project’s annual concerts, and as the company’s matured it’s maintained NWDP’s focus on premiering new work, but also begun to bring back some of the company’s greatest hits. In this case, that means that Ihsan Rustem’s Mother Tongue, which looks every bit as brilliant as it did when the company premiered it in 2012, joins two world premieres: Jiri Pokorny’s The Presence of Absence, and Felix Landerer’s What We’ve Lost on the Way.

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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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