Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair

The Year of Living Cautiously

Veteran dance critic Martha Ullman West looks back on a year of Covid isolation and moments of movement that vividly broke the spell

My year of living cautiously began the end of February last year, and while I had hoped it would conclude close to the same day this year, I think it’s more likely to stretch into a second year of the same.   

 In the past year I have seen two, count them, live dance performances, and one dance film in a theater, Alla  Kovgan’s stunning 3D documentary Cunningham. (I think all dance films should be shot in 3D, based on this one and Pina, Wim Wenders’ 2011  film about Pina Bausch, both shown at Portland’s Cinema 21.) 

 I have watched as many streamed performances as I could bear; written one obituary tribute;  read a dozen or so dance and dance-related books, some of which I was dipping into for a second and third time; and, in the name of shameless self-promotion, finished writing a book I started thinking about at the turn of the millennium.  Todd Bolender, Janet Reed and the Making of American Ballet, the gods and Covid willing, will be published in May.  

Jacqueline Schumacher, in her teaching studio in downtown Portland’s Odd Fellows Building, ca. 1975. Photographer unknown.

Dance watchers will know that Reed was a native Oregonian, who was trained in Portland by Willam Christensen, as was her close friend Jacqueline Martin Schumacher. Schumacher, who died in September, 2019, would have been 100 on November 30, 2020, and a centenary celebration was under discussion when Covid hit; needless to say it did not take place. 

Both women were founding members of the San Francisco Opera Ballet (now the San Francisco Ballet) and danced, respectively, the roles of Odette and Odile in the first American evening-length production of Swan Lake.  Reed went on to a stellar career with Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet.  Schumacher brought her star power back to her  home town, returning to Portland in 1942, when San Francisco Ballet went on hiatus right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  

Here she established a ballet school with rigorous standards (ask any former pupil!) where she taught generations of Portland students, many of whom became professional dancers. Equally important, as the founder of the Portland Ballet, a successor to Christensen’s company and a precursor of Oregon Ballet Theatre, she was pivotal to the establishment of the city’s resident ballet company.

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Is Portland the newest dance destination?

Recent transplants tell us why they moved to Portland to choreograph and perform  

By BETH WHELAN

The other day, I stumbled across the Oregonian article  “13 reasons to leave Portland and go back to where you came from.” Quick flashback to 14 months ago: Me, squeezing everything I owned into my car and trekking across the country to Portland, where my only local connection was a rented Craigslist room. In 2017, Oregon was rated the second most popular state for relocation, and Portlanders have been experiencing the effects of that migration for the past decade, including skyrocketing real-estate costs and traffic congestion. As one of the transplants, I hear you, Portland! There are drawbacks to everyone realizing what a gem this city is and abruptly moving here.

But there are benefits, too, including the growth of Portland’s dance community. I moved here because I felt I could have it all: a full life within and outside of dance in a right-sized city surrounded by natural beauty. Once I arrived, I was surprised to find so many recent transplants like myself; people with a passion to leave their creative mark on the place. Why pursue a dance career in Portland, though? I asked some of these new artists what brought them here, the differences they’ve found between Portland and the dance communities in their cities of origin, and what their experiences have been like. Here’s what they told me.

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