Meshi Chavez

A Portland pandemic dance survey

Local dance companies and choreographers are adapting to the new normal

During the past couple of months I have been checking in regularly with some of the folks that make up Oregon’s dance community to see how things are going. The good news is that Oregon’s dancers are still dancing. You definitely can’t keep a dancer from dancing under any circumstances. It’s who they are and it’s what they do. Plus, dancers are already used to working under harsh conditions and with minimal resources anyway. The bad news is that their situation doesn’t look like it’s getting better any time soon.

The multitalented Katherine Disenhof soaring through the air.
Photo by Jason Hill.

Almost immediately following the lockdown, the international dance community jumped online and began connecting with each other and audiences through dance classes, performances, and discussions via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Here in Portland, Katherine Disenhof a dancer with NW Dance Project, who has since left the company and moved back home to the Bay Area, created Dancing Alone Together, an online hub where dancers could go to find online dance classes and events during this time of “social distancing.” 

As of today, you can pretty much find every independent dance teacher and dance studio online, teaching daily classes, of all kinds, including Oregon dance studios and companies. 

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Field of Vision

Conference introduces national organization to Portland through performance and discussion of pressing issues in Oregon arts

A group of prominent Portland artists sat around a table with representatives of some of Oregon’s heaviest hitting arts funders, and the conversation was growing tense. How do funders determine which artists receive support, one artist asked, especially individuals and small organizations that might lack resources and track record compared to better-funded and -staffed institutions? Why do funds seem to flow to the same organizations year after year, even though the art they pay for doesn’t reflect the diversity of the community the organizations and artists both purport to serve? 

Such questions have long troubled Oregon’s art scene as it evolves into a more diverse community. But we seldom hear them voiced aloud in a public event, especially with both donors and recipients present. It’s even rarer for the conversation to proceed beyond accusation to explanation and understanding.

But that’s what happened last spring when Portland’s New Expressive Works hosted the 2019 National Field Network Conference. Presented by staff members from the national organization Jennifer Wright Cook and Shawn René Graham, local Field office representatives Jen Mitas and Katherine Longstreth, and conference consultant Subashini Ganesan, the two-day event — which included performances, installation, and discussion– introduced the New York-based arts organization The Field to Portland, and offered about 200 Oregon artists and arts advocates the chance to participate in conversations about the work The Field is doing, and related issues arts organizations face here.

Pepper Pepper performed excerpts from the forthcoming ‘Noise/Data’ at The Field conference. Image: Karl Lind.

Along with putting artists and art funders around the same table for candid discussions, the first day events presented The Field’s history and explained its Fieldwork method for giving artists needed feedback on their work. The second day featured a panel of Northwest artists discussing the role of social media and digital media in their art practices, plus several performances of dance, music, installation and multimedia art — a welcome injection of actual art into the discussion of arts issues. The event raised some tough but necessary questions about Oregon’s art scene pertinent to artists, presenters, funders, and audiences.

This weekend, Portlanders can see some of the fruits of The Field PDX’s work as artists who’ve received feedback through its Fieldwork process show their work at New Expressive Works’s 12th Residency Performance, where they participated in a residency with Longstreth.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dance Camp at Breitenbush

DanceWatch rejuvenates itself in the wilderness

I have a lot of questions these days about dance. What is it really? What does it mean? What is its purpose? What is its value? Is one expression of dance more valuable than another? As a dancer myself, how do I feel about leaving behind the traditional, mainstream, American value systems in dance? How do I feel about never taking ballet again and finding other ways of moving, expressing, and staying in shape that feed me and make me feel good about myself instead of depleted and defeated? Can I be happy in other dance worlds? Will I feel a loss? Will I be OK with that loss? Is it really a loss or just a perceived loss?

From this place of curiosity (if not perplexity), I decided to go to Dance Camp at Breitenbush Hot Springs with Portland dance artists Meshi Chavez and Winky Wheeler. Chavez and Wheeler facilitate weekly Portland dances that could be called ecstatic dance but really incorporate many more ideas from other movement modalities and philosophies. Chavez is also a Butoh dancer and I have participated in his Being Moved workshop and weekly Butoh classes, so I knew that Dance Camp would be a safe space for me to be vulnerable and to ask the questions troubling me.

Dance Camp was at Breitenbush. If you don’t know, Breitenbush is a hot springs on 154 acres in the Willamette National Forest, about 100 miles from Portland. Its main lodge, built in the 1930s, is the center of activity and houses a large dance studio (with a disco ball), a dining room that serves vegetarian food only, two libraries, and a lobby with a piano that someone is almost always playing. Breitenbush also has a steam sauna and numerous soaking pools that are full of naturally hot water from the earth that sit around 107 degrees. Clothing is optional when bathing. Breitenbush is also completely off the grid, utilizing its own hydroelectric power system and natural springs for power and heat. Campers can sleep in the main lodge, cabins or tents.

On my drive to Breitenbush, somewhere between Detroit Lake and Breitenbush, my cell service dropped out. It was a magical moment, an electric moment. A point of no return. It was the beginning of four days with no wifi, no cell service, no communication with the outside world. Bliss.

Dance Camp with Chavez and Wheeler was four days short. It began at dinner time on Thursday and ended with lunch on Sunday. For four days we ate and danced, ate and danced, ate and danced, and danced some more. And, of course, soaked many times over in the hot springs.

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