modern dance

“Man not by abdomen and buttock plates or vertebrae but through his currents, his weakness what recovers from shock, his startings.”

So begins a selection from surrealist French poet and artist Henri Michaux, who asserts himself in Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s current performance at the Newmark Theatre. If you’re familiar with Chouinard’s electric, transgressive, and sometimes bizarre choreography, it makes sense that she would be drawn to Michaux’s poetic transmutations of the body. If you aren’t familiar with this award-winning Québécois choreographer, this weekend’s show will serve as an excellent introduction.

The company, making its fourth Portland visit through White Bird, has brought two pieces with it. The first is 24 Preludes by Chopin, is one of the company’s best known. It premiered in Vienna in 1999 and was first performed in Portland as part of White Bird’s 2005-’06 season, Preludes displays early hallmarks of Chouinard’s unmistakable movement in a rapid succession of short, effervescent vignettes set to Chopin’s preludes, most of which run less than two minutes. The second is Henri Michaux: Mouvements, which premiered in 2011 and travels deeper into Chouinard’s corporeal experimentation. Consisting of 64 pages of simple, energetic ink drawings, a 15-page poem, and an afterword, Michaux’s 1951 book Mouvements becomes a physical score through Chouinard’s literal reading of its semi-abstract, figurative blots of ink. The dancers, dressed in black Lycra, cavort across the stage in front of giant screens onto which the drawings’ contorted shapes are projected.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs "Henri Michaux: Mouvements." Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard performs “Henri Michaux: Mouvements.” Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Chouinard’s movement is unmistakable, but more nuanced than it may seem at first. You might be tempted to write it off as grotesque or simply weird if you only experience it through internet clips. People often post gifs or videos of perhaps her most infamous work, bODYrEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, in the comment sections of online discussions about modern art, as knee-jerk examples of its excess or strangeness generally. I can understand that take if viewers have only seen her work online, without seeing the amount of play and esprit in the performance or understanding the company’s dedication to exploring the movements and peculiarities of the body. Chouinard’s dancers in bODY_rEMIX pull exaggerated faces and crawl, flop, and bounce across the stage in little more than gauze wraps and touches of body paint, employing canes and crutches in ways they were never intended to be used.


‘She never wanted to leave anyone out’: Bonnie Merrill, 1935-2019

Collaborators remember a Portland dance pioneer’s generous spirit

Generations of Portland dancers—with one conspicuous exception—turned out to see Minh Tran’s concert Anicca (Impermance) last weekend at Reed College. Tran’s work, inspired by the recent deaths of his parents, premiered just a week after one of his teachers, Bonnie Merrill, succumbed to leukemia on Valentine’s Day. Tran’s piece, already weighted with grief and memory, felt like a kind of elegy for Merrill, an influential Portland dancer, instructor, and choreographer, and a founding mother of the city’s contemporary dance scene.

Merrill's work We Gather was performed at the citywide Portland arts festival Artquake in 1994. Photographer unknown.

Bonnie Merrill dances a solo in Donald McKayle’s “Collage.” Photo courtesy of the Merrill family.

Merrill kept her Portland dance card full for close to 40 years. She worked with modern and ballet companies, public school students, and collegiate dancers from Portland State, Lewis and Clark, and Reed. She created more than 100 works that were performed on film, onstage, and in city streets. Along the way, she forged creative alliances with musicians and visual artists, and earned accolades including the only Oregon Governor’s Award for the Arts given to an individual dance artist.


Welcome back, dance lovers, to a brand-new year of dance in Oregon.

DanceWatch 2019 opens with two dance-centric productions that promote the visibility of female artists and artists of color. These productions embrace global culture, mark the intersection of art forms, explore universal themes, and feature both inspirational and aspirational qualities.

Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan performing at Ten Tiny Dances. Photo by Scott H. Forbes

The first production is Indian Music Now, a collaboration among Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan and composers Reena Esmail, Asha Srinivasan, Shirish Korde, and Nina Shekhar. Produced by Third Angle New Music, the show opens January 10 at Portland’s New Expressive Works. Indian Music Now reflects the contributors’ experiences growing up within Indian and American cultures. The show features a dance performance by Ganesan and musical performances by Louis DeMartino on clarinet, Branic Howard on electronics, and Sarah Tiedemann on flute.

The second production is the Broadway tour of The Lion King, running at Eugene’s Hult Center January 9-20. The musical, which premiered in New York in 1997, is Broadway’s third-longest-running show and its highest grossing. It has received 70 major awards, including a Tony for its Jamaican-born choreographer, Garth Fagan.

Bradley Gibson as Simba in “The Lion King”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The musical, based on the Walt Disney animated film of the same name, tells the story of the young lion Simba, who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king. But Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills Mufasa and takes over as king: Simba is then manipulated into thinking he was responsible for his father’s murder and goes into hiding. When Simba grows up, he returns to challenge Scar and reclaim his birthright.

“We have the negative forces in our lives, but if you are good and strong, you overcome them to beauty, and harmony, and peace,” Fagan told UK radio host Alex Belfield in 2009 in a discussion of the show’s theme.

Fagan, whose Rochester, New York-based company Garth Fagan Dance has appeared in Portland through White Bird, created The Lion King choreography with a unique mix of Caribbean and African dance, modern, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and stilt work. Fagan has said he intended to expand viewers’ consciousness and reflect the varied experiences of children who came to see the show.

Adrienne Walker as Nala and the cast of “The Lion King.” Photo by Deen van Meer.

Director Julie Taymor, the first woman to receive a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, also co-designed the masks and puppets, wrote additional lyrics for the show, and designed its costumes, for which she received a second Tony. Elton John composed the music, which earned him an Oscar.

The production features elaborate sets that rise up from the floor; magnificent, heartfelt songs sung in six indigenous African languages; actors and dancers dressed in colorful, ornate animal costumes; puppets; and a luminous orange sun made of silk that shimmers as it rises over this theatrical African desert.

The Lion King is full of theater magic. I hope its universal message of hope, perseverance, and goodness will inspire you and renew your spirit as you move forward into the new year. Surround yourself with beauty and people who inspire you, and go see lots of art–and dance, of course.

Upcoming Performances

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 10-19, Indian Music Now, Subashini Ganesan and Third Angle New Music
January 19, Building Bridges, Connecting the Field, Oregon Dance Education Organization
January 19, Award Winners Screening, Portland Dance Film Fest
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 3, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin Greenhouse
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 26, Nrityotsava 2019 , Indian Classical & Folk Dance Event, Hosted by Kalakendra
January 27, Oleaje Flamenco at Tablao Artichoke, Espacio Flamenco Portland
January 27, The Art of Seeing: The Masculine Dancing, The Tiny Theater PDX
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, presented by White Bird


February 5-19, Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden
February 6, Ballet Outsider: Gender Politics and Power, a panel discussion hosted by Eugene Ballet Music Director Brian McWhorter
February 8-10, The Gift, PDX Dance Collective, choreography by April MacKay, Zahra Garrett and Rachael Singer
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by White Bird
February 14, Fall In Love With Flamenco, Espacio Flamenco Portland
February 15-16, Two of a Kind: A Shared Evening of Dance, Beth Whelan and Trevor Wilde
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
February 21-24, Anicca/Impermanence, Minh Tran & Company
February 22-24, Alembic Resident Artists Performance, Performance Works NW
February 23, Left of Center, AWOL Dance Collective
February 24, Bharanatayam Margam by Mugdha Vichare and Mayurika Bhaskar, students of Sweta Ravisankar
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 14-17, Corteo, Cirque du Soleil
March 14-21, Ordinary Devotions, Linda Austin
March 16, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April 5, Lecture Demonstration with Rosie Herrera and Company, Reed College
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 12-14, Shen Yun, Presented by the Oregon Falun Dafa Association
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Encores, NW Dance Project

May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Dance Weekly: ‘Edge Effects’ to ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The return of James Canfield and his 'Romeo and Juliet,' a new Tere Mathern dance, and much more

This week’s schedule covers the full spectrum of dance from Bay Area dancer and performance artist Keith Hennessy to ballet choreographer James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet for Oregon Ballet Theatre and everything in between, and I mean everything—which is a good thing.

On Saturday I sat in on a rehearsal for “Edge Effects,” a new dance choreographed by long-time Portland choreographer and artistic director of Conduit Dance, Tere Mathern.

The piece was made over a two-year period with several previous iterations, in collaboration with electronic sound composer Roland Ventura Toledo, filmmaker Sophia Wright Emigh, lighting designer Robin Greenwood, along with five dancers—Lyra Butler-Denman, Vanessa Vogel, Dar VeJon Jones, Lena Traenkenschuh, and Sara Parker. It takes time to make a dance.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 17.16

Edge Effects by Tere Mathern. Photo by Sophia Wright Emigh.

The dance references the idea of an “ecotone—a zone where one ecosystem meets another as when the meadow meets the forest, the water meets the land, or where one body meets another,” said Mathern via our email conversation.

Taking the concepts of edges, transitions and transformations and relating them to human nature, culture and society, Mathern rendered them into movement, through the choreographic process.

The movement, mixed with seven short films that capture the magical aspects of nature up close, added to the atmospheric sounds created by Toledo, creates a three dimensional, experiential, enterable atmosphere, illuminating aspects of nature and relationships you did not know existed.

This concept has stayed with me since Saturday, and I find myself looking around for those moments and places where different environments meet and feeling secret pleasure in discovering them.

“Edge Effects” promises to be an a impactful, contemplative, sensorial experience.

Edge Effects by Tere Mathern. Photo by Sophia Wright Emigh.

Edge Effects by Tere Mathern. Photo by Sophia Wright Emigh.

Edge Effects
A collaboration of dance, film and sound
Choreographed by Tere Mathern
February 25-28
Studio2, 810 SE Belmont St

Regarding the New Wave of African American Choreographer and Their Gesture of Interweaving (Lecture)
6:30 pm February 25
Reed College, PAB Performance Lab, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd
Visiting dance scholar Dr. Christina Rosa from Tufts University Department of Drama and Dance will present a lecture based on her research on the intersection of embodiment, knowledge production, and processes of identification. Her most recent publication Brazilian Bodies and Their Choreographies of Identification (Palgrave McMillan), examines how aesthetic principles cultivated across the black Atlantic contributed to the construction of Brazil as an imagined community. Rosa, a native of Brazil who migrated to the US in 1996, is able to draw on her duel living experiences in her research.

GHOSTS + Snake Talk
Asaf Aharonson & Ruairí Donovan (Berlin) and Abby Crain (Oakland)
Presented by Performance Works NorthWest, Alembic Co-Production Series
Curated by Allie Hankins
February 26-27
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
“GHOSTS” by Asaf Aharonson & Ruairí Donovan of Berlin, draws on the work of theorist Michael Hardt, veiling and unveiling the complex intimacy between lovers, exploring concepts of confidentiality, indecency, travel, erottica, pornography and friendship asking the question “how can love be the central, constitutive mode and motor of politics.”

“Snake Talk,” created and performed by Abby Crain, Maryanna Lachman and Mara Poliak, with lighting design by Elizabeth Ardent and sound design by Samuel Hertz, explores femininity, calling it “slippery and undefinable within an aesthetic terrain of discomfort, excess and distortion. We are dense, opulent, dazzling, awkward, seductive, repulsive, terrifying. We ooze, leak, wander, tie ourselves in a knot, rip apart at the seams. We have forgotten the difference between kissing and eating.”

Workshop with Abby Crain will be held at Flock on Thursday, February 25, and with Asaf Aharonson & Ruairí Donovan on Saturday, February 27.

James Canfield

Romeo and Juliet
James Canfield/Sergei Prokofiev
Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 27-March 5
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Young love, underage sex, teen suicide and Crips vs. Bloods family rivalry are how choreographer and former OBT Artistic Director James Canfield defines his Romeo and Juliet in his interview with Arts Watcher Marty Hughley for Artslandia.

What’s different about Canfield’s version is his investment in the development of the characters and their relationships with each other, giving the work dimension and depth.

And of course there is always beautiful dancing, chiffon and Prokofiev, performed every night by the live OBT orchestra.

Pure Surface
Featuring Renee Sills, Sam Pirnak and Christopher Rose
7 pm, February 28
Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny St
Curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, Pure Surface is a performance series interested in encouraging cross-disciplinary practice and performance by bringing together movement, text and film in the spirit of improvised collaboration. Each month a new group of artists is brought together in the intimate, open-air setting of Valentine’s, and performance is made. This month’s artists are movement artist Renee Sills, video/interdisciplinary artist Sam Pirnak and writer Christopher Rose, who explore the intersection of the Filipino and Black Diasporas.

Nrityotsava 2016
Kalakendra benefit concert
4 pm, February 28
Lake Oswego High School, 2501 Country Club Rd
Kalakendra, the society for the performing arts of India, is a Portland organization with the mission to introduce, promote, and enhance awareness of the various performing arts of the Indian subcontinent through concerts, classical dances, recitals, and lecture-demonstrations.This benefit concert will feature performances by 11 Indian dance groups from Portland and California.

NOTHING TO LOSE; A Dance Party Fundraiser for Physical Education
ft pop-up performances all night long.
8 pm, March 2
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St
Physical Education is comprised of dance and performance artists Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto. PE’s mission is to provide immersive methods of engaging with dance and performance through reading groups, lectures, curated performances, aerobic/movement classes and dance parties.

The featured performers at the fundraiser are Ruth Nelson, William Jay, Holland Andrews, Jin Camou, Julia Calabrese, Danielle Ross, Stacey Tran and Physical Education; Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Yim, and Taka Yamamoto with DJ’s Daniela Karina, Rap Class and Allan Wilson with visuals by Jodie Cavalier.

Keith Hennessy courtesy of PICA.

Keith Hennessy courtesy of PICA.

Keith Hennessy: PSU MFA Studio Lectures Series
7 pm, March 3
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall Room 75
Bear/Skin (Performance)
Keith Hennessy
Presented by PICA
March 4-5
Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St
Bear/Skin is a “dance that is politically motivated by the tension between killer cops and virgin sacrifice, between indigenous culture and modernist appropriation. It has (almost) nothing to do with gay bears and everything to do with The Rite of Spring, teddy bear shamanism, the reconstruction of ritual bear dances, action movies, suicide economics, and the poetry of springtime.”

Hennessy is a San Francisco-based dancer, choreographer, and performance artist regarded as a pioneer of queer and AIDS-themed expressionist dance. Hennessy is known for nonlinear performance collages that combine dance, speaking, singing, and physical and visual imagery, and for improvised performances that often undermine the performer-observer barrier.

If you are interested in furthering your Hennessy experience, he will be teaching a workshop on March 12th from 1-5pm, at University of Washington’s Dance Department’s Meany Hall. Check out the Velocity Dance’s website for more information.

Later in March

March 10-12, Kyle Abraham presented by WhiteBird.
March 13, Dance Film Day, an afternoon of dance films and discussion, co-presented by dance artists and writer Jamuna Chiarini, and Performance Works NW.
March 14, workshop and lecture demonstration with Kyle Abraham at Reed College presented by WhiteBird.

Coffeeshop Chat with David Eckard

The sculptor/performance artist explains his TBA collab with Linda Austin, and his evolving approach to material creations.

Apparently, ArtsWatch editor Barry Johnson’s favorite coffeeshop is the new epicenter of Portland’s performance universe. There to meet Barry, I ran into THREE performers whose work I’ve reviewed: Philip Cuomo, Maureen Porter, and David Eckard—actor, actor, and sculptor/performance artist. Tempted as I was to hide behind a copy of the Mercury and have my coffee quietly, I introduced myself to the actors, and then the actors to a performance artist (an animal of their genus, if a species or two removed). Cuomo is about to direct “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” (a Peanuts cartoon sequel), and Porter’s most anticipated project is “Sweet and Sad” (part of Richard Nelson’s trilogy) with Third Rail. Watch this space for more about them as the theater season progresses, meanwhile…


Eckard will appear at a First Thursday live talk show this evening to explain his imminent TBA piece, “Three Trick Pony.”  At the coffeeshop, he looked deceptively ordinary in a business-casual plaid button up and a beard—but we’ve already seen him nearly naked. In his video piece “Comet,” shown in April at the Museum of Contemporary Craft and viewable online, Eckard wears nothing but a loincloth and a metal harness set with shelves around his hips, over which he sifts a chalky substance (the sands of time?) while spouting original beat poetry in homage to bright-burning friends from his activist past. Not only a performance artist but also a sculptor, Eckard often crafts the structures he’ll inhabit while performing. By his own admission, it wasn’t always so. “When I first started sculpting, I had this exalted sense of ‘the object,’” he confesses, “and I didn’t want anyone touching or messing with my work. In my mind, there was performance, and there was sculpture, and they were completely separate entities.”

Over time, though, the parts began to fuse, as Eckard observed that performing with a given ‘objet’ imbued both him, and it, with new life. Much of the work we’ve seen from him in the last few years builds on this discovery, framing Eckard as almost a bionic man, performative abilities enhanced by his own creations. He used a giant yellow megaphone as a mouthpiece in 2004’s “Podium,” unfurled a one-man platform with winglike banners for 2011’s “Cardiff,” and transformed his body into the aforementioned pseudo-hourglass for “Comet.” Even when a sculpture piece is shown on its own, Eckard has found that his performance audience still associates his actions with the object. Hence “he did this with that” stories enrich the piece’s mythology and meaning even after its performative moment has passed.

Eckard’s natural next evolution? Letting someone else play with his toys. For TBA 2013 offering “Three Trick Pony,” previewed earlier this summer at Conduit’s Dance+, Eckard created props for modern dancer Linda Austin to use in whatever way she chooses—and he’s been surprised by a lot of her choices. “I’d make a piece, and I’d envision how it could be used, how it would bend—and then Linda would come up with a completely different movement.” For instance, what he thought of as a box, in her hands became a plow. “I’d go, ‘Oh wow, okay’ and take the thing back and reinforce the hinges.” Through this conversation of invention and reinvention, “Three Trick Pony” emerged as a choreographic sequence that’s performed three times. For each pass, Eckard’s objects are arranged to exert a different force on Austin’s movements. General themes that spring to mind as Austin grapples with objects larger than herself echo those Eckard has faced in “Comet”: aging and adjusting, the chaos of fate. But in this instance, as the dancer faces different kinetic challenges, she combines a consistent strategy with agile reactions in order to overcome.

Hear more about the  piece tonight at Din Din Supper Club, or catch it in action at PICA’s TBA.

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard's sculptural creations in "Three Trick Pony."

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard’s sculptural creations in “Three Trick Pony.”



A. L. Adams also writes monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

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