NW Dance Project

May DanceWatch: Questions about the future

Portland dance companies and presenters are still trying to figure out what 2021 will look like

Welcome to the mid-to-late pandemic temperature check of Oregon’s dance community. For the most part, the dancers are still here, but everyone else is in a holding pattern, riding out Oregon’s 4th wave of Covid-19 and waiting for people to get their vaccinations.

Last week I reached out to several Oregon dance companies and presenters via phone and email to see how they were doing. I asked them what returning to “normal” might look like, how it might happen, how they were preparing, and how it’s changing their programming. But before I dive into those conversations, here are three dance performances happening in May!

Performances this month

Pictured are the dancers of BodyVox working virtually with dance photographer Lois Greenfield on her new choreography for the Pearl Dive Project, Photosynthesis, streaming now StreamingVox. Photo courtesy of Jamey Hampton.

Pearl Dive Project 
BodyVox 
Currently streaming: Episode One: Lois Greenfield, Photosynthesis
May 6th Episode Two: Poison Waters, Too 
May 27th Episode Three: Ludovico Einaudi, title TBA 
June 17th Episode Four: Yiyun Li, River like a sea 
July 5th Episode Five: Matt Groening, title TBA  
All episodes are available to stream on-demand on Vimeo.
TalkAbout on StreamingVox, a virtual conversation between BodyVox co-founders and rock musician Jeremy Wilson. 

Born out of the desire to see what kind of choreography non-dancers and other creatives could create, BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland created The Pearl Dive Project. Each year they invite a who’s who of renowned artists to create new work for the company. This year’s newly christened choreographers are dance photographer Lois Greenfield, drag performer Poison Waters, Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, writer Yiyun Li, and cartoonist Matt Groening.

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Dance news: Creativity is flowing

NW Dance Project, Franco Nieto and BodyVox adapt to pandemic circumstances

Back in March and April, when cities began closing up due to the spread of Covid-19, many folks were prophesying that the pandemic would change art forever. They said artists would come up with great ideas, that the pandemic would force into existence incredible art, create new and beautiful things, and develop solutions. Artists would show the world how to adapt.

I thought this to be true, but I had never experienced a pandemic before, so it was hard to imagine how this new world would look.

Well, here we are eight-ish months later, and the creativity is flowing. Portland’s dance scene is adapting.

In good news this week…

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How Portland’s big dance organizations responded to Black Lives Matter

Portland's very white dance companies attracted blowback from the dance community and agreed to change

For the past several weeks, conversations and arguments around race and the arts have arisen nationally and locally. In the Portland dance community, they’ve been driven by the dancers themselves, many of whom  have concluded that the city’s big companies—Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox and NW Dance Project, along with its major dance presenter, White Bird—could do a lot more than they’ve done in addressing systemic racism in both the art form and their own organizations. And they’ve taken to Instagram and Facebook to express their opinions. 

“It takes someone in a position of power to advocate for someone who is disenfranchised,” said DarVejon Jones, a Black choreographer, teacher, and dancer in Portland. Jones explained what he and many Black Americans have experienced: that you can’t speak up because you fear the systems of power in place around you. “That’s what white supremacy says, it makes you feel like you have no agency to talk about your own life. When you do, you feel like a squeaky wheel,” he said recently in an interview with me. 

Nonetheless, he and many other local dancers have been speaking up. And having been prodded, the dance companies have responded, often defensively and often without the clarity that might satisfy their dancers, the dance community and even their boards of directors.

ArtsWatch asked the leadership of the Big Four some questions about how they are reacting to Black Lives Matter and its implications. Each company is different: different history, different financial arrangements, different artistic focus. But for the first time in some cases, they are hearing criticism from the dance community itself and they are all looking intensely at the same problem. Here’s what we found.

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Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Outsmarting the Grinch

Stuck in an impeachment funk? Liberace, Liza, shape-note singing, and a whole lot of holiday shows to reset the mood.


IT’S BEEN SOMETHING OF A HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS WEEK across America. But if I can draw your attention away from the impeachment proceedings for a few minutes, let me gently remind you that it’s also a season of peace on Earth, good will toward men, and more holiday shows than you can shake a peppermint stick at. Ah, the traditions. Ah, the welcome rituals. Ah, the familiar faces of … Liberace and Liza Minnelli?

That’s the lively and somewhat tongue-in-cheek holiday duo arriving at CoHo Theatre for a limited run of A Very Liberace & Liza Christmas, a tribute cabaret starring the casino-lounge-smooth David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris. “The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special,” Christa McIntyre wrote in an enthusiastic review for ArtsWatch three years ago. “Your foot will be tapping, and don’t expect the rest of you to remain idle in your seat.” The show gets four performances Dec. 26-29, and we’re giving you early warning in case it sells out, which it just might. Ring-a-ling ding. It’s a sequin thing.

David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, bringing a bit of Liberace/Liza glamour to the holiday stage at CoHo Theatre. Photo: Mike Marchlewski 

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Dance review: NW Dance Project’s stocking stuffers

NW Dance Project’s holiday show, conceived by its dancers and resident choreographer, felt a lot like a sampler plate of grandma's cookies

Before I jump into reviewing NW Dance Project’s holiday showWinter Wonders, which opened and closed over the weekend at Lincoln Performance Hall—I’m going to tell you about my Christmas stocking. Why? Because as I left Lincoln Hall Thursday night, that stocking and all of the little gifts that end up stuffed into it on Christmas morning was all I could think of as the dancers took their final bow. 

My Christmas stocking was no ordinary stocking, not the generic, mass-produced numbers you can get at almost any retailer this time of year. My father cross-stitched my stocking by hand from threads of the most wintry hues, attaching sequins as he went and embellishing it with penguins ice skating in their snowy wonderland. When he was done, it hung in a line of five brilliantly unique stockings, all handmade. Every Christmas morning, I’d wait to pull out the random assortment of goodies hidden inside. And of course, I hoped for an orange at the bottom, to acknowledge that I’d been good that year. 

But let’s get back to the show—this favorite memory does relate, promise! 

Kody Jauron and Katherine Disenhof in Andrea Parson’s “Oh Deer!” in NW Dance Project’s “Winter Wonders”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

NW Dance Project opened its holiday show, Winter Wonders, with some big questions. Company dancer Kevin Pajarillaga mimed along to a voice that rang throughout the hall, and the program got right into the nitty-gritty of an artist’s work—the questions that, in one form or another, artists of all sorts tend to ask themselves.

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December DanceWatch: Rhyming couplets rule!

December dance around the state and especially Portland has its fair share of Nutcrackers and yet more

‘Twas the month of December and all through the state, 

Not a dancer was sleeping. They hardly could wait!

Dance shoes of all kinds were readied with care,

In hopes that big audiences soon would be there.

Choreographers were restless and pacing all night,

With visions of slip-ups creating a fright.

While ArtsWatch’s writers got set to review,

The dancers lined up and awaited their cue.

With music beginning and growing intense,

The curtain rose softly, without a pretense. 

The dancers all flew from the wings with a flash,

They tore up the stage and gave it a thrash!

The dancers’ excitement gave rise to new hope, 

That in this new year, we may cheerfully cope.

With so much to see we can say without fear,

Happy winter to all, and a Happy New Year!