NW Dance Project

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.

Continues…

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

Continues…

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 

Continues…

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.

Continues…

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!

Dance Performances in December

Week 1: December 1-8

The Cirque Dreams Holidaze, spectacle! Photo courtesy of Cirque Dreams Holidaze.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
6:30 pm December 1
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

In this larger than life, Las Vegas-meets-musical theatre-meets- nutcracker-spectacle-blowout, Cirque Dreams Holidaze celebrates Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s all in one! 

The performance features over 300 costumes and 20 acts. Singers, dancers, and circus artists bring holiday characters to life and waltz the night away to seasonal favorites like Deck The Halls, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bell Rock.

Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter in, Split Chorus, shared concert.
Photo courtesy of Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Split Chorus
Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter
Performance Works NW Alembic Co-Production
December 6-7
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave

Sharing an evening of new work are interdisciplinary performance artist and lighting designer Dora Gaskill and vocal performance artist and composer Stephanie Lavon Trotter.

Gaskill presents, Graphical Optical Black Out (GOBO), a work that utilizes theatrical lighting, anatomy, and dance to play with perception. 

Trotter presents, Nothing’s really easy about the end of the world, an opera in process, in collaboration with trombonist and vocalist Annie Gilbert. The composition ritualizes the mundane using electro-acoustic voice, movement and video, to situate us in the chaos and comforts of a dying planet.

Lewis and Clark College dancers working it out.
Photo courtesy of Lewis and Clark College.

Dance Extravaganza
Presented by Lewis and Clark College
December 6-7
Lewis and Clark College, Fir Acres Theatre Main Stage, 0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road MSC 54 

Dance Extravaganza features an eclectic mix of new choreography from Lewis and Clark College dance students, alumni, BodyVox Artistic Director Jamey Hampton, and Portland Hip Hop artist Mariecella Devine. 

Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Sridharini Sridharan.
Photo courtesy of Sridharini Sridharan.

Melattur Margam Bharatanatyam
Artistic Director: Sridharini Sridharan
Performed by students of Kala Shiksha
Hosted by HECSA Portland Balaji Temple
3pm December 7
PCC Rock Creek Campus, 17705 NW Springville

Comprised of nine pieces in the Melattur style of Bharathanaityam, this margam (or program) accompanied by a live orchestra, is choreographed and directed by international Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Sridharini Sridharan. Sridharan, originally from Chennai, is a student of Guru Srimati Revathi Ramachandran and is formally trained in Nattuvangam and carnatic music, and has a diploma in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. In 2016 Sridharan founded her own school in Portland called Kala Shiksha.

The traditionally ordered program includes 25 dancers and begins with a Mallari, an invocation dance, and concludes with a mangalam which calls for the blessings of the audience. The dances are in a conversation between the dancer’s ankle bells (Padha Paatas) and the accompanying percussion instrument (the Mridangam) and strike a perfect balance between the mind, body, and soul with the purpose of leading us to moksha, liberation or enlightenment. 

Oregon Ballet Theatre in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre, artistic director, Kevin Irving
December 7-26
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay Street

To Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, little Marie parties hard, fights with her brother because he broke her new toy, sees a tree grow to the size of a building, fights off rats and travels to the Land of Sweets where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, witnesses dancing delicacies from around the world, and takes off in the end to places unknown with the Nutcracker Prince.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker was first performed on February 2, 1954, an adaptation of an earlier version that Balanchine had danced back in Russia. It is now synonymous with the holiday season here in America and is performed by ballet companies nationwide, including OBT’s large-scale version.

Week 2: December 9-15

Dancers of the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company. Photo courtesy of the Disability Art and Culture Project.

Do Good Showcase
Hosted by Disability Art and Culture Project
6:30 pm December 10
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont 

Dancers of the Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company will perform to raise funds for the Disability Art and Culture Project, CymaSpace, Friends of Noise, Portland Street Art Alliance, and Vibe.  There are pre-and post-show activities and live DJ in the lobby! The event is FREE and a donation to participating nonprofits is recommended. ASL interpretation, live audio captioning, and audio description will be provided. 

Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company, founded in 2005 by Kathy Coleman (current director), Erik Ferguson (co-artistic director of Wobbly Dance), and Jody Ramey, is a mixed-ability, mixed-age dance company that aims to further the artistic expression of people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, by providing dance, choreography and performance as an artistic outlet.

NW Dance Project dancers Noelle Kayser and William Couture. Photos by Michael Slobodian

Winter Wonders
NW Dance Project
December 12-14
Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave

Celebrating its 16th anniversary, NW Dance Project presents its annual holiday extravaganza and warm wassail for all! Five NW Dance Project dancers have joined forces to conceive, create, and produce an evening of new, contemporary dance works. Interspersed throughout, will be short whimsical interludes created by Resident Choreographer, Ihsan Rustem for the company’s 10 dancers and the Young Creatives student performing group.

Inspired by fairytales of yesteryear, fables, snowy scenes, and winter wonders, this holiday mashup includes, but is not limited to, appearances by The Snow Queen, The Grinch and his dog Max, and many more madcap characters.

ZooZoo
Imago Theatre, Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad
December 13-January 5
Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th

ZooZoo is back! This longtime, audience favorite magnifies the quirkiness in our everyday life with an expert composition of elaborate costumes, masks, dance, music, physical comedy, and anthropomorphic humor. ZooZoo features a zany cast of characters like playful polar bears, firefly eyes, hippos with insomnia, arrogant anteaters, introverted frogs, acrobatic worms, self touting accordions, and tricky penguins, in this carnival of the absurd. 

Founded in 1979 by Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad, Imago presents original productions using masks and elaborate costumes making the humans disappear and the imaginative creatures appear.

Ballet Fantastique dancers in, Babes in Toyland.
Photo by Bob Williams.

Babes in Toyland
Ballet Fantastique
December 13-15
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

It’s Christmastime in Candyland with Ballet Fantastique! Babes in Toyland, which debuted in 2018, is a contemporary ballet danced to Duke Ellington’s jazzy rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, played live by the Swing Shift Orchestra. This retro-glam ballet, choreographed and produced by the mother-daughter artistic team of Donna Marisa and Hannah Bontrager, is a reimagining of the original Babes in Toyland operetta that Victor Herbert composed as a Christmas-themed fairy-tale mashup; it debuted in 1903.

Reed College dancers taking flight. Photo courtesy of Reed College Dance Department.

Winter Dance Concert
Reed College Dance Department
December 14-15
Reed College, Greenwood Theatre, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

The end of the semester is here and with it the result of many hours of hard work by Reed dance majors. This performance features choreography by students and faculty-get a glimpse of future Portland dancers and dance makers.

Northwest Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker and Mouse King, dueling it out.
Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

A Nutcracker Tea
Northwest Dance Theatre
Artistic Directors June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek
December 14-22
Sylvania Campus, PCC Sylvania’s Performing Arts Center, 12000 SE, SW 49th Ave

An abridged Nutcracker, this version follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes with choreography by June Taylor-Dixon and Gretta Murray-Marchek.

NWDT is a youth ballet company in its twenty-seventh season.

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Evgenia Obraztsova as Marie, and Vladislov Lantrtov as the Nutcracker-Prince, in The Nutcracker. Photo by Damir Yusopov.

The Nutcracker
The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
12:55 pm December 15
Check local theater listings for more information

Broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theater near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Yuri Grigorovich’s 1966 version of The Nutcracker (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa). 

In this version, our heroine’s name is Marie instead of Clara, Drosselmeyer turns into a wizard, the Nutcracker-Prince fight mice not rats, Marie and Nutcracker Prince sail in a magic boat through the Christmas tree kingdom not the land of sweets, Marie vanquishes the mice with a lighted candle instead of her shoe, and in the end, Marie wakes only to realize that it was all just a dream. 

Photo by Michael Miyahara. Poster design by Anthony Tzakis.

Fiesta Flamenca Navideña
Espacio Flamenco Portland
7pm December 15
Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave

Espacio Flamenco Portland presents Fiesta Navideña, a celebration honoring the holidays, Flamenco style. The evening will include performances by Espacio Flamenco Coro Navideño, Flamenco Kids, the Flamenco Guitar class, and the Espacio Flamenco Company.

Week 3: December 16-22

Celebrate the Season 
DOJUMP, 3 Leg Torso, Joan Szymko, and more!
7:30 pm December 20
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St

DO JUMP! and 3 Leg Torso present a seasonal mashup of theatricality, acrobatics, aerial dance, comedy, beauty, virtuosity and wit that includes comic and singer Pepe Raphael, juggler Charlie Brown, and original music composed by Courtney Von Drehle, Béla R. Balogh, Ralph Huntley and Joan Szymko.

Pictured: Troupe Vertigo. Photo courtesy of Oregon Symphony.

Cirque Nutcracker
Presented by Oregon Symphony
December 21
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway

Los Angeles-based theatrical circus company Troupe Vertigo, founded in 2009 by Aloysia Gavre (Cirque du Soleil) and her husband Rex Camphuis (Pickle Family Circus), join forces with the Oregon Symphony to bring a unique hybrid of cirque, dance, and acrobatics to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Steps PDX, directed by Kathryn Harden,
2 pm and 7 pm December 21
World Trade Center Portland, 121 Southwest Salmon Street

The dancers of Steps PDX embody the pumpkin headed scarecrow Jack Skellington and all of the zany ghoulish characters on an adventure to bring Christmas to Halloween Town in this show based on the Tim Burton film of the same name. 

The choreography is provided by artistic director Kathryn Harden, ballet mistress Olivia Ornelas, and the artistic staff—Tj Yale, Alexander Dones, Lauren Smith and Adrianna Audoma.

Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker by artistic director Toni Pimble.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

The Nutcracker
Eugene Ballet, Toni Pimble 
December 20-22
Hult Center, Soreng Theater, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Already on tour across Oregon and Idaho, Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, will return to Eugene for just four performances. 

In this version, played lived by Orchestra Next lead by Brian McWhorter, The Nutcracker becomes a story of young love. In Clara’s dream, the nutcracker transforms into Hans, a young man who works for Drosselmeyer, instead of a prince. The couple takes off on their journey in hot air balloons instead of a horse and sleigh and encounter more culturally sensitive dances that borrow from the folk dances of each country represented. 

Week 4: December 23-31

Dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre waltzing it out with the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Symphony.

A Viennese New Year
Presented by Oregon Symphony with guests from Oregon Ballet Theatre
7:30 pm December 30
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway

Transport yourself to the imperial palaces of Austria and live out your fairytale dreams as the Oregon Symphony celebrates the golden age of Viennese music with operatic melodies and Strauss waltzes, while dancers from Oregon Ballet Theatre give visual form to the sounds. 

Upcoming Performances

January 
January 16-18, She’s Here: A One Woman Show, Andrea Parson and Susan Banyas
January 16-25, a world, a world, Linda Austin Dance
January 26, Cirque Flip Fabrique, Presented by Portland’5
January 26, Giselle, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
January 30-February 9, Fertile Ground Festival of New Works

February 
February 2, Holy Goats!, Performance Works NW
February 5-9, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, White Bird
February 8-9, Alice in Wonderland, Eugene Ballet
February 12, Grupo Corpo, White Bird
February 14-15, BodyVox Artist in Residence Darvejon Jones Dance Ensemble
February 15-23, The Sleeping Beauty, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 21-23, ORIGIN: Humble Beginnings, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 22, Interplay, Eugene Ballet and The University of Oregon School of Music and Dance
February 23, Swan Lake, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
February 27-29, Cirque Alfonse, White Bird
February 29, BodyVox on Tour in Medford, Oregon

March
March 5-7, Rennie Harris Funkedified, White Bird
March 7, Bootleggers Ball, BodyVox
March 6-8, Dragon and The Night Queen, Ballet Fantastique
March 13-15, Alembic Resident Artists Performance: Sarah Brahim, Maggie Heath, and Cat Ross, Performance Works NW
March 26-April 5, NINETEEN * TWENTY (world premiere), BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest
March 29, Romeo and Juliet, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events

April 
April 2-4, Camille A. Brown and Dancers, White Bird
April 4-5, Heaven and Earth, Eugene Ballet
April 9-12, Beautiful Decay, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 15, ChangMu Dance Company, White Bird
April (dates TBA): Linda Austin & Allie Hankins ║ The Traveler & the Thief
April 19, Jewels, The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, Fathom Events
April 23, Drum Tao 2020
April 23-25, The Rite Of Spring, NW Dance Project
April 25-28, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre
April 30-May 2, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox

May
May 1-2, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox
May 3: Holy Goats!Plus, Performance Works NW
May 8-9, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 8-10, Luna Mistica, Ballet Fantastique
May 12-13, Dance Theatre of Harlem, White Bird
May 15 – 17, Junior Artist Generator, BodyVox
May 22-24, ARISE: What Dance Could Be, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 28-31, Portland Tap Dance Festival, Portland Tap Alliance

 June
June 5-13, The Americans 2.0, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 11-13, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 12-14, Up Close, The Portland Ballet

ArtsWatch Weekly: old, new, always

Same old story? Brash new wave? In Oregon arts & culture this week, old and new mix it up, and it's sometimes tough to tell which is which

ART IS ABOUT STRIDING BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE and discovering the new. The Portland Art Museum, for instance, is getting ready to open the first major retrospective of the work of American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photography, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects turn their focus sharply and sometimes satirically on the flashpoints of contemporary culture and the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal …, which will run Oct. 12-Jan. 12, is the museum’s big fall-season attraction, and a central part of a run of shows in the next few months about the work of artists of color: the essential Portland painter Isaka Shamsud-Din, the great Robert ColescottFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and the just-opened exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Continues…

NW Dance Project: 3 for the show

The agile Portland company kicks off its 16th season with a trio of works by Ihsan Rustem, Luca Veggetti, and Patrick Delcroix

When Franco Nieto, all red-nosed and disheveled and comically herky-jerk, strolled in front of the stage curtain in the Newmark Theatre Thursday evening like a side-show barker or a tramp clown, the audience leaned forward on full alert. It leaned forward farther as he proceeded to behave like an especially rubbery baggy-pants comic in a vaudeville act. And when he casually slid beneath the curtain with the boneless ease of an eel and disappeared, leaving the stage empty, laughter began rippling across the auditorium. For the remainder of Ihsan Rustem’s jaunty comic hit Le Fil Rouge it pretty much didn’t stop. Nieto and his fellow NW Dance Project performers had the crowd right where they wanted it: surprised, amused, and eager for more.

Colleen Loverde and Anthony Pucci in the world premiere of Patrick Delcroix’s Invisible Spark. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Le Fil Rouge was the capper of NW Dance Project’s 16th-season-opening show Infall (it repeats Friday and Saturday nights), and a bit of a homecoming as well. Rustem, a Londoner whose first piece with the Portland company, State of Matter, was performed by the company dancers twice in London as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, has been NDP’s resident choreographer since 2015. The two other choreographers on the program – French dancemaker Patrick Delcroix and Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti – also have productive histories with the company.

Continues…