Performance Works Northwest

No news like good news

ArtsWatch Weekly: I Am MORE, Broadway Rose's 'Story of My Life,' PDX Jazz Fest, art around Oregon.

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO MY FRIEND (AND OCCASIONAL ARTSWATCH CONTRIBUTOR) STEPHEN RUTLEDGE, who writes the Born This Day column and other stories for The WOW Report, sent along a YouTube link to an old clip of Sam Cooke singing Good News on American Bandstand. Along with the link he sent high praise for the recent movie One Night in Miami, a fictional imagining of an actual meeting in a Miami hotel in 1964 of Cooke, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and football star Jim Brown to celebrate Ali’s heavyweight-championship victory over Sonny Liston. Rutledge’s note reminded me that, yes, even in traumatic times there is good news, it’s worth singing about, and its triumphs so often are the result of hard creative work and leaps of the imagination.
 

S. Renee Mitchell (left) and, from left, Jeanette Mmunga, Justice English and Johana Amani of I Am MORE.

In Building Resiliency with the Arts, the latest chapter in our occasional series The Art of Learning, Brett Campbell relates another story of Good News, one with deep Portland roots. The poet, activist, and former Oregonian newspaper columnist S. Renee Mitchell, he writes, “had been recruited to Roosevelt High School to teach journalism. But she also helped mentor students with their personal issues; brought in fruit, day-old bagels and cream cheese; revived the Black Student Union; created a Black Girl Magic Club, and invited in community members to perform, speak, encourage and share their wisdom with the school’s low-income students.”

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DanceWatch: Dear March, come in!

Oregon's dance month marches in like a lion, and a tango, and some ballet, and some butoh, and some funk, and bootleggers, and more

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –


This is the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s Dear March – Come in –, a poem that describes the month of March like an old friend who has finally arrived, long awaited, but will soon leave because April is knocking at the door. Spring has arrived! The poem seems to express that time is fleeting, patience is a virtue, and we should enjoy things and life while they last. Our Portland winter hasn’t been as challenging as some, but it’s definitely been dark, and I am so glad to see the light again and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

To me there is such an obvious connection between nature and dance. The body is nature. We are born of the earth, sustained by it, and return to it when we die.  Like nature, dance is also fleeting and lives in the moment. Dance and dancers, like seasons, grow and change, bloom, age, are affected by their environments, and flourishes when they are loved. 

March’s dance offerings are an interesting combination of the political and personal, the historical and imagined, and nature and connectivity, with a bit of comedy and religion sprinkled in. Enjoy!


DANCES AND DANCE EVENTS IN MARCH


Week 1: March 1-8

Marta Savigliano, Tango and the Political Economy of Passion
Presented by the Reed College Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies Colloquium Series and moderated by Reed College Dance Professor Victoria Fortuna
Noon March 4 
Reed College, Vollum College Center, Room: 120, 3203 S.E. Woodstock Blvd., Portland

Offering both an insider and outsider point of view, Marta Savigliano – an Argentine political theorist and dance professor at the University of California at Riverside –, discusses her book Tango and the Political Economy of Passion (1995); a text on tango’s national and global politics that received the Congress of Research on Dance Award for Outstanding Book 1993-1996.
The event is free, and all are welcome. Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to cwilcox@reed.edu so that the right amount of food can be provided. 

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Ordinary Devotions, a new contemporary dance work by veteran Portland choreographer and performer Linda Austin, is meant to do two things: find glamour in everyday objects and honor the ordinaryand extraordinaryqualities of the aging body.

Now 65 years old, Austin has had time to consider both topics. She has been a working artist for more than 35 years; in 1999, she established the well-known Foster-Powell DIY arts space Performance Works NorthWest with her technical director and partner, Jeff Forbes, to host performances, offer residencies and workshops, and provide affordable rehearsal space for Portland artists. By the time I arrived there to talk with her about this new work, the everyday objects she spotlights in the piece had spilled out onto the performance space from her living area, which is separated from the venue by a door on the back wall. A white vinyl tarp, a twig, stones, a lamp, cassette tapes, multiple spools of thread, some shoes, and various knickknacks were carefully placed across the floor with a seemingly methodical, even devotional precision.

Linda Austin looks for the extraordinary in "Ordinary Devotions." Photo by Jeff Forbes.

Linda Austin looks for the extraordinary in “Ordinary Devotions.” Photo by Jeff Forbes.

“It was kind of organic,” mused Austin, recalling how she accumulated these particular objects. She’d started working with the spools of thread in the beginning, spurred by her desire to be slightly levitated off the earth. Throughout the work, Austin rearranges the spools to support her body as she lies on her back or walks across the floor. “I’ve always had this fascination with the extraordinary in the ordinary. I like doing something weird with a matter-of-factness,” she laughed. “I’m interested in the ‘thingness’ of the body versus the animated nature of things. Finding this commonality and endowing each [thing] with the qualities of the other intrigues me.”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dance Lights Up December’s Darkness

The week's DanceWatch covers a month of dance from "Wolf Tales" to a trio of Nutcrackers and so much more.

Happy holidays, happy solstice, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, and happy New Year. I’m saying all that now because THIS DanceWatch Weekly will be the last one of 2018. I know, I’m sad too, but don’t worry: DanceWatch will return again in 2019 with a look at the musical The Lion King, featuring choreography by Garth Fagan. It opens in Eugene January 9.

Before we go our separate ways to enjoy our seasonal celebrations, let’s take a moment to reflect.

This was a busy year for dance in Oregon and for DanceWatch, as well as for ArtsWatch’s incredible team of dance writers: Martha Ullman West, Bob Hicks, Barry Johnson, Heather Wisner, Nim Wunnan, Gary Ferrington, and Elizabeth Whelan, who tried hard to cover it all. As one of the relatively rare sources of dance writing in the U.S., ArtsWatch is a valuable platform; I’m grateful for it, and for the company of such talented writers. If you would like to read ArtsWatch’s coverage of dance in 2018, begin here and click through.

December, dark and magical, brings festive dance performances of all kinds, beginning with NW Dance Project’s Wolf Tales, a remix of fables and fairy tales choreographed by the company dancers: expect lots of surprising twists and turns. Wolf Tales runs December 6-8 and features NW Dance Project executive director Scott Lewis’s world-famous warm wassail served up in the lobby after each show.

This 2016 photo of Linda Austin Dance performing “The last bell rings for you” serves as a prompt at the December 9 STREWN fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NorthWest.

On December 9, for one night only, Performance Works NorthWest will present Strewn, a party to celebrate 18 years of experimental dance and performance held in the Performance Works NorthWest space, to keep the space affordable for artists, and to help sustain programming such as the Alembic artist residencies, various co-productions, and Linda Austin Dance. Two performances, at 7 and 9pm, feature seven outstanding multi-discipline performances by an amazing lineup of Portland artists. The performances are inspired by archival photos of past PWNW performances, and the evening will include a raffle, refreshments, and a karaoke after-party at 9pm.

Other attractions this month include Robin Lane’s holiday spectacular, held December 14-16 at the Alberta Rose Theatre and brimming with musical, acrobatic, and theatrical glory. DO JUMP physical theatre and 3 LEG TORSO perform; Pepe Raphael (of Pepe & the Bottle Blondes) and Jenny Conlee-Drizos (of the Decemberists) make guest appearances. Milagro/Miracle Theatre Group’s Posada Milagro is a Latino Christmas celebration that includes crafts, Spanish storytelling, piñatas, food, and folkloric dance and music performances by Ballet Papalotl and Son Huitzilín; it’s held at the company’s home theater on Stark Street December 16. Espacio Flamenco celebrates the holiday flamenco style with Fiesta Navideña. Held December 16 at the Alberta Abbey, the event features performances of traditional holiday songs and dances by Espacio Flamenco students and the Espacio Flamenco Company.

Ballet Fantastique’s “Babes in Toyland” premieres December 8. Photo courtesy of Ballet Fantastique.

In Eugene, the Emmy Award-winning television dance competition series So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018 comes to the Hult Center on December 8, featuring winning performers and choreography from the show’s 15th season. Babes in Toyland, a world premiere by Ballet Fantastique, runs December 14-16 at the Hult Center as well, and will be danced to Duke Ellington’s rendition of The Nutcracker Suite, played live by the Swing Shift Orchestra. The 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.

As for Nutcrackers, there are three: Oregon Ballet Theatre performs George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker December 8-26, the majority with live music live by the OBT orchestra. Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble and accompanied live by Orchestra Next, runs December 21-23. And the Bolshoi Ballet performs Yuri Grigorovich’s The Nutcracker (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa) live from Moscow in movie theaters near you on December 23.

BodyVox’s Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company performs December 14-15. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Student performances, which tend to be less expensive and shorter (great for the younger set) include The Reed College Winter Dance Concert, featuring student and faculty choreography; it runs December 8-9. Steps PDX Youth Program dancers perform excerpts from The Nutcracker, Land of the Sweets, featuring choreography by artistic director Kathryn Harden, ballet Mistress Olivia Ornelas, and instructors Lauren Smith and Jesus Rodales; the show is held December 15. And BodyVox’s pre-professional dance group, the Junior Artist Generator (JAG) Company, performs works by BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland as well as pieces by a who’s who of up-and-coming Portland choreographers December 14-15.

That’s a wrap. We’ll bring you more Oregon dance events in the new year.

Dance review: ‘Two Love Stories’ tracks our heartbreak

Marissa Rae Niederhauser explores the trance of masculine aggression and the trance of female passivity

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

Two Love Stories, presented by Linda Austin’s Performance Works Northwest Sunday night, was far from the romantic walk in the park you’d expect from its title. Marissa Rae Niederhauser, Berlin-based dancer and choreographer, cuts down the back alleys and into the dark corners of the game we all play. The game called love.

She plunges to the depths of heartbreak, in all of its repetitive and nauseating layers, and by the end of Two Love Stories, a surface level conversation about relationships isn’t even a remote possibility. The work meticulously opened up every door that pain might hide behind—and journeyed deep into the recesses of the heart, unearthing the unspoken part of love.

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