Pole Disclosure

ArtsWatch Weekly: dance of life

From Scheharazade spinning stories to a 6-year-old spinning a galaxy, a whirl of creative energy keeps Oregon in the dance

DOES ANY LITERARY TALE DEAL MORE DIRECTLY with the power of storytelling than the story of Scheherazade? The visier’s daughter created a tapestry of words that saved her life, surviving for a thousand and one nights by spinning a string of stories so fascinating that the tyrant who had planned to kill her was compelled to grant a stay of execution night after night so she could tell the ending of each unfinished tale the following night. Scheherazade’s tale of tales fascinated the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, whose music for it in turn fascinated the late Portland choreographer Dennis Spaight, who created a ballet to it in 1990 for Oregon Ballet Theatre. Now OBT is in the midst of its first revival of Spaight’s story ballet since 1993.

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s visual phantasmagoria Scheherazade. Photo: Yi Yin 

Spaight’s version of the Scheherazade tale, which was something of a Portland all-star collaboration with sets by the celebrated painter Henk Pander, costumes by the visionary theatrical designer/director Ric Young, and lighting by the masterful Peter West, is the anchor of OBT’s thirtieth anniversary season-opening program, and Martha Ullman West, in her ArtsWatch review Wit, speed, a blast from the past, declares it a “grand entertainment.” She continues: “I have never seen Scheherazade better-performed than it was on opening night, and that’s saying something.”

But Scheherazade, Ullman West stresses, is only part of the story. The OBT dancers’ performances of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto are equally distinguished: “It’s brilliant programming, …. Each ballet is a gift to the audience, and a gift to the dancers as well, offering them opportunities to stretch and grow, hone their technique, and refine their artistry.”

Brian Simcoe in William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The program has three more performances, Thursday through Saturday in Keller Auditorium. After that, who knows what Scheherazade’s story-hungry tyrant might do?

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‘Pole Disclosure’: Acrobatics meets #MeToo

The contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado join physical skill to moving disclosures

When I arrived at A-Wol Dance Collective’s warehouse space on Saturday night to see Pole Disclosure, the line to get in stretched down the block and around the corner. That’s a sight I am not used to seeing here in Portland. By the time I got to the door, the show— a brand-new work by contemporary circus duo Kate Law and Amaya Alvarado, accompanied live by cellist Yoko Silk—was sold out and they were turning people away. Lucky for me I already had a ticket. From what I learned later on, all three shows of the run were sold out! 

Inside, the welcoming reception area was festooned with twinkling lights and catered food and drink were available. The performance area was deeper into the space,  a wide-open area with a vaulted ceiling, black walls, a chair and a music stand set up to the far left. A single pole connected floor to ceiling in the middle of the room. The space was sparse, undecorated, and it exposed the vulnerable inner workings of the show.

Law and Alvarado hanging out on the Chinese pole. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Pole Disclosure, began with Law and Alvarado, dressed in Evel Knievel-inspired denim jumpsuits, standing across from each other with the pole in the middle. They were smiling. In between climbing up the pole, supporting each other in various death-defying, off-center feats of balance, hanging off of each other in mid-air, and sliding down the pole towards the floor at breakneck speeds and stopping just inches from catastrophe, they spoke happily and warmly about their working partnership. They reflected on its successes and its inner workings, all the while visually demonstrating and supporting the words with their movements and poses.

Law supporting Alvarado on the cyr wheel. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Then the story veered. Law revealed that she hadn’t always been a good partner and that nine years ago she was in another fantastic partnership that she “ruined” by getting pregnant. “She got to go to Cirque du Soleil,” Law mourned about her partner, “and all I got was a fucking baby.” The audience laughed. An uncomfortable truth. 

Then the story turned again, more severely this time, when Alvarado spoke of her own personal story of sexual assault. It turns out that this was Alvarado’s #MeToo reveal moment—as she had never told any of her friends —about the assault.

The guilt that Alvarado felt for not seeing and acting on the red flags in her relationship, is with her all the time and was represented by her duet with the cyr wheel, a heavy metal acrobatic apparatus that trapped and created an energy of chaos around her. It became a giant object hanging off of her shoulder with its obvious weight pressing against Alvarado’s small frame. 

Throughout the rest of the evening, in between flying through the air and playing teeter-totter on a suspended shell-shaped apparatus, Law and Alvarado continued to unravel their thoughts and feelings around birth, the unrelenting pressures of motherhood, gender roles, society’s pressure to stay quiet in the face of a sexual assault, guilt, how the concept of “having it all” is actually a lie, identity, “aging out” of a performance career, and the lack of free childcare. This wasn’t all dark I assure you. There were plenty of jokes and lots of laughter. 

All the while, the cello, played by the incredibly talented Silk, completely and seamlessly supported and followed the action and emotion of the performance, like a film score. If the moment was funny, the music reflected it. If the movement was big and sweeping, so was the music. The music’s presence was so masterfully harmonized with the performance that I wasn’t always aware of it, though I always felt it.  

In the middle of the Pole Disclosure, Silk moved her chair to the center of the stage where Alvarado joined her on the ukulele and sang the song Elastic Heart, by Sia. Law accompanied them in the air on elastic ropes, perfectly expressing the mood and the lyrics of the song with her movements.

The last stanza of the song goes like this:

“Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart
But your blade it might be too sharp
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard
But I may snap when I move close
But you won’t see me fall apart
‘Cause I’ve got an elastic heart”

At the very end of the show, Alvarado told us that taped under each chair was a pen and note card. “It would mean so much to us if you would just write down anything that you want us to know,” she said, “or anything that you want the people around you to know. There’s no wrong answers here, you can even fold it up into a little paper airplane if you want.” 

Law and Alvarado gathered up all of our crumpled note cards, stuffed them in their shirts, climbed to the top of the pole, read a few, and tossed the rest down making it rain notecards. The note cards were made available for us to read after the performance. 

Alvarado hanging precariously off of Law’s neck on the Chinese pole in the final scene of Pole Disclosure. Photo by Beautiful Aberration.

Alvarado and Law have 20 years of circus arts experience between them. They have attended some of the most prestigious circus schools in the country, studied with many famous teachers, and have performed around the world. Their expertise was evident in this fantastic and very relatable show. It was exciting and inspiring to witness their feats of physical strength and flexibility, and to watch them effortlessly maneuver their way through and around all of the different apparatuses. Pole Disclosure was satisfying, and moving, and stayed with me long after the show, like a good book. 

In the end, the show seemed to say, “not only do women have to constantly fight for equality, and for their dreams, but they also have to do it while climbing up poles, swinging through hoops, hanging upside down by their feet, and supporting themselves, friends, and family, in dangerous, precarious ways.” Metaphorically speaking, of course—sort of. 

October DanceWatch: The moves get spooky

The month in dance will haunt the senses as the choreography calls on the spirits

Happy Halloween my little ghosts and ghouls, welcome to the spooky October issue of DanceWatch. The veil between the worlds has thinned and dance is lurking everywhere, so beware…

This month, aerial company Night Flight takes over Lincoln Hall with creepy creatures flying about, and Ballet Fantastique sinks deep into the soul of Poe with the world premier of their new ballet, Nevermore: Stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

Oregon Ballet Theater celebrates its 30th season with three significant ballets that span three decades in OBT Roar(s), and White Bird begins its 22nd season with illusionist dance company Momix, German choreographer Sasha Waltz and Guest, and facile young tap dancer Caleb Teicher and Company from New York. 

Portland Dance Film Fest, directed by Kailee McMurran in partnership with NW Film Center, takes over the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium for three days, presenting dance films from around the world. 

New to the DanceWatch list is a performance that melds visual arts and burlesque by Lacy Productions, a world premiere circus production by Amaya Alvarado and Kate Law called Pole Disclosure, a 7-to-Smoke open styles dance battle, an Odissi performance by the renowned Odissi dancer Collena Shakti and her students, and a night of improv with Linda Austin and the Holy Goats. 

There is of course much, much, more to see on the list so look if you dare…


Week 1: October 1-6

The Value of the Black Ballet Star: Politics of Desire in the Economy of Institutional Diversity
Lester Tomé
6 pm October 3
Reed College, Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab (PAB 128), 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

In his lecture, dance scholar Lester Tomé will interrogate the ballet world’s move towards diversity onstage while simultaneously ignoring its colonialist and racist history and culture offstage.

Tomé teaches dance history and anthropology, as well as cultural studies, social theory and research methods in dance. He is an associate professor in dance and an affiliate of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program at Smith College and a faculty member in the Five College Dance Department. Tomé is the author of articles in Cuban Studies, and you can find his writing in Dance Magazine, Dance Research Journal, Dance Chronicle, The Routledge Companion to Dance Studies, The Cambridge Companion to Ballet, and The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet, to name just a few.

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