Portland dance

Subashini Ganesan: Creative Laureate Checks In

Stage & Studio: Dmae Roberts and Portland's arts advocate talk about Covid relief, EDI initiatives, and what the next laureate might do

What is the current state of Portland’s creative community? One person who has had her finger on the pulse of the needs and challenges for Portland’s artists is Subashini Ganesan, and she’s checking in with Dmae Roberts.

Subashini Ganesan-Photo: Intisar Abioto.

In 2018, Ganesan was selected to become the Creative Laureate of Portland, the first woman of color to represent the city’s creative community. As the cultural ambassador of Portland, she conducted surveys to help artists define needs for affordable space, and organized arts and culture communities in an event, “Walk with Refugees and Immigrants.” She also co-founded and organized an emergency relief fund for artists during March through July in 2020 as the arts community struggled to adapt to COVID-19.

Continues…

The Year of Living Cautiously, Pt. 2

Dance on screen: It's not the same as sitting with an audience for a live performance in a theater, but when theaters are shut down, it's a balm

Before Covid, I watched dancing on screen for several reasons, none of them related to recreating the experience of watching live performance, or as a substitute for it.

One was for reference, or what the French call an aide memoire, something to jog my memory of a performance I’d seen in the flesh, three-dimensionally, on the stage or in the studio or on a specific site, before I wrote about it. An example of that is watching the six-minute video of Linda K. Johnson’s Polka Dot Square piece, a viewing that verified that one of the dancers performing last October on artist Bill Will’s socially distanced giant polka dots in Pioneer Courthouse Square had been wearing red. Yet it in no way reproduced the joy I had derived from seeing birds doing a flyover, or feeling the chill in the air, or being part of an equally elated audience at the actual event. 

My rotten handwriting has also driven me to look at performances I’ve already watched in the dark—I often can’t read it. God forbid I misidentify a dancer in a review, or invent choreography that wasn’t performed.  (I am guilty of doing both of those things, for which I am still apologizing.) When Oregon Ballet Theatre performed Bournonville’s Napoli, I used a DVD of a different production—which had been staged by the same people—to remind myself of specific choreography, and while that recorded performance was extremely good, seeing it on my television screen with only my cat as my audience companion flattened it considerably. 

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers in the United States full-production premiere of August Bournonville’s “Napoli,” October 6-13, 2018, at the Keller Auditorium. Photo: James McGrew.

The second reason is connected to research, to see what dances and dancers looked like that I have had no opportunity to see live. A few that come to mind are Janet Reed as Swanhilda in Coppélia (I was only three);  Loie Fuller’s nature-inspired dances (performed well before I was born, though I have seen one reconstruction at the Maryhill Museum of Art, which also has film clips in her archive there); and James Canfield and Mark Goldweber in the Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of Petrouchka (which was not performed in Portland on tour). 

Continues…

Dramatic? It’s like an opera out there

ArtsWatch Weekly: Where's Frida; how to (maybe) reopen; farewell to Ross McKeen; puppets; comics; art that tells stories & more

AS WE ZOOM PAST THE ONE-YEAR MARK IN ENFORCED ISOLATION, shutdowns have caused havoc everywhere, sometimes straining well-run organizations and sometimes exposing structural weaknesses that pre-existed the pandemic. Being big can be a problem in itself: You might begin with a bigger bankroll, but the larger a group’s budget, the harder it is to shift direction, and the more a shutdown stands to imperil the entire operation. Being small can mean you’re nimble, but it can also make it tough to scrape up the wherewithall to hunker in and just survive for a while.

Portland Opera’s “Frida”: heading to the great outdoors? Photo: Keith Blakoff/Long Beach Opera

How’s that playing out in the world of opera? Herein ArtsWatch presents a new three-act contemporary work, which we’ll refrain from calling Stayin’ Alive:

ACT ONE: New York’s Metropolitan Opera is undergoing monumental convulsions, as Julia Jacobs reports in The New York Times, with 40 percent of its laid-off musicians leaving the expensive New York area, and abrasive battles being waged between management and unions. Massive debt is being piled up, veteran musicians are choosing to retire, and shop work is being farmed out to non-union companies as management pushes for big salary cuts. (Subtheme: Conductor and music director James Levine, the leading artistic force at the Met for almost a half-century until being fired in 2018 over multiple allegations of sex abuse and harassment, died at age 77 on March 9, it was reported Wednesday.)

Continues…

For houseless women, a fresh Momentum

Dance workshops rethink the dance world and aid houseless women, children and nonbinary people at the Rose Haven shelter

Women’s History Month is under way, and Portland’s dancers are finding new ways to celebrate the city’s female and nonbinary movers while simultaneously serving the most vulnerable women, children and nonbinary members of our community. The women organizing the third annual Momentum Workshops are giving a new meaning to the phrase “we rise by lifting others” in this town’s dance scene, and there’s still time to join in on the momentum yourself. 

Entering their fourth and final week, the Momentum Workshops–formerly known as Females of February–offer accessible online dance and movement classes as well as health/wellness seminars. Workshop organizer Isabel Holmes says the workshops were created as a way to say thank you to the incredible women who had helped her along on her journey, and as it wraps up the third annual year, it’s grown into something bigger. That’s where Rose Haven comes in. A day shelter and community center that serves women, children and gender nonconforming folks who are experiencing poverty, trauma and intersecting issues, Rose Haven is the recipient of all revenue generated from the Momentum Workshops, and has been since the first year in 2019. 

The Momentum Workshops (Image from their inaugural workshop in 2019), hosted at Steps PDX, drew 25-30 local dancers to each workshop. Now running in a virtual format, the workshops have expanded beyond the Portland dance community. 

I chatted with Liz Starke, Rose Haven’s development director, on what it’s been like to partner with Momentum. The most valuable aspect of their partnership, she told me, has been the workshops’ ability to raise awareness for what they do at the shelter: “They are literally using their bodies to tell the world our story, to help fight the stigma that comes with poverty. Watching the literal sweat that has gone into these workshops is so inspiring, and makes it easier to digest really tough and depressing subject matter.” 

Continues…

Rebuilding a State of the Arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: All around Oregon, the cultural Covid freeze of 2020 begins to thaw. Will it continue?

WE’RE LIVING IN CURIOUS TIMES. Things thaw, things freeze up again. Things close, things open. Vaccines are available, but good luck getting a shot (let alone two). One day it’s snow, the next day it’s spring. People stay home, people flock to reopened restaurants. Schools start up, state Senate Republicans walk out. The national death count soars above half a million as rates of infection taper off. And, as I type this late Wednesday morning, here comes the sun. (Update Thursday morning: There it goes again.)

Here, too, comes a gradual revival of Oregon’s cultural life, in greater Portland and, hearteningly, around the state. Sometimes things look almost the way they used to look. Sometimes everything’s virtual: art exhibitions viewed online; concerts streamed from musicians’ living rooms to listeners’ living rooms; dance and theater via Vimeo or Zoom. Sometimes it’s a hybrid of virtual and carefully spaced live action. And more and more, things are beginning to happen in real space and real time, although with heightened restrictions on distancing, audience size (think small), and safety precautions (think masks and more).

***

Virginia Darcé (born Portland, Oregon, 1910; died Los Angeles, California, 1985), “The
Market,” 1938, tempera on board, 22 ½ x 30 ½ inches, Portland Art Museum, Portland,
Oregon, Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, US General Services Administration, New
Deal Art Project, L45.3.2
Marwin Begaye (Diné, born 1970), “Columbia River Custodian,” 2018, ed. 18, eight-color lithograph, 28.25 x 22.25 inches, collection of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, CSP18-101.

In Salem, the big news of the week is that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art reopens for visitors today – Thursday, Feb. 25 – with a particularly attractive lineup of exhibits (and virtual online tours on its web site if you can’t or won’t visit in person). It’s not entirely like the old days: You can’t just walk up and buy a ticket. The number of people inside the museum at any one time will be limited, and you’ll have to make a reservation from the museum web site (link above) for timed entry. But the museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, giving you plenty of options.

Continues…

The Year of Living Cautiously

Veteran dance critic Martha Ullman West looks back on a year of Covid isolation and moments of movement that vividly broke the spell

My year of living cautiously began the end of February last year, and while I had hoped it would conclude close to the same day this year, I think it’s more likely to stretch into a second year of the same.   

 In the past year I have seen two, count them, live dance performances, and one dance film in a theater, Alla  Kovgan’s stunning 3D documentary Cunningham. (I think all dance films should be shot in 3D, based on this one and Pina, Wim Wenders’ 2011  film about Pina Bausch, both shown at Portland’s Cinema 21.) 

 I have watched as many streamed performances as I could bear; written one obituary tribute;  read a dozen or so dance and dance-related books, some of which I was dipping into for a second and third time; and, in the name of shameless self-promotion, finished writing a book I started thinking about at the turn of the millennium.  Todd Bolender, Janet Reed and the Making of American Ballet, the gods and Covid willing, will be published in May.  

Jacqueline Schumacher, in her teaching studio in downtown Portland’s Odd Fellows Building, ca. 1975. Photographer unknown.

Dance watchers will know that Reed was a native Oregonian, who was trained in Portland by Willam Christensen, as was her close friend Jacqueline Martin Schumacher. Schumacher, who died in September, 2019, would have been 100 on November 30, 2020, and a centenary celebration was under discussion when Covid hit; needless to say it did not take place. 

Both women were founding members of the San Francisco Opera Ballet (now the San Francisco Ballet) and danced, respectively, the roles of Odette and Odile in the first American evening-length production of Swan Lake.  Reed went on to a stellar career with Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet.  Schumacher brought her star power back to her  home town, returning to Portland in 1942, when San Francisco Ballet went on hiatus right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  

Here she established a ballet school with rigorous standards (ask any former pupil!) where she taught generations of Portland students, many of whom became professional dancers. Equally important, as the founder of the Portland Ballet, a successor to Christensen’s company and a precursor of Oregon Ballet Theatre, she was pivotal to the establishment of the city’s resident ballet company.

***

Continues…

Shaun Keylock Company: Dancing the past into the future

The Shaun Keylock Company navigates Covid-19 shutdowns in its new space while looking to Portland’s modern dance elders for direction.

The Shaun Keylock Company paves the way for the future by honoring the past with a revival of a suite of solos and duets that choreographer Gregg Bielemeier created between 1993 and 2002. 

Let’s flash back to just over a year ago, to let’s say…simpler times. It’s January 1, 2020, and most of us are riding that superficial, yet undeniably contagious new year high. We’re setting lofty goals and suiting up in the new exercise apparel we scored over the holidays and heading to the gym…or better yet, the dance studio. Keep contagious in mind.

For Portland-based choreographer Shaun Keylock, that January 1 wasn’t just another start to a new cycle around the sun: It was the day he opened the doors of his brand-new contemporary dance space, Shaun Keylock Studio, in the Albina neighborhood of North Portland. At the new studio, Keylock and company would be able to create and rehearse new dances, teach class, and produce community events for other community artists. 

We all know what happened next, because it happened to all of us. By the middle of March, we were all bunkered in our houses, downloading Zoom, debating whether gloves were necessary for a quick run to the grocery store, and clutching our toilet paper rolls with an intimacy that was (here it comes) UNPRECEDENTED.

The classes and rehearsals that had begun at the studio paused, and Keylock, along with all of the other studios around town, was forced to rethink what it meant to be a small business owner with a financial plan  based entirely upon humans gathering together in an enclosed space. Well, it’s been almost a full year now since Covid shook the framework of our lives, and we’ve all figured out how to navigate (for better or worse, more or less) through this rollercoaster of a time.

But what really happens when you’ve just opened a dance studio just as Covid-19 tramples through the world and you’ve got a company of nine eager dancers depending on rehearsals and performances for both income and mental stability? I’d been able to witness the studio’s growth throughout 2020, as I had been teaching a weekly contemporary class at the studio before the classes shut down, but I wanted to get the full picture from Shaun about what it’s been like behind the scenes as a new studio owner and director of SKC. I sat down to a Zoom chat with Keylock about what 2020 has meant for the studio and to learn about the company’s exciting new project: an intergenerational collaboration with local LGBTQ+ elders and master choreographers for a performance series reviving historic dance works for new audiences.

Continues…