Samuel Hobbs

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.

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Union PDX: Making the case for dance

Samuel Hobbs created a dance festival to showcase dance and to confront the problems the art form faces in Portland

“Don’t make work or make it work,” said Samuel Hobbs during the talk-back session of the inaugural Union PDX new contemporary dance festival in Portland. He was referring to the two options a choreographer faces in Portland, a city where the dance scene is full of creativity, but low on funding, visibility, and connectedness as a community.

Hobbs and the push/FOLD company he serves as artistic director are working toward solutions for unifying dance artists in town, and their latest idea came to reality this weekend in the form of Union PDX. The festival packed performances, master classes, educational outreach for young dancers, audience talk-backs, and Portland Dance Community Awards all into four days’ time. 

When I sat down with Hobbs to chat about what sparked the idea for Union PDX, which ran September 26-29 in the Hampton Opera Center, he reiterated that it’s come from the struggles of being a working artist in a city where two or three big names in dance are thriving. Meanwhile, the rest of the local companies and independent choreographers are all battling for their slice of the funding pie.

Under such limited conditions for artists in the city, with most mid-level companies paying out-of-pocket for rehearsal space, dancers, venue rental, videography, photography, and you-name-it, it seems natural that a lack of unity in the community has arisen due to the stress of an unbalanced system. This all equates to a lack of visibility for the dance community, especially for those artists who can’t keep up with the pay-to-play nature of presenting work here in Portland. 

So what gets lost in the mess of it all? The art. So let’s spend the next few paragraphs talking about that.

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The Week: Seatbelts & Bumpy Nights

The mirror crack'd: Dance, art, and theater ripped from the anxieties and tensions of an unruly world at large

WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN, RIGHT? Phone calls and whistleblowers and suppressions and impeachment hearings. A teen-aged climate activist who speaks sharply at the United Nations and prompts both cheers and jeers from the political-media talking heads. A fair amount of fiddling, if we can make a historical comparison, as Rome burns. The Ukrainian Affair looks dark and complex, which by coincidence is what Bobby Bermea has to say about Theatre Vertigo’s season-opening show, the world premiere of Dominic Finocchiaro’s play complex – small “c”, infinite anxieties. Bermea, in his pre-opening interview with Finocchiaro, calls Vertigo “the David Lynch of Portland theater,” and if it feels like we’re living in a David Lynch world, well, that’s life in the 21st century fast lane.

complex, hanging out in the no murder zone. Theatre Vertigo photo

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEKEND, at Portland Playhouse, is Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, a play about “the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors” who do their battle on the soccer pitch, and if that doesn’t remind you just a bit of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg playing on a much bigger field, well, I ask you. Meanwhile, Portland Center Stage is moving into preview performances at The Armory of what looks to be a hard-boiled, stripped-down, lean and mean Macbeth, with all of its raw palace intrigue, which gets me thinking also about Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II and “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and … well, things do circle around, don’t they?

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A new festival addresses dire conditions for dance

Union PDX - Festival:19 opens on Thursday with an agenda that goes beyond the onstage performances

“As Portland (dance) artists, we aren’t provided the opportunities that we really need,” Portland choreographer Samuel Hobbs says. “ We are all scrambling for the same scraps…we need visibility and accessibility.”

Hobbs was explaining both the dire condition of local dance artists and the reason he created Union PDX – Festival:19, a brand new contemporary dance festival. Union PDX debuts September 26-29 at the 180-seat Hampton Opera Center on the river in Southeast Portland, close to MAX with ample free parking also available.

The festival, curated and directed by Hobbs, will feature world premieres by Portland choreographers Amy Leona Havin—artistic director of The Holding Project, choreographer Carlyn Hudson, and Hobbs, who also directs his own company, push/FOLD Contemporary Dance Company

“Doing your own show is great, but maybe there’s a way that we can come together and lift each other up,” Hudson said when I met up with her, Hobbs, and Havin to hear about the festival and their work. 

Artistic director of push/FOLD dance company, Samuel Hobbs, rehearsing his new work, Ash, to be debuted at his new festival, Union PDX – Festival:19, from September 26-29 at the Hampton Opera Center. Pictured left to right are Holly Shaw, Briley Jozwiak, Ashley Morton, Samuel Hobbs, and Liane Burns.
Photo by Jingzi Photography.

Hobbs has commissioned both Havin and Hudson to create new work for the festival on his company’s four dancers—Holly Shaw, Briley Jozwiak, Liane Burns, and Ashley Morton. ”Right now funding is huge! Funding and platform. To be commissioned by established institutions and to receive funding are the two biggest things that would absolutely change the game for me at this point,” Havin said.

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push/FOLD: The many faces of Adam

The world premiere of Samuel Hobbs's "Early" investigates the human condition, masked and unmasked

As the audience entered the dimly lit AWOL Warehouse for push/FOLD’s world premiere of Samuel Hobbs’s Early, our first exposure was Hobbs himself, standing completely nude and still in the space. He remained in his stillness until the audience’s bustle of picking a space in the round had ceased.

With a downcast gaze and slightly torqued stance, Hobb’s posture recalled modern day Auguste Rodin’s Adam, a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. By pointing his fingers to the earth and collapsing in his upper body, Rodin’s Adam contrasts Michelangelo’s God-fearing, enlightened Adam, whose arm stretches towards a classically portrayed God-figure in the sky.

push/FOLD’s “Early” begins with a solo by Samuel Hobbs/Photo by Jingzi Zhao

During Early, Hobbs, who is push/FOLD’s artistic director, gives birth to multiple sides of himself, similar to the multiple interpretations of Adam throughout history. Hobbs has told me about a brief absence from dance when we had talked earlier in the week, and I asked him if Early was about a rebirth of himself. “’Early’ as a rebirth for myself?” he responded. “I think answering that might provide too much of a tangible thing to associate with a piece I’d like people to experience unadulterated.”

And so it went, the wonderful challenge of experiencing contemporary dance unadulterated.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Nine-dance week

The week in dance from Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" to OBT's Man/Woman and far, far beyond

There are nine dance performances this week beginning with the Original Bad Unkl Sistas (a performing duo made up of Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto, at the Headwaters Theatre) and ending with Degenerate Art Ensemble (from Seattle next Wednesday, also appearing at the Headwaters). Both are part of the Butoh College Performance Series: The Future is Female (and trans and queer and in celebration of all ages, all bodies, all genders, all colors), curated by Water in the Desert artistic director Mizu Desierto. In between, we have a full range of seven dance offerings from smaller, experimental works, to large scale, time-tested, historical dances that have been seen by audiences around the world. There is something for everyone. Check below for details and enjoy!

Performances this week

The Original Bad Unkl Sistas Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto. Photo courtesy of Mizu Desierto.

Original Bad Unkl Sistas
Anastazia Aranaga and Mizu Desierto
Presented by Water in the Desert
8 pm April 18
Butoh College student performance/offering
7 pm April 22
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #4
This improvised duet by Portland dance-theatre artist, co-founder and artistic director of Water in the Desert, Mizu Desierto, alongside long-time collaborator, founder and artistic director of Bad Unkl Sista, Anastazia Aranaga, will follow a minimal structure, take imaginative pathways, and will be full of surprises. This performance is part of Butoh College 2018. Desierto and Aranaga will also offer a workshop titled Original//Freedom which “will be full of unknowns, delicate presence, deep stillness, rampant chaos, visceral intimacy & care.”

Emily Parker and Christopher Kaiser performing Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid,” one of five ballets presented in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s MAN/WOMAN, April 12 – 24, 2018 at the Newmark Theatre. Photo by James McGrew

Man/Woman
Oregon Ballet Theatre, Artistic Director Kevin Irving
Choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, and Jiří Kylián
April 19-21
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Curated by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director Kevin Irving, this program of five ballets juxtaposes all-female ballets against all-male ballets exploring gender stereotypes.

Last week I interviewed Irving about whether or not classical ballet can catch up with contemporary values and be something that future generations will want to support. “We’re not the entire conversation,” he said. “We can only be a contribution to the conversation, incomplete, but hopefully insightful and maybe even revelatory in some ways.” You can read our entire conversation here and Heather Wisner review of Man/Woman here.

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