Sarah Slipper

The unkindness of strangers

James Canfield's distillation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" highlights NW Dance Project's premieres, with Sarah Slipper's dance of love

The funk and sweat and desperate seediness of New Orleans are so thick in the air above James Canfield’s new dance Sketches of Connotation that you can almost smell them rising from the stage of Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s an intoxicating aroma.

Sketches, Canfield’s distilled evocation of Tennessee Williams’ beautiful nightmare of a play A Streetcar Named Desire, is the anchor of NW Dance Project’s fifteenth-season-ending Summer Premieres program, which opened Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s a gorgeous, exquisitely crafted piece of dance theater, the work of a choreographer who’s stayed true to his longtime vision of dance as a reflection of popular culture and who now, as a veteran artist, seems fully in control of his considerable imaginative skills.

William Couture, Anthony Pucci, Colleen Loverde, Kody Jauron, Katherine Loverde, and Franco Nieto in the world premiere of James Canfield’s Sketches of Connotation. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

NDP’s program of three premieres also includes company artistic director Sarah Slipper’s Save Me the Plums, a sweet and often funny dance of love and loss performed beautifully by Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto; and Felix Landerer’s angsty All’s Been Said, in which a dancer in a polar-bear mask declaims about magicians and climate change.

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Dance never sleeps

June is dancing out all over on Oregon stages: what, where, and when

If you think dance has left the building for the summer, you’re half right. While it’s not the mad crush of fall and spring, summer means festivals, which, in turn, means several artists packed into a single weekend. Summer also marks year-end recitals and the beginning of barefoot-in-the-park season, when we can all enjoy some fresh air with our art. (For every kid who fell hard for ballet after seeing The Nutcracker, there must be an equal number whose love of dance was inspired by the the dazzling swirl of Mexican folkloric dancers’ skirts viewed at close range.)

Where, besides in theaters, can you find June dance? In a winery, on a road trip, and even—we’re told—around a swamp in Forest Park. People of every age, shape, and skill level are making dance this month, in well-known styles and newly smashed-together genres. What’s your pleasure?

International and cultural dance styles

Cosecha Mestiza takes viewers for a spin at the Wilsonville Festival of the Arts. Photo courtesy of Wilsonville Festival of the Arts.

Wilsonville Festival of the Arts
June 1-2
Town Center Park, Wilsonville
wilsonvillearts.org

If you’ve never been to the Wilsonville Festival of Arts, what have you been waiting for? The event is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with art you didn’t know you needed until you did, such as the mobile opera truck and the mask parade.

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In the Frame 4: Culture now

In a fourth collection of images, K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. DIXON

“The portrait,” said legendary photographer Arnold Newman, “is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history.” It is hard to imagine a better, more succinct summation of the genre.

The portraits informing and recording here are the latest in a series titled In the Frame—a survey of the talented and dedicated people whose contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city have made it what it is today, people whose work has become part of our collective consciousness, whose various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural heritage.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality as its primal source of strength but one that is more than simple transcription—a photograph that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of its subject.

 


 

Steve Wax

First U.S. Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon and now Legal Director of the Oregon Innocence Project.

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Comedy tussles with drama in NDP’s ‘Room 4,’ ‘Carmen’

Physical humor animates premiere and revival in the dance company's 15th season opener

The premise of Sarah Slipper’s new dance Room 4, which opened Thursday in the Newmark Theatre and is continuing its premiere production through Saturday night, is quirky and appealing, in a how’s-she-going-to-do-that? way: to cross the cryptic playwright Harold Pinter with the over-the-top comedy troupe Monty Python, translate both into the world of dance, and see what happens.

From left: Disenhof, Couture, Parson, and Nieto in the premiere of NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper’s “Room 4.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

In a way, it seems an impossible challenge. Pinter and Python are almost opposites of the British theater, Pinter with his minimalist pauses and impenetrable meanings, Python with its absurdist maximalist glee. Pinter can be humorous, but in a dank and baleful way. Python stares into the abyss and finds it an uproariously funny place, a droll minefield of jokiness. Yet both also share an ingrained suspicion of human nature and institutions, both rely on cleanliness and sharpness for their theatrical effects, and both are bent on upsetting the apple cart of convention. It’s here, in Pinter’s evasive precision, Python’s oddball physicality, and their shared jaundice, that Slipper and her Northwest Dance Project performers find a common vein. Cleanliness is next to godliness, not that either Pinter or Python holds a lot of truck with the Big Guy.

Room 4 is performed by four dancers, each named simply and cryptically by a color: William Couture (Mr. Brown), Katherine Disenhof (Ms. Green), Franco Nieto (Mr. Grey) and Andrea Parson (Ms. Blue). They are in an office, that enduring 20th and 21st century symbol of hell on earth, with desks and no windows, and are struggling for supremacy in quest of a rumored promotion for one of them to the much-desired “outer office,” which includes a window that actually opens. There’ll be a twist, and that’s really all you need to know about the plot. The dancers move in concert to text recorded by a quartet of actors and consisting of a string of repeated office-hell phrases: “Why bother?”; “We’re all in this together.”

One of Slipper’s great strengths as a choreographer is her knowledge of what her dancers’ bodies can do and her ability to shape their motions in surprising ways. The four dancers in Room 4 move fluidly yet somehow also haltingly together, reaching, bumping, stacking, stretching against one another and the desks onstage, creating a bumptious action that at once goes all over the place and nowhere at all. And in spite of the forced conformity of the office atmosphere, the dancers’ individual personalities find their space, from Nieto’s swagger to Disenhof’s sly sass. The piece begins with a paper bag stuck over one of the office workers’ heads, and the whole thing’s carried out in a blind and empty routine that seems to want to be both comic and harrowing. The miming’s terrific – stylized large-gesture movement that surely owes something to Monty Python’s exaggerated physical storytelling, although in one of the funniest sequences the modus operandi seems closer to the Three Stooges.

The color-coded costumes are by Alexa Stark, the excellent lighting by Jeff Forbes, and the suitably foreboding found-sound score by Owen Belton. In the end, the unstable balance between comedy and drama tips toward the dramatic, which lands the comedy a square one on the jaw. That would be Pinter, winning over Python in a TKO.

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The company in Ihsan Rustem’s “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The humor comes out to play more clearly in the second, longer portion of the program, the return of resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s Carmen, which is updated to the 1950s, complete with rockabilly impressions and a concentration on hair: a beauty shop for the woman dancers, a barber shop for the men. This Carmen was a delight when it premiered in 2017, and it’s a delight now: Rustem’s taken a story almost as familiar as the tale of Santa’s visits down the chimney, and made it his own. This program marks the beginning of NDP’s 15th season and reflects a natural evolution. The company began with a commitment to perform only original works, and has done them by the dozens. It’s an adventurous mission, by its nature something of an unpredictable joy ride. Some of the dances, of course, stand out from the pack, and the company has gradually begun to build a repertory of such pieces that it keeps and repeats. Now, all of NDP’s dances are original, but not all of them are new.

Three of the four main dancers from 2017 return to their roles here: Andrea Parson as the cool-temperature, nouveau-riche seductress Carmen; Franco Nieto as DJ (for Don José), who falls intemperately for Carmen’s charms; and Lindsey McGill as the sweet but forlorn Micaëla, who was engaged to DJ until Carmen slinked into town. A late injury sidelined Elijah Labay, who is replaced quite swimmingly by Anthony Pucci as Eli, the sideburned, swiveling new guy in town, who plays Carmen’s game possibly better than she does herself.

Nieto hoists Parson in “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Rustem knows how to shape a narrative beautifully, creating something of a contemporary riff on the classic story ballet, and his wit is always present but never overpowering. Once again the dancing is crisp and superb, with the Wolf Pack women’s corps of Disenhof, Samantha Campbell, Colleen Loverde, and Julia Radick matching the men’s corps of Kevin Pajarillaga, Couture, Kody Jauron, and the slyly named “Hair Dryer” like socks to a hop.

As Jamuna Chiarini reported a few days ago, four long-time company members are leaving after this production. Labay and Radick, who recently married, are moving to his native Quebec. McGill is going home to Texas, and Campbell wants to move into arts administration. All four will be missed. Newcomers Loverde and Pajarillaga are stepping in, and look to be good additions.

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Northwest Dance Project’s Room 4 and Carmen have their final performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in the Newmark Theatre of Portand’5 Centers for the Arts. Ticket information here.

 

 

This is a really big week for NW Dance Project. The company, directed by Sarah Slipper, celebrates its 15th season; premieres Slipper’s new work, Room 4; remounts the dark, quirky Carmen by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem; says goodbye to four longtime company dancers, and welcomes two new ones.

Room 4, which I saw in rehearsal Tuesday, is a dance/conversation/argument for two women, two men, and four desks. It takes place in a small, dark, windowless office. The source of tension is a coveted promotion to “the outer office,” which causes strife among the office workers. The work is loosely inspired by Counterpart–a science-fi-thriller television series that takes place in parallel dimensions full of intrigue, espionage, and government conspiracies–and the witty repartee between characters in Monty Python’s absurdist comedy sketch Argument Clinic. Owen Belton’s score for this piece is a cinematic mix of found sounds that he recorded out and about in the world, like the sound of a buzzing electric light, mixed with a recording of four Seattle actors performing a script Slipper wrote. The costumes are genderless; instead, color is used to distinguish each character.

Rustem’s Carmen, which premiered in 2017, is back, deeper and richer than ever. His twist on Georges Bizet’s Carmen sets the story in a beauty parlor and barber shop instead of the bullrings of southern Spain, and this time out, there’s a new character, Rusty, who is just a little too keen on the scissors. What hasn’t changed is the wealth of seduction, secrecy, betrayal, and death: enough to satisfy all your carnal desires. And there is fierce, exhaustive dancing with quite a bit of comedy to balance it all out. This 40-minute work uses Bizet’s Carmen Suite without the vocals, and features sets by Spanish designer Luis Crespo and costumes by Portland fashion designer and Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak. In 2017, ArtsWatch senior editor/writer Bob Hicks reviewed it, which you can read here.

The dancers leaving the company are Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, and Julia Radick. Labay and Radick, who were married this summer, are headed for Quebec, in Labay’s native Canada. Campbell, who has been with the company since 2009, plans to transition into arts administration, and McGill, who has been with the company since 2012, will return to her native Texas to pursue a range of interests, including dance.

The company has added dancers Colleen Loverde and Kevin Pajarillaga, both of whom Slipper chose through NW Dance Project’s summer Launch program this July.

Performances this week

NW Dance Project Carmen dress rehearsal, Ihsan Rustem choreography. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Carmen and Room 4 (World Premiere)
NW Dance Project, Ihsan Rustem and Sarah Slipper
September 27-29
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Ahmet Luleci
Presented by Ruby Beh
8 pm September 29
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St

Turkey native and Boston resident Ahmet Luleci, an expert in Anatolian folk dances, comes to Portland for two days to present workshops, lectures, and a Saturday evening performance focused on regional styles of folkloric Turkish dance and music. Luleci, a choreographer, performer and dance teacher, serves as artistic director of the Boston-based Collage Dance Ensemble.

Super dancer Carlyn Hudson leaping through the cosmos. Photo by Design By Goats.

Some Are Silver
Carlyn Hudson
7:30 pm September 29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Some Are Silver, a collection of three world premieres and several older works that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weave together humor, heartache, and beauty. The choreography reflects an array of contrasting ideas performed to jazz, classical, and folk music. The cast includes Briley Jozwiak, Amelia Unsicker, Elle Crowley, Anna Marra, Kara Girod, Mari Kai Juras, and Hudson herself.

Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is the daughter of a dancer and a visual artist/woodworker. She earned her BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi.

ArtsWatch writer Elizabeth Whelan reviewed Some Are Silver, which you can read here.

Dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

China In Dance
Beijing Dance Academy
Presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre
7 pm September 30
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Beijing Dance Academy, a state-funded professional dance school in China that specializes in ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance, musical theater, and contemporary dance, will debut 30 of its most talented dancers performing ten classical dances. The program includes Liang Zhu (Butterfly Lovers, known as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Yellow River, which depicts the origin of Chinese culture and spirit.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 4-6, Come to your senses, Pilobolus, Presented by White Bird
October 5-6, Shiny Angles in Angular Time, Melinda Ring, and Renée Archibald
October 6-13, Napoli, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 6-7, Hamlet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
October 9, The New Chinese Acrobats, Eugene
October 11-15, Portland Tango Festival
October 11-16, Circa, Presented by White Bird
October 11-20, Bloody Vox: Deadline October, BodyVox
October 12-13, Change(d) Together, The Circus Project
October 12-20, A Spine Tingling Soiree, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 12-21, Portland Dance Film Fest
October 18-20, Lucy Guerin Inc, Presented by White Bird
October 19, Everything’s Copacetic, The Skylark Tappers
October 20, Clock that Mug or Dusted, Cherdonna Shinatra, Presented by Risk/Reward
October 20, As You Like It-A Wild West Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
October 20-21, The Man Who Forgot, The Portland Tap Company
October 22, Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin, Reed College
October 26, Star Dust, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Eugene
October 26, Flamenco Pacifico, Presented by Berto Boyd
October 28, Matices Criollos, Peruvian Cultural Festival

November
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

Dance review: Singing, strife and stray oranges

NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances will send you into summer with a song

They’re going Gaga at Lincoln Hall this weekend, and I don’t mean the Lady variety. NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances, which run nightly through Saturday and close the company’s season, feature work by Ohad Naharin ambassador Danielle Agami, a master teacher of Naharin’s Gaga movement language.

Agami’s 2013 piece This Time Tomorrow illustrates the benefits of Gaga study, which emphasizes heightened physical awareness and clarity of form. Although much of this ensemble piece is set to fuzzy electronica, the movement is clean and purposeful throughout, whether it’s slithering/rolling/crawling across the floor, silly walks, multiple fouette turns or full-body freakouts.

Samantha Campbell, Julia Radick, and Elijah Labay in Danielle Agami’s “This Time Tomorrow” in NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

It’s a wonderfully weird piece—choreographically varied, with sharp tempo and directional changes—and absurdist in feeling (kudos to the dancers for not wiping out on the oranges that come rolling out from the wings across the stage). It likely stretched the company kinesthetically and artistically, and it gives the rest of us something to mull over long after the show ends.

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By HEATHER WISNER

Adapting Ibsen’s dark drama Hedda Gabler for dance is an ambitious undertaking: that much is clear when you’re greeted by two pages of program notes explaining the plot as you settle in for the world premiere of NW Dance Project’s Hedda. It’s sort of a heavy lift for viewers, although once you’ve read through the lengthy synopsis, you have a pretty good idea of what’s happening onstage.

Good thing, because this particular play is driven less by outright action than buttoned-up, Victorian-era emotional turmoil. Company artistic director Sarah Slipper has managed to pull a compelling contemporary movement narrative from it, aided by composer Owen Belton, from whom the company commissioned a score, and set designer Luis Crespo. Belton’s moody score amps ups up the dread, and layers in the sounds telegraph specific settings and actions. Crespo’s set design for the main characters’ home, where most of the action takes place, is simple but effective: black beaded curtains to the left and right, suggesting entryways, and a piano at the center banked by several bouquets of flowers.

Andrea Parson as Hedda in NW Dance Project’s “Hedda” at the Newmark Theatre/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Why flowers? Because Hedda (Andrea Parson) and her husband, Tesman (William Couture) have recently returned from their honeymoon, during which he worked on his academic research and she, presumably, slouched around the hotel, bored witless. She is still bored when the curtain rises: We find her draped over the piano, practically oozing ennui—that is, until her maid, Berte (Katherine Disenhof), begins ushering in a series of guests.

There is Hedda’s old schoolmate, Thea (Lindsey McGill); Tesman’s old academic rival, Lövborg (Franco Nieto); and Judge Brack, a friend of the Tesman family. Each arrives with an agenda. Thea loves Lövborg, an alcoholic, and is trying to save him from himself; Lövborg, who has dried out, is trying to publish a promising new paper; and Tesman, who is sweet on Hedda, has come with the warning that Lövborg may land the professorship Tesman wants.

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