suzanne haag

Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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Suzanne Haag plays with fire

"The Firebird" tests the former Eugene Ballet dancer's transition from performer to choreographer

By GARY FERRINGTON

On a recent flight home to Eugene, former Eugene Ballet dancer Suzanne Haag struck up a casual conversation with the man seated next to her. He asked her the questions non-dancers usually ask: What are pointe shoes made of? What’s a typical workday like? Then he asked her what it was like to retire after dancing with the company for 15 seasons, and whether she had any regrets. It wasn’t the first time she has fielded that question, Haag told ArtsWatch: “I keep getting asked ‘How do you feel, you know, now that you are done?’”

In retrospect, she said, there are things she might have done differently: working out and practicing more on her days off, asking for additional feedback and guidance on how to improve, seeking different roles.  But, she concluded, “… that’s not regret, just my older, more experienced self assessing my work.”

As the plane prepared to land, Haag acknowledged to her seatmate that while her life in dance was indeed about to change, it wasn’t about to end. Reflecting on her career made her realize that she had been preparing for this transition since she was a young dancer.

Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in "Surrounding Third." Photo by Antonio Anacan
Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in “The Surrounding Third.” Photo by Antonio Anacan.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Summer improvises

This week's dance calendar features the art of improvisation

At the core of it all, life is really one big improvisation. I’m thinking dance improvisation, of course. Every day, in this funny, wonderful, and truly bizarre world we live in, we are presented with a variety of people and events to interact with, and how we bump into them, or embrace them, or avoid them, or dance with them, can change the trajectory of our lives. I find this process and where it takes us to be magical and thrilling in its mechanics, and sometimes a little frightening, too. It’s the not knowing and the risk that we encounter everyday that makes life interesting, don’t you think?

This week’s dance performances all move in this realm of chance and risk beginning tonight, July 5, with four soul-searching solos in Finding Soul: A Constellation of Stories, directed by Susan Banyas and Andrea Parson at the CoHo Theatre Summerfest. Opening Friday, July 6, at the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, the Creative Music Guild’s Improvisation summit takes over the center’s voluminous space featuring some of Portland’s dance improvisation veterans in collaboration with other artistic mediums.

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Eugene Ballet preview: Cracking the glass slipper

Company premieres two new works by women choreographers along with a classic reprise

by GARY FERRINGTON

“Where are the female choreographers?” asks Michael Cooper, in the New York Times. Ballet remains overwhelmingly a man’s world when it comes to choreography Cooper suggests noting that of the 58 ballets the New York City Ballet performed during the 2015-2016 season, which included seven world premieres, none were by women. He also observes that of all the recent productions by the London’s Royal Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre, only two were by women choreographers and one of those was a collaborative effort with a man.

”The dearth of female choreographers at major ballet companies is perhaps more startling, given the prominence of women in the rest of the ballet and dance fields,” Cooper writes, “and the way pioneering female choreographers helped shape ballet during the 20th century.”

The magic of Shakespeare’s fantasy world with dancers Isaac Jones and Victoria Harvey. Photo: Eugene Ballet.

What Cooper calls the “glass slipper” is at least being chipped a bit this February when the Eugene Ballet Company presents three productions all choreographed by women. Opening the program is the world premier of a new EBC commissioned ballet, Wandering On, by Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez. A second new work, The Surrounding Third, is a short piece by EBC Company Dancer Suzanne Haag and set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The evening’s centerpiece is a reprise of EBC’s Artistic Director and co-founder Toni Pimble’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream exploring Shakespeare’s “comedy of love, magic, fairies, mixed up lovers, and the mischievous Puck,” set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.

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Crowd-sourced Choreography

Ever wanted to be a choreographer? #instaballet lets the audience determine the dance.

Story, video and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

As the 2013 Eugene Ballet Company season was ending, Suzanne Haag, Antonio Anacan and other EBC dancers gathered at Brails’ Espresso! (a favorite hang out for dancers near their Midtown Arts Center rehearsal studio) and began brainstorming how to stay artistically active during the off-season. We could share an open ballet rehearsal with an audience during a Lane Arts Council First Friday ArtWalk, one suggested. Been done, another replied. They wanted to do something new and different, something that would grab the interest of younger people accustomed to instant information and sharing art and ideas over the Internet.

An audience member suggests a dance sequence to #instaballet dancers Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag. Photo: #instaballet.

An audience member suggests a dance sequence to #instaballet dancers Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag. Photo: #instaballet.

A few weeks later, the product of that brainstorming session, #instaballet, appeared at the June edition of Eugene’s monthly First Friday ArtWalk. Created by Haag and Anacan, #instaballet hosts audience-choreographed dance workshops throughout late spring and summer during the ArtWalks. This Friday, August 7, marks its twelfth session of audience-choreographed ballet from 5-8 pm at Eugene’s Oregon Contemporary Theatre in Eugene.  Think of it as crowdsourced choreography, but at these sessions, #instaballet wants the public to contribute moves, not money.

As a seasonal pick-up company, #instaballet strives to provide off-season jobs for professional ballet dancers in the spring and summer — and to keep the community interested in the Eugene Ballet Company (EBC). Most professional US ballet companies don’t perform off season and #instaballet hopes to keep its regional audiences invested in ballet year round. The ensemble’s goal is to enrich audience knowledge and appreciation of classical ballet by engaging participants in the creative process of choreography. Executive Director Haag hopes that this audience/dancer interaction results in “a more educated, artistically literate community,” she told ArtsWatch in an email interview. “Our events are free and the final performance is a gift from the public to the public.” A video introduction to #instaballet is available on YouTube.

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