The Holding Project

Dance review: A journey home for Israeli choreographer Amy Leona Havin

The Holding Project's new dance at Shaking the Tree Theatre considered how we choose to make things holy

After seeing three dances by Amy Leona Havin in the past few months, I’ve started comparing her to a weaver at a loom. The various threads and colors of her choreography interact and overlap, creating recurring patterns at times and clear juxtapositions at others. Together, they pull together the edges of her dance blanket, connecting her vision to movement and offering a look into the inner workings of her mind.

Havin’s latest work, mekudeshet, is an evening-length dance set on her company, The Holding Project. It follows the recent Milk, which premiered in the Union PDX festival, and Holy Lola, a dance film that premiered at Portland Dance Film Festival. Last weekend, as mekudeshet threaded itself together, it looped in movements and aesthetic choices that recalled Milk and Holy Lola, and it felt like a homecoming. 

For Havin, the idea of coming home seems central to her quest as an artist and as a human. The roots of mekudeshet originate in her own family’s history—their Jewish faith, their Isreali homeland, and their resilience and struggle through the trauma of the Holocaust, during which all four of Havin’s grandparents survived the devastation of the concentration camps. The work serves as both a time capsule and a sign for how Havin’s future might weave together the worlds of Judaism and feminism.

The Holding Project performs Amy Leona Havin’s mekudeshet/Photo by Megan Hauk

“I feel in a way I have been split with my destiny,” said Havin, describing her dual identity as both a Jewish Israeli and an American. Interlacing her Israeli origins into her work seems to be Havin’s way of grappling with these things, having lived permanently in the US since her teenage years.  


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.


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.


DanceWatch Weekly: Amy Leona Havin’s ‘Crane’ and other migrations

In a busy mid-May dance week, Amy Leona Havin talks about her choreography, cranes and other matters

“Why did you decide to choreograph Crane in the round?” I asked choreographer Amy Leona Havin on Monday morning over coffee, after watching a run-through of her work.

“I was tired of feeling like I had to work back and forth and frontally,” Havin answered. “I wanted to do something that had more depth, and when I found that theater [Shaking the Tree Theatre], I was like ‘this is perfect, I can set up the space however I want’…If someone comes and sees the show four times, it will be a completely different experience each time.” It was also the perfect space to create the intimacy she wanted the audience to feel, she said, and was also supportive of the circular motifs that are a central theme in the dance.

If you haven’t met Havin yet, she’s a 27-year old, Portland-based, Israeli-born choreographer, filmmaker, and artistic director of The Holding Project. I first interviewed Havin in 2016 when she made HAVA | חוה, a work that combined film and live movement, and wrote about her again when she and her company performed Lines of Pull as part of a four-month residency at Disjecta. This is Havin’s third major work since moving to Portland in 2013.

The Work

Crane, performed by eight beautifully skilled contemporary dancers in the middle of a large circle of 50 chairs, runs for an hour and fifteen minutes and is a “kaleidoscope of natural imagery, forming an intimate and ambient stage atmosphere from which the dancers do not exit.”

The Research

“A lot of things came into play. I put them all together, and I said this is what we’ll try. Play is the key word…”

First came the cranes, actually geese and cranes, but cranes won out in the end.

In her research, Havin discovered that Common Cranes stops over in the Hula Valley in Israel on their migratory flight from Europe to Africa. This connected with Havin, whose work is deeply rooted in her Israeli culture and heritage. She also discovered that the largest number of migratory birds come to rest in the Hula Valley, that cranes mate for life, that female cranes care for their babies during flight, and that if a crane gets lost, the rest of the flock will wait for it and then look for it until it’s found. Cranes work as a pack. There is a lot of camaraderie and community, and some research says that female cranes dictate the speed at which their flock goes because of the young cranes that are flying along.

Dancers of The Holding Project in Crane. Photo by Jess Garten.


“The imagery came to me first. We were playing with velvet, furs, the ‘90’s classic pointed toe shoes. I had these angry, slicked down, vogue, supermodel images in mind. This pissed off, ultra femininity…almost unapologetic without yelling at you. In your face…they are clearly upset…”

“I looked back at all these photographs of supermodels from the ‘90’s, and I started drawing the imagery and attitude from there. During that same time I started researching the migration patterns of cranes. So it’s both of those things that came together. I tried to give it a lot of room and it’s grown into this.”

Havin also collected information from conversations she had with her dancers on what their experiences have been like so far as women, how they relate to other women, and what they identify as feminine.

The Circular Motif

“I think flying is circular, nesting is very circular, grouping is circular…all imagery that came to me was very rounded.”

Words that came to mind when I watched the dance, not in order of importance

Sisterly solidarity

The Music

“All of the music I used is Jewish Yemenite music or Hebrew or Israeli music. I have used one of the oldest Hebrew love poems. It’s all coming from the music that is familiar to me that I grew up with. I find that music is very sensual: I can’t help but want to dance. I want to undulate to that sound, and I also find it’s very strong, its drums, its vocalization. And it’s very loud and drastic, and it’s sexy and that’s why I wanted to use it. It feels like home to me. When I hear Hebrew it’s comforting.

“I also know that most of my audience won’t understand Hebrew. So, if I have lyrics in my work they won’t be distracting to people, and if there are people who understand Hebrew who come to my show, then it will inform the work. Yeah, it felt right. I wanted to mix it with more electronic metronome and downbeat so it wasn’t a completely Middle Eastern soundscape and did have some of that current American electronic beat. It just felt right.”

The Plant Life

Havin uses a variety of dried and fresh cut plants and flowers as a way to add a texture and fill the performance space.

“It came from nest building. I wanted to have this idea that we are building this nest. We’re surrounded by the greenery and the plant life. We’re using this, and gathering this as building material. But we are also women; we also have this idea of women with flowers in their hair, and little girls in floral dresses, and weddings with bouquets, and processions. I felt like it had a dual identity and I was interested in playing with that.”

“I feel a sense of home and comfort and care and happiness in nature. It’s this youthful feeling. It reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of my mother. I love flowers, plants and foliage. I wanted something soft that I had a desire to cradle, and I find that baby’s breath is something like that for me. It’s a plant life that I want to hold and cover myself in. But it’s also so tiny, and the flowers are so detailed that there is so much to focus in on for me to explore.”

Dancers of The Holding Project in Crane. Photo by Jess Garten.

Why do you need a dramaturg?

Havin’s dramaturg is Rachel Levens, whom she met in college at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Levens now lives and works in New York.

What does a dramaturg do? According to Clare Croft in an article on dramaturgs for Dance Magazine, “The primary job is to support the choreographer and creative team by helping them do research, like tracking down historic or visual material, documenting the rehearsal process and weighing in on creative choices.”

“She[Levens] looks at it from the outside and pulls a narrative that is already emerging and then meshes it with the research so that it’s one, so that it’s not just two separate sections.”

“I created the skeleton of the work and gave her my basic research on the birds, and she would give me back different verbs, different actions, different relationship possibilities. She would take what we were doing and connect it to the research to create a narrative. She would ask me a lot of questions about why my dancers were interacting with each other, why does so and so meet up…She was pretty much my outside eye. She helped me with my research and connecting my research to us as women in 2018.”

The Philosophy

“I feel like if it’s too choreographed, if it’s too concrete, if it’s too clean, some of the chance gets lost. I want there to be a lot of chance involved.”

“I want to give credit to my audience, in that I want people to sit there and think about it and decide for themselves. I want there to be room. I think that’s why I never work with a concrete narrative because I want there to be room for someone else to put their own experiences onto it. Because that’s what I find enjoyable in seeing art. And if I see something that holds my hand or tells me what it’s about, sometimes I lose the opportunity to involve myself in what’s happening.”

Since working on this piece, Havin noted that it has changed her life. “At this point it’s been 14 months so I don’t really know who I am without this work right now. I find myself looking up at the sky more often. I think I have a deeper appreciation for birds… for trees and bushes…”

“The more I make work the more I accept in a positive way that I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything, I don’t need to know anything, I just need to be able to absorb, and to feel, and to explore, right? Because If we think we know everything and the choreography is this known entity and we’re just placing it on top of people, then you might as well make a vase. Why are you making dance? So for me, not knowing isn’t a hindrance, and because of that, I’m willing to try different approaches that aren’t necessarily natural to me.”

Crane, created by Amy Leona Havin in collaboration with company members Lyndsey Gray Parsons, Heather Hindes, Jillian Hobbs, Briley Jozwiak, Lena Traenkenschuh, Carly Nicole Ostergaard, and Catherine ‘Caty’ Raupp, opens Thursday May 17 and runs through May 20 at Shaking the Tree Theatre in South East Portland. The projection mapping is by Joseph Wells and video by Tomás Alfredo Valladares.

Performances this week

BodyVox dancer Jillian St. Germain in Rain & Roses. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

Rain & Roses
May 17-19
The North Warehouse, 723 North Tillamook Street, Portland OR 97227
Set in an expansive and atmospheric North Portland Warehouse, BodyVox artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, along with choreographers and company members Alicia Cutaia, Jeff George, and Daniel Kirk celebrate the end of their 20th season with Rain & Roses; a collage of dance and live music that explores the evolution of human character.

Dance writer Elizabeth Whelan previewed Rain & Roses for Oregon ArtsWatch and gives five reasons here why you might want to see the show.

Portland dancer Marko Bome aka Skoolie B will be speaking as part of Cypher Culture Conference 2018. Photo courtesy of Decimus Yarbrough.

Cypher Culture Conference 2018
Hosted by Decimus Yarbrough and Michael Galen
May 17-20
Held in various locations throughout Portland, check website for details

Over four days and four nights, Oregon’s inaugural Cypher Culture Conference will collaboratively create space to unify and strengthen the Pacific Northwest urban dance community through discussion panels, parties, battles, and workshops. Check the Facebook schedule for full conference details and event locations.

Crane dancers Amy Leona Havin, Heather Hindes, Catherine ‘Caty’ Raupp, and Lena Traenkenschuh. Photo by Jess Garten.

The Holding Project, directed by Amy Leona Havin
May 17-20
Shaking The Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant Street
There will be a post-performance Q&A on May 18 with choreographer Amy Leona Havin
See above.

Dancer/choreographer/artistic director of Ate9, Danielle Agami. Photo courtesy of Danielle Agami.

A solo show created and performed by Danielle Agami/Ate9 Dance Company
May 18-19
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Avenue
The performances will be followed by a brief Q & A with Agami
Framed is an intimate solo look into womanhood as experienced and understood by Israeli choreographer and former Batsheva Dance Company dancer, and artistic director of Ate9 Dance Company, Danielle Agami. The experience of growing up in Israel, strong women role models, her mother, fragility, and a ceaseless drive for perfection, set the tone for this solo.

“In this solo performance,” Agami says in her press release that she “unravels her experience as a woman as she hosts groups of curious, expecting audience members. She wonders about the mission of hosting an audience, asking herself, what is expected for me to provide? Will dance be enough? Am I enough?”

After dancing for Batsheva Dance Company in Israel for eight years, Agami moved to New York and served as senior manager of Gaga U.S.A. (Gaga is the movement practiced developed by Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin.) In 2012, she relocated to Seattle where she founded her dance company Ate9, relocating the following year to Los Angeles. Agami was one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to watch in 2015, and was recognized with the Princess Grace Award for Choreography in 2016.

Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company. Photo courtesy of Durante Lambert.

The “B” Project
Durante Lambert and LYFE Dance Company
9 pm May 18
Paris Theatre, 6 SW 3rd Avenue
LYFE Dance Company, directed by Portland hip-hop choreographer Durante Lambert, will present The “B” Project, a full-length dance experience inspired by musical artist Beyonce. Lambert was a principal dancer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet and danced for the WNBA Portland Fire Jam Squad and the Portland Trail Blazers Hip Hop Squad.

OBT dancer Xuan Cheng in Helen Simoneau’s Departures. Photo by Yi Yin.

Oregon Ballet Theatre
Choreography by Peter Franc, Makino Hayashi, Katherine Monogue, and Helen Simoneau
May 23-June 3
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Avenue
Oregon Ballet Theatre closes out its 2017-2018 season with an intimate showing at BodyVox Dance Center of new works created by company dancers Katherine Monogue, Makino Hayashi, and Peter Franc, alongside Helen Simoneau’s Departures—a work commissioned by OBT in 2017 as part of OBT’s Choreography XX project. Additionally, OBT artistic Director Kevin Irving will rehearse the dancers for a new project, live, as a means to open up the creative process experience for audiences to see.

Upcoming Performances

May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by Peter Franc, Makino Hayashi, Katherine Monogue, and Helen Simoneau
May 25-28, Portland Tap Festival, produced by the Portland Tap Alliance

June 1, #INSTABALLET NO.25, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
June 1-2, J (()) Y by Leralee Whittle and a work-in-progresss by Mizu Desierto
June 2, Passages-The Journey of Our Ancestors, presented by the Tamburitzans
June 3, Shobana’s Trance, presented by Rasika
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, This Time Tomorrow-Danielle Agami, NW Dance Project
June 15-23, Waters of the World, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 16, Dance Film Double Feature: Standing on Gold and Moving History, hosted by Eric Nordstrom
June 22-23, Waters of the World, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest at the Faired-Haired Dumbbell Building
June 22-23, Recipe: A Reading Test (1983) and Raw Material (1985), Linda Austin
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem
June 29-July 1, Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance

July 6, #INSTABALLET NO.26, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
July 19-21, RELATIVES // apples & pomegranates, Shannon Stewart and Tahni Holt
July 27, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, Washington Park Summer Festival

August 2-4, Galaxy Dance Festival, Polaris Dance Theatre
August 3, #INSTABALLET NO.27, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag
August 3-12, Art in the Dark: 10 Laws, A-WOL Dance Collective
August 10-12, JamBallah Northwest
August 12, India Festival, produced by the India Cultural Association of Portland

September 1, #INSTABALLET NO.28, artistic directors Antonio Anacan and Suzanne Haag