This is a Black Spatial Imaginary

DanceWatch Weekly: White Bird turns 20, OBT season opens

A big week in dance starts with White Bird and Oregon Ballet Theatre and then moves to Indian dance and "Moving Through Darkness"

Twenty years ago Paul King and Walter Jaffe moved to Portland from New York City and launched White Bird, Portland’s biggest dance presenter and the sole, dance-only presenter West of the Rockies.

Their 20-year contribution to Portland’s dance scene and to the dance community at large is huge. Over the 20 years they have presented 250 dance companies from around the world, commissioned and co-commissioned 36 new works in a range of styles and choreographers from Portland and beyond, and have developed some of the most enthusiastic, dedicated, and educated dance audiences I have ever seen. White Bird’s 20th season is dedicated to those audiences.

Jamuna Chiarini

Complexions Contemporary Ballet from New York, co-directed by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, opens that season. Rhoden was a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Richardson was the first Black American Principal dancer at American Ballet Theater.

The company is 23 years old itself, and has been called “America’s original multicultural dance company.” They pride themselves on being based in ballet but not limited to it, expanding their movement vocabulary into any and every genre, proposing an alternate view of classical ballet.

The company will perform three pieces, all choreographed by Rhoden: Ballad Unto…. for 14 dancers, performed to Bach, that explores love’s many facets; IMPRINT/MAYA, a solo performed by Richardson,
danced to a pre-recorded track featuring Melanie Nyema on Vocals, Ron Pedley on piano and Mat Fieldes on bass and the words of Maya Angelou; and STAR DUST, a tribute to David Bowie.

Journalist Joe Lynch, for Billboard magazine online, stated in his impassioned review of STAR DUST after it premiered at The Joyce Theatre in New York in January, that STAR DUST “isn’t a cheap attempt to capitalize on Bowie’s fame, but a thoughtful exploration by choreographer Dwight Rhoden of the way movement reveals additional layers in Bowie’s music (something Bowie himself did onstage, mimicking gifted movers from Pierrot the Clown to kabuki actors over the course of his career).” Lynch says if you’re a Bowie fan, “Star Dust is a must—whether you think you enjoy the ballet or not.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre kicks off its season this weekend with the world premiere of Rhapsody In Blue, a collaboration between Oregon Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale. With permission from the Gershwin Foundation, Lauderdale created a new arrangement of George Gershwin’s jazz classic that lengthens the score, draws out nuances in the music, and allows for more movement possibilities.

The score, originally created for a solo piano and jazz band, will instead be performed live on two grand pianos by Lauderdale and Hunter Noack. The program also includes Never Stop Falling (in Love), Fonte’s 2014 piece created for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 25th anniversary. It features Pink Martini singer China Forbes and a medley of Pink Martini songs.

Rhapsody In Blue the dance, softly weaves together abstract contemporary ballet choreography with a narrative describing the mood of the blue hour or “L’heure bleue.” A French phrase with no exact English translations, it describes the magical hours between daylight and night that lovers might meet before returning home to their spouses. A kind of magical time of day when things become less linear and boundaries become more fluid.

Last week I sat in on a rehearsal for Rhapsody In Blue as the costume designer was trying out different costume possibilities on the dancers. The room was abuzz with activity, full of company dancers, stage managers, costume designers, lighting designers, and other artistic personal. I am always amazed at what a massive production ballets are and how many people it takes to put a production together, compared to many smaller productions I regularly see where the choreographer does almost everything.

The costumes for Rhapsody are a gorgeous, textural mix of electric blues in satins, laces, brocades, and matte cottons, with swirling skirts, and tailored suits, evoking decadent sumptuousness and ease. The movement, like the chosen color, is also electric and explosive, shooting out from the dancer’s centers like arrows, creating dramatic, stretched lines with arms and legs. The movement sweeps and falls, rebounds and flies, describing the music and the space around the notes perfectly. Sometimes the dancing is large and uses the whole cast and sometimes it is quiet and uses a singular gesture. It’s a beautiful, dynamic work that might make you see/hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in a whole new light.

Performances this week

Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Sachyn Mital Photography

Ballad Unto…., IMPRINT/MAYA, and STAR DUST
Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Choreography by Dwight Rhoden
Presented by White Bird
October 5-7
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Eugene Ballet Company’s Mowgli. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

Mowgli – The Jungle Book Ballet-Eugene
Eugene Ballet Company directed by Toni Pimble
October 6-8
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Toni Pimble, the artistic director of Eugene Ballet, retells Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” through ornate costumes, masks, sets, and world music, in the story of orphaned Mowgli, his friend Baloo the Bear, the terrifying Tiger Shere Khan and the snake Kaa.

Dance artist Oluyinka Akinjiola performing at Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton.

Moving through Darkness
This is a Black Spatial Imaginary
Featuring Intisar Abioto, Akela Auer, and Oluyinka Akinjiola
5 pm October 7
Paragon Arts Gallery, 815 N Killingsworth St.
Moving through Darkness, is a movement and dance performance featuring writer, dancer, photographer, and the author/photographer/curator of The Black Portlanders Intisar Abioto; writer, poet, dancer, and choreographer Akela Auer; and dancer, choreographer, teacher, scholar and artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, Oluyinka Akinjiola.

“This Is A Black Spatial Imaginary’ considers the movement and fixity of Black communities, by activating past, present and future spaces for Black life. This is a Black Spatial Imaginary brings together installation, video, print media, performance, and public intervention, exploring new forms of practice at the intersection of art, collaboration, historical record, urban planning, collaboration and creative exchange.”

Bharatanatyam dancer Jayanthi Raman. Photo courtesy of Jayanthi Raman.

Dance Of The Hummingbirds
Jayanthi Raman and dancers
7 pm October 7
Dolores Winningstad Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Combining live music, poetry by Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen, artwork by Shashank Rao, and guest dancers from Chennai, India, Portland Bharatanatyam choreographer/teacher Jayanthi Raman reflects on finding inner strength to overcome life’s obstacles in her new work Dance Of The Hummingbirds.

Rhapsody in Blue by Nicolo Fonte. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Rhapsody In Blue (World Premiere) and Never Stop Falling (in Love)
Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre directed by Kevin Irving
October 7-14
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
See above.

Upcoming Performances

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