Dance Weekly: The N.E.W. dance residency bears fruit

Catherine Egan, Lane Hunter, Linda K. Johnson and Ruth Nelson talk about their N.E.W. Expressive Works Residency at Studio 2-Zoomtopia.

On Friday night, four Portland choreographers—Catherine Egan, Lane Hunter, Linda K. Johnson and Ruth Nelson—will reveal the culmination of six months of thinking, experimenting and moving in the studio as part of The N.E.W. Expressive Works Residency, at Studio 2-Zoomtopia.

The N.E.W. residency program, directed by Subashini Ganeshan, supports the making of contemporary dance of all genres. The program offers 144 hours of free rehearsal space over six months to four choreographers; “Fieldwork,” or peer-to-peer feedback sessions; and a fully produced, ticketed performance at the end.

Portland has only one other similar residency for choreographers. The Performance Works NW’s Alembic Artists Residency awards 80 studio hours over a 10 month period with additional hours at an extremely reduced rate. (This year’s Alembic artists are Claire Barrera, Noelle Stiles and Katie Scherman.) This residency also culminates in a produced performance at the end.

I asked each choreographer of the N.E.W. residency group two questions as a way to introduce them to you.

1. What has this residency done for you?

2. What have you discovered about dance or dance making during this residency? Any ah-ha moments?

When I asked choreographer Linda K. Johnson these questions, she said, “The real answers to both of these lines of inquiry are so much more subtle, fleeting and private. These are extended conversations about intention, and fear of failing or being seen, or how we construct meaning from what we are doing/thinking.”

I agree. My questions are simply a springboard to a larger conversation and a means to introduce these choreographers to you.


Celine Bouly and Catherine Egan. Photo courtesy of Catherine Egan.

N.E.W. choreographer: Catherine Egan

1. Of course the NEW Residency has allowed me to focus on making work, not producing–a great gift. And being given rehearsal time and space is another. The residency has been an opportunity to revisit themes I’ve been working around since late 2014, while I was collaborating with Push Leg as guest director and co-writer for a devised theater project AVOIDANCE. Then, I directed actors. Here I’m directing a dancer and performing, so not only is the work more abstract (theater vs. dance roots), it takes an intimate approach to the broad societal themes explored in AVOIDANCE. It’s also been great to deepen an artistic relationship with Celine Bouly, my duet partner.

2. This close dance partnership has led me to deeply consider my own performance aesthetic. Directing when there is a bit of a language barrier (Celine is from Paris) requires more clarity; there can be no assumed common approach. And asking a dancer to embrace more actor-ly performance styles has shaped my own perceptions of what I do on stage. Celine is so open to it. And she offers a splendid eye for movement analysis. Working with her has been great, really. This partnership is kind of rare I think.




Lane Hunter. Photo courtesy of Lane Hunter.

Lane Hunter

1. When I have staged shows in the past, the most frustrating thing is all of the money one raises to pay for inanimate objects (rehearsal space, lights, chairs, etc.) while the dancers offer all of their years of technique and experience to you for free or very little. So my past rehearsals, to keep costs down, had very little breadth for experimenting. This residency, with it’s 6-month time frame and ample studio time, allowed me the leeway to try, scrap, and refine ideas. Which, in turn, has made the quality of the movement match more closely the vision in my head.

Additionally, I have been introduced to other choreographers and dancers in the area whose styles and ideas are different from my own. Watching their creative process, sharing my process, and hearing perspectives before a critic reviews it publicly makes the premiering of a new work a little less nerve-racking. A week before the show, I feel calm and prepared and pleased with what I will be presenting this weekend.

2. To me, choreography doesn’t show itself as a dance move. It comes as a flash of an image like a short, brightly lit dream or a faint conversation that’s being spoken in the next room. I sit with the image, poring over playlists until the sound matches the image, then begin to carve out the space between the dancers until the conversation can be heard. The work I have created for this residency is based on an image that had been sitting with me for nearly four years before there was a time and space to reveal it. Even after years of mulling over it, until I had space and dancers to inhabit that space I couldn’t fully hear all of the parts of the conversation. Then, the work shifted based on how rehearsal played out and, oddly, based on dancers’ schedules.

The person I envisioned in one role switched places with another based on availability on a certain Friday. What was, on paper, a humorous trio for men, became a joyful duet for a man and woman. In the end, the change of roles is so complementary it’s difficult to see it the original way. So the ah ha moment is that listening to the conversation from all perspectives allows me to bring one voice to the front and save the other voice for a more appropriate time. But, the dance is never about the moves. It’s about the conversation. Having the time to listen to the voices dictates the moves.


Ruth Nelson and dancers. Photo by Mathew Polzin.

Ruth Nelson

1. When I applied for the residency, I was looking for an opportunity to push myself creatively. I hadn’t made my own work since college, and it felt like enough years had passed where I finally felt interested again! This residency provided not only a physical space to work in but an open, supportive environment for me to explore my own ideas. It’s a residency free from outside judgement; a place where I could throw myself outside of my comfort zone and not worry about being good or bad or interesting or a pioneer. The community aspect of it, which is created through our fieldwork sessions, has been rewarding. Although I would only see other artists during these every other month showings, I know I have more allies in the dance world.

2. As an ensemble of dancers and a musician, the more we explored the tools involved in compositional improvisation the more I realized how these tools applied to my daily relationships and experiences. A part of our work is to constantly notice the choices the group members are making as well as notice the choices we as individuals make to either react or interact with each other. You may not like another’s’ choices or may feel uncomfortable but instead of deciding to ignore what he/she is doing, you ask yourself why don’t I like their choices and how can I support them in my own way to help us all move forward?

This work is a big ego check I’ve found. It isn’t necessarily about what I want or need but about what our group needs as a whole to help build whatever it is we come up with collectively.


Photo courtesy of Linda K. Johnson.

Linda K. Johnson

1. Any gift of time, presentation and collegial community presents a phenomenal chance to just work. This residency offers all three, and more. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity, as it got me back in the studio after a 5-year hiatus. I had all kinds of simmering questions about dancing and making and aging and motherhood that I needed to explore. Messy business!

2. Hopefully, there are ‘ah ha’ moments in every rehearsal, which are more often than not notes back to self about habits, or assumptions and desires that I am bringing to the current process that are detritus from the last—remnants that threaten to send me off the scent trail of the current investigation. I was more or less successful in catching those in this residency. This work is an entirely different gesture for me, so I needed to weed out the ‘usual suspects,’ as I wanted to be fiercely honest with myself in this process.


Happening this week

New Expressive Works Residency Performance
March 25-27
New Expressive Works/Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St #2
Catherine Egan, Linda K. Johnson, Lane Hunter and Ruth Nelson

Rewilding the Body-Community Dialogue
Butoh College
7 pm March 23
The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St

Butoh Ad Lib II
8 pm March 25
The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
A series of informal Butoh inspired dances and improvisations by Koichi and Hiroko Tamano along with local artists Stephanie Lanckton, Pepper Pepper and Wobbly Dance.

Next Week and later this month
March 30, Grupo Corpo, White Bird
March 31-April 2, Kidd Pivot, White Bird
April 1, Dancing over 50 Soirée, Emmaly Wiederholt and Gregory Bartning
April 1, Bieguni, Agnieszka Laska Dancers
April 1, Little Red, Tempos Contemporary Circus
April 1, Dance Passport, Dance Wire

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