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DanceWatch: A look back and a look ahead

By Jamuna Chiarini
October 26, 2017

Saturday mornings at 10:30 am Portland dance artist Tracey Durbin teaches a Luigi based, lyrical jazz class at NW Dance Project. It’s a phenomenal class that is emotional and technical and kicks my butt on a weekly basis, rendering me more or less useless for the rest of the day, but I love it.

Jamuna Chiarini

This past Saturday was extra special. Unbeknownst to me, the NW Dance Project dancers were also taking the class. It was also Ching Ching Wong’s last Durbin class before taking off on a ten-month world tour of performing and teaching. If you need to catch up with Wong and where she’s been and where she’s going, you can read our conversation in last week’s edition of DanceWatch.

Because the company (NW Dance Project) was in class, the energy and effort of everyone in the room was cranked up just a notch or two, and it became one of the most fun, most ecstatic classes I have taken. At the end of class Durbin put a piece of music on and made Wong improvise a solo for us. It was lovely—longing and poetic—and through her movement she thanked the dancers and Durbin. It was a truly memorable Saturday morning.

Saturday night was also Wong’s last performance with NW Dance Project, a performance I desperately wanted to see, but I was also performing at the same time with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre at Reed College.

That evening, after I finished dancing with Rejoice!, I booked it downtown to Lincoln Hall and caught the last two pieces of NW Dance Project’s Fall show: If at Some Hour You Return by Jiri Pokorny and Wen Wei Wang’s You Are All I See. Writer Heather Wisner saw the entire show and wrote about it for ArtsWatch. Overall she felt the evening echoed George Orwell’s 1984, and that Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opening work “felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian,” which “suffused the whole evening.”

Both pieces were darkly lit and from where I was sitting the details were difficult to see. The dancers for Pokorny’s work wore heavy black shoes, which I enjoyed. I like the weight they gave to the movements and the sounds they created on the stage. Wearing shoes also eliminates my fear of anyone slipping from dancing in socks, which these dancers wear a lot. The movements were also very angular and postmodern-like, which were beautifully juxtaposed with the circular pools of light they were dancing in.

Wang’s work felt softer and lighter in comparison, and because it said in the program that the movement was created in collaboration with the dancers, I spent a lot of time wondering which movement belonged to whom, and wondering about the dancers personal movement choices. Both pieces were superbly danced, of course.

I have a growing dislike of seeing dance far away in proscenium settings. I want to see dance up close. I want to be able to see dancers faces and feel their energy. I want to feel what they are feeling. I want to be involved. Something gets lost in translation for me if I’m sitting far away in a theatre separated by that invisible fourth wall and the space between us.

After the company bowed at the end of the performance, NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper brought out an enormous bouquet of flowers with extremely long flowing streamers attached and presented it to Wong. At this point the entire audience was on their feet clapping wildly, and several people in the front row were waving poster boards with hand drawn messages to Wong on them. The two male dancers who flanked Wong even raised her up on their shoulders and brought her to the front of the stage. It was a spectacular send off and I’m so glad to have witnessed it. It’s inspiring to see a dancer and her dancing so appreciated by an audience.

This brings me to Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, and their fifth show Uprise, which opened this past weekend at Reed College’s Greenwood Theatre.

I like the Greenwood Theatre. The dancers are close, you can see their faces, and feel their energy. There is nowhere to hide. It’s all out in the open, which makes the experience so personal and relatable.

Uprise is a collection of six dances choreographed by Oluyinka Akinjiola, the company’s artistic director and company dancers Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, in collaboration with the other company dancers: Uriah Boyd, Bethany Harvey, Juliette Nolan and Xavier “Decimus” Yarbrough.

I performed with the community ensemble in The Beast In Us, the first piece in the program choreographed by Akinjiola to the song Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti. We wore multicolored African print tunics with matching leggings and were encouraged to find our inner beast while performing a mix of steps based in the African diaspora. The ensemble included me, Christina Bazzaroni, Katie Emery, Jenny Fremont, Simeon Jacob, Jennifer Hanis-Martin, and Paige Thomas. I loved dancing the movement we were given and I had an amazing time dancing with Rejoice! and the ensemble.

The company is multi-ethnic and multicultural, and the movement forms represented in the works encompass every style imaginable from contemporary dance, dances from the African and Cuban diasporas, capoeira, hip-hop, krumping and more. A true representation of the actual world that we live in here in America.

The music ranged from Fela Kuti to Jill Scott to Portland singer/songwriter Amenta Abioto, who sang three heavenly solos interspersed between the dances. Abioto also composed the music for Quiet Strength, which was choreographed and performed by Akinjiola to Forget me not America, written by Joselyn Seid with vocals by Andrea Vernae. Against the backdrop of the rhythmic music, Akinjiola’s powerful, airborne dancing and her manipulation of yards of blue, white, and red cloth (introduced in that order, I think), the names of African-Americans killed by police were spoken with the words “Forget me not America” following.

The other pieces in the program dealt with finding the inner beast, differentiating fact from fiction in the story of Xica da Silva (a black woman who transcends slavery to become Brazilian aristocracy), keeping hope alive in the journey from oppression to awareness, using movement from B-boying, stepping, Palo, and Krumping for their roots in resistance as inspiration, and so much more.

This was a powerful performance with a purpose. The company’s work is significant and important at this moment in time, and their presence and energy to create change in this mostly white city, and Trump’s America is important.

Performances this week

Cocktail Hour: The Show-Florence
Ballets With A Twist
Artistic director/choreographer Marilyn Klaus
Presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
7 pm October 26
Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St, Florence

Cocktail Hour: The Show, created by New York choreographer Marilyn Klaus, in collaboration with Grammy-nominated composer Stephen Gaboury, and costume designer Catherine Zehr, brings back the glamour and excitement of Hollywood’s Golden Age, capturing the timeless American spirit in a series of ballet vignettes inspired by American cocktails. The “Martini” is a dangerous, super cool blonde bombshell, the “Manhattan” is a big city socialite, the “Mai Tai” is Hawaiian, and the “Bloody Mary” is styled after the original bloody Mary, the murderous Queen Mary of England.

Diva Practice (Solo) at the Risk/Reward Festival 2017.  Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Diva Practice (Solo)
Pepper Pepper
October 26-November 5
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.

Diva Practice (Solo), is the last leg in a three-part cycle created by multidisciplinary artist Pepper Pepper who works in performance, drag, theatre, and dance.

“Diva Practice is a research project about drag and contemporary performance as a solo, duet, and ensemble. Diva Practice is a performance about queens dancing in the face of uncertainty, because being fabulous takes practice.”

I asked Pepper in an email interview what uncertainty queens have to face. Pepper said that “uncertainty is a political, choreographic, and emotional narrative throughout the show.” Using “improvisation and video interactivity” it places the character in uncertain situations where choice, impulse, and intention combine to illustrate her “practice.”

The making of Diva Practice (Solo), happened through a series of residencies, performances, and a tour through Oregon, Louisiana, Maine, Texas, and Georgia that “make accomplices of the audience and initiate conversation around gender, power, and vulnerability.”

Pepper said, “The diva practice research tour allowed me to experiment and practice with live audiences across the US. In a way, the practice became performing the show as a live rehearsal. This informs the ethos of the show which is radical acceptance and discernment. The tour was also a way for me to see drag and diva worship in many different states which influenced my choreography and frame of mind.”

I interviewed Pepper back in 2016 close to the debut of D.I.V.A. Practice in Pepper Pepper explains D.I.V.A. Practice.

Dancenorth Australia. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc, Gideon Obarzanek, and Senyawa
Presented by White Bird Uncaged
October 26-28
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Inspired by traditional Javanese trance ceremonies, where you enter a trance state through dance and music, Dancenorth Australia, Lucy Guerin Inc., Gideon Obarzanek (founder of Chunky Move), and the Javanese music duo Senyawa, have created Attractor. A work performed by eight dancers and two musicians, it aims to show how music and dance can create heightened physical states by turning performance into experience. Furthering the idea of an all-inclusive shared ritual, pre-selected audience members are invited into the performance, dissolving any demarcations between performer and audience.

Lucy Guerin Inc. is an Australian dance company established in Melbourne in 2002: “The Company is committed to the exploration of everyday events and the redefinition of the formal concerns of dance. New productions are generated through an experimental approach to creative process and may involve voice, video, sound, text and industrial design as well as Guerin’s lucid physical structures.”

Dancenorth is a contemporary dance company based in Townsville, Tropical North Queensland. “An epicenter for artistic exchange and collaboration Dancenorth balances a dynamic regional presence with a commitment to creating bold, adventurous and critically acclaimed contemporary dance.”

White Bird has presented Lucy Guerin’s and Gideon Obarzanek’s work numerous times to great acclaim, including the North American premieres of Chunky Move’s Tense Dave (2004) and Two-Faced Bastard (2009) as well as Lucy Guerin’s Weather (2013).


Ching Ching Wong in rehearsal for Migrants. Photo by Jim Lykins.

Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Youth Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
7:30 pm October 27
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St.

In collaboration with Korean violinist looper Joe Kye and the Bravo Youth Orchestra, former NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong will perform “Migrants,” a solo choreographed by Portland choreographer and Princess Grace Award winner Katie Scherman.

The work is “a multi-disciplinary exploration of identity, culture, and the spirit of human migration, Migrants will also include tales of immigration from Kye and Wong’s personal journeys. The show explores many themes relevant to a rapidly globalizing world: the celebration of roots, cross-cultural interactions, and the need to recognize universal humanity across borders and artificial boundaries. At its conclusion, Migrants will offer audiences an opportunity to root themselves in their local community while simultaneously seeing themselves as part of a global village.”

Nous, on va danser by Nancy Ellis. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis.

Nous, on va danser
Nancy Ellis
October 27-29
New Expressive Works (N.E.W.), 810 SE Belmont Street

Nous, on va danser (We are going to dance) is the third work in a triptych of autobiographical works choreographed and performed by Portland dance artist Nancy Ellis.

The series began with Nancy, four interpretations of the same solo created by longtime collaborator and New York choreographer Yanira Castro, inspired by Ellis. Ellis and Castro performed together in college and Ellis was a founding company member of Castro’s company.

From there Ellis created Nancy’s NANCY, Mid-Me, and now Nous, on va danser.

Nous, on va danser forecasts the future using Julien Blanc-Gras’s phrase from Nous Sommes Charlie as her touchstone.

I asked Ellis via email how this quote forecast the future.

I read a beautiful passage in writer Julien Blanc-Gras’s piece Un Monde Meilleur in the collection Nous sommes Charlie: 60 écrivains unis pour la liberté d’expression or We are Charlie: 60 writers united for freedom of expression back in March 2015, while I was working on Mid-Me. It concluded with the words Nous, on va danser and they became a kind of mantra for me. His message was similar to ones we told ourselves after 9/11. The show must go on. For me personally, I know that I must go on. And for me, to “go on” means to dance.

How are all three pieces connected?

Besides being autobiographical and chronological (Nancy’s NANCY is retrospective, Mid-Me was about my present, and Nous, on va danser evokes the future), I’ve discovered that they’re all about moving through fear: stage fright, fear of change, fear of being seen and heard.

The first solo in the triptych was Nancy’s Nancy, a multidisciplinary work where you used movement, set design, theatre, and music. Is this latest solo also multi-disciplinary? If so, how do you develop the different forms and weave them together to tell a complete story? What is your creative process like? What informs your choice making?

In Mid-Me, I wanted to try not talking, but I still use props and video with people speaking in it. In Nous, I ultimately wanted to use only my voice and my body. There is no video, only one minimal prop. Stephanie Lavon Trotter composed and recorded a score so that I could have music without having to “outsource” to other musicians. (Incidentally, I’ve also exclusively hired women to help me with this piece.) I’m less concerned with telling a complete narrative than using language, sound, and movement to engage with the audience and hopefully keep them engaged. I’d rather people be confused or even uncomfortable than have no thoughts or feelings about it.

Opus Cactus by Momix. Photo courtesy of Momix.


Opus Cactus-Eugene
MOMIX directed by Moses Pendleton
7:30 pm October 31
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Immerse yourself in the desert with giant cactuses, lizards, snakes, insects, and the dancers of Momix in Opus Cactus, an illusory work created by MOMIX artistic director Moses Pendleton that celebrates the landscape of the American Southwest.

Pendleton was the co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theater in 1971, and formed his own company, MOMIX, in 1980.

Performances Next Week

November 2-5, Diva Practice (Solo), Pepper Pepper
November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, Swan Lake Act ll & Black and White (world premiere), Oregon International Ballet Academy, Artistic Directors Xuan Cheng and Ye Li
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming

Upcoming Performances

November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 11, A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 15, Horizon3 in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND, Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene


January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

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, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


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