DanceWatch Weekly: Before the year ends, meet Katie Scherman

The dance schedule this week is busier than you might expect with "Nutcrackers," "Dancing With the Stars!" and other more experimental concerts filling the calendar

Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m saying all that now because this DanceWatch Weekly will be the last one of 2016. Here’s to a happier, healthier 2017.

But, before I go, I would like to introduce you to Portland dance artist Katie Scherman (2016 Alembic Resident Artist at Performance Works NW) who will be debuting Complicated Women, a work that explores the experience of being female, in all of its complexities. It opens Thursday night at Performance Works NW, Linda Austin Dance.

Scherman, who is originally from California, performed with Houston Ballet II, The Washington Ballet Studio Company, Trey McIntyre, Hubbard Street 2, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Central California Ballet, Terpsicorps Dance Theatre and BodyVox to name a few, graduated from Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet/Dominican University with a BFA in Dance and received her MFA in Dance from the University of Oregon.

In 2008 she was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for Best Ensemble, and in 2009, she was honored with a Princess Grace Award in Dance.

Her choreography has been presented in Oregon, California, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Utah, and Chicago.

Scherman now lives in Portland, where she teaches, choreographs and performs. I was able to speak with Katie via email about her life in dance.

What attracted you to Portland?

I feel enlivened when I’m in a city at the brink of blossoming….Portland has a potential that I am drawn to. It’s thrilling to be a part of a community that you are optimistic about. There is room to say something, which for me, felt essential.

Photo courtesy of Katie Scherman.

Why did you decide to leave dance company life to pursue your degrees and choreography?

There have been many times I’ve left dance company life to pursue a degree and/or choreography. At first glance, it might seem as if I jump around a lot, but each jump is getting me closer to figuring out what I need and want to do. I left home at 15 to start my career at Houston Ballet II, and at 20, in my second season with Washington Ballet Studio Company, I was struggling with multiple ankle injuries and didn’t know who I was dancing for anymore. I was completely depressed. Dance was the only thing that defined me….. I was not dancing for myself. I was dancing to be admired by everyone but myself. In recognizing this, I realized I needed to look deeply into who I was.

I stumbled upon a LINES Ballet professional workshop, which led me into the inaugural class of the LINES Ballet/Dominican University BFA program in 2006. The LINES program incites a way of thinking that says “anything is possible.” Alonzo’s philosophy broke down my preconceived notions that came with early training and shifted my mindset from “you aren’t good enough” to “I am good enough.” My time at LINES BFA and dancing with the company will forever fill me with gratitude.

Unfortunately, on a darker note, as I shifted into my first season with Hubbard Street II in 2010, I was struggling with a severe eating disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. It was crippling, frightening, and yet I was addicted to it. At the end of my first season with Hubbard Street 2, having just been promoted to the main company, I chose to enter a rehabilitation center for anorexia. Therefore, I decided I could not dance in a company anymore. It was too risky and there were too many triggers.

Photo courtesy of Katie Scherman.

After my time in rehab, I took some time to be Katie, sans dance, but quickly realized: “Who am I without dance?” I didn’t have any other life skills. Or at least I thought I was incapable of doing anything else…and frankly it was too hard to not have dance in my life. So, I transitioned into teaching, slowly working that muscle. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was in love with something other than just being a performer. This self investigation led me to apply to grad school…and there I was, leaving Chicago for Eugene, Oregon.

Grad school was quite possibly the most challenging and fulfilling work I have ever done. I always say that the LINES BFA program trained my body and soul, and grad school trained my brain and strengthened my voice. At the end of grad school, I realized I had a deep passion for working with students and creating collaborative work. Sadly, the position I had planned to step into after grad school fell short (Moxie Contemporary Ballet). Which meant, “I don’t have a job?” Luckily, BodyVox was having auditions, I went to the open call, and got the job.

I danced with BodyVox for one season, and was fortunate enough to dance my dream role “Juliet,” a role I had dreamt about as a little girl. I decided to leave BodyVox because I missed dancing in my own work and having the time and space to work with other universities. So I guess to answer your question after my long backstory, I will say that I am a very curious and hungry artist. I am always looking for opportunities to better understand this art form….but mostly, to better understand myself.

Photo courtesy of Katie Scherman.

What was it like to leave home at 15?

As a young girl I would read the bios of all the ballerinas I admired—Julie Kent, Abi Stafford, Muriel Maffre—and leaving home at a young age was just how it was done. I felt it was the necessary path to get the right training. So leaving home at that age was in a way, magical for me. I felt like I was on my way. However it was also very challenging—I was separated from my family, my relationships turned into long distance, and I had to mature very quickly. In some ways I feel like I missed out on childhood, but in other ways I feel like I had the adventure I dreamed about.

What have you been exploring in the process of creating “Complicated Women”?

Complicated Women has been a much-needed experiment. I have never had nine months to create a work. let alone make an evening-length work. I typically am commissioned by a university or dance school, and I have 2-6 weeks to create a 10-20 minute work. The creative juices have to flow very quickly. I tend to get completely obsessed and in a cocoon in order to produce work in an efficient manner. Therefore, nine months packed with two residences, a wedding, and a honeymoon has made this quite fun…haha.

I have been exploring Complicated Women from an autobiographical approach. Each dancer— Jess Zoller, Faith Morrison, and myself—is investigating themes of vulnerability, ego, power, self-sabotage, self-hate, and grace. I am interested in the never ending self-dialogue and how this can be translated through movement. The work is collaborative, self reflective, and full of questions. This is my first work collaborating with multiple artists, including filmmaker, Rob Uehlin of Lens and Compass. The film work adds another layer to the work which I believe is especially vital in investigating the depth and inner complexities of women.

Performances this week!

Holiday RAWK 2016
RAW Artists Portland
7 pm December 15
Roseland Theatre, 8 NW 6th Ave
In 2009 Raw, an organization run by artists, for artists, was formed to connect artists of all mediums in every city and town, and provide a platform for the presentation of their work. Raw currently produces artists in 60 cities around the world.

This month, in Portland, Raw will present more than 50 artists in addition to Vitality Dance Collective and dancer/choreographer Sam Schilke, who performed for PDX Contemporary Ballet and State Street Ballet.

Complicated Woman
Katie Scherman/2016 Performance Works NW Alembic Resident Artist
Performed by Jess Zoller, Faith Morrison, and Katie Sherman
December 15-17
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th St

See above.

Through The Looking Glass
LYFE Dance Company
December 15-18
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
LYFE Dance Company, directed by Portland hip-hop choreographer Durante Lambert now in its 3rd season, will present Through The Looking Glass, an evening-length program that blends hip hop, jazz, funk, contemporary, and more, for a troupe of eight dancers.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Stewart.

Not About Thing
lecture demonstration & Workshop by Shannon Stewart
December 17
12:30-2:15 pm Workshop
2:15-3 pm Lecture/Demonstration
Flock Dance Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Studio #4
In this combination workshop/performance/lecture demonstration, dance artist Shannon Stewart, who made Portland her home in 2011-12 while performing with tEEth, will play with concepts of “disorientation, quick shifts of attention, endurance and group dynamics,” while “moving away from language and towards embodied comprehension” in her workshop, and will “delve into critical whiteness and textures of femininity” and theorize about the “conceptualize body, identity, and performativity” in the performance of her work Not About Thing, followed by a Q & A.

Photo of In Circadia. Dancer is Sara Himmelman. Photo by Daniel Addy.

Critical Engagement Series
In Circadia/Eliza Larson
5 pm December 17
Flock Dance Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Studio #4
The Critical Engagement Series at Flock Dance Center is curated by dance artist Tahni Holt, and “brings together audiences and choreographers in hopes to reveal some of the mystery surrounding the languages around dance and the unique practices of individual choreographers. We start with the question: What does the choreographer need at this particular moment in their process and how might this also serve the wider community.”

In Circadia, choreographed by Eliza Larson, is inspired by states of being that permeate our sleeping lives and investigates that bizarre space between being awake and asleep.

The Nutcracker
Eugene Ballet Company
December 16-18
Hult Center, Silva Concert Hall, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Eugene Ballet’s Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Toni Pimble with sets by Don Carson, is still the classic story that we all know and love, with Clara, Drosselmeyer, her nutcracker and the land of sweets, but with a twist. The rat king is a pirate, Clara and the prince travel in a balloon, and there are pyrotechnics and strobe lights, and of course brilliant, beautiful dancing by the Eugene Ballet Company dancers.

History is a hole: Reading Group and Reception
Hosted by Physical Education
4 pm December 18
Hq objective, 2235 W Burnside

History is a hole is a video installation, reading group and performance happening, with contributions from Kalimah Abioto, Samiya Bashir, Roland Dahwen Wu, keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Maggie Heath, Sidony O’neal, Sharita Towne, Stacey Tran, Takahiro Yamamoto, and Lu Yim.

Physical Education is comprised of dance and performance artists Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto. PE’s mission is to provide immersive methods of engaging with dance and performance through reading groups, lectures, curated performances, aerobic/movement classes and dance parties.

A film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
7 pm December 18
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th St

Performance Works NW presents a screening of Gifts, a 65-minute film by Nichola Bruce that focuses on a 10-year project by U.K. artist Clare Whistler. Whistler, inspired by the eight objects traditionally given in England to welcome a new baby into the world—Egg, Coal, Evergreen, Salt, Candle, Bread, Coin and Silver—created public events based on each of these gifts in collaboration with different artists. She then developed the film Gifts with director Nichola Bruce, in response to those eight events.

Whistler will be joining the screening from England via Skype!

Dancing with the Stars: Live!-Eugene
AEG Live NW, Eugene
8 pm December 19
Hult Center, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene

Dancing with the Stars: Live!-Portland
Presented by Showbox
8 pm December 20
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Portland

This Dancing with the Stars national tour, showcases every style of dance seen on the ABC show, Dancing with the Stars, from ballroom to modern dance. The production include Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez (gold and silver medalist for gymnastics in Rio) along side season 23’s finalists Lindsay Arnold, Sharna Burgess and Val Chmerkovskiy.

Spectacle Garden 8: Solstice
Curated by Ben Martens
6:30 pm December 21
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
This monthly showcase, curated by composer/Butoh artist Ben Martens, will open with singer Fatha Green and will include performances by dance artists Luke Gutgsell, Eric Nordstrom, Stephanie Lanckton, Jesus Rodales, and Laura Blake, alongside multi-disciplinary artists Nolan Yakul Thomas, Ben Glas, Dave Sheingold, Cagil Harmandar, Morgan Goldberg, Natasha Kotey and Benja and Devin Cain.

Ben Martens, who has been curating monthly performances at The Headwater Theatre for several months now, is a poet, electronic music producer, emcee, mover, organizer and performance artist with an interest in revolution, existentialism, comedy, mindfulness and environmentalism. He studied music and performance at Naropa University and has been studying Butoh with Mizu Desierto since his arrival in Portland in January 2015. He and Desierto are hoping to rev up Portland’s performance community by bringing them together for low-cost, high-energy community showcases. Martens is always looking for future performers, particularly performers of color and diverse ages, in theater, comedy, dance and ensemble work. If you are interested in performing, contact Martens at

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
December 22-24
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1111 SW Broadway

This Broadway style, holiday spectacular, features 300 costumes, 20 acts and 30 artists from around the world dressed up as penguins, angels, reindeer, toy soldier, gingerbread men, ornaments and of course Santa, flipping, balancing, spinning and dancing their hearts out for you.

The New York Daily News say Cirque Dreams Holidaze is “so full of energy it could end our dependence on oil.” Could this show be the answer to all of our problems?

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