DanceWatch Weekly: close partners

Spenser Theberge talks about “Rather This, Then” and his partnership with Jermaine Spivey; L-E-V comes to White Bird; Mood Factory; more

Dancer and Portland native Spenser Theberge and his partner in life and dance, Jermaine Spivey, are back in town to perform Rather This, Then, a work they developed last September during a residency at Disjecta here in Portland. They will perform it twice on Friday, Nov. 17, once at 12:15 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. at Reed College’s Massee Performance Lab in the Performing Arts Building.

Jamuna Chiarini

Theberge grew up in Portland dancing at The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Columbia Dance in Vancouver and went on to attend Juilliard and dance with the Netherlands Dance Theatre and The Forsythe Company.

Spivey also attended Juilliard, and went on to dance for Ballet Gulbenkian and the Cullberg Ballet, joining Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot in 2008, where he dances now. You might have seen him perform back in April 2016 when White Bird brought Betroffenheit to Portland—a collaboration between Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre that combined dance and theater, which ArtsWatch’s Nim Wunnan captured in his review, which you can read here.

Therberge describes this collaborative work as “highly physical and highly human, calling on body, voice, and visual elements to reveal truths about each other. It’s privacy made public, it’s tenderly voyeuristic, and the result is an opportunity for the audience to see something of themselves represented in another.”

When Theberge was here last year I interviewed him via email about his life in dance in the United States versus Europe. “Working as a dancer in Europe means you’re really well taken care of,” he said. “You get paid all year, have health care, vacation time, physical therapy, a pension plan. Dancing is the same as any other job there (for the most part, although Europe is beginning to see similar budget cuts in the arts as we do in America) and the conditions and benefits of the all jobs are the same.” You can read the full interview here.

Since then, he and Spivey have been quite busy. Therberge has restaged works from Nederlands Dans Theater on companies in Rome, Lyon, and Tulsa, and Spivey just finished a long tour of Betroffenheit with Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theater that included being awarded an Olivier Award in London. The Olivier Award, or The Laurence Olivier Awards, is an annual award given by the Society of London Theatre in recognition of excellence in professional theater in London.

Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Somewhere in there they moved to Los Angeles and are settling in for the first time in two years, Theberge said when we spoke recently via email. “We’ve been focusing a lot on establishing roots and connecting with our new community which has felt so enriching after missing that home feeling for so long. We’ve been teaching a lot and creating short works on dancers around L.A. and America. Now we’re talking about what we want our future to look like and how we can facilitate those experiences.”

Performing a work over a long period is a much different experience than performing a piece for just one weekend. I was curious how Rather This, Then had developed over the past year.

“There’s something so comforting about remounting work,” Theberge said. “We know what the structure is and how the piece functions, so now we can focus on diving deeper and strengthening transitions, looking for more effective ways of communicating our points. … But because it’s an improvised piece about presence and communication, it definitely feels different. It’s like revisiting a topic of conversation a year later. We’ve learned more about our views and each other, so we can talk about it differently. It’s been exciting, using this piece as a point of reference, to realize that our emotional and physical ideas and instincts have evolved.

Because Theberge and Spivey are also teaching a workshop in Forsythe technique in addition to performing, I wanted to know more about what exactly Forsythe technique is, and how they teach it.

Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

“I feel like I could answer this question forever!” Theberge said. “ I also feel like I have a very particular point of view regarding Forsythe technique. Jermaine and I danced with the company only for its final two seasons (of 30+ years of the company, including the Ballet Frankfurt era). So the development of the work and the company’s lineage was so advanced by the time we arrived—we were constantly trying to learn the history of how we got to what we were working on. It was like playing catch-up because we had so much respect for the work and wanted to honor it. However, the work also feels very personal because it’s your body and mind making decisions inside the context of the work. That duality was always present—your individuality meeting the integrity of what the work is asking for. When it felt good, it felt like finding yourself inside a frame. Like finding the infinite inside of finite rules. To me, Forsythe work (whether classical, experimental, or theatrical, or whatever) looks like extreme presence. It looks like being truly in the moment and studying your body in relation to others’ bodies (or space or time, etc). Performing the work was training awareness.”

“Jermaine and I are fascinated by the idea of awareness and perception,” Theberge continued. “The work we make has ideas of communication (and miscommunication) at the core, always. When we improvise with each other, we’re trying to relay needs and meet each other’s needs. Or we’re trying to insist on something that ultimately results in conflict or antagonization. We try to listen so we can resolve these conflicts. We’re working on human ideas, on what it means to share space with another. All the victories, concessions, and compromises that come with that. I feel like we got hooked on this idea of hyper-presence and communication at The Forsythe Company, and now we’re developing our own understanding of these ideas through our work.

“Jermaine and I teach our interpretation of Forsythe technique. We apply the ideas of presence and communication into task based exercises designed to help the participant gain greater awareness of body, time, and the space being shared with others. We work on ideas of active decision-making and taking responsibility for what you’re asking your body to contribute. We use Forsythe and Laban ideas of line, curve, and effort, as well as dynamic phrasing and rhythmic suggestions. We also employ Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s Viewpoints to help landscape and organize spatially.”

Performances this week

Symbolic Interactions-Salem
Willamette University Theatre Department
Artistic Director Bryant Henderson
November 16-18
Willamette University, M. Lee Pelton Theatre, 900 State St., Salem
Directed by program director Bryant Henderson, this concert of ten dances created by Willamette University dance faculty members Michele Ainza, Annie Joslin and EJ Reinagel, plus guest choreographer Professor Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner from Western Oregon University and student choreographer Maggie Grogan, will focus on “Social theories regarding power, symbolism, gesture, and human interaction.”

L-E-V, Directed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar
Presented by White Bird
November 16-18
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
Former Batsheva Dance Company dancer and resident choreographer Sharon Eyal in collaboration with co-artistic director Gai Behar present OCD LOVE (2015 premiere), a work for six dancers inspired by Neil Hilborn’s poem OCD: A Love Poem danced to dj Ori Lichtik’s pulsating techno beats.

Hilborn’s poem, which you can see him perform live on YouTube or read here, describes the painful challenges of living and loving with obsessive compulsive disorder. Eyal’s dance describes an out-of-sync relationship and its cracks and gaping holes.

Pacific Dance Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Pacific University.

Autumn Choreographers Concert
Pacific University, Pacific Dance Ensemble
November 16-18
Pacific University, Tom Miles Theatre, Warner Hall, 2115 Pacific Ave, Forest Grove
Under the artistic leadership of Dance Director Jennifer Camp, this annual faculty/student concert features the works of eight students choreographers as well as a retrospective of works performed by the The Pacific Dance Ensemble from the past 15 years.

Rather This, Then
Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge
12:15 pm and 7:30 pm November 17
Reed College, Performing Arts Building (PAB 128), Massee Performance Lab, 3017 SE Woodstock Blvd.
See above.

Dancer Sura Hertzberg. Photo courtesy of Sura Hertzberg.

Mood Factory
Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens
7:30 pm November 18
9 pm Dance Party with live music
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Ste. 9
This eclectic evening of performances by an array of movement, theater, and music practitioners addresses spirituality and mythology, issues of gender and culture, Mexican and Spanish traditions, racial justice and cultural appropriation, sexuality, feminism, matriarchy, and our innate connection to nature and ritual.

The featured artists are; Wendy Allegaert, Hesta FIckanius Wickham, Franz Brozincevic Wetikon, Janet Goulston, Sura Hertzberg, Tomas Rivero, Jai Villanous Noble, and Helen Spencer-Wallace.

Upcoming Performances

November 24, Mushimaru Fujieda: Natural Physical Poetry Performance, hosted by Water in the Desert
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December 2, Tidal-the first cut, Wobbly Dance
December 7-9, Bolero + Billie, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9, Winter Dance Concert, Reed College Performing Arts
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 17, Fiesta Navideña, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
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


2 Responses.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    I believe Jermaine Spivey also performed with Rachel Tess’s Rumpus Room, in Portland, forget what year except that it was about 100 degrees, performance was at Disjecta, there was a portable air condiitoner, and an audience of very few people, which was a shame because it was a very good show.

  2. Martha Ullman West says:

    Expansion: I just checked the above, it was at that time Rachel Tess and Stephen Laks’s company, they performed in 2009, and Catherine Thomas singled Spivey out for special attention in her review for the Oregonian. And rightly so.

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