DanceWatch Weekly: Embracing the matriarch

Mizu Desierto says good-bye to the matriarch of her family and channels her final teaching, plus PWNW Alembic and Kalakendra

Portland dance this weekend is a magical convergence of female energy, wisdom, spirituality, discussions of death and dying, creation, and letting go of it all. On Friday, three powerful choreographer/performers who defy definition—Mizu Desierto from Portland, and Haruko Crow Nishimura and Joshua Kohl, co-artistic directors of Degenerate Art Ensemble from Seattle—will share an evening. The works are based in Butoh but expand beyond, utilizing dance, theatre, live sound, and video to address and meditate on a variety of human states and experiences.

Jamuna Chiarini

This week I interviewed Desierto, a dance/theatre artist with a 20-year practice in Butoh and the co-founder of Portland’s Water in the Desert, a major hub of artistic activity that includes The Headwaters Theatre, Prior Day Farm, and the annual Butoh College. Desierto, who has been a major contributor to the Portland dance and art scene in many ways for many years, will present her solo Matriarch, a dance/film collaboration with composer Lisa DeGrace and video designer Stephen Miller. Matriarch examines death and dying, lineages, and bees—specifically queen bees.

My email interview with Desierto about what inspired the work and how she created it, begins below after this week’s performance listing.

Performances this week!

Mizu Desierto in Matriarch. Photo by ©Miana Jun.

Diphylleia Grayi (Skeleton Flower) + Matriarch
Degenerate Art Ensemble and Mizu Desierto with M13 (Lisa DeGrace and Stephen Miller)
Presented by Mizu Desierto and Water In The Desert
September 29-30
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #9 (entrance around the back of the building)
See above.

Jin Camou andJulia Calabrese in Episode III. Photo courtesy of Performance Works NW.

Episode III-film with live music, and dance
Jin Camou, Julia Calabrese, Mary Sutton, Leah Brown, Linda Austin, Ayako Kataoka and Kathleen Hong
A PWNW Alembic Co-Production
September 29-30
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67the Ave.
This PWNW Alembic co-production presents Episode III, a short film involving a pair of alien body snatchers synthesizing their interplanetary experience after returning to their home planet. The film was created by dance and visual performing artists Jin Camou and Julia Calabrese in collaboration, and will be screened to live synth music by Portland pianist and composer Mary Sutton. Episode III is also the third installment of a film trilogy by Camou and Calabrese. Episode II can be seen here on vimeo and Episode I was a live performance.

Following the screening, Camou and dance artist Linda Austin will perform a duet, and a duet work-in-progress by sound and movement artist Ayako Kataoka and Kathleen Hong called tiers-lieu will utilize a score for sound and movement that uses remixed garments.

Bharatanatyam dancers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon. Photo courtesy of Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon.

Narayana Katha
A Bharatanatyam presentation w/Live Orchestra
Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon
Presented by Kalakendra
7 pm September 30
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Avenue
Celebrated Bharatanatyam performers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon will animate the beloved stories of Lord Narayana, the four-armed, dark blue colored, supreme lord of the Vaisnava faith from India.

The performance will be accompanied by a live orchestra consisting of a vocalist, a mridangist (drums), a Nattuvanar (the rhythmic playing of cymbals), and a violinist.

Interview with Mizu Desierto

What inspired the making of Matriarch?

A little over three years ago I finally found the courage to leave a very complicated, non- black-and-white relationship—one that had been incredibly supportive in many ways and also full of power struggle, control, and anxiety. In a way, I had been repeating aspects of my childhood and ancestry through cycles of dominance and despair, and I was beginning to feel the consequences of suffocation throughout my life and creative expression.

Slowly, slowly, I began a process of personal death and transformation, making vows to a new kind of autonomous and integrated self. In the midst of this painful deconstruction, suddenly I was also confronted with the imminent dying process of the woman who had always represented for me the best of humanity—my grandmother, my matriarch. Many things went on hold for me as Death, both internally and externally, took precedence. For sure, my artistic life went on pause throughout this time, so returning to a creative process again has been scary, humbling and a bit like I am tearing open a forgotten room of my house.

I might have stayed in this timid uncertainty longer without having a deadline or push, so I am grateful to Degenerate Art Ensemble for asking me to make something to pair with an evening of their new work-in-progress, “Skeleton Flower.” After hearing Crow’s [Haruko Crow Nishimura] description of their work and the intimate narrative she was opening, I felt more and more clear that I needed to make a solo (something else that scares me) and that I needed to share something about my own process of dying and becoming. Now that I have opened the map, I see that I am only just beginning to enter the terrain. In its current iteration, it feels like a collage of images and ideas that I hope to continue to parse out into an evening-length work. The inspirations so far include pieces of my southern Italian ancestry, dying rituals, bee societies, the loss of matriarch, and the necessity to become one (personally and collectively).

What was your process like creating the piece? How long have you been working on it? How do you work? How do you create material?

I have been crafting a series of short dying rituals for my grandmother over the past year. One of which I offered in her home, for her family, with many of her precious belongings, as a funerary dance. As a process of my healing, I needed to keep repeating and updating the ritual in various places and conditions. In June, while taking part in a residency at Playa Summer Lake, with Ævium (an intergenerational women’s dance project), I asked our photographer, Miana Jun; our filmmaker, Stephen Miller; and our sound designer, Lisa DeGrace; to join me at sunrise so I could perform and document the dying ritual on a small alkaline lake island on the cracked desert playa. That morning ritual on film became a kind of centerpiece for the work, and from there I began to think about other trajectories of past, present, and future that I felt were somehow related.

The segments of live performance are all rather new. I generally work from inside out…meaning I start with an internal image and work to unravel it as a method to create composition. However, in one case of this performance, I began with a costume element and then used it as a symbol to dive into the subconscious. The costume is very charged for me as it is the wedding shirt of my great-grandfather, who rolled cigars and worked the rail-yards. Most of my childhood memories of my grandmother took place in the house that he built. Somehow, by putting it on, I felt that I was able to connect with some forgotten parts of my masculine and Italian lineage, not just my grandfather, but many, many characters…some hopeful and some despairing…some whose stories have been left secret for generations. It could all be my imagination, but I am okay to follow imagination. For me it is an essential part of dance-making.

Another section came from various improvisations I was playing with through my recent studies and fascinations with bees. Mostly I craft choreographies as symbolic pathways to open internally and move through rather than as sequence of gestures. It may look very similar every time, but essentially it is still improvisation.

Could you describe the funerary dance you performed for your family? What was it like performing for them? What were their responses to your performance?

I have often tried to temper my eccentricities in the face of more mainstream culture and values, particularly with my family and particularly with the non-rational part of myself that intuitively navigates dreams, psychic states, and unknown energies. However, as I sat with my grandmother and shared in her experience of decaying mind and body, I kept feeling as though her final teaching for me was to stop hiding in any way. I sat by her bed, honoring the spasms, the strange breaths, the songs and gestures that came through my body as charged impulses of presence and support for her transforming state…and when she finally was gone, I had a clear vision that I needed to offer my dance in order to complete and integrate the experience.

The expression was purposely simple. I wore her dress and scarf and carefully placed roses (her namesake) inside one of her familiar silky nightgowns. I moved with the gown as if she was with me and also a part of me…our connection becoming more and more an internal experience rather than an external one…eventually releasing the roses and the dress…sprinkling them with flour that appeared as ash (she was a profound cook)…and connecting with all of the elements and energies around me to support her spirit moving onward.

I was definitely nervous and felt that for some it would only serve as an affirmation of my artsy weirdness. The Italian side of my family is mixed in many ways. There is an open-minded, liberal, atheist, intellectual side and then a conservative, Fox News, born-again Christian side, with a few gradations in-between. Although there were most likely some unspoken opinions, for the most part I felt really warmly received and appreciated by everyone. In retrospect, I see that it was the beginning of what I feel now as a path of liberation….releasing the past (even that which is adored beyond all else) and accepting, little by little, the becoming of the matriarch.

What differentiates Butoh from other contemporary dance forms? What makes something “Butoh” and something else not?

This is tricky for me, because I feel like more and more I am becoming less identified in my own work of it being Butoh. I really don’t know what butoh is right now. Sometimes I think it was a moment in history and only what happened in that place and time is truly butoh. Other times I think it is a continued demand for a better and more sustainable humanity and that any work that acts to rebel against the destructive age of ego and capitalism could be classified as butoh. Sometimes I think it is a quality of presence, pause, and timelessness that can be found many places in nature and on occasion on the stage. So I guess all of those things are true. I often see contemporary dance expressions that are more butoh than the ones that call themselves butoh…and butoh expressions that are trying to act out a codified and limited aesthetic that has long since died in its power and subversiveness.

What was your residency at Playa like for you?

It was terrible. No one should ever go there. That way when I apply again and again, year after year, I will have less competition. Lol.

Actually, the best way for me to possibly share the indescribable visceral seduction of magnificence and serenity I have experienced there, will be through the work I am collaborating on with Ævium, Intimacy with Disappearance, which we will launch in Portland this June at The Headwaters Theatre.

Note: At deadline, only a few tickets remained.

Upcoming Performances

October 5-7, Complexions, presented by White Bird
October 6-8, Mowgli – The Jungle Book Ballet, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
October 7, Dance Of The Hummingbirds, Jayanthi Raman and dancers
October 7-14, Rhapsody In Blue (World Premiere), choreography by Nicolo Fonte, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 11, Diálogos: An evening of flamenco conversation and performance, presented by Espacio Flamenco Portland
October 12-14, Paul Taylor Dance Company, presented by White Bird
October 13-14, The Northwest Screendance Exposition, directed by John Watson, presented by the University of Oregon Department of Dance, Eugene
October 19-21, Wen Wei Wang (World Premiere), Luca Signoretti (World Premiere), At Some Hour You Return by Jirí Pokorný, NW Dance Project
OCT 20-22, Abominable, Taylor A. Eggån and Daniel Addy
October 20-22, Uprise, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
October 22, Le Corsaire, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
October 26, Cocktail Hour: The Show, choreography by Marilyn Klaus, presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
October 26-November 5, Diva Practice (Solo), Kaj-anne Pepper
October 26-28, Dancenorth Australia, presented by White Bird
October 27-29, Nous, on va danser, Nancy Ellis
October 31, Opus Cactus, MOMIX, Eugene

November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
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 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

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 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 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


Comments are closed.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives