DanceWatch Weekly: Polaris sums up 15 years

This weekend contains dance offerings for every palate. The buffet includes Obstacles and Victory Songs, a shared evening between sounds artist Stephanie Lavon Trotter and movement artist Dora Gaskill at Performance Works NW; a 15th anniversary celebration with Polaris Dance Theatre; a collaboration of movement and words between LitCrawl and Pure Surface; and a cross-cultural investigation with Peruvian dance artist Luciana Proaño.

Polaris Dance Theatre, a contemporary dance company directed by Robert Guitron and Sara Anderson, is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a program of 12 dances collected from past repertory to the present. They have aptly titled the program Reclaimed. If you missed last night’s performance you can catch them tonight and again next weekend.

Since its inception in 2002, Polaris has, by its count, worked with 92 dancers (including the current 16), created 87 shows, made 346 new dances, performed 298 times, created 51 musical scores for dance, and made nine dance films. It’s been a prolific 15 years to say the least.

The company began in 2002 with a handful of dancers who loved Guitron’s work and asked him to start a company. They rehearsed all over the city in any available space, and scraped funds together to make it all work.

Guitron, in going through the company’s history and timeline with me last week said, “The first fundraiser we did was on the roof of the Oak Street building where I used to live. The Decemberist lived in the building—they weren’t even known then—and they played. We had a silent auction, raised $5000, and that’s what we did our first show with.”

Guitron has been interested in expressing the human condition through his choreography from the beginning of the company. “The human animal amazes me. 9/11 just happened and I really wanted to do a piece about that. How we can so beautiful and be so ugly.”

“My first thought and goal, when the original dancers came to me to start the company, was there are a lot of dancers and dance makers making beautiful work. I thought we have to be different. I don’t want to be another dance maker just making dance. I think we need to change the meaning of dance and augment its importance in our everyday lives, and we need to bring the community together. What the company does is the poster child for what the organization is about and what we really want to do. For me, I love creating new work, but I really want to leave something behind that is bigger than me. I don’t want to put my name on the company so that it goes beyond me.”

In January 2009, Guitron and Anderson were able to open their school and create a home for the company with the help of a matching grant from an anonymous foundation.

In 2013 more funding from the same foundation made it possible to hire staff and pay themselves. Guitron and Anderson were finally able to quit their other jobs and focus solely on Polaris and building the school. That same year was also the first time they were able to pay the dancers wages of $15-18 an hour.

In 2014, they lost their building, which was sold, demolished and turned into condos, and after a year of looking and housing classes and rehearsals in different locations all over Portland, they found their new home at 1826 NW 18th Ave.

Sadly, the foundation funding that has helped them get this far, ends next year.

It’s a tough business running a dance company, and according to Guitron, the most important thing is to be flexible.

How do you make your work?

“It depends on my assignment. If I have been asked to choreograph an opera or musical, my job as a choreographer is to carry the story line and develop the characters in the play or opera in my movement. My job is to do that. If you are a strong character you need to be given strong movement, if you are a little damsel, it needs to be incorporated in the movement to carry the story. So that’s where I would start if I am commissioned to do a piece.

If it’s my things, I would say two ways. And it’s not always music involved, but sometimes it is. Sometimes I’ll either create a piece of music or find a piece of music, and then I just see movement in my head. I bring that music in and I’ll start playing with that. And then I’m constantly morphing the music and the dance together.

Sometimes I come in and I have no idea what I’m going to do or what the music is and I’ll just start moving. I’ll start creating phrases like puzzle pieces. I never go, ‘this is the beginning and this is the end.’ The phrase could be eight counts or 130 counts long. Sometimes I’ll know what this piece is about this, some element about humanity or the human story. Other times I have no idea. I’m just creating movement, and this fits and that fits. And then I start putting the puzzle pieces together. And then I’m like, ‘Oh my god this is about this, something that happened in the Middle East and I’m voicing it through this movement.’

Performances this week


The Polaris Dance Company. Photo by Brian McDonnell. Dancers Melanie Ann, Gerard Regot and Jessica Zoller.

Polaris Dance Theatre
November 3-12
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

See above.


S-Words by Dora Gaskill. Photo courtesy of Dora Gaskill.

Obstacles and Victory Songs
Stephanie Lavon Trotter and Dora Gaskill
November 4-6
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave
Dora Gaskill and Stephanie Lavon Trotter have extended their 2015 Alembic Residencies at Performance Works NW into new bodies of work, S-Words by Gaskill and Sight Shadow by Trotter.
Gaskill explores the sounds and curvature of the letter “S” while having her group of dancers, Deanna Carlson, Nancy Ellis, Emily Jones, Chelsea Petrakis, Stephanie Lavon Trotter, and Celeste Weber create unstable obstacles for her to inhabit, crawl through and excavate. They simultaneously support her while creating obstacles for her. Her body memorizes the movements created by the obstacles, and remembers them even when the obstacles are gone.

Trotter, in collaboration with Alembic Artist Nancy Ellis and Gaskill for Sight Shadow, has created a sound score using voice and found objects and costumes parts to accompany the illumination of the vulnerable spaces of individual bodies.

LitCrawl x Youthhood x Pure Surface
7 pm November 5
The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th Ave
Literary Arts and Litquake Foundation present LitCrawl, a series of around town literary happenings that include an evening of movement and text in collaboration with Pure Surface, a regular performance series curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross. The movement artists presented will be Claire Barrera, Danielle Ross, Taka Yamamoto, Lu Yim and Simeon Jacob, alongside literary artists Jenny Chu, Jenna Marie Fletcher, Christopher Rose, Anis Mojgani, Jake Vermaas, and Rinna Vickie.

All The Marys
Luciana Proaño
November 5-6
Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Hwy
Inspired by artist Ana de Orbegoso’s Urban Virgins, colonial paintings, and pre-Hispanic culture, Peruvian dance artists Luciana Proaño in collaboration with her band Inka Jam, will pay homage to women past and present through a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural performance that includes bits of ballet, modern dance, Peruvian folk dance, percussion and anthropology.

The evening will also include Ana de Orbegoso’s film, The Last Inca Princess.

Importantly: “tickets to the performance include Peruvian food: empanadas, causa, passion fruit mousse, mazamorra morada and chicha (purple corn drink).”


Marginal Evidence by Katherine Longstreth. Photo courtesy of Katherine Longstreth.

Marginal Evidence
A visual installation about the act of choreography
By Katherine Longstreth
October 24-November 5
Reed College, Performing Arts Building, Performance Lab 128, 3202 SE Woodstock Blvd
Marginal Evidence, a visual installation about the act of choreography created by choreographer Katherine Longstreth, reopens at Reed College in the Performing Arts Building. It was originally installed at the White Box gallery last year around this time. You can read my preview of the exhibit here, and Martha Ullman West’s review of the exhibit, here. There will be a reception and walk through with Longstreth on November 3rd.

Next Week

November 10-12, Reclaimed, Polaris Dance Theatre
November 11-13, Epoch, Jamuna Chiarini and push/FOLD-Samuel Hobbs
November 12-20, the last bell rings for you, Linda Austin Dance

Upcoming Performances

November 17-19, Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group, White Bird
November 19, Jazz Throughout the Ages, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
November 19-20, 3rd Annual Glow Variety Show, Trauma Healing Project, Eugene
November 25-27, The Enchanted Toyshop, The Portland Ballet Holiday Show
November 26, Nutcracker Remixed, All That! Dance Company, Eugene
December 2-4, N.E.W. Expressive Works Residency Performance, Dana Detweiler, James Healey, Jessica Hightower, and Renee Sills
December 8-10, In Good Company, NW Dance Project
December 8-10, ARCANE COLLECTIVE, Presented by BodyVox
December 9-11, The Book of Esther — A Rock Gospel Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 10-26, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 15-17, Complicated Woman, Katie Scherman/2016 Performance Works NW Alembic Resident Artist
December 16-18, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
December 18, Gifts, a film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
December 19, Dancing with the Stars: Live! – We Came to Dance, AEG Live NW, Eugene
December 22-24, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland

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