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DanceWatch Weekly: Zipping through dance history

By Jamuna Chiarini
April 5, 2017

Dance offerings this weekend zip around through history’s timeline and around the world, bringing us ballet from the early 19th century, to a film documenting Portland’s contemporary dance history, to newer contemporary dance works that combines cultural aesthetics in exploration of self and place.

Portland dance artist and filmmaker Eric Nordstrom has captured six decades of contemporary dance in Portland in his new film Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present. The film screens Thursday night at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium in partnership with the NW Film Center.

With the help of some of Portland’s most notable dance artists and writers, along with archival research, Nordstrom has been begun the process of chronicling the history and evolution of contemporary dance in Portland.

Back in June 2016 I interviewed Nordstrom prior to the screening of the film’s first iteration, and I thought I would share that conversation with you again here.

Also happening this weekend is the performance of three works by Brooklyn choreographer Ronald K. Brown and his dance company Evidence, presented by White Bird. Brown has been making work since 1987 that integrates traditional African and contemporary movement aesthetics.

From April 8-11 Brown and his company members will be teaching a series of workshops at Reed College on composition and dance technique, and will give a lecture demonstration on April 10. Space is limited so register soon.

Interview with Eric Nordstrom

What inspired you to make this film?

Having danced in Portland for a decade (with Oslund and Co., Keith V. Goodman, Linda K. Johnson, and POV Dance, among others), I feel like, before this project, my knowledge of the history of dance in Portland was limited. I was seeing a lot of new people moving to Portland with an interest in dance, and realized that most of them were even more unfamiliar with the history of Portland dance, and yet that they were—through their own practices—becoming part of a rich genealogy. I wanted to make this film to honor those who built the contemporary dance scene in Portland, and also for those of us who are currently dancing here to connect with the past.

How long have you been working on this project?

A year-and-a-half. The catalyst to start the groundwork for this film was receiving a RACC grant.

Where have you sourced the most information about Portland’s dance history?

I have worked in the archives at Reed College and Portland State University, which both contain rich materials in the forms of photographs of past performances, and press releases, course rosters, and other primary documents from when both colleges were central to the dance community in Portland and participated in the shaping of Portland Dance.

The most information has come from my one-on-one interviews with over thirty prominent figures from the history of contemporary dance in Portland. These include Vaunda Carter, Bonnie Merrill, Judy Patton, Nancy Matschek, and Gregg Bielemeier, among others. Many of the artists with whom I spoke had their own archives—old VHS tapes of their own performances, often relegated to closets or basements. Part of the goal of this film is to take this material, preserve it, and to centralize it. This is one part of the film about which I am especially excited.

With this film, I’m doing three things: 1. Gathering the information about Portland dance history through these interviews and this archival footage. 2. Preserving this information by recording the interviews and converting artists’ VHS videos to digital format. And 3. Coordinating with the PSU archives to house footage of some of the seminal performances referenced in the film, and some of the interviews in their entirety.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned from your research?

I was surprised to learn how the contemporary dance scene in Portland really stemmed from early programs at both PSU and Reed College. It made me realize how much of an impact university resources have on professional companies, and how professional companies can really influence education. This is certainly something to consider as PSU has just abolished its plans to reinstitute its Dance major—which was cut in 1994—and cut its only full time Dance faculty position; this position’s job was supposed to be to help grow the program back into a major. This feels like a real lost opportunity not just for students, but also the Portland dance community. It will be interesting to see what happens at Reed now that they—for the first time in the history of the college—have a Dance major starting in Fall 2016.

Also, I was fascinated to learn about Vaunda Carter’s PBS television show from the early 1970s. It was called Vaunda’s View and played after Sesame Street.

Another pleasure was hearing recollections about Keith Goodman and Jann Dryer, two very influential people in Portland dance who are now deceased. It was really touching to talk to friends and colleagues of both of these artists, and to hear how important their work was, and how they are missed.

The other thing that is crucial to mention is that during the time of making this film, Conduit—Portland’s longtime incubator for contemporary dance—was evicted from their space on the fourth floor of the Pythian Building, where they’d been for almost two decades. Then it was announced that Conduit is closing the doors of their new rental space in the Ford Building. Conduit has been around for 20 years, and has long been the center of Portland dance. Their shuttering is an indication of a changing landscape in Portland, and this event asks us if this changing landscape is for the better or worse for our city. This is a great moment to look back at Conduit, and I hope that this film honors the space and all of the people involved in making Conduit what is has been.

How did you get involved in dance for film?

I’ve long been interested in both dance on film, and in archiving dance through video. Dance on film is a distinct genre separate from archiving performance. I got involved in dance on film when I was a graduate student in Dance at The Ohio State University. There, I took classes with Mitchell Rose—a frequent collaborator with Portland dance company BodyVox—who teaches dance on film classes.

Dance on film leverages the power of cinema to film dance in a way that cannot be seen in live performance. In dance on film, the film is the end product, not the live performance. Dance on film gives a perspective that you can’t have in live performance—in dance on film, the spectator can be inches from a performer’s face, or can watch a dance performance on top of a mountain. So, through studying with Rose, I became interested in the relationship between the camera and the dance. Separately, I became interested in the power of video to archive dance history. I teach dance at Lewis and Clark College, and also run my own business, Portland Performing Arts Video, where I make archival quality videos of contemporary dance in Portland. So, the project of making this documentary has really been influenced by both of these elements of my relationship to dance and the camera.

Performances this week

On the left-Rob Bruce and Minh Tran. Center-Tami Gray and Judith P Patton. Far right-Tere Mathern. Photo taken approximately in 1986. The group is performing at a foundry in the NW. Photo info courtesy of Linda K. Johnson.

Moving History: Portland Contemporary Dance Past and Present
Eric Nordstrom & NW Film Center
6 pm Pre-film reception
7 pm April 6
Post show Q & A with Eric Nordstrom and some of the dancers featured in the film
NW Film Center, Portland Art Museum, Whitsell Auditorium 1219 SW Park Ave

See info above.

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company
Presented by White Bird
April 6-8
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
April 8-11, Dance workshops with Ronald K. Brown at Reed College
7:45 pm April 10, Dance lecture and demonstration with Ronald K. Brown at Reed College, Performing Arts Building, Dance Studio (PAB 240), 3203 Southeast Woodstock Blvd.
From Brooklyn choreographer Ronald K. Brown comes Why You Follow, Lessons, and On Earth Together, which seamlessly integrate traditional African dance, spoken word and contemporary dance. With text by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and music by Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin and Zap Mama, to name a few, these works highlight the human connection to history, tradition, spirituality and community. This show is presented by White Bird.

For workshop and lecture demonstration information, go to Reed College’s Dance Department Event page.

Portland Butoh artist Meshi Chavez will be performing on Friday April 7 as part of the Butoh College Performance Series. Photo courtesy of Water in the Desert.

Butoh College Performance Series
Hosted by Water in the Desert
April 7-29
Water in the Desert, The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St
According to the program director Mizu Desierto, this Butoh-focused series of classes and performances by regional and international artists will include “80 hours of workshops, 4 weekends of 5 performances, Urban Farm Salons/Community Gatherings, and a million ways to embrace the surreal, the fantastic, the despair, the hope, the collective evolution, the fierce animal body, the sensitive new intuitive body, the cellular integration, the love, the complexity and the ultimate unknowable knowing that keeps us all living, looking, being and creating.”

This weekend’s opening performances include work by Portland butoh artists Pepper Pepper, Yulia Arakelyan of Wobbly Dance, Mizu Desierto, Meshi Chavez (with Lisa DeGrace), Hank Logan and Carl Annala (film), Anastazia Louise (Bad Unkl Sista), Stephanie Lanckton, Douglas Allen, Christopher Mankowski and Meghann Rose.

The series continues through to the end of the month with performances by Ken Mai from Helsinki, Mari Osanai from Japan, and Yuko Kaseki from Berlin.

A Festival of Dance. Photo courtesy of Northwest Dance Theatre.

A Festival of Dance
Northwest Dance Theatre, artistic director June Taylor-Dixon
April 8-9
Portland Community College, Sylvania Performing Arts Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave
This mixed program for Northwest Dance Theatre’s youth ballet company, founded in 1988, will include an excerpt from Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère, two works by San Francisco Ballet School character dance teacher Leonid Shagalov (featuring fan dances, castanets and intricate footwork), a suite of jazz-inspired modern dance pieces by Laura Haney and Maria Tucker, a new work by former Polaris Dance Theatre dancer M’Liss Stephenson set to music by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds, and another new work by Portland contemporary choreographer, teacher and former Top Shake Dancer Erin Zintek.

The Snow Queen (World Premiere)
Eugene Ballet Company
April 8-9
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Using the power of love, Gerda rescues her friend Kay from the evil Snow Queen in a new full-length ballet of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic from Eugene Ballet Company’s Artistic Director Toni Pimble. The production, built from scratch after a generous donation from philanthropist Richard P. Haugland and the Hult Endowment, includes a commissioned score by Portland composer Kenji Bunch to be played by Orchestra Next, 60 original costumes by Jonna Hayden inspired by British designer Alexander McQueen, sets designed by former Disney Imagineer Nadya Geras-Carson, and of course fabulous choreography by Pimble herself.

It’s a fantasy world of romance and magic, glitter and ice, darkness and intrigue and a giant animatronic crow.

Spiral-a dance film
Directed by Amit Zinman
PUFF-The Portland Underground Film Festival
Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St
Wrapped inside the story of a young dancer who falls in love with an activists and starts dancing at protests is the struggle between beauty and meaning, in this dance film by Israeli writer and filmmaker Amit Zinman. Zinman will be available at the screening.

OBT2. Photo courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Noontime Showcase OBT2
Oregon Ballet Theatre, presented by Portland’5
12 pm April 10
Antoinette Hatfield Hall rotunda, 1111 SW Broadway
OBT2, a group of nine talented ballet students from School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, directed by Lisa Sundstrom, Oregon native and former ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre and Pennsylvania Ballet, will present a free, lunch-time performance of classical and contemporary ballets.

The menu will include The Sleeping Beauty Wedding Pas de Deux by Marius Petipa, Within by former OBT Principal Dancer Alison Roper set to classical contemporary music by Ludovico Einaudi and Yann Tiersen, Crush Pas de Deux – also by Alison Roper, to music by Brian Crane, and Flower Festival Pas de Deux choreographed in 1858, by the Danish choreographer, Auguste Bournonville.

Performances next week

April 13-22, Terra, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 15, Ken Mai (Helsinki), Butoh College Performance Series
April 15, Las Perlas: an evening of flamenco, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
April 15, Synesthesia, BodyVox, TEDx Portland
April 15, Bridge the Gap, Presented by Sepiatonic
April 18-23, Jersey Boys, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland

Upcoming Performances

April 21-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre
April 22, Mari Osanai (Japan), Butoh College Performance Series
April 22-23, Annual School Performance, The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, choreography by George Balanchine, Nicolo Fonte, Alison Roper and Anthony Jones
April 25-26, Che Malambo, Presented by White Bird
April 27-29, Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert, Hosted by the Jefferson Dancers
April 27-29, Contact Dance Film Festival, Presented by BodyVox and NW Film Center
April 28-29, Appalachian Spring Break, Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly, Presented by Performance Works NW / Linda Austin Dance
April 29, Yuko Kaseki (Berlin), Butoh College Performance Series
May 4-7, Taka Yamamoto, Produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
May 5, Spring Dance Concert, The Reed College Dance Department
May 5-7, In Close Proximity, The Tempos Contemporary Circus
May 5-7, Inclusive Arts Vibe Annual Performance, Disability Arts and Culture Project
May 10, Martha Graham Dance Company, Presented by White Bird
May 16-21, An American in Paris, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
May 26-28, N.E.W. Residency performance, Dora Gaskill, Jessica Kelley, Stephanie Schaaf, and Michael Galen
May 26 – 27, Spring Concert – Tribute to the Ballet Russes, Featuring work by Michel Fokine, Tom Gold, George Balanchine, and Lane Hunter, The Portland Ballet
June 2-4, Interum Echos, PDX Contemporary Ballet
June 8-10, Summer Splendors, NW Dance Project
June 27-July 2, Cabaret, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
July 15, Pretty Creatives Showing, NW Dance Project
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans

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