Fertile Ground Festival

Fertile Ground reviews: Young bloods

Broken Planetarium's 'Atlantis' and Orphic's 'Iphigenia 3.0' show the promise of today's young Portland theater companies

At a Fertile Ground panel discussion called Building a Musical last weekend, Portland theater maven Corey Brunish, who’s produced impressive shows in Oregon and New York and beyond, noted that most Broadway shows are aimed at “well educated women in their 60s.” His observation  will come as no surprise to anyone who’s attended a Broadway show — or most other theater, in New York or elsewhere. Judging by the usual audience demographic, you’d be forgiven for thinking that even Portland theater is for old people. But at two performances at this year’s Fertile Ground festival, I found young companies drawing relatively young audiences in plays that pulsed with 21st century attitude and energy. They left me optimistic for the future of theater in Portland and beyond.

After the Deluge

Set in a not so distant future in which the climate change denied by the Con-mander in Chief has now, ironically, inundated (thanks to melting polar ice) most of his properties, Atlantis takes place atop a New York skyscraper rooftop. By day, its characters watch the waters rise inch by inch, and by night participate in an early ‘60s-style Greenwich Village open mike amateur folk song showcase —providing a perfect excuse for characters to periodically burst into song. Not that operas or musicals (which, despite the subtitle, is really what this is, as it eschews traditional opera’s sung recitatives in favor of a musical’s alternating songs and dialogue) have ever needed one.

Natasha Kotey in ‘Atlantis.’ Photo: Laura Hadden.

Thankfully, the enormously entertaining show, which completed its short Fertile Ground run at Portland’s Clinton Street Theater last weekend, seldom slows to harangue us about politics; the impending flood is just an ominous if inevitable fact of life. So adaptable are these New Yorkers that, evolutionary theory be damned, they grow gills to adapt to their submerged future. It’s one of the cheerfully wacky touches that keep Atlantis’s mood light while never flinching from the gravity of its subject matter. We soon learn that this greatest of our generation’s challenges is also a metaphor for one of its other generational crises, one that unfolds through the story of one of its central characters. That’s a classic application of speculative fiction, yet there’s nothing remotely preachy or political or sentimental about this realization.

In fact, several songs (written by Laura Christina Dunn, Brigit Kelly Young, Kendy Gable, Monica Metzler a/k/a Forest Veil, Frank Mazzetti and Maggie Mascal) could be described as sharp musical comedy, and their sly, smart lyrics are one of the show’s major assets. The audience chortled and even howled through numbers like Dunn’s song about the land of lost dates, and cheered Sofia May-Cuxim’s dynamite belting out of “Hymn to the End of the World.” The other vocal performances could be charitably described as authentically scruffy indie, which suits the story but may occasionally trouble listeners who prioritize accurate pitch, range greater than a few notes, and audible lyrics over dramatic authenticity, although that last problem might be addressed by amplification in the bigger, better funded full production that I dearly hope will follow.

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Carnivora: torture to watch

If this new play is "not gratuitous or exploitative," then I can't imagine what is.

The Champagne in the lobby isn’t strong enough.

Could I get some moonshine?

Hemlock?

Thing is, I went into opening night of Theatre Vertigo’s Carnivora with high spirits, noting it was a new play by a local writer/director who, according to this excellent Carnivora preview, shares my zeal for American Horror Story. As I got situated in the Shoebox Theatre, I saw that playwright/director Matthew Zrebski was in attendance, sitting with (another good omen) Jason Rouse, who directed a show I’d enjoyed just two weeks ago. This was gonna be good.

I was apprised of the general premise of the play: a bruised, battered and confused woman is dumped in the middle of the Ozarks in a burlap sack, and she has to re-collect her memories. Obviously, that’s edgy. It implies adult themes, and to dispel any doubt, a trigger warning was displayed in the lobby. So I expected Carnivora to be challenging and dark; I didn’t anticipate a cakewalk. But what I felt after sitting through this long, demented play was beyond “challenged” or “piqued.” I felt miserable, nauseous, harrowed, adrenally fatigued. Never mind Champagne; after this one I needed morphine.

Stephanie Cordell in “Carnivora.” Photo: Mario Calcagno

For a hot take on this play, picture a spinoff from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but with none of The Tempest‘s humor, and a mere croaky whisper of its fairy magic. Let’s call it “Caliban’s Family.” In a dirt-floored panic room that’s meant to represent a clearing in the woods in winter, we watch a family of three Calibans menace an already-battered woman. Among the monsters is a mother/captor figure who’s put the other two in chains, and who offers the woman a rough kind of comfort (specifically, her mud-covered teat to suckle). As the woman pieces together the experience that brought her to this place, we watch flashbacks of the varied and ever-escalating domestic violences she’s been involved in. We also watch her fall helplessly for the charms of a (clearly psychotic) roving preacher.

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El Payaso: Not just clowning around

Milagro's bilingual Fertile Ground play recalls clown/activist Ben Linder and highlights current social and political struggles

On April 30, 1987, David and Elisabeth Linder buried their 27-year-old son, Ben, in Matagalpa, a small city in Nicaragua. Ben Linder had been tortured and killed two days before with American arms at the hands of Reagan-backed Contras fighting an insurgent war against the nation’s leftist Sandinista government. A funeral led by then-Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega Saavedra followed, with a procession of thousands of local and foreign mourners, and in that crowd marched clowns from the Nicaraguan National Circus, their painted mouths turned downwards.

Milagro contributes to Portland’s ninth annual Fertile Ground Festival of new works with its world premiere of El Payaso, a bilingual agitprop play that matches our times and is based on Ben Linder’s life. El Payaso (The Clown) runs through January 21 and then sets off for a national tour to educate middle schoolers.

Milagro’s “El Payaso”: clowing, engineering, pushing for change. Photo: Russell J Young

Based on talks with Linder’s parents and some of Ben’s letters, rising Latino star playwright Emilio Rodriguez wrote the script. Rodriguez co-owns the Black and Brown Theatre Company in Detroit, where he is also a teacher. He’s known for writing scripts with a well-developed poetic muscle, and El Payaso is a living eulogy to the fallen activist Linder. Half the play is spoken in Spanish, and an elementary proficiency is helpful to follow along.

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Fertile Ground goes dancing

Portland's annual fringe festival has an expansive dance component, too

The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works and its dance-centric arm, Groovin’ Greenhouse (hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre), are right around the corner, January 19-29 to be exact. The 11-day festival that features new performance work in various stages of development, from the fully staged to workshops, in theater, comedy, dance and film, and everything else that doesn’t fit neatly inside those bins.

Fringe festivals, like Fertile Ground, can be found all over the world. The first one was the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, established in Scotland in 1947, as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival. The Fringe runs for 25 days and features a whopping 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues. (Portland choreographer Éowyn Emerald is a frequent performer at the Edinburgh Fringe.) Generally, fringe festivals show a range of work from amateurs to professionals. They are a non-curated, open forum for expression, and pose a low financial risk to artists and audience alike. What’s special about our Fertile Ground Festival, though, is that it shows only the work of Portland artists.

This past week, Arts Watchers Christa McIntyre, A.L. Adams and Bob Hicks attended the Fertile Ground’s meet-and-greet speed dating event, to learn as much about what this year’s Fertile Ground festival has to offer. According to Bob Hicks the speed dating event went something like this. “Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter.” You can read their entire account of the evening here, as well as the terrifically descriptive list of the performances.

Here at DanceWatch I am just going to break down the dance offerings within the festival because, you know, I love dance and you probably do too.

The list below begins with independently produced Fertile Ground dance productions, followed by the Groovin’ Greenhouse schedule of performances with descriptions of each dance group or choreographer following. Groovin’ Greenhouse shows are shared by multiple performers in an evening.

Independent Fertile Grounds dance productions

Echo Theater Company in “Uncommon Sense.” Photo by Arnista Photography.

Uncommon Sense (workshop)
Featuring Echo Theatre Company, sister: grit collective, Tempos Contemporary Circus, and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus
Presented by Echo Theater Company
January 20-29
Echo Theatre, 1515 SE 37th Ave

Echo Theater Company’s creative director Aaron Wheeler-Kay, has brought together Echo Theatre Company, sister: grit collective, Tempos Contemporary Circus, and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus, to explore the multitudinous interpretations of the sensed world and find freedom within limitations, in an evening of politically driven, new works, combining circus arts, dance, narrative and physical theatre.

Featured performers with Echo Theater Company will be Portland dancers Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson, co-artistic directors of Wobbly Dance. You can catch a glimpse of them in rehearsal in Echo Theatre’s video trailer for “Uncommon Sense.”

“Last Dance”. Photo by Holly Wilmeth.

Last Dance
Written by Sky Yeager and directed by Jonathan Walters
January 19-29
The Headwater Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. #4

Butoh artist Kat Macmillan, and actor Jaime Lee Christina, tell the story of an angel’s transformation into human form in this new play by Sky Yeager directed by Jonathan Walters. Through the modes of theatre, film, music and dance, the play touches on concepts of agency, spiritual purpose, life after life, and ponders the preciousness of life. Out of darkness, hopelessness, and despair, comes new life, hope and transformation. You can see a video preview of the work here.

“Into the night” by Allegro Dance Company. Photo by Casey Campbell Photography and Paul Pour Photography.

Into the Night: An Exploration of Life, Love & Loss
Performed by The Allegro Dance Company
Directed by Ashley López
January 28-29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave

Connecting aspects of ancient Middle Eastern culture to modern day ones, this collaborative, contemporary belly dance company of 15, directed by Tribal Fusion belly dance star Ashley Lopez, will examine the mystery, pain, and beauty inherent in the human condition through a visually rich, multifaceted, storytelling experience.

Groovin’ Greenhouse performances

Performance Dates and times

Portland Bellydance Guild, Polaris Dance Theatre, Polaris Junior Company, Neo Youth Company
7:30 pm January 20
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Les Watanabe, Polaris Dance Theatre, Polaris Junior Company, Neo Youth Company
2:00 pm January 21
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Les Watanabe, NW Fusion Dance Company, Polaris Dance Theatre
7:30 pm January 21
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Portland Bellydance Guild, Polaris Dance Theatre
2:00 pm January 22
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Vitality Dance Collective, Polaris Dance Theatre
7:30 pm January 27
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Polaris Dance Theatre, Polaris Junior Company, Neo Youth Company
2:00 pm January 28
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

A-WOL Dance Collective and Polaris Dance Theatre
7:30 pm January 28
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Breakdown of performing groups and premiering work

“Attention Everybody!” by A-WOL Dance Collective. Photo courtesy of A-WOL Dance Collective.

Attention Everybody! (excerpts), A-WOL Dance Collective
Through fierce, edgy, raw athleticism in the air and on the ground, A-Wol Dance Collective, an aerial/dance company, will knit together humanities commonalities, revealing our passion and energy and drive to serve the greater good.

Untitled work in progress by M’Liss Quinnly, Neo Youth Company
In its first season, Polaris Dance Theatre’s youth company for its youngest committed dancers will perform a new work by former Polaris dancer and Director, M’Liss Quinnly.

Untitled work in progress, NW Fusion Dance Company
Directed by Brad Hampton, this pre-professional dance company provides training and performance experience to help advanced dancers transition to professional careers.

Diverse-Divide (an excerpt) by Robert Guitron, Overcoming by Gerard Regot, Gravitation by Kiera Brinkley, performed by Polaris Dance Theatre
Guitron’s Diverse-Divide, speaks to diversity in the natural world and in politics. The movement explores the juxtapositions of the similar and the dissimilar. Guitron is the artistic-director of Polaris Dance Theatre.

Gravitation by past Polaris Dance Theatre company member Kiera Brinkley addresses her choice to change careers and the state of exhaustion. From 2011-2016 Brinkley was a Polaris Dance Company member and is a quadruple amputee. You can learn more about Brinkley’s story in the documentary Soar that came out in 2014 directed by Susan Hess Logeais.

Overcoming by Regot, a Polaris Dance Company member originally from Spain, explores ideas of disruption and loss. It attempts to capture the process of processing a loss and the difficulties in reaching out for help and moving forward.

Untitled work in progress by M’Liss Quinnly, Polaris Junior Company
Polaris Dance Theatre’s pre-professional youth company for its oldest committed student dancers, will perform a new work by former Polaris dancer and Director, M’Liss Quinnly.

Portland Bellydance Guild
Representing belly dancing styles from Folkloric/Traditional, Cabaret/Oriental, Tribal Improv, to Theatrical/Fusion, The Portland Bellydance Guild, a membership organization with a mission to increase public awareness and appreciation for dance and music, rooted in, or inspired by, the Middle-Eastern diaspora, will feature solo performances from Claudia and Jewels, a modern interpretation of women’s folk dance from the Arabian Gulf region using movement vocabulary informed by the seafaring traditions of the area by the newly formed troupe Amwaj, and an improvisational duet by Zephyr Bellydance that is created in the moment in response to the music, the dancers on stage and the energy from the audience.

Vitality Dance Collective. Photo by Will Mahoney Watson

Surrounding, Vitality Dance Collective
Vitality Dance Collective, a vision of Kristina York, was created for adults dancers who dance, but don’t have the time to dedicate themselves full time to the art. The company acts as a collective, supporting the choreographic vision of all its members, and enjoys being undefinable. They are about innovation, authenticity and fun.

Their new work Surroundings, is an exploration of life’s journey: where we’ve been, where we are headed, and what remains out of reach, and is only dreamable.

Love Songs, Les Watanabe
Inspired by the music of Cuban singer, songwriter and pianist Bola de Nieve, Love Songs, choreographed by Les Watanabe for four dancers ( Laura Stilwell, Felice Moskowitz and Terry Brock and Emma Mochnick), endeavors to capture love and its myriad of meanings and forms.

Leslie Watanabe is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance at Western Oregon University and performed for Donald McKayle’s Inner City Repertory Company, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Joyce Trisler’s Danscompany, Alvin Ailey II, Burch Mann Folk Ballet, Sachiyo Ito Japanese Dance Company, L.A. Jazz, and Peter Gross Dance Company to name a few.

Other performances in Portland this week and next

January 18-22, Sensation/Disorientation, Tahni Holt Dance, Presented by White Bird
January 19-21, Urban Meadow, BodyVox Dance
January 20-22, Rent, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
January 20-29, Ignite, Oluyinka Akinjiola and Subashini Ganesan
January 24-25, BalletBoyz, Presented by White Bird

 

DanceWatch Weekly: Scanning a new year in Portland dance

The year's first DanceWatch starts with Éowyn Emerald and Dancers and a quick look at the next six dance months

Happy New Year dance fans and welcome to 2017!

Don’t get too comfortable hibernating in your winter dens because there is a lot to see, and you should see it.

Not only is the upcoming season already packed with dance works from local and international artists—including the premiere of Sensation/Disorientation by Tahni Holt, Urban Meadow by BodyVox, and  Fertile Ground’s Groovin’ Greenhouse hosted by Polaris Dance Theatre in three weeks—but a whole new group of Portland dance artists have just been awarded grants through the Regional Arts and Culture Council and PICA’s Precipice Fund, so watch out for those, too.

Éowyn Emerald & Dancers. Photo by David Krebs

The new year starts with a weekend of performances by Éowyn Emerald & Dancers. Portland choreographer Emerald takes her company to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every year and will be performing her latest Fringe festival concert at Reed College’s Greenwood Theatre.

The company, comprised of Éowyn Emerald, Mari Kai Juras, Josh Murry and Joel Walker,
will perform seven contemporary dance works that express a wide range of emotions while picking apart the complexities of human relationships. An apt performance to start the new year.

Oh, and Sunday the 8th is Free Dance Day at BodyVox, which means all dance classes are free, and you can even catch a glimpse of dance company Skinner/Kirk in rehearsal at the end of the day.

I have also put together Portland’s dance calendar from January to June for your planning convenience. If you see a performance missing from the list, just give me a holler at Jamunadasi@me.com and I will add it.

Performances this week!

Éowyn Emerald & Dancers-Fringe Coda
January 6-7
Greenwood Theatre at Reed College, 2903 Botsford Drive

See above.

Upcoming Performances

January
January 14-15, Increspature, Disorder Dance Company
January 18-22, Sensation/Disorientation, Tahni Holt Dance, Presented by White Bird
January 19-21, Urban Meadow, BodyVox
January 19-29, Groovin’ Greenhouse/Fertile Ground, Presented by Polaris Dance Theatre
January 20-22, Rent, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland
January 20-29, Ignite, Oluyinka Akinjiola and Subashini Ganesan
January 24-25, BalletBoyz, Presented by White Bird
January 28, Nrityotsava-Indian Classical and Folk Dances, Presented by Kalakendra

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