Ihsan Rustem

ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

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A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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NW Dance Project: Jazz puns, modern dance brawls and Ravel

NW Dance Project's "Bolero + Billie" adds a bit of humor to the usual holiday spices

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

Kicking off the holiday season with a good ol’ jazz-centric pun, NW Dance Project presented Bolero + Billie at Lincoln Hall this weekend… you know, Billie Holiday? The evening was a two-part show: the first act, Billie, premiering a brand new work created in collaboration by six of the company’s dancers, was followed by a return to resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s contemporary, humor-ridden take on Ravel’s classic, Bolero.

Andrea Parson gets a lift in “Billie”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Artistic director Sarah Slipper played a key role in this new piece, though perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Slipper’s ability to step back and see the potential in her dancers as blooming choreographers themselves is both a golden opportunity for the group of ten that call the company their home, but also a refreshing tale in the dance world that oftentimes fails to recognize that the full potential of professional dancers can extend beyond the task of performing someone else’s work.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Dancing magic, wonderment and joy

Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Nutcracker' opens this week alongside NW Dance Project's 'Bolero + Billie'

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some magic, wonderment, and joy in my life right now, and thankfully this weekend’s dance performances deliver just that.

BodyVox’s 20th anniversary celebration continues with Lexicon, a new collection of dances that marries technology and dance and also includes audience participation.

Jamuna Chiarini

NW Dance Project gets into the spirit with a double bill of Bolero and Billie. Bolero, choreographed by NW Dance Project resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem in 2016, is a reimagined, contemporary version of Ravel’s Bolero that ArtsWatcher Bob Hicks called a “bright and witty new Boléro, which he’s rescued from the graveyard of pop-culture banality and restored affectionately to its pedestal of seductively oddball expressionism.” If you’re interested in reading about Rustem’s artistic process, you can read my 2016 interview with him here. Billie, choreographed by the company dancers to the music of American jazz musician and singer-songwriter Billie Holiday, is a series of 13 vignettes that highlight love and interpersonal relationships.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker also opens this week at Oregon Ballet Theatre, along with a variety of other Nutcrackers that offer variations in ticket price and length of production; something for everyone’s budget and attention span. Longtime Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard will retire at the end of the run and will perform her favorite role Dewdrop on closing night. Don’t miss her final performance, and keep a look out for Heather Wisner’s interview with her for ArtsWatch.

At Reed College this weekend, dance majors and community dancers will perform new works by dance faculty members Carla Mann, Oluyinka Akinjiola, and Victoria Fortuna in Reed College’s annual winter concert.

Enjoy!

Performances this week

Photo by Steve Cherry, Polara Studio courtesy of BodyVox.

Lexicon
BodyVox
December 7-16
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
BodyVox celebrates its 20th anniversary with the premiere of Lexicon, a new work by BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland in collaboration with Italian avant-garde composer Ludovico Einaudi. Lexicon creates a new performance experience by marrying dance and technology and by having the dancers interact with infrared sensors, live video graphic generation, motion capture, virtual reality, and more, live on stage.

NW Dance Project in Bolero by Ihsan Rustem. Photo by Chris Peddecord.

Bolero + Billie
NW Dance Project
December 7-9
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
See above.

Photo courtesy of Rainbow Dance Theatre.

The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis
Choreography by Shelly Svobody with guest artists from Rainbow Dance Theatre
December 8-9
Corvallis High School, 1400 NW Buchanan Ave., Corvallis
This full-scale Nutcracker production under the artistic guidance of Shelly Svoboda will feature guest artists from Rainbow Dance Theatre, a dance company directed by former Pilobolus dancer Darryl Thomas and former Merce Cunningham dancer Valerie Bergman based in Monmouth, Oregon, at Western Oregon University. Rainbow Dance Theatre explores dance on multi-levels incorporating virtuosic concert dance, world-dance forms, aerial choreography, and technology creating interactive sets that use fiber optics and electro-luminescent technology.

Reed College dance students. Photo by Gordon Wilson.

Winter Dance Concert
Reed College Performing Arts
7 pm December 9
Greenwood Theatre, Reed College, 3202 SE Woodstock Blvd.
See above.

Candace Bouchard as “The Sugarplum Fairy” and Peter Franc as her “Cavalier” in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 2015 production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,  Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 9-24
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St.
To Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, little Marie parties hard, fights with her brother because he broke her new toy, sees a tree grow to the size of a building, fights off rats and travels to the Land of Sweets where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, witnesses dancing delicacies from around the world, and takes off in the end to places unknown with the Nutcracker Prince.

Photo courtesy of NorthWest Dance Theatre.

A Nutcracker Tea
NorthWest Dance Theatre
Artistic Directors June Taylor-Dixon
December 9-17
PCC Sylvania Performing Arts Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave
Complimentary tea will be served
An abridged Nutcracker, this version follows Clara and her prince through the Snow Kingdom and the Land of Sweets, showcasing beautifully crafted sets and costumes with choreography by June Taylor-Dixon.

NWDT is a youth ballet company in its twenty-seventh season.

Upcoming Performances

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The red and the visible dark

The premieres of Ihsan Rustem's swift new "Carmen" and Patrick Delcroix's "Visible Darkness" color the spectrum for NW Dance Project

The beginning is not the fall itself, but the struggle to get up. Elijah Labay, the central figure in Patrick Delcroix’s new dance Visible Darkness, lies prone on the stage of the Newmark Theatre, raising his shoulders, lifting his torso, and then sinking back again. He’s been lying there, intermittently resting and struggling to move, for who knows how long. He is discovered, with alarm, and slowly, gently raised, and the dance moves on.

Visible Darkness is one of two world premieres (the other is resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s swift and witty new take on that old reliable potboiler Carmen) that opened Thursday evening in NW Dance Project’s newest program, which will repeat Friday and Saturday in the Newmark. Both tell stories, though not in the traditional story-ballet sense: they are narrative, but elliptical, allowing suggestion and mood to fill in much of the storytelling detail.

Ching Ching Wong and William Couture in “Visible Darkness.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The story of Visible Darkness is very personal for Delcroix, the French choreographer and Jirí Kylián associate who’s created several dances for NDP beginning in 2011. According to Scott Lewis, NDP’s executive director, it’s about an accident Delcroix had two years ago: “He fell off a ladder while working on his home in The Hague and was found days later, unconscious, with a broken nose and other injuries,” including brain trauma. His recovery was long and arduous. This is Delcroix’s first new dance since the accident, and an emergence: As he says in a program note, “a difficult chapter in my life is complete.”

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Doing anything Friday night? How about hanging out on 82nd Avenue?

The East Side strip, which runs north-south for many miles, was once considered a barrier of sorts between the city and the sprawl, and also an economic barrier, with a richer urban population to the west and a poorer, semi-rural population to the east. East County didn’t get in the game very much, and when it did, it was often as a political football. 82nd became neon central, home to everything from used car lots to Southeast Asian restaurants to massage parlors – and, increasingly, a rich stew of ethnic and immigrant cultures.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque's 82nd Avenue.

Signs of the times: Sabina Haque’s 82nd Avenue.

That’s what makes it interesting to Portland artist Sabina Haque, a very good painter and collagist whose work in recent years has moved also toward installation, film, and cultural and cross-cultural projects, including her provocative series on drone warfare in Pakistan, where she grew up.

Haque, as artist in residence for the Portland Archives & Records Center, has been digging deeply into the area’s long and complicated history, finding a cultural through-line to match the strip of concrete that divides culture from culture and east from west. From 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday she’ll unveil what she’s created in Annexation & Assimilation: East 82nd Ave, a giant exhibition/event in the 8,000-square-foot APANO/JADE multicultural center at 82nd and Southeast Division Street. The free event will include video projections on 20-foot screens, oral histories, shadow theater, poster installations and more – for some, a rousing introduction to a part of Portland they hardly know; to others, a simple statement of the place they live.

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Boléro, with a wink

Ihsan Rustem's affectionate reinterpretation of the Ravel classic highlights the three premieres in Northwest Dance Project's season-opening show

Some works of art seem too much with us. A Christmas Carol. The Scream. Pachelbel’s Canon. The Nutcracker. Boléro. But they are too much with us partly because they resonate. The trick is to see and hear them with original eyes and ears, with something of the freshness of a first encounter.

Or, if not a first encounter, then a fresh take, a new way of looking at something overly familiar. That’s what Ihsan Rustem, Northwest Dance Project’s endlessly inventive resident choreographer, has accomplished with his bright and witty new Boléro, which he’s rescued from the graveyard of pop-culture banality and restored affectionately to its pedestal of seductively oddball expressionism.

Boléro was the big crowd-pleaser as NDP opened its 13th season Thursday night, rocking the house and bringing the crowd cheering to its feet at Lincoln Performance Hall. The program, which repeats Friday and Saturday nights and is titled Boléro+, follows essentially the same format as what the company for several seasons called New Now Wow!: three dances by three choreographers, all of them premieres.

We’ll get back to Boléro. First, the +es.

*

Cody Jaron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in "Post-Traumatic-Monster." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Cody Jauron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in “Post-Traumatic-Monster.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

German choreographer Felix Landerer kicks off the program with his Post-Traumatic-Monster, a long piece that’s almost two separate dances joined at the hip: in fact, part of the opening-night audience thought it was over when the piece paused for its transition, and began to applaud, tentatively. Set to a crunching score by Christof Littman and cast moodily in long looming shadows by lighting designer Jeff Forbes, PTM is about the relationship between two dancers – the dramatically paired Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto, dressed by designer Cassie Ridgway in bright red – who are surrounded by an amorphous sludge of outsiders dressed in gray. The gray gang represents the things that get in the way – “an organism that at some point might develop a dynamic of its own,” as Landerer explains in his program notes, “so what we intend to form and build might eventually turn into something that gets out of control and shapes us instead.” In other words: no fairy-tale ending for this love affair. It’s a struggle of memory, fear, and regret.

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DanceWatch Weekly: The big companies take over

White Bird's Camille A. Brown concert, OBT's "Giants" and Northwest Dance Project's "Bolero" lead the way this weekend

Last night, two very strong programs opened in Portland: Bolero, by NW Dance Project, which includes world premieres by the company’s resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, Lucas Crandall and Felix Landerer; and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” by award-winning, New York choreographer Camille A. Brown at White Bird. This weekend is also the second run of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s program Giants which features choreography by George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Nicolo Fonte. It’s a powerhouse weekend and you still have a chance to see them all before the programs conclude (on Sunday for Giants and Saturday for NWDP and Camille A. Brown & Dancers).

NW Dance Project is joined this season by three new dancers—Tatiana Barber, William Couture and Charbel Rohayem, all three 2016 graduates of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California in San Francisco and beautiful dancers to boot.

I caught up very briefly this week with NW Dance Project choreographers Rustem, Crandall and Landerer and spoke with each of them about their dances and what it takes to make them. The program, formerly known as New/Now/Wow, is titled Bolero but contains three pieces; Bolero by Rustem, Salt by Crandall and POST-TRAUMATIC-MONSTER by Landerer. I spoke with Rustem and Crandall in person in between rehearsals, and Landerer and I communicated via email.

NW Dance Project,studio rehearsals,"Carmina Burana"

NW Dance Project, studio rehearsals for Bolero. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Interviews

London-born Ihsan Rustem trained at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and went on to dance with Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures, Ballett Theater Munich (Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz) and Introdans in The Netherlands, became a founding member of the State Theater Bern Ballet and the Tanz Luzerner Theater, before joining NW Dance Project as resident choreographer in 2015.

How did this Bolero thing start?

I’ve wanted to do Bolero for 15 years. The first professional thing I ever did, really, (I was a guest, but it was still a big gig I guess) was with Bejart Ballet Lausanne at Sadler’s Wells during Bejart’s Bolero with Sylvie Guillem. I was like 16 or 17; I was a kiddie. I don’t know if you know the piece, but it’s a big table, and Sylvie or whoever is doing it that day, does a 15-minute solo on the table, and there are 40 guys basically as the corps. So wherever they go, they always hire an extra 15. And that I will never forget; the music is phenomenal; I get goose bumps still now. I can’t hear this music anymore, but… I still get goosebumps (laughing). I think that says a lot. I think it is one of the most amazing pieces of music ever written for dance. It was commissioned for a dance at the Paris Opera in 1928.

It still gives me goosebumps today. But…it’s challenging. People think I’m nuts sometimes, because the music repeats itself. It has two phrases and they each repeat nine times. It’s how do you take that and create a through-line which builds up in the way that I feel. I’ve said from the beginning, it feels like a 15 minute orgasm, and it still does. Even after hearing it a million times. Because it is, it starts very subtle, but by the end the climax really is one. And I like that, I think it’s fabulous.

It’s a piece of music I’ve wanted to use for years and now felt like the right time. It’s the fifth creation for the company and I think there is also an element of trying to do something that I haven’t done before here.

What are elements or ideas that you are working with in the choreography and how is this piece different from your previous works?

I think it’s quirkier. There are elements of quirky things. In my earlier works here, people cried, and then we sort of went on to the meatier works, like the third one Yidam; it’s just more powerful, raw, emotion, driven, that music drives it.

I feel like I’ve evolved from very sensitive subtle work like State of Matter at the beginning. Mother Tongue was an evolution of that, and Yidam was a powerhouse, a much tougher meatier work. And then for the fourth creation we wanted to do something completely different, and Sarah had been wanting me to do something that was maybe funny or had elements of comedy. So we decided to do Le Fil Rouge, which used old songs. We had everything from Doris Day to Creep.

This one is already an evolution in terms of musical choices. It’s shorter, it’s a whole company work, and it’s quirkier than other works. And it’s based on love, desire, loss, attachment, hate, passion. So I’m using that but in quite random bursts throughout the piece as opposed to a narrative. It’s certainly not a narrative. But each of the duets have their own narrative and that pops out, and the music is passionate. It feeds me elements of relationships and every angle of that. The rose is a representation—and quite an obvious representation—of what that is, in its own abstract form.

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