jim mcginn

DanceWatch Weekly: TBA appraisals by three choreographers

Winding down after TBA, Tracy Broyles, Jim McGinn and Pepper Pepper share their memories

TBA (the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s yearly 10-day festival) is over. Ten days of workshops, performances, artist talks, visual art exhibitions, music performances and after-hours parties—I am reeling from its absence, and changed because of it.

I was hypnotized by the patterns and rhythms created by Christian Rizzo in d’après une histoire vraie, and Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED_I will be there when you die, both similar in their aesthetic and approach and use of repetition. I was absorbed by Morgan Thorson’s Still Life as the dancers, mostly from Minneapolis, some from here, danced in and out of the gallery space at the Portland Art Museum, enchanting the space, creating texture, rhythm and leaving behind traces of smeared charcoal, history, humanity, sheer beauty and talent.

I was confused by Meg Wolfe’s New Faithful Disco, as it seemed new, raw, unfinished and unclear in its intent. Leila’s Death by Ali Chahrour transported me to a different time and culture which I am grateful for, connecting me to my own spirituality and mortality through Leila’s story of loss and love and perseverance. Sadly though, I was distracted over and over again by the sounds of cell phones going off throughout the performance. Perhaps we should check them at the door or turn them off entirely.

And lastly I was disgusted/amused/angered by Geumhyung Jeong’s  7ways, during which she gave life to inanimate, household objects, turning them all into lecherous men that ended up having their way with her or another object. In the end she put on a blue bodysuit that had a small colonial ship (the kind you might find in a bottle) attached to the front, and lay on the floor, swishing around in a sea of ocean blue fabric, undulated her torso, creating waves for the ship to sail over. Her story was packed with symbolism bringing to my mind the colonization of the Asian female body, and the general female experience within patriarchal systems. It was tough to watch.

TBA now exists in the ether, in our memories and in the shared moments created through conversations. Talking about TBA with friends and colleagues is one of my favorite TBA experiences. I am always surprised by the variations of their viewpoints, and to celebrate that diversity I have gathered together a few of my dance colleagues and offered them space here to share their TBA moments. Below are those offerings.

If you also had a memorable TBA moment that you would like to share, you have my blessing to do so in the comments section below, but please keep it respectful.

First, though, this week’s dance schedule!

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DanceWatch Weekly: A late summer medley

Clear the way for TBA, A-WOL Dance Collective in trees, student dancers from NW Dance Project, JamBallah NW, India Festival and Interview with a Zombie.

The last month of a summer, that has never really looked like summer so far, is near. The dance offerings are slimming down as Portland prepares itself for a new performance season that begins September 8 with Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s annual TBA festival. Clear your schedules now for performances, workshops, talks and dance parties with artists from Portland and around the world.

This does not mean that fantastic dancing cannot be found right now, because it can.
This weekend you can find A-WOL Dance Collective dancing in trees, catch the next generation of contemporary dancers from NW Dance Project’s summer intensive, or travel the globe with three days of performances and classes with JamBallah NW, a festival focusing on belly dance that will partner with India Fest on Sunday.

Interview with a Zombie by Portland choreographer Jim McGinn opens for a second run tonight, but happily/sadly it is completely sold out. If you didn’t get your tickets in time (or even if you did) you can get an in-depth look at his thought process and the making of the dance in my interview with McGinn last week.

Also beginning on Sunday, ArtsWatch will run a twelve-part daily series called Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer written by former Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer and and dance writer Gavin Larsen. The series will disclose the real-life challenges, uncertainties and triumphs of a ballet dancer’s life.

Upcoming performances

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A video still of Kelly Koltiska and Dustin Ordway in Interview with a Zombie by Jim McGinn. Photo courtesy of Jim McGinn.

Interview with a Zombie
Top Shake Dance directed by Jim McGinn
Featuring Kelly Koltiska, Celeste Olivares, Dustin Ordway, and Rachel Slater
August 5-12
New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont St.
Jim McGinn describes the show as “a peek into some possible future of post-human adaptation to changing environmental and biological landscapes. Interview with a Zombie probes our response to pervading uncertainty by asking questions such as: what are the neo-neurobiologies that we shall soon inhabit? From artificial intelligence to supplemental mobility, how are we preparing for our survival? Who are the untouchables in our lives, and what possible paths of redemption are acceptable? Join in this dance as we create some strange new religion for our future.”

McGinn is the artistic director of Top Shake Dance and has been a staple in the Portland dance community for more than 20 years. He has performed with Linda Austin, Catherine Egan, Keith V. Goodman, Linda K. Johnson, Carla Mann, Mary Oslund, and Tere Mathern, and has created many works of his own.

Interview with Jim McGinn on Interview with a Zombie

Double Difference
Linda K. Johnson and Linda M. Wysong
4 pm August 13, Double Difference Celebration
3 pm August 20, Panel, Demolition & the Stones of Ross Island
3 pm August 27, Artist talk
Indivisible Gallery, 2544 SE 26th Ave
(Indivisible is open for viewing: August 13, 20, and 27, noon to 5 pm)
In this gallery exhibit, Portland dance artist Linda K. Johnson and Linda M. Wysong, an environmental design and social practice artist, continue a 25-year, collaborative dialogue revolving around Portland’s layered and ever-changing landscape.

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Art in the Dark: By the Light of a Different Moon. Photo courtesy of A-WOL Dance Collective.

Art in the Dark: By the Light of a Different Moon
A-WOL Dance Collective
August 12-16
Mary S Young Park, 19900 SE Willamette Falls Drive, West Linn
A-WOL’s Art in the Dark, is an annual happening in the forest, suspended from trees. This year’s aerial theatre production illuminates the potency of light, set to a commissioned score played live by musician Dirty Elegance. For a closer look at A-WOL’s art, check out their feature story from 2015 on OPB’s Oregon Art Beat.

Summer Dance Intensive Showing
NW Dance Project
7:30 pm August 12
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
Students from NW Dance Project’s four-week summer intensive will showcase the culmination of their hard work, performing in selected works from NW Dance Project’s repertoire, and in new works choreographed by members of the company.

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JamBallah NW instructor Rachel Brice. Photo courtesy of Rachel Brice.

JamBallah NW
Presented by Narcissa Productions LLC and Marissa Mission
August 12-15
Artist Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison
Bellydance, fusion and Indian dance will take over Artist Repertory Theatre in a three day festival full of performances, workshops, lectures and shopping. Check out the JamBallah NW website for the full schedule of events.

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Photo courtesy of India Cultural Association.

Indian Festival 2016
Produced by the Indian Cultural Association
11 am – 9 pm August 14
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW Sixth Avenue
Portland’s Indian Cultural Association will celebrate India’s Independence and cultural diversity with live music and dance and food from many different regions.

Odysseo
By Cavalia
July 7-August 28
The White Big Top, located at Zidell Yards in South Waterfront, 3030 Moody Ave
Combining 65 horses, special effects, acrobatics, dance, aerial work and live music under a big top, this equestrian ballet celebrates beauty in nature, transporting the audience to virtual environments around the world.

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Photo of “Spiral” (1974)-choreography by Trisha Brown. Photo by © Gene Pittman 2008.

TREES IN THE FOREST
A group show curated by Kari Rittenbach
July 23-September 2, 2016
Opening July 23, 4-6pm
Gallery hours Thursday-Sunday 3-6pm
Yale Union, 800 SE 10th Ave
Three videos of works by Trisha Brown—La Chanteuse (1963), Falling Duet (1968), and Spiral (1974)—will be shown on a loop at Yale Union as part of a curated festival by Kari Rittenbach. Rittenbach is a graduate of Yale University, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Whitney Independent Study Program and is a writer and independent curator based in New York.

The concept behind TREES IN THE FOREST: “Considering nature as a concept, structure, or formal subject, the exhibited works examine its cultural and social mediation, as well as “naturalized” systems of knowledge and power in the world at large. TREES IN THE FOREST takes an ecological approach to a disparate selection of recent art practices; it is an experimental survey of understudied territories in an era of routine environmental catastrophe.”

Upcoming performances
August 18, Headwaters Showcase #4: Video Art Edition + Tacos, Curated by Ben Martens
August 25-September 11, Visiting Alembic Artist Margit Galanter, Performance Works NW
August 27, Late Summer Harvest: A Showing of Two Works in Progress, choreographers Eliza Larson, Taylor Eggan and Daniel Addy
September 10, Collection, NW Dance Project
September 8-18, TBA: 16, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”

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DanceWatch Weekly: Interview with “Interview with a Zombie”

An interview with the Jim McGinn, choreographer for "Interview with a Zombie," Galaxy Dance Festival, Butoh and a bomb, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre NW and more.

Are you afraid of zombies but really like dance? If that’s you, take a friend for support to Interview with a Zombie, opening Friday night, by Portland choreographer Jim McGinn. McGinn describes the show as “a peek into some possible future of post-human adaptation to changing environmental and biological landscapes.” Interview with a Zombie probes our response to pervading uncertainty by asking questions such as: what are the neo-neurobiologies that we shall soon inhabit? From artificial intelligence to supplemental mobility, how are we preparing for our survival? Who are the untouchables in our lives, and what possible paths of redemption are acceptable? Join in this dance as we create some strange new religion for our future.”

McGinn is the artistic director of Top Shake Dance and has been a staple in the Portland dance community for more than 20 years. He has performed with Linda Austin, Catherine Egan, Keith V. Goodman, Linda K. Johnson, Carla Mann, Mary Oslund, and Tere Mathern, and has created many works of his own.

At this point I should describe McGinn’s previous work to you, but that feels like an impossibility. I don’t see him continuing with a constant choreographic thread of an idea from one piece to another. Instead I see brand new ideas emerging in every new work that require a new environment to exist in and a new way of moving the body through it. Interview with a Zombie is no different. All I can say is, expect the unexpected.

To help suss out the meaning behind Interview with a Zombie and get a deeper look into McGinn’s creative process, I interviewed him via email. That conversation unfolds below.

Also happening this weekend is the Galaxy Dance Festival, an annual, multi-day festival produced by Polaris Dance Theatre that features a wide selection of free dance classes and performances by a variety of dance companies from around the Northwest. It’s outside, at Director Park in downtown Portland.

Performances this week

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Jim McGinn in “Interview with a Zombie.” Photo courtesy of Top Shape Dance.

Interview with a Zombie
Top Shake Dance directed by Jim McGinn
Featuring Kelly Koltiska, Celeste Olivares, Dustin Ordway, and Rachel Slater
August 5-12
New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont St.

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It’s all a-Bout the competition

TopShakeDance's latest gives its audiences a ringside seat on the action, complete with dummy

Jim McGinn, founder and artistic director of Portland’s TopShakeDance, may be the most physically challenging choreographer in the city.  a-Bout, a piece for four dancers and a 70-pound, 5-foot-4-inch-tall wrestling “takedown” dummy named Chuck, is the latest of a series of pieces that take their choreographic impetus not from music or story, but from physical and emotional reaction to various natural environments and elements; most recently before this the very beautiful Float, which premiered at Conduit last year.

a-Bout, which opened at the A-WOL Dance Collective’s space on North Raymond on the 14th (I saw it this past Friday night, and its run is finished now) is a little different and a lot more conventional than Float and its predecessors, Jamb and Gust.  It is, however, equally hard and physical work to perform.  It contains many of  the components of 1960s post-modern dance, including pedestrian movement mixed with a tiny bit of ballet and the aggressive, competitive moves associated with such demanding sports as wrestling and  boxing, with a bit of roller derby racing thrown in. These are incorporated with the sculptural modern dance vocabulary McGinn has developed over the years.

Erin Zintek (left) and Aneesa Turner. Photo: Scooter Curl

Erin Zintek (left) and Aneesa Turner. Photo: Scooter Curl

Visually enhancing this mix are dramatic lighting by Chris Balo, costumes by Renaissance woman Heather Treadway, whose red fight promoter’s suit for McGinn I found particularly charming, and at one point in the 64-minute show, projections of cartoon balloons expressing such sentiments as “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  Spoken text,  and music composed by Loren Chasse, with whom McGinn has been collaborating for some time (his score for the 2012 Jamb was particularly felicitous) accompanied the dancing.

The piece is a series of duets, trios and quartets performed by Kelly Koltiska, Celeste Olivares, Aneesa Turner and Erin Zintek, with Chuck descending from the ceiling wrapped in canvas halfway through the show.  All of these dancers, tall, well-muscled Amazonian women, are new to TopShakeDance, the previous company members having departed for various personal and professional reasons. All four also are trained, modern dancers, with Zintek the most experienced, having danced professionally in David Dorfman and Charlotte Adams’ companies.  In a program note, she says she is “passionate about exploring movement in all forms,” and McGinn certainly gives her the opportunity to do just that.

McGinn’s choreography includes many simulated wrestling matches, duets involving lifts, tussling, lots of push and pull that borrows from Contact Improvisation from time to time, juxtaposed against skittering runs, and rapid little traveling steps: what a relief it is to attend a dance performance where the participants do more moving than posing. A duet by Kolitska and Zintek is quite charming; not so successful is a self-conscious little waltz (like two prize fighters in a clutch) danced by Kelly and Chuck.  And because I dislike watching such sports as wrestling and cage fighting, I found those sections of the piece that came closest to replicating them pretty unpleasant to watch.

McGinn is a conceptual artist, assisted in the concept for a-Bout by his wife, Jaime Bluhm. Lord knows, sports-themed dances are not new: August Bournonville did one about jockeys for the Royal Danish Ballet in the 19th century; Christopher Stowell programmed his father, Kent Stowell’s, prize-fighting pas de deux Duo Fantasy for the opening of his first season as artistic director of OBT; White Bird presented Emio Greco’s piece Rocco, which takes place in an actual boxing ring, last spring. McGinn’s take on the links between athletics and art are interesting, up to a point.  The piece is much too long and at times gets quite repetitious.  It is my hope that he takes his choreographic explorations to more interesting places next time, although far be it from me to tell an artist as talented as McGinn what to do.

Chase Hamilton and Pamela James in "Jamb." Photo: Lauriel Schuman

So you walk into Conduit Dance and stop at the doorway to the performance hall, under orders not to proceed farther until a guide with a flashlight appears to take you to your seat, because it’s dark. And although it’s not really all that dark you go along with the game, ducking through the tunnel and stepping through the half-light into the womb.

If the conceit seems a little college-dance-troupe earnest, it turns out it isn’t, because Jim McGinn, leader of the contemporary troupe TopShakeDance and creator of its newest piece, Jamb, has a specific physical rationale for this imposed entry, and as it turns out it’s not an entrance into but an entrance down: down into the dug-out depths of a mountainside. And even though you don’t need to know that to appreciate the sound and movement of the dance, it’s interesting because it suggests the emotional and historical wellspring of what’s essentially a highly impressionistic work of art. So let’s listen in on McGinn’s telling, in his program notes, of the story:

“After my first year of college, I took a summer job working in the Climax molybdenum mine essentially inside Mount Bartlett, just outside of Leadville, Colorado. … I quickly learned that my choice to live in the mountains in a tent and work the mine would not be a time of comfort, but that it never has been for those who have chosen to extract the earth’s elusive metals. For many of my fellow workmates that summer, the confinement of the mine was an incremental freedom compared to their recent experiences in prison. The underground is another world from our terrestrial surface. While some tunnels are a jet stream of fast-moving ventilation, others stagnate with an ancient stillness that makes your heartbeat a deafening roar. … In the deep blackness there is no balance as standing is nearly impossible. …. We relied on our fellow workers one day and distrusted them the next. … I learned to distrust the real and artificial nature of the subterranean. With one brief moment of inattention I was lashed across the neck and flung against a rock wall by a taut steel cable of an equipment train. Living alone in a tent sheltered me from the frequent fist fights and stabbings that were a regular occurrence in the bars of America’s highest city nestled below the mine and built upon a century of tailings. Over the summer I grew more lonely, disconnected, and dreary from the hard hours underground.”

So there it is: a dance about hard labor, and ever-present danger, and claustrophobia, and emotional isolation, and maybe even, at some level, satisfaction. And knowing all of this, you begin to understand a little of the sense and feel of the movements by the five performers, who include Dana Detweiler, Chase Hamilton, Amanda Morse and the riveting Pamela James in addition to McGinn. The moments of rough unison, like workers joining on a common task. The flare-ups: angry looks, little pushes and shoves. The accidents: workers hauled helpless away from the scene. Maybe most of all, the sweat pouring freely from the dancers’ tensed bodies. Even the winched metal claws dangling from the ceiling, like a biplane above Kitty Hawk or a pair of giant colanders, begin to make sense: McGinn writes of the workers “squeez(ing) ourselves between large boulders and two-ton steel scoop shovels.”

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