kidd pivot

DanceWatch Weekly: Spenser Theberge talks dance in Europe and dance in Portland

The Portland native has danced with major European companies, and he's returned for a concert Friday night.

This weekend there is one dance performance, and it’s a significant one. Portland native Spenser Theberge who danced with Netherlands Dance Theatre, and his partner Jermaine Spivey, who dances for Kidd Pivot, will debut a new collaborative work, “RATHER THIS, THEN,” that investigates identity and perception.

You will be able to see these two dance for one night only, Friday, at Disjecta—the contemporary arts center in North Portland, which is also home to choreographer Tahni Holt’s dance center, FLOCK. It is a chance to see world class dancing in an intimate setting, as opposed to viewing it over the heads of hundreds of people sitting in front of you in a large theatre. Both are good, but this is better, in my opinion. You will also get a chance to drink cocktails and mingle with Theberge and Spivey before and after the show.

Theberge grew up dancing at The School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and Columbia Dance in Vancouver and went on to attend Juilliard and to dance with the Netherlands Dance Theatre and The Forsythe Company.

His partner Jermaine Spivey, also attended Juilliard and went on to dance for Ballet Gulbenkian and the Cullberg Ballet, joining Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot in 2008, where he dances now. You might have seen him perform back in April when White Bird brought Betroffenheit to Portland—a collaboration between Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre that combined dance and theatre, which ArtsWatch’s Nim Wunnan captured in his review, which you can read here.

Therberge describes this new collaborative work between the two as “highly physical and highly human, calling on body, voice, and visual elements to reveal truths about each other. It’s privacy made public, it’s tenderly voyeuristic, and the result is an opportunity for the audience to see something of themselves represented in another.”

Over several days, in between rehearsals, I was able to ask Theberge a barrage of questions that sprouted from my own curiosity about why so many people are moving to Portland, what his dance life has been like, and what it’s like to dance in Europe.

But first, the performance info!

Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey
7 pm September 30
7 pm Cocktails
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave


Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey performing an excerpt of “RATHER THIS, THEN,” at Place des Arts in Montreal. Photo by Shumpei Nemoto.

Why, after all of the places that you have danced, did you come back to Portland? Why not New York or another bigger city? (I’m not saying it’s a bad choice, I’m just very curious about what attracts people to Portland)

We came back to Portland because it’s my home. I haven’t performed in Portland since graduating high school—I miss sharing the work I’m doing with my family and community. Jermaine and I had already planned this visit for the whole month of September, so it seemed like a great opportunity to put on our own show! My sister, Amy, is an event planner and works at DISJECTA. She made this whole thing happen, which is so awesome. Why not New York? I love New York, but making work there is difficult. It’s hard to carve out a space for yourself in such an intense field, and it’s hard, when you’re an emerging creator, to convince people to take a chance on you. It feels like there’s more room and open ears for new work in Portland and the West Coast. I also feel like it’s important to contribute to the place you come from. The Portland area has supported me so much and I’m really excited to start sharing back with the city.

Are you planning on staying?

We won’t be permanently residing here, but I will always visit regularly to see my family, and Jermaine and I hope to start cultivating creative ties here.

What are your dance plans after the 30th?

After the 30th Jermaine and I go to NYC to rehearse for a tour, then we’ll be performing in Montreal with the ARIAS Company. We’ll be working on our own work in LA for the rest of the year. In the new year, Jermaine will go back on tour with Kidd Pivot’s Betroffenheit (seen in Portland last April), and I will be in Rome, Lyon, and Tulsa re-staging works from Netherlands Dance Theater on companies there.

I’ll be restaging “Cacti” by Alexander Ekman at the Rome Opera Ballet and Tulsa Ballet, and “I New Then” by Johan Inger at Lyon Opera Ballet. (I believe both pieces were performed by NDT2 when they were in Portland a few years ago)

How long have you been dancing for Netherlands dance theatre and what has that been like? What choreographers have you worked for and what did you learn about yourself, dancing and choreographing?

I danced for NDT for 4 years, and that was an incredible learning experience. I travelled all over the world, dancing from the Sydney Opera House to Lincoln Center, and I was a cultural ambassador on behalf of the Dutch Royal Family for diplomatic visits. At NDT I worked with Jiri Kylian, Ohad Naharin, Crystal Pite, Alexander Ekman, Lightfoot Leon, Johan Inger, Hans van Manen, among others. I learned how to be a chameleon, how to slip into different styles and pick up on the essential details valued by each choreographer. NDT was where I began to realize that I enjoyed writing and speaking on stage (I wrote the text for Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, and totally caught the text bug) and began exploring that in my own choreography. At the beginning of my 4th year there I realized that I was getting to sample many styles, but not specializing in anything. I wanted to dig deeper into specific work, so that’s when I made the choice to leave NDT and was fortunate enough to join The Forsythe Company later that year. Working with William Forsythe totally changed me as a dancer—I learned to be myself and to understand how I want to dance, instead of just being good at doing what someone else asks. It was a pivotal time for me in the value of ownership and identity as a performer. And, of course, the work on improvisation was mind blowing.


Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey performing an excerpt of “RATHER THIS, THEN,” at Place des Arts in Montreal. Photo by Shumpei Nemoto.

Can you talk about what it’s like working as a dancer in Europe compared to the United States?

Working as a dancer in Europe means you’re really well taken care of. You get paid all year, have health care, vacation time, physical therapy, a pension plan. Dancing is the same as any other job there (for the most part, although Europe is beginning to see similar budget cuts in the arts as we do in America) and the conditions and benefits of the all jobs are the same. Also, working in Europe is so special because of your proximity to other places. I travelled so much in the 7 years I lived there, going places it would have been harder for me to get to from America.

As far as comparing that to working in America, I can’t really say! This is my first year working as a dancer in America so I’m just beginning to learn the ropes. As a freelancer, however, I can say that’s different from working for a company. No one is doing anything for you as a freelancer, so I’m learning so much about things I didn’t have to take care of when I worked for a company. It’s more work now, but it feels good to be doing it myself and really understanding all the pieces of this profession.

How are the processes of creating dance different in both places?

Creating in Europe is what I’m most familiar with. I think the main difference between creating there or in America is that theaters and residency houses in Europe are government subsidized, so fundraising is a very limited portion of creative life there.

Why not stay in Portland?

My partner and I have been looking for a place to live for the past year, knowing that we want to be back in America. We’ve decided to go to LA because of the art renaissance it’s experiencing. There’s a huge push to rival the NYC art scene, and people are being generous with their money and resources. It feels like a place full of possibility and potential right now, and it’s a great opportunity to go there and be a part of the creation of something. (I never thought I’d say that about LA!!) So I don’t feel like we’re saying no to Portland—it’s more like LA is the place we’re saying yes to.


Spenser Theberge and Jermaine Spivey performing an excerpt of “RATHER THIS, THEN,” at Place des Arts in Montreal. Photo by Shumpei Nemoto.

Is there anything about yourself or your dancing life that you would like to add?

We’re interested in commenting on assumptions and prescribed notions about race, gender, and sexuality. However, instead of making statements about broad ideas, we’re working on showing our personal dynamic. Instead of telling you what we believe, we’re just being what we believe in front of an audience—trying to be private in public. The goal is that by zooming in on our micro point of view, we can shed light on macro ideas.

Upcoming Performances

October 6-8, Diavolo-Architecture in Motion, White Bird
October 7-25, A Photo Exhibit of Fuse-Portland Dance Portrait, Jingzi Zhao
October 8-15, Giants, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 13-15, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, White Bird
October 13-15, Bolero, NW Dance Project
October 20-29, BloodyVox, BodyVox
October 20-22, Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak, White Bird
October 21-22, Traces, Mark Koenigsberg & Sara Naegelin
October 21-22, Lines of Pull, The Holding Project
October 24-November 5, Marginal Evidence, Katherine Longstreth
October 28-30, INCIPIO, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 3-12, Reclaimed, Polaris Dance Theatre
November 4-6, Obstacles and Victory Songs, Stephanie Lavon Trotter and Dora Gaskill
November 11-13, Epoch, Jamuna Chiarini and push/FOLD-Samuel Hobbs
November 12-20, the last bell rings for you, Linda Austin Dance
November 17-19, Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group, White Bird
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 10-26, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 15-17, Complicated Woman, Katie Scherman/2016 Alembic Resident Artist
December 18, Gifts, a film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
December 22-24, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland

ArtsWatch Weekly: diving for pearls

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

A pop singer, an artist, a director of commercials, a composer, a trio of designer/landscape architects, a songwriter, a violinist and physical therapist, an orchestra conductor, a celebrity journalist, and a bunch of dancers walk into a studio.

There are many ways to think about Pearl Dive Project, which opens Thursday evening at BodyVox, but it doesn’t involve a bartender, and it’s no joke. It is a gamble, and an experiment – a roll of the dice that tests the definitions of amateur and professional and the elasticity of the creative mind. Can a person who’s successful in one creative discipline transfer that success to a totally different form, one in which she or he has little or no experience? Or is that like trusting a top-tier dentist to do a heart transplant?

BodyVox's Jamey Hampton (left) and songwriter/musician Jeremy Wilson (center), novice choreographer, in a February rehearsal for "Pearl Dive Project." Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

BodyVox’s Jamey Hampton (left) and songwriter/musician Jeremy Wilson (center), novice choreographer, in a February rehearsal for “Pearl Dive Project.” Photo © Blaine Truitt Covert

Or a pop singer to create a dance? Because that’s what the pop singer – China Forbes of Pink Martini, along with several other creative Portlanders, among them Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar, artist Malia Jensen, songwriter Jeremy Wilson, and writer Byron Beck – are doing in Pearl Dive Project. Not a one of them has been a dancer, and yet, they’re creating choreography for BodyVox’s highly trained professional dancers to perform. “What will happen when artists and innovators working at the peak of their profession immerse themselves in a craft they’ve never considered?,” the company asks. What, indeed? You can find out during a run that continues through April 23.


Kidd Pivot: A confusion deep and meaningful

The Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre collaboration digs into trauma in an illuminating way

The newest work from Vancouver, BC-based Kidd Pivot, Betroffenheit, which White Bird presented in Portland this weekend, is a collaboration with the Electric Company Theatre, featuring ECT’s director, Jonathan Young. Young wrote the script, provides voice-overs for all the performers and is the central performer in both acts. Kidd Pivot’s Crystal Pite choreographed the movement in this theater/dance hybrid. Any collaboration between the directors of these two accomplished companies would be impressive, but the deeply personal and difficult premise of this show has made Betroffenheit into a strange and special thing.

Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre in Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre in Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

The title is a German word for “the state of having been met, stopped, struck or perplexed in the face of a particular event… a space and time where language ceases,” as translated by avant-garde theater director Anne Bogart. Though it is never directly explained in the performance, a real and horrific event is at the heart of the production: Six years to the day before the world premiere of Betroffenheit, Young’s only child, Azra, and two of her cousins died when the cabin in which they were sleeping caught fire during a family vacation. Young was sleeping in an adjacent cabin, but by the time he arrived at the fire, there was nothing he could do.

While Young feels that he never acquired full-blown PTSD, the tragedy understandably set him adrift in a state requiring a custom-built word like “betroffenheit.” During his recovery, Young researched (and perhaps experienced) some of the patterns and stages that survivors of trauma go through, and these contributed narrative structure to Betroffenheit. Kidd Pivot’s ability to tinker up macabre devices that dig into the darker parts of the human psyche make them uniquely qualified to bring these mental spaces to life.


Put on your jammies, pour a glass of wine, get comfortable and hit play. If you are like me and couldn’t make it out to see the Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo presented by White Bird last night, don’t worry: You can stream all of their dances, including the two they performed last night (Suíte Branca and Dança Sinfôniva choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras) on Vimeo in HD for just $5 each. “Watch anytime, anywhere” it says on their website.

This is an unusual way to watch dance, and I wouldn’t recommend it on a regular basis because of how much you actually miss of the live performance experience. But it is a nice compensation, especially because the technology for filming dance has come a long way and looks more real than ever—more like you are actually in the theatre.

The folks over at White Bird are REALLY busy this week. Tonight begins the three-day run of Betroffenheit, a collaboration between two Canadian companies, Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre, exploring the concept of disaster and our reactions to it. (Given the Cascadia Subduction earthquake hanging over our heads, this has some specific local significance.) Five days later ODC/Dance from San Francisco docks in at the Newmark.

The local dance offerings are also strong this week. Butoh College finishes off with two performances and a community dialogue session on “The Future of Feminine through Embodiment”, Polaris Dance Theatre reveals its new space and shares photographer Jingzi Zhao dance/photography project “Fuse,” little red riding hood makes an appearance, a Russian orthodox sect dances to save the world, and a few of Portland’s most celebrated dancers perform in a fundraiser for The Dancing Over 50 Project.

Performances this week

Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre in Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre in Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre
Presented by White Bird
March 31-April 2
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway

You are the survivor and the disaster all at the same time, and a crisis-management team is on their way to help. You crave escape and pleasure and “The Show” is your distraction.

A hybrid of theatre and dance, Betroffenheit, is a collaboration between two Canadian companies, Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre, exploring the concept of disaster and our reactions to it.

Butoh Ad Lib: A series of extemporary dances of presence and imagination
Diego Piñón, Mizu Desierto, Douglas Allen, Christopher Mankowski, and Dreaming Body.
8 pm March 31
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St

8 pm April 2
Yumiko Yoshioka, Mizu Desierto, Stephanie Lanckton, Sheri Brown, Helen Thorsen and Mary Cutrera.

Community Dialogue
The Future of Feminine through Embodiment
7 pm April 3
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St

Wrapping up three weeks of classes, performances and dialogue, Butoh College finalizes this weekend in two performances by international and regional Butoh artists along with the last session of community dialogue. Organized and directed by Portland Butoh artists Mizu Desierto, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Water in the Desert and The Headwaters Theatre.

If you have ever been curious about Butoh this is your last chance to see performances by some of the leading names in Butoh from around the world. If you are interested in further investigation into the experience of Butoh, I previously interviewed two Portland Butoh artists, Alenka Loesch and Meshi Chavez, about theirs.


The Dance over 50 Project. Photographs by Gregory Bartning.

Dancing Over 50 Soirée
Hosted by Stance On Dance; Emmaly Wiederholt and photographer Gregory Bartning
6 pm April 1
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St

A collaboration between dancer/writer Emmaly Wiederholt and photographer Gregory Bartning, The Dancing Over 50 Project, through interviews and photos, works to destroy the myth that dance and professional dancing belong only to the young by talking with dancers over 50 from the West Coast about their lives in dance.

The project is being turned into a book and the fundraiser for the book publication will take place this weekend with performances by Gregg Bielemeier, Linda Austin, Carla Mann, Susan Banyas, Emily Schultz, Bb DeLano (of 11 Dance Co.), Joshua Hernandez (of Nonsense Dance), Rachel Slater (of Muddy Feet) and a short talk by Alito Alessi.

Portland dancers included in the publication are Linda Austin, Susan Banyas, Mike Barber, Gregg Bielemeier, Nancy Davis, Jim Lane, Heidi Duckler, Tracey Durbin, Jamey Hampton, Carla Mann, Tere Mathern, Jim McGinn, Josie Moseley, Jayanthi Raman and Eric Skinner.

Polaris New Home Open House and Jingzi Photography exhibition “Fuse”
6 pm April 1
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave

Polaris Dance Theatre has a new home and they want to share it to you. Join them in celebration of their new digs with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, a raffle, and open rehearsals by the Polaris Dance Company and Polaris Junior Company.

Polaris will also be hosting a sneak peek at “Fuse—Portland Dance Portrait,” featuring the photography of Jingzi Zhao, on display from April 1-May 1st. “Fuse” is a collaborative dance/photography project by photographer Jingzi Zhao that captures dancers on location, in historic landmarks, neighborhoods, and businesses around Portland, to showcase the beauty, culture and lifestyles of Portland.

A larger body of work by Jingzi Zhao will be exhibited at the Multnomah Arts Center from October 7-25.

Agnieszka Laska Dancers
April 1-3
Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St

Inspired by Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk and paintings by Zdzislaw Beksinski, Bieguni or “runners” in English, depicts the story of a Russian orthodox sect that believes all evil comes from stagnation, and that only people, continually in motion, can save the world. The premise? The moving body is sacred.

Original choreography by Agnieszka Laska with an original score by ALD Resident Composer Jack Gabel.


Raven and Red in Tempos Contemporary Circus’s production of Little Red. Photo courtesy of Tempos.

Little Red
Tempos Contemporary Circus
April 1-3
Echo Theatre Company, 1515 SE 37th Ave

This dance tells the Little Red Riding Hood story through the eyes of the circus, the Tempos Contemporary circus that is. Wearing her famous hood, this Red Riding Hood dances, leaps and flies her way through the forest, avoiding creepy creatures and having a ball of a time until she meets the inevitable wolf.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

Next Week’s Performances

April 7-8, ODC/Dance, White Bird
April 7-21, Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox Dance
April 8, The Journey, Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company Performance
April 8-9, Ignite, PDX Dance Collective
April 14, Leo, A contemporary dance by Ron Amit

A man and his puppet in “Dark Matters”/Courtesy of Kidd Pivot

For a  moment during the first gripping half of Kidd Pivot’s “Dark Matters,” presented by White Bird, I flashed on the following thought. The increasingly demonic stick puppet seeking to control its creator is really my computer. And the five darkly clad and anonymous puppet masters handling the sticks represent the legions of programmers and webmasters who gradually seize command of my life. Thank goodness I keep the scissors in a safe place.

Oops. I don’t want to spoil “Dark Matters” for anyone, because it does have a specific narrative in that first half before becoming more abstract, though even more powerful, in the second.  Choreographer Crystal Pite’s creation is a brilliant piece of dance theater, beautifully and dramatically lit (by lighting designer Robert Sondergaard) and designed (by set designer Jay Gower Taylor) with a pulsating sound track (by composer Owen Belton). And I wouldn’t want to do anything that would take away any of the joy of discovery you might find there.

That means, after I tell you that the dancing itself is at least as accomplished as the rest of the elements, you might want to stop right here! I’m not going to give away anything, really, because each moment is so full of possible meaning that I couldn’t possibly exhaust it. But I do intend to speculate a little as I describe “Dark Matters,” and I know some people would rather go into it with a clean slate.


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