Pacific Dance Makers

Dance Weekly: Traveling in place

A BodyVox-Northwest Film Center collaboration on dance films and a new round of Pacific Dance Makers

It’s an eclectic weekend, my favorite kind, and strangely it’s also a great weekend for staying put in one location and letting the entertainment come to you. The weekend includes a slew of dance films from around the globe, seven new dances and a guest appearance by singer-songwriter k.d.lang.

Contact Dance Film Festival
Presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
January 7-9
Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave
Northwest Film Center, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave (inside Portland Art Museum)
Bodyvox Dance Center, 17th and NW Northrup, and the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium

Teaming up with the Northwest Film Center and long-time collaborator Mitchell Rose, BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton is offering six screenings of hand-picked dance films with two showings each night-one at 7 pm and the other at 9 pm. The films will be simultaneously screened at both the BodyVox Dance Center and the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. All films will screen in both locations.

The shows include an evening of films selected by filmmaker Mitchell Rose, a frequent BodyVox collaborator, and another of international films. The feature-length films include “Paul Taylor Creative Domain,” an intimate film focusing on modern dance icon Paul Taylor and his dancers during the creation of a new work called “Rashomon.” The dance explores the recollections of three tragically entangled characters, each believing only in their own memory of events. And the film is about how dances come to be.

Trash Dance Still – Performers and Choreographer Allison Orr Take a Bow. Courtesy of Andrew Garrison.

Trash Dance Still – Performers and Choreographer Allison Orr Take a Bow. Courtesy of Andrew Garrison.

Trash Dance” is a beautifully choreographed dance for garbage trucks and sanitation workers choreographed by Allison Orr. And “Balletlujah” celebrates singer-songwriter k.d. lang through the development of her relationship with Alberta Ballet Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître as they work together to create a new ballet. On Saturday night at BodyVox, k.d.lang and producer Heather Edwards will introduce both screenings of “Balletlujah.”

Pacific Dance Makers
Produced and curated by Éowyn Emerald
January 8-9
Reed College Performing Arts Building, Massee Performance Lab, SE Botsford Dr
The fourth installment of Pacific Dance Makers, an evening of choreographic works featuring a variety of NorthWest choreographers curated by Portland dancer and choreographer Éowyn Emerald, opens Friday night.

Pacific Dance Makers. Photo by David Krebs.

Pacific Dance Makers. Photo by David Krebs.

This year’s choreographers include Anna Conner and Brandin Steffensen from Seattle and Anne Mueller, Carla Mann, Éowyn Emerald, DarVejon Jones, and Carlyn Hudson from Portland.

Seattle choreographer Anna Conner who debuted an electric and powerful duet in the second Pacific Dance Makers will be returning with a solo, “The Machine,” created in collaboration with Katie Wyeth and Marlys Yvonne and performed by Katie Wyeth. “The Machine” explores humanity as a great machine and humans as the unstoppable, inexhaustible gears.

Seattle dancer/choreographer Brandin Steffensen along with dancers Suzanne Chi, Luke Gutgsell, and Ben Martens will present “Pentamode a Foursome,” a dance generated using five archetypical modes of relationship: active, passive, enhanced, provoked, inhibited.

Anne Mueller, the co-artistic director of The Portland Ballet, will present “Hold, Sway,” a trio based on a list of 12 verbs and rhythm.

Carla Mann, long time Portland dancer/choreographer and Professor of Dance at Reed College, presents “Ching,” a film in collaboration with Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong revealing Wong’s personal experiences in life and dance.

African American choreographer Dar Vejon Jones will present “Yanvalloux Rendezvous,” a contemporary manifestation of the Haitian creation myth featuring dancers from Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre, whom you can also see next weekend in their own concert, “Ancestry in Motion.”

Éowyn Emerald in collaboration with Portland lighting designer James Mapes will present a quartet exploring narrative through color and light, revealing and uniting.

Carlyn Hudson, the co-founder of SubRosa Dance Collective, will present an excerpt from “Foibles,” a choreographic work exploring the idea of the weakest point. SubRosa will also be performing in The Fertile Ground Festival beginning on June 21.

Coming up

Eowyn Emerald & Dancers the company will be performing January 14-16, reprising their 2014 Edinburg Festival Fringe show.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola will present its second evening-length concert, “Ancestry in Motion,” January 15-17.

Forever Tango will be performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on January 15 and will feature Dancing with the Stars dancers Anna Trebunskaya and Dmitry Chaplin.

Fertile Ground Festival of New Works will begin January 21, featuring 11 days of new work in theatre, music, and dance. This year’s festival will feature choreography by SubRosa Dance Collective, Portland Bellydance Guild, Polaris Dance Theatre, NW Dance Fusion, Echo Theatre Company Circus Arts and r: ad, a new dance company directed by Alexander Dones.

A roaring kickoff to the Second Dance Season

Pacific Dance Makers' grab-bag at BodyVox gets the city's dance scene back in the groove

Portland’s dance renaissance just keeps on kickin’.

True, nobody knows exactly what’s in store for Oregon Ballet Theatre, which is under new leadership and still undergoing organizational and financial difficulties.

Hamilton in "Friends." Photo: David Krebs

Hamilton in “Friends.” Photo: David Krebs

But White Bird’s contemporary dance series is about to take off again after a holiday break, with the Australian Phillip Adams BalletLab (Adult content! Contains nudity!) at Lincoln Hall January 23-25. A passel of dance is barreling down the road in the city’s annual Fertile Ground festival of new works, much of it in Polaris Dance Theatre’s “Groovin’ Greenhouse” series. Northwest Dance Project performer Lindsey Matheis is about to open two weekends’ worth of “(a)merging,” her continuing series of short works by rising young choreographers, starting January 17. Butoh artist Meshi Chavez and his students have just completed a series of performances at The Headwaters. Conduit continues to crackle with classes, workshops and performances. Northwest Dance Project is preparing an early-April show featuring some of the best work from its first decade. OBT is featuring choreographic star Christopher Wheeldon, along with the return of retired company star Artur Sultanov to partner about-to-retire star Alison Roper, on its February 22-March 1 program.

And dancer and producer Eowyn Emerald’s Pacific Dance Makers has just finished two sold-out nights at BodyVox Dance Center of fresh works by eight dancemakers, two of them in collaboration with filmmakers. Enthusiasm was high at Friday’s opening-night show, which was so sold-out that a line of people squatted on pillows in front of the front row, their legs carefully tucked away so they wouldn’t accidentally trip the dancers.

The choreographers’ pedigree was high, too. Included were pieces by Anne Mueller, the former OBT favorite and interim artistic director after Christopher Stowell left the company; Jim McGinn of TopShakeDance; Tracey Durbin, partnering with filmmaker Janet McIntyre; Emerald, with animator Anouck Iyer; Seattle’s Elia Mrak; Samuel Hobbs; Chase Hamilton; and Eric Skinner of BodyVox and skinner/kirk Dance Ensemble.

Among the grab-bag were several pieces of considerable charm, and one big, ambitious work – Durbin and McIntyre’s “Ebb & Flow” ­– that lowered the emotional boom, demanding that the night be taken seriously and poetically.

Hamilton’s “Friends,” a duet that he danced with Zoë Nelson to a Steve Miller Band song, was quick and friendly and appealing. Emerald’s “Vessellessev” was a fluid duet for BodyVox’s Holly Shaw and Josh Murry, a little dark with Iyer’s grayish projected animations and the occasional big shadow-play behind the screen.


Svetlova (front) and Shaw in Skinner's untitled work. Photo: David Krebs.

Svetlova (front) and Shaw in Skinner’s untitled work. Photo: David Krebs.

Mueller’s “Variation in a Vacuum I,” set to a Chopin nocturne, was a solo for Katarina Svetlova, returning to the stage after a long layoff, and interesting both for Mueller’s continuing progress as a choreographer and the opportunity to see Svetlova dance again. Mueller and Svetlova danced together at OBT in the James Canfield years, and Svetlova then spent several years dancing in Germany before retiring and moving back home. She’s still in her early to mid 30s, and now that she’s stepping back out (she’ll perform again with skinner/kirk in April) she could have several good years left. “Variation” pairs Mueller’s penchant for quirky comedy (Svetlova enters the stage haggard and sleepy, in a robe and a pair of comic-book oversized fluffy slippers) with more serious stuff. Svetlova’s always had star power, and it’s still there. Part of it’s technique and part is pure presence. Like OBT’s Roper, who also danced with Mueller and Svetlova in the Canfield-era OBT, she’s balanced somewhere between grace and power, standing out from the crowd, not pretty like a princess but compelling and formidable. Roper’s regal. Svetlova’s fierce; poised to eat up a stage. Skinner’s untitled new piece also features Svetlova, dancing with Shaw, and it’s quite successful: beautifully shaped and sensitive to the strengths of both dancers. Skinner is familiar with Shaw through BodyVox, and they seem to understand each other intuitively. He, too, is a onetime OBT dancer from the old days (are you beginning to see a pattern here?) and his familiarity with ballet  technique helps him stretch Svetlova back into some classical territory, but in a contemporary context.

I’ve admired McGinn’s long works, which tend to have underlying narratives, and I especially like him as a performer: his concentration is riveting. Here, he presented two excerpts from “Float,” which debuted in November at Conduit, and which I didn’t see. Maybe it’s because they were only excerpts from a longer work, but Friday’s dark-toned performances by four dancers left me unmoved and a little confused. The ideas seemed to run out before the dancing did. Nor did Mrak’s “Erica,” a solo for dancer Erica Badgeley, grab me. The dance began promisingly, with Badgeley poised and expectant in a loose Greek-goddess dress, a smile on her face and an hourglass by her side. But the ideas seemed thin. Sometimes she rolled around on the stage like an Olympian lolling in a grove. More often, she ran, athletically, in large circles, apparently seeking a way out. With no music, the soundtrack was her labored breathing. And she ran, and ran, and ran, until finally she discovered an exit stage left, and just kept running until she disappeared.


"Ebb & Flow." Photo: David Krebs

“Ebb & Flow.” Photo: David Krebs

Durbin and McIntyre’s “Ebb & Flow” was the heavyweight of the evening, danced by a fine ensemble (Anna Hooper, Heather Jackson, Alexandra Maricich, Northwest Dance Project’s Franco Nieto, Claire Olberding, Rachel Slater, Emily Zarov) and marrying dance and film fluidly, with each supporting the other: at one point the dancers sit down onstage, backs to the audience, and watch the film, too, absorbed in images of themselves underwater, sinking and swimming. The images are autobiographical for McIntyre, who chose this project to explore her anger over her mother’s death at age 45, and her own journey through rebellion toward a reluctant acceptance and a kind of grace. “I always thought I’d remember the sound of my mother’s voice,” the film’s narrator laments. “But it’s gone.” The piece begins in jarring dissonance, and includes, in the filmmaker’s words, “a sense of drowning with a sense of dreaming. … this is my attempt to crack open past memories and release something raw, probing, and brave.” While McIntyre clearly takes the lead here, Durbin does an excellent job of partnering and translating the tale into movement. McIntyre’s been down a similar path before, collaborating with choreographer Josie Moseley (and dancers Skinner and Daniel Kirk) on “Flying Over Emptiness,” a lovely and moving work about choreographer Mary Oswald and her battle with a debilitating illness. And her film work, which has ranged from pieces about binge-drinking teenage girls to a profile of “Dead Man Walking” nun Sister Helen Prejean, almost always has a tough bent, coupled with a tenderness aimed at understanding. “Ebb & Flow” has an earnestness that amounts to fearlessness: It’s unabashedly ABOUT something, and it lets its nerves run raw. In its naked embrace of genuine emotion, if not in its movement vocabulary, it’s reminiscent of Martha Graham, and of the everyday-heroic images of the painter Thomas Hart Benton, and even of the novels of John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis. It doesn’t veil itself. It grabs its truth by the neck. Yet it’s also, finally, sweet.

Hobbs’s “Early,” a duet for himself and Jessica Evans, was the program closer, and except for having to deal with the reverberations of “Ebb & Flow,” which immediately preceded it, it was an ideal choice. It’s the most poetic piece of the evening, a fluid and lovely collaboration that moves in circles and circles of intimacy. Set to Hobbs’s own music, it begins with him seated and still while Evans, lying down, moves one leg in a slow windmill sweep. She takes her time, until gradually they are both on their feet and moving together in something that seems simply “about” the  beauty of bodies in synchronized movement. It’s a charming piece, really, its mood like a modern-day Haydn. It’ll be repeated next weekend on the “(a)merging” program at Northwest Dance Project. If you missed it here, you can catch it there.


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