Polaris Dance

ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.


ArtsWatch Weekly: vote, and other opportunities

Looking back, looking ahead: a week's worth of theater, dance, music, film, and art in and around Portland

After all that feuding and fussing it’s election day, and nothing on this week’s calendar is more important. In Oregon, with its vote-by-mail elections, that means today is last chance, not first chance. Remember, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Tuesday, not just postmarked by today. That means it’s too late to mail your ballot: You’ll need to drop it off. You can do that at your branch library and other designated spots. If you haven’t turned your ballot in yet, stop reading this right now and get ‘er done. If your vote is safely cast, scroll on down and take a look at a few visual reminders that the United States has been doing this for a long time. Except for the Bingham painting, the images come from the Library of Congress’s 2012 book Presidential Campaign Posters: 200 Years of Election Art:

"The County Election," George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum

“The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum




Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. The 43rd edition of the Northwest Film Center’s annual regional showcase runs Thursday through Tuesday at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium and Portland State University’s nearby 5th Avenue Cinema and Skype Live Studio. Shorts, features, and documentaries ranging from the battle over water rights to an internet horror tale to life in a modern medieval village.

Epoch. An evening of new dance from Samuel Hobbs (November) of push/FOLD and ArtsWatch dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini (The Kitchen Sink), with music by Hobbs and Lisa DeGrace. Friday and Saturday, BodyVox Dance Center.


Dance weekend: poles apart

The PDX calendar celebrates dance styles as different as rain and shine, from relay choreography to ecdysiast, inclusive dance to contemporary

This week in Portland dance feels very fresh, experimental and risky. What is dance about, anyway? – as many things as there are people in the field, but generally, and among other things, it’s about self-expression, learning, connectivity, community, pushing boundaries, and sharing. It’s complicated, but, so relatable, and so enjoyable to watch. This weekend’s offerings touch on all of these attributes and more.

Pole acrobatics. Photo courtesy Ecdysiast Dance Company

Pole acrobatics. Photo courtesy Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company


Solo Relay Installment # 3 featuring Matthew Shyka & Linda K. Johnson

May 8-9

Performance Works NW, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave.


This is Stage Three of Linda Austin’s new multi-year project that functions like a great game of telephone. This-pass along solo is a vehicle for the making, unmaking, transmitting, transforming, and distilling of performance material (movement, tasks, objects, text and vocals) and the performative self.” In Leg #1, as Austin describes it, she “played with timing and tangential realities in a solo brimming with unpredictable perceptual, physical, textual, and emotional currents. Plus just a few objects!” Then it was Jin Camou and Keyon Gaskin’s turn. They were tasked to perform their own versions of the solo, playing out what they remembered and misremembered. Now we are on the third leg of the journey, and will see Matthew Shyka and Linda K. Johnson perform what they remember from Camou and Gaskin’s performances.



Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company

May 9th

Alberta Rose Theater, 3000 N.E. Alberta St.

Pole dancing reinvented. Out of the clubs and into the proscenium theater. While flying high through the air on 21-foot poles, the aerialists of Ecdysiast Pole Dance Company will tell a story, through tdance, pole dancing and acrobatics, of how strength and tenacity connect all humanity. Nostalgia, the high pressures of the modern world, and joyous moments will be present.


Reed Dance Department Spring Performance

May 8-9

Reed College, Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.


Performed by Reed’s Contemporary Performance Ensemble, the concert will feature seven-student created pieces as well as works by guest choreographers Alexander Dones (in collaboration with Autumn Marie Dones, his sister), Laura Haney, James Healey, Luke Gutgsell, and faculty members Carla Mann and Minh Tran.



Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company

May 8-10

Studio 2, 810 S.E. Belmont St.


Inclusive Arts Vibe Dance Company is a cross-disability, integrated youth/young adult dance company. Authenticate will showcase the company’s innovative choreography, skill and creativity, helping to expose integrated dance to new audiences with the goal of furthering the expression of people with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities.



Polaris Dance Theater
May 8-10
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1501 S.W. Taylor St.
Polaris enters the second and final weekend of its annual collaborative performance exposing company members to new choreography, and audiences to the artistic process. New dance works by Artistic Director Robert Guitron and guests Kieraqmil Brinkley, Blake Seidel, Jocelyn Edelstein, and Gerard Regot. Local musicians include Gerard Regot, Robert Hoffman, and Anthony DeMarco.


Dance Weekend: Culminations

White Bird, Jefferson Dancers, and Polaris end their seasons

The season is coming to an end, and with it the cumulative work of many Portland dance artists. White Bird will finish out their season with New York tap company Dorrance Dance, live music and nine tappers. The Jefferson Dancers and Polaris Dance Theater will also perform a year’s worth of hard work learning dances from many different choreographers. And if you want to see dance on a smaller scale, check out Keyon Gaskin at Yale Union and Push Leg at Performance Works NW. Of course, if you want to get movin and groovin yourself, get to Allie Hankins Transcendentaerobicourage class on Saturday.

Jefferson Dancers Spring Concert
April 29-May 2
Newmark Theater, 1111 SW Broadway
Freshly off their tour to France, this extremely talented pre-professional high school dance company will be performing works by Jefferson Dance alumni. The choreographers showcased will be Bethany Reisburg from the Hot Shot Tappers, Charlotte Faillard from Aterballeto and Ballet d’Europe, Ty Alexander Cheng from Spectrum Dance Theatre, Thomas Yale (a Portland hip hop choreographer),  Bunky Williams (Jefferson Dance Staff) and Steve Gonzales, (Jeff Artistic Director, formerly of MOMIX Dance Theatre dancer).

Dorrance Dance taps out the Blues Project/White Bird

Dorrance Dance taps out the Blues Project/White Bird

Dorrance Dance, The Blues Project
Wednesday, April 29, 7:30 pm
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
For one night only, Dorrance Dance directed by Michelle Dorrance, will take the stage at the Schnitz with nine tap dancers and live blues music composed and directed by Toshi Reagan and her 5-piece blues band, BIGLovely to perform “The Blues Project.” Dorrance dance is interested in pushing the boundaries of tap as well as maintaining its history. This show concludes the White Bird dance season.

“On an Overgrown Path” Agnieszka Laska Dancers and Lyrical Strings Duo
Thursday, April 30,8 pm
Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta
The AL Dancers will be joined by the Lyrical Strings Duo for a program built around music from the Polish folk tradition, including work by Antonín Dvořák, Frédéric Chopin, Henryk Wieniawski, Mykola Lysenko, Jeno Hubay, and Bohuslav Martinů. The evening begins with Andrei Temkin’s Chervona Bambino trio, featuring Viorel Russo of the Oregon Symphony on viola and Jeff Holt of the Wanderlust Orchestra on upright bass.

Polaris Dance Theater
May 1-10
Polaris Studio Theatre, 1501 SW Taylor St Portland
Polaris Dance Theatre’s annual collaborative performance exposing company members to new choreography, and audiences to the artistic process. New dance works by Artistic Director, Robert Guitron and guest Kieraqmil Brinkley, Blake Seidel, Jocelyn Edelstein, and Gerard Regot. Local musicians include Gerard Regot, Robert Hoffman, and Anthony DeMarco.

“it’s not a thing”
Keyon Gaskin
Saturday, May 2, 9 pm
Yale Union, 800 SE 10th Ave.
Keyon Gaskin, a Portland based dance artist, will continue “its not a thing,” the performance he’s been working on the better part of two years. Yale Union is a center for contemporary art in Southeast Portland, Oregon. It is led by a desire to support artists, propose new modes of production and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art.

Allie Hankin & Allan Wilson
May 2, 12 pm
Flock Dance Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave. #4
Transcendentaerobicourage is an all levels movement/embodiment class. “We will breathe, vocalize, bounce, sweat, push, rest, DANCE, and work as individuals & as a group in actions that help us access the pleasure of effort and feel held by the strong hearts & minds of the people with us in the room. LIVE DJ Allan Wilson‘s music buoys us through our fatigue and steers us to an empowering transcendent climax.”

Transcendentaerobicourage is part of Physical Education(PE), a group comprised of dance and performance artists Keyon Gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lucy Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto with the vision to offer performance audiences, artists of all mediums, and curious individuals immersive modes through which to engage with dance and performance.

A Push Leg Salon: AVOIDANCE
May 1-3
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Push Leg’s inaugural performance will take a look at what we avoid, how and why. A wild collision of movement and text, inspired by YouTube videos of dogs avoiding taking a bath, articles about the collapse of civilization, the ‘furry’ movement, Blanche DuBois, mashed together with The Gas Heart by Tristan Tzara and the Surrealist Manifesto. Among other things…

The evening also includes an excerpt from Faith Helma’s (Hand2Mouth) new solo show “I Hate Positive Thinking.”

Did we forget anything? Tell us with a comment!

Groovin’ Greenhouse heats up the dance

The dance part of Fertile Ground was a whirlwind of styles and choreographic ideas. Next year: a little more?

Portland’s recent Fertile Grounds festival of new works included six nights of new dance in Groovin’ Greenhouse, hosted by Polaris Dance Theater. I attended two of them (January 24 and 31), hoping to get a good cross-section in the process. Performing those nights were Polaris, PDX Dance Collective, Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, WolfBird Dance, Automal and six troupes from Portland’s new Belly Dance Guild. The range of offerings in style, content and ability was gigantic, even just those two nights.

The evenings began with an upbeat, pre-curtain speech by Robert Guitron, Polaris Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director and host of Groovin’ Greenhouse. I am not usually a big fan of pre-show speeches, because they tend to drag on and slow down the momentum of an otherwise exciting evening. But this one was important. Guitron told us that Polaris will be losing its dance home in May to make room for condos. This, sadly, is a recurring theme of late in this town, and in others, for that matter.

But on with the show.

Starting off both programs were three new pieces for Polaris Dance Theater by Guitron and company members M’Liss Quinnly and Gerard Regot. Both Guitron and Regot also composed their own music.

M’Liss Quinnly's “Pierce,” performed by Polaris Dance.

M’Liss Quinnly’s “Pierce,” performed by Polaris Dance.

Pierce by Quinnly was about being confident in who you are at this very moment in time. She originally choreographed it in 2006 for her synchronized swimming World Championship Competition solo, and has since adapted the movement for land. It employs music by Apparat & Ellen Allien with electronic beats combining bass and violin. Dressed in black-and-white geometric patterned leggings and black tops, the 11 dancers mimicked the fabric patterns in the angularity and sharpness of their dancing.

Dominating the entire stage, the dancers moved fearlessly as one unit, moving through choreography that was sexy and powerful. The synchronized swimming aspect became apparent midway through the piece when arm movements dominated the choreography. Most impressive was the linked arm circle, organized from low to high from front to back, essentially creating a wave that snaked around the circle in mechanical syncopation. It was dramatic and impressive in its timing and precision, and the audience loved it.

Identity, choreographed by Regot, was about the monotony of life. The dancers were dressed in crisp white button-down shirts and ties, and moved their bodies rhythmically and robotically, stepping forward and back to a heavy beat, systematically building up energy and then exploding one by one, only to fall back into the collective beat. In the end, the beat of the music became an unseen force repetitively knocking their heads back over and over, until finally they were knocked off balance and fell backwards into the dark.

Guitron’s work-in-progress What’s Wrong is based on the idea that humans can believe in something so strongly that it becomes a crutch. The dance began with a giant pile of tangled bodies and chairs, something like the Zoobomb bike pile on Southwest Burnside and 13th Avenue. These chairs became many things as the dancers pushed and pulled them around, turning them into pedestals and obstacles for each other. Midway through the dance the chairs were formed into a diagonal line, creating a platform for each individual battle. The chair became the partner, and multiple possibilities were expressed: sitting, standing, rolling, leaping off, leaning on, or flying off the chairs, and much more.

The three Polaris pieces shared an aesthetic and choreographic voice, which makes sense: all the dancers train and perform together under the same roof. This experience created a strong cohesive group, but also a lot of repetition.  At times the movement choices felt safe and formulaic. Part of this feeling of safeness, for me, came from watching the dancers perform in socks. Their movement felt inhibited and conscious of the risk of falling.

Next up was PDX Dance Collective, a nonprofessional company that works in a collective spirit. The collective offered two dances: the first, an experimental work in progress using the rhythms of tap dance combined with contemporary dance by Rachel Brown in collaboration with tappers Jordann Wallis and Briana Whitehead. The second, called Cycle and Seek and choreographed by Hannah Downs, was about the obstacles we create for ourselves, using soft, lilting, lyrical movement, simple partnering, and juxtaposing forces and emotive gestures to convey its theme.

I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the tappers, but the contrast of the rhythmic tapping with lyrical movement didn’t work for me. The two parts happened in different sections of the stage and never connected rhythmically, physically or visually.

In Cycle and Seek, occasionally two of the dancers, Gabriel Green and Hannah Downs, would cross paths, partner for a moment, and then separate. I found myself wishing they would dance together more. They are a matched pair in their height, skill and willowy movement quality, and were beautiful to watch.

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance. Photo: Emily Zarov.

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance’s “The Servant.” Photo: Emily Zarov.

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, directed by Rachel Slater and Suzanne Chi, brought us West Rising Sun, choreographed by Slater, and The Servant, by Tracey Durbin.

West Rising Sun, performed by Slater, Chi and Eliza Larson, investigated what is happiness and where it lives, using bright, vibrant, expansive movement, comedy and pantomime. Dressed in cutoff jean shorts and colorful tank tops, the trio danced together and separately, always coming back together again. The choreography had a couple of jarring moments, when we were lulled into comfort listening to soft melodic music and watching beautiful dancing, and all of a sudden a dancer would break out in some form of “club dancing” with a big smile on her face. These were undoubtedly funny moments, as the audience laughed along, but threw a wrench in things for me. I was confused. Maybe this was the point? Are we all just performing happiness? Happiness is performance? Is it all that superficial? I don’t know. Muddy Feet is planning a full concert in the future, and it will be interesting to see where this piece goes. Stay tuned.

The Servant, Muddy Feet’s second dance, was choreographedby Portland jazz teacher and choreographer Tracy Durbin and danced by Slater and Chi. The program quoted Alice Walker: “Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”

It’s a circular dance of sisters alternately rejecting and accepting each other. With long legs and weighty partnering, Slater and Chi go back and forth within this duality until the end when Chi exits the stage alone, through the middle of the audience risers, with Slater following behind.

The dancers wore cap-sleeved lace mini-dresses, one black and one beige, with bra and briefs visible underneath. They reminded me of the slumber party scene from the movie Grease. I wasn’t convinced that these were the right costumes for the piece. Perhaps they represent intimacy between siblings? I don’t know.

WolfBird Dance: Selina DiPronio and Raven-Jones. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

WolfBird Dance: Selina DiPronio and Raven-Jones. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

WolfBird Dance presented an excerpt from YOUR BACKWASH IS BETTER THAN NOTHING, choreographed and performed by Raven Jones and Selina DiPronio. This short segment under dark lighting seemed to be a deep, intimate conversation between DiPronio and Jones. It consisted of Jones crouched on the floor with her fingers in her mouth, floppy sweaters, and wild flailing movements of arms and legs in total abandon. I was drawn to the connection between the two dancers and their comfort with each other in touch and unspoken communication. Their movement felt unself-conscious and undefinable in any realm of dance. It was just them. 


The program’s second half featured six belly dancing companies, representing a variety of styles, from the Portland Belly Dancing Guild and directed by Elise Morris. There was a huge shift in energy from the first half of the concert: the lights got brighter, the energy got livelier, the focus shifted to a whole different aesthetic of the female form as natural, voluptuous, and powerful. Each choreographer was playing with a shared theme of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark.

The dancers’ names and music credits were not listed in the program but if you are interested you might find them on the Portland Belly Dance Guild Facebook page.

Raqa Ayana Belly Dance—a trio based in the American Cabaret style of belly dance—is what the majority of us would think of when we think of belly dancing. But they were anything but typical. Wearing colorful sequin bra tops, matching hip scarves and voluminous layers of tie-dyed silk skirts, these dancers so meticulously and beautifully isolated head and shoulder from hip and arms, eliciting uluations (tongue trills) from the belly dance fans in the audience. So specific were these articulations that at one point the dancers were posed in a reverse plank on the floor and the only movement happening was a small continuous ripple in their bellies. Truly amazing.

Maia, a soloist with an Egyptian focus, wore a long-sleeved, floor-length white kafta and a burgundy scarf tied around her hips. Adorned only with a few bangles and large earrings, her presentation was more subtle but no less articulate as the movement was mostly hidden under the fabric.

Scarlett Thistle, with Traci Stenson Hildner, Debi Budnick, Colette Todorov and Tabra Bay. Phoebus-foto.

Scarlett Thistle, with Traci Stenson Hildner, Debi Budnick, Colette Todorov and Tabra Bay. Phoebus-foto.

Scarlet Thistle, a Tribal Style Belly Dance quartet, appeared to be a little darker in mood. With ornately decorated hair styles with flowers and chairs, wearing back choli tops and earth-toned patterned skirts and large medallion belts, they danced a little more slowly and a little more weightily into the ground with cymbals and swords. Most impressively, they lowered themselves to a kneeling position and moved in a circle, the whole time balancing swords on their heads, mixing seduction with ferocity.

Darjeeling Dance Collective, a collective combining historic and modern belly dancing, donned tight, colorfully striped kaftans and black hip scarfs, and combined cane dancing and belly dance, spinning the canes around and clicking them on their partners canes. All smiles and ease.

Amrita, an experimental duet based in Classical Indian Dance, Persian dance and tribal fusion, sang live as they danced in long, form-fitting green dresses and head scarves carrying gold pots on their heads. It reminded me of a scene out of an opera, where two girls fill their pots and reminisce down by a river. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the song was or what they were singing about, but it was lovely anyway.

Lucine Dance Company, a theatrical contemporary belly dance quartet, created high drama with shiny, copper-colored costumes and sleek futuristic hair and makeup, moving in a reptilian creature-like way combined with the isolations and staccato movements of traditional belly dancing. They were out of this world!

All of the belly dancing groups were simply stunning to watch in their variety of styles, movements, colors and themes. This performance really upended my preconceived notions of what belly dance could be.


Saturday, January 31


This final program consisted of Polaris Dance Theater, Automal, and Polaris’s junior company, which performed a suite of six dances choreographed by M’Liss Quinnly and Gerard Regot.

Graft, choreographed by Automal’s artistic director, Kate Rafter, was danced by Paris Cannon, Ross Calhoun, Sara Himmelman, Ella Matweyou, Rafter, and Lauren Vermillion. This ritual-based inquiry into our human interconnectedness was demonstrated conceptually and physically using white Silly Putty to show connection, elasticity, recycling and replication, to name just a few concepts. The dancers began by repeatedly dropping the putty from one hand to another. They let gravity take over, allowing the putty to stretch out and fall behind their backs. They wrapped it around their necks and arms,  covered each other’s faces with it and poked holes in it. There was a sense of risk here as the putty was unpredictable, but the dancers handled it with calm, and the Silly Putty cooperated.

Automal's Paris Cannon and Ella Matweyou. Arnista Photography.

Automal’s Paris Cannon and Ella Matweyou. Arnista Photography.

The dancers – dressed in high-waisted, straight, full-length, stretchy skirts and crop tops in beige, off-white and black – moved around solemnly, quietly, and systematically, like high priestesses preparing for a ceremony. There were great moments of explosion when the group moved together, jumping and falling, stretching and pulling the skirts, making interesting and unusual shapes as they moved. I particularly liked the movement choices of Sara Himmelman and Ella Matweyou, because they approached the movement unadorned, without extra gestures or emotions, gliding seamlessly through the choreography with an internal focus that seemed fitting. In the end the Silly Putty was transformed into a larger form of a white cloth that slowly enveloped everyone on stage to the line “dull flame of desire” by Bjork, and the lights went out. Cosmic.

 Opportunities in Portland for choreographers to show work without having to produce the show themselves are few and far between. The Fertile Ground Festival is a perfect untapped opportunity for choreographers to do so without the expense of producing the entire show by themselves. Polaris was able to take only the first six companies that applied to Groovin’ Greenhouse, which makes me think this would be a great opportunity for other dance presenters in town to open their theaters and spaces to presenting new dance works as part of the Fertile Ground Festival in the future. Cheers to the future.


Groovin’ Greenhouse: where the dance is

Polaris hosts the biggest dance slice (but not the only one) of the Fertile Ground new works festival. Here's what's coming up.

Groovin’ Greenhouse, hosted by Polaris Dance Theater as part of the larger Fertile Ground festival of new works, is prime territory for festival dance followers, a sort of festival within the festival. It will showcase eight new works by emerging and established Portland-area dance companies, January 22-31 at Polaris’s in-house black box studio theater at 1501 SW Taylor St. Other significant dance projects are debuting during the festival, too, including Eric Nordin and Jessica Wallenfels’ The Snowstorm, which has already developed significant buzz, and Northwest Children’s Theatre’s The Jungle Book, which incorporates traditional Indian dance by Anita Menon.

Groovin' Greenhouse host company, Polaris Dance Theatre.

Groovin’ Greenhouse host company, Polaris Dance Theatre.

At Groovin’ Greenhouse:

Polaris Dance Theater, Jan, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31 @ 7:30pm

The Greenhouse’s host company will be performing a new work and score by Artistic Director Robert Guitron.

Automal, Jan. 29, 31 @ 7:30pm

Automal, a newish dance company directed by choreographer Kate Rafter, will be performing Graft, a primordial piece that involves Silly Putt and, explores symmetry in nature, replication, recycling and interconnection. Performers include Ross Calhoun, Kate Rafter, Sara Himmelman, Lauren Vermilion, Paris Cannon, and Ella Matweyou. Music will be made up of covers, arrangements, remixes and originals from Bjork’s 2007 Volta album, in addition to a commissioned rearrangement by Juliet Gordon.

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, Jan. 23, 24 @ 7:30pm

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, co-founded and directed by Suzanne Chi and Rachel Slater, is brand new to the Portland dance scene. It has commissioned a duet, The Servant, by Tracy Durbin, depicting the complexities of sisterly bonds. Also premiering is Slater’s West Rising Sun. Joined by Eliza Larson, the dancers pose the question, “What is happiness?” Joining Muddy Feet will be WolfBird Dance in an excerpt from its upcoming piece, Your Backwash is Better than Nothing.The Directors, Choreographers and Performers are Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones.

Art in Progress: Choreographers Collective, Jan 30 @ 7:30pm

Art in Progress is a collective of dancers and choreographers inspiring each other to create.The dances are generated by every member and brought to life collaboratively. Company Members include: Adrienne Kirk, Beca Rasch, Dustin Brown, Frieda Carlsen, Kelly Koltiska, and Rachel Swanson.

 Fanina Padykula, Heather Henna Louise and Emilie Lauren, Portland Bellydance Guild.

Fanina Padykula, Heather Henna Louise and Emilie Lauren, Portland Bellydance Guild.

The Portland Bellydance Guild, Jan. 24 @ 7:30pm

Elise Morris, director and president of The Portland Bellydance Guild, has brought together 18 dancers in four styles of belly dance. Playing off the light-and-shadow concept of chiaroscuro, they will represent folkloric, cabaret, tribal and tribal fusion styles. This newly formed guild hopes to unite Portland’s bellydancing community, promote artistic excellence, and demonstrate that belly dance in America can mean many different things.

PDX Dance Collective, Jan. 23, 24 @ 7:30pm

Cycle and Seek choreographed by Hannah Downs in collaboration with the members of the PDX Dance Collective, explores the way in which humans repeatedly run up against their own barriers.

Polaris Jr. Company, Jan. 21, 31 @ 7:30pm

Polaris Dance Theater’s second company, Polaris Jr., will perform works by Jr. Company Director M’Liss Stephenson and guest choreographer Gerard Regot. These works-in-progress will be performed in full in May.

NW Fusion Dance Company, Jan, 30 @ 7:30pm

Directed by Brad Hampton, this pre-professional dance company will perform new works by Elizabeth Bressler, Lauren Edson, and Mahina Moon exploring a range of music from the ’80s to opera.

Dance happenings in the larger Fertile Ground Festival

The Jungle Book, Jan. 31-March 1

The Jungle Book, at Northwest Children’s Theater, is adapted by Anita Menon, Sarah Jane Hardy, and John Ellingson, and directed by Hardy. Through the fusion of traditional Indian dances and western theater, this original adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s tales of Mowgli, the boy raised in the wild, is fantastically formed, with dancing wolves and high-energy Bollywood feats.

"The Snowstorm," at CoHo Theatre.

“The Snowstorm,” at CoHo Theatre.

The Snowstorm, Jan. 16-Feb 7

The Snowstorm is written by Eric Nordin, and directed and choreographed by Jessica Wallenfels, with musical direction and piano performance by Nordin. Presented by CoHo Production & Many Hats Collaboration, this physical theater production combines the classical piano music of Rachmaninoff, classical romance, puppetry and masks. Early audiences have been giving it rave reviews.

CoLevity in That’s How We Roll, Jan 24, 25, 31 @ 5 p.m., Feb 1 at 1 p.m.

Choreography is by the CoLevity Performance Group: Cami Curtis, Stephan Diaz, Hilary Hart and Blake Seidel. The company describes That’s How We Roll as satire in dance form, loosely based on the premise of an eccentric blend of characters in a large happy/unhappy family and told through dance, song, and spoken word.

News & Notes: Turner shakes things up; weekend dance & theater

Dance at Conduit, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris; a short double feature at Imago; 'Invasion! returns

When Grant Turner accepted his Special Achievement Award at the Drammy ceremonies Monday night, he advised the theater crowd to keep its ears tuned for an announcement “soon” about his future.

It didn’t take long.



On Tuesday morning, Portland Shakespeare Project announced that Turner will join the company as co-artistic director with co-founder Michael Mendelson. Turner founded Northwest Classical Theatre Company in 1998, and is resigning from that post because he’s moving to LaGrande in eastern Oregon, where his wife has taken a job, and Northwest Classical needs a full-time artistic leader in Portland. But he wanted to continue to do projects in Portland, and the Shakespeare Project, which Mendelson founded with Karen Rathje in 2011 as a summer program in the Artists Rep complex, seems a good fit.

Mendelson, who is also a core company member at Artists Rep, continues to be one of the busiest actors in town. And he credits Turner with some of the inspiration for founding his own company. “His inviting me to play Shylock in 2009 was a re-awakening of my passion for classic work and I have Grant to thank for that,” Mendelson said in a statement. “We have like minds in our faith in the words and the power of the text, and our different approaches to the material complement one another beautifully.”

Turner will help Northwest Classical make its transition to new leadership through the end of this year.


Which came first, the dancer or the choreographer? Friday through Sunday, Conduit Dance will host Co/Mission, an intriguing program of dance that flips the tables on the ordinary way of doing things. Four soloists will present a new work each – and each soloist chose a choreographer to set the piece on her, rather than the usual other way around. The show is produced by dancers Suzanne Chi and Jamuna Chiarini (a contributing writer to ArtsWatch), who’ll be joined by dancers Jen Hackworth and Rachel Slater. Choreographers taking up the challenge include veteran contemporary dance makers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, plus Lindsey Matheis and Franco Nieto, performing mainstays at Northwest Dance Project. Will the flip-flopped nature of the dancer/choreographer relationships make a difference? Let’s find out.


Matheis and Nieto, meanwhile, will be busy performing in the final weekend of Northwest Dance Project’s appealing and very strong season-ending program, Summer Splendors, at the company’s Mississippi District studios. If all goes as planned, it’ll be the company’s last program in that space before a projected move to a much bigger home on the close-in East Side. Final performances are Wednesday through Sunday; Saturday night’s show is sold out. I reviewed the program after last weekend’s opening.


"Homegrown" at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

“Homegrown” at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

Also finishing its two-weekend run will be Polaris Dance Theatre’s choreographers’ showcase, Homegrown. Artistic director Robert Guitron wanted to emphasize the work of local artists, so he charged each of his choreographers – himself, Gerard Regot, former Oregon Ballet Theatre star and interim artistic director Anne Mueller, and company dancers Kiera Brinkley, Briley Neugebauer, M’Liss Stephenson, and Blake Seidel – with finding a Portland musician or sound designer to create work for his or her new dance. In some cases, the search stopped close to home. Guitron wrote his own music, an easygoing, danceable piece called Moot. Regot wrote music for his own piece, and also for Brinkley’s nervous, edgy Post-Op, a down-in-the-trenches dance punctuated with hospital beeps. The most interesting soundtrack on the program may well be playwright Claire Willet’s memoir-like taped monologue One of Everything, for Neugebauer’s dance of the same name. Choreography and story are about growing up in a family of four siblings, and the attendant pleasures and pains of wherever you happen to land in the chronology. It made me think of Sibling Revelry, the sweet but pointed cabaret act of the singing sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway: all things equal, much better to have a sister than not.

The level of dancing at Polaris is less sophisticated than what you’ll find at the likes of BodyVox, Oregon Ballet Theatre, or Northwest Dance Project. But the company’s developed a true sense of community (in addition to a lot of work: Guitron says it’s introduced 304 new works, including pieces by 37 guest choreographers) and ways to connect with its audiences that other companies might emulate. Part of it is Guitron’s low-key, genuine friendliness in his brief talks with the audience. Another is the company’s simple acceptance, with utterly no sensationalizing, of all sorts of people as dancers. I first saw the terrific and wheelchair-using Yulia Arekelyan and Erik Ferguson of Wobbly Dance at a Polaris show. Current Polaris dancer Brinkley is a quadruple amputee, and she can be an electrifying performer. Another plus: Homegrown demystifies the dance process and pulls audience members into the company fold highly effectively by screening short video interviews (by Mike Dawson/Soulplay) with each choreographer before her or his dance takes the stage. It’s a humanizing, stress-relieving technique: audience members get to know a little bit about the dance makers and the dances, and it helps them relax and enjoy what follows.

Homegrown finishes its run with performances Friday through Sunday, June 13-15. Ticket and schedule information here.


Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in "Pimento" at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in “Pimento” at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

What are Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre up to these days? Fresh off of Allen Nause’s best-actor win at the Drammys for his Mouawad-directed performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Imago’s unveiling a very short run of an intriguing-looking double feature: Thornton Wilder’s rarely performed one-act metaphysical comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha; and Mouawad’s own Pimento, which features, in his words, “three clowns in innocent yet ‘accidentally’ lewd encounters.” We can only imagine – or catch the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15. One way or another, Mouawad’s experiments tend to be highly interesting. Ticket and schedule information here.


One of last year’s most audacious shows, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s satiric political comedy Invasion!, reopens Wednesday night right where it left off, onstage at Miracle Theatre. Director Antonio Sonera and his original cast – Gilberto Del Campo, Chantal DeGroat, John San Nicolas, and Nicole Accuardi – are back in the saddle, rocking the horse of expectation until it darned near tips over. Invasion! was the debut show of Badass Theatre Company, and as word of mouth grew it became a hit. A.L. Adams reviewed last year’s production for ArtsWatch, declaring, “I went from wanting to punch the actors, to wanting to hug them.” That’s quite an arc. The run continues through June 27. Ticket and schedule information here.

Del Camp, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in "Inasion!" last year. Russell J Young Photography

Del Campo, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in “Invasion!” last year. Russell J Young Photography




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