The Portland Ballet

ArtsWatch Weekly: Steampunk Sweeney, award season begins

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

It’s a brilliant beginning. Sitting in the audience you’re not quite sure whether it’s part of the music or some Victorian version of an emergency air raid warning: that long sharp shriek of a whistle that pierces the air and just keeps on slicing like the blade on a piece of heavy machinery run amok. Then the orchestra barges dissonantly in, and the chorus raises a clangor, and you’re attending the tale of Sweeney Todd, the closest thing the world of musical theater and opera has to a steampunk antihero.

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Cory Weaver

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Cory Weaver

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which has two performances left on Thursday and Saturday at Portland Opera in a production featuring the magnetic bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Sweeney and Susannah Mars as the ghoulishly pragmatic Mrs. Lovett, is a musical tale grounded in the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, under whose disruptive rules and relentless sway we still live even if the rough promise it ushered in has taken on the aspect of a ghost revolution. Sweeney! Sweeney! He’s our conscience, our warning, our mirror. Plus, he sings. And that steampunk shriek keeps coming back now and again, just to remind us of what special brand of seductive, human-devised hell we’ve entered.

ArtsWatch reviewers Bruce and Daryl Browne took in a Sunday afternoon performance when the temperature outside was a sweltering 100 degrees, and report an almost-full house. “Perhaps they came in from the “city on fire” in shorts and spaghetti straps because they wanted to see great musical theater,” they write. “Maybe this was their very first opera production. Or they came because it was Steven Sondheim’s grisly musical-turned-opera, a tale of moral decay across classes with magnetic appeal to a diversity of theater goers. But aye, we ought not worry about the why. Just know that Portland Opera conjured the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim and those present were treated to a stunning afternoon of entertainment and artistry.” Read the full review here.

 


 

PAMTA, PAMTA, WHO’S GOT THE PAMTA? If it’s June, this must be theater award season. The Tonys arrive in New York this Sunday, June 12, complete with national television audience. Portland’s Drammys follow up on June 27 in the Newmark Theatre. And last night, Monday, the PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – kicked things off with a big bash in the Winningstad Theatre.

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Dance Cuba, dance America

Malpaso Dance's season-ending show for White Bird and The Portland Ballet's career-beginning performances for its young dancers cross the cultural divide

What is specifically Cuban about the Malpaso Dance Company, which concluded White Bird’s 2015-16 season at the Schnitzer Concert Hall last Wednesday night, shortly before The Portland Ballet‘s annual shows (see below) over the weekend at Lincoln Performance Hall?

I asked a friend who has been to Havana, though not in the recent past, and she listed the following: “the men’s long hair; the street clothing was likely what you would see young people wearing in Havana; and the rhythm – swaying hips and loose limbs were very Cuban.”

Malposo Dance: long hair, loose limbs. Photo courtesy White Bird

Malpaso Dance: long hair, loose limbs. Photo courtesy White Bird

That hip-slung, loose-limbed movement style, and the street wear, get announced, as they should be, in the first piece on the program. Ocaso is a duet performed by the long-haired Osnel Delgado and Beatriz Garcia.  He’s wearing bright yellow trousers; she’s in a simple, dark dress. But Delgado, a company founder, who made the piece, chose music that could have been used by any contemporary or ballet choreographer in today’s world: a sound collage of Autechre’s Parallel Sun, the Kronos Quartet’s White Man Sleeps, and Max Richter’s Sunlight. Globalization struck the dance world long ago, and Cuba has only been isolated from the United States, let’s not forget.

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Dance Weekly: Dancers are from everywhere

This week: A month-long celebration of many Asian cultures through music and dance and new works by new companies

The beautiful, transitional month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This month was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10,1869 (the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants).

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland will be hosting a month-long celebration with performances every Saturday and Sunday by local cultural organizations and dance troupes representing India, Nepal, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawaii/Pacific Islands and more.

This weekend China, Nepal, Indonesia and Cambodia will be represented by the Vancouver Jasmine Dance Troupe, Dance Mandal, Haiyan International Dance Academy, Cambodian Dance Troupe of Oregon, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, and our very own ArtsWatcher Brett Campbell will be playing Saturday the 21st with Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan. This promises to be an exceptional experience. Check out the schedule for more information on all of the upcoming performances

Performances this week

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Victoria Chen performing the Chinese water sleeve dance as part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
May 1-29
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everette St
See above.

Malposa Dance Company
Presented by White Bird Dance
7:30 pm May 4
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Visiting Portland for the first time and closing out White Bird’s 18th season, this Havana-based dance company was started in 2012 by Osnel Delgado, Dailedys Carrazana and Fernando Saéz. It mixes Cuban folklore with ballet and modern dance. The ten-member company will be performing three pieces Wednesday night only: Ocaso, choreographed by Artistic Director Osnel Delgado; Under Fire, choreographed by Trey McIntyre; and 24 hours and a dog, by Osnel Delgado with live music by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

The Portland Ballet om Trey McIntyre's Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The Portland Ballet in Trey McIntyre’s Half-life. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The Portland Ballet’s Spring Concert
May 5-7
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave
This annual spring concert danced by the students of The Portland Ballet will feature a wide range of styles from contemporary to classical with highlights from Trey McIntyre’s Half-Life, a raucus ballet choreographed to the music of Queen; the world premier of Gregg Bielemeier’s Separate Times (Similar To But Different Than); with an original score by Jeremy Reinhold; and Jason Davis’ Ochos Niñas en Rojo, to fandangos by the San Francisco Guitar Quartet. Also being performed will be George Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie with music by Glinka, Anne Mueller’s adaptation of Marius Petipa’s romantic Raymonda Suite, and Jason Davis’ Simplicity to Chopin originally choreographed in 2012.

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

I Just Want One Tiny Thing, And I Talk Too Much
WolfBird Dance
May 5-7
Studio Two at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont, # 2
Co-directed by Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones, WolfBird Dance will perform an evening-length piece introspectively looking at the violence present in the creative process and the pain it takes to birth new ideas. “Thematically razing and remaking, devouring and constructing, six dancers trap themselves inside the fight of the creative subconscious to actualize its intent.”

Dance Wire Dance Passport participant. Click for details.

Photographer: Mercy McNab — with Joanna Hardy, Emily Schultz, Briley Neugebauer, Billy Bork and Mercy McNab

PDX Contemporary Ballet. Dancers are Joanna Hardy, Emily Schultz, Briley Neugebauer, Billy Bork and Mercy McNab. Photo by Mercy McNab.

From Within
PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 6-8
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St
To dance or not to dance is the question that many dancers ask themselves when things do not go as planned. Combining poetry, the solo sounds of the cello by Hannah Hillebrand of Northwest Piano Trio, and a tenacious group of ballet dancers, PDX CB choreographers and dancers will explore what makes them want to dance in the face of opposition. The company will be performing new works by choreographers Matt Cichon, Sari Hoke, Joanna Hardy, Briley Neugebauer, Samantha Schilke and Alexandra Schooling.

Noontime Showcase: OBT2
Advanced students of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
12:00pm May 9
Antoinette Hatfield Hall rotunda, 1111 SW Broadway
As part of Portland’5 Centers initiative to make the performing arts accessible to everyone, the centers offer free noontime showcases by different performing arts groups from around Portland. As part of this program the pre-professional dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre 2, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s training program, directed by Lisa Sundstrom, will perform excerpts from August Bournonville’s Napoli, which was performed earlier in the season by the main company, along with several other works to be announced at the performance.

FormosaCircusArt2-438x400

Formosa Circus Art. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

Formosa Circus Art
Presented by The Taiwanese Association of Greater Portland
7:30pm May 10
Antoinette Hatfield Hall, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Hailing all the way from Taiwan, this 12-member troupe prides themselves on sharing the rich cultures of Taiwan while pushing the boundaries of the traditional circus, combining acrobatics, stunts, street dance, juggling, drumming,martial arts and extreme endurance with contemporary issues in a contemporary setting.

Coming up next week

May 12, WE’RE FROM HERE: 3 PDX dancers/film and performance, presented by KBOO Community Radio
May 12-21, EXPOSED!, Polaris Dance Theatre
May 14, Props to Bellydance!, Ruby Beh and Co.
May 14, Renée vs.The Rectangle and Oh, there you are, Nickels Sunshine and Renée Archibald
May 14-15, Coppelia, Portland Festival Ballet
May 20-21, TRACES, Sara Naegelin and Mark Koenigsberg
May 20-21, HAVA | חוה, The Holding Project
May 20-22, Now Then: A Prologue, Allie Hankins

Remembering Robert Huffman

Rehearsing with the longtime ballet pianist, who has died at 78, was like having a concert pianist and an inspiring artistic partner in the studio

By GAVIN LARSEN

The dance studios of Portland are dimmer, and more hushed, following the passing of Robert Huffman at age 78 on January 16 after a brief illness. Pianist, accompanist, performer, comedian, friend, confidant, mentor, and inspiration to many generations of dancers and teachers, Robert leaves us poorer, yet richer for the wisdom, characteristic wit, vibrancy and love that defined his life.

Nancy Davis, artistic director of The Portland Ballet (where Robert was principal accompanist since the school’s inception in 2001), considered him to be Russian at heart, and savored his playing of Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Khachaturian. Carol Shults, who taught classes with Robert at the piano since the mid-‘80s, will always think of him as French because of his delicious interpretations of Debussy. And Nick Jurica, a former TPB student now studying at Juilliard, says he learned to love and appreciate Ravel thanks to Robert’s music. Who knows how many other identities this one musician adopted with the countless dancers and teachers who experienced his accompaniment over the decades.

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet's "La Boutique." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

Robert Huffman at rehearsal for The Portland Ballet’s “La Boutique.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2010

The list of schools and companies where Robert worked includes every iteration of what is now Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Jefferson Dancers, Northwest Academy, and Whitman College. But his music reached much further than this region: an abbreviated roster of important ballet world figures who taught to Robert’s music includes Mark Morris, Keith Saunders, Trey McIntyre, Alonzo King, Melissa Hayden, Paul Sanasardo, Ed Kresley, Denise Dabrowski, Gelsey Kirkland, and Jacques D’Amboise.

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Mother Goose in pointe shoes

The Portland Ballet's annual holiday show finds the charm in John Clifford's fairy-tale choreography

Gentle, calm, basically peaceful (except when danger is present in Maurice Ravel’s gorgeous music and the narrative), John Clifford’s choreographic rendering of Mother Goose contains many charms. As performed by the young dancers of The Portland Ballet at the Sunday matinee in the company’s annual Thanksgiving weekend showcase at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall, it delivers a subtle, reassuring message at a time when we are otherwise bombarded by marketers in celebration of the miracle of the Hannukah lights and the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Photo courtesy The Portland Ballet

Photo courtesy The Portland Ballet

Ravel’s best-known scores for ballet are Bolero and La Valse. But the first one he did, in 1912, was Ma Mère l’oye (Mother Goose), originally for piano, then orchestrated for a production at the Theȃtre des Arts in Paris. The stories told in this ballet, in broad, brief choreographic strokes  are Jules Perrault’s versions of Sleeping Beauty,  Beauty and the Beast,  Tom Thumb (aka Hop ‘o My Thumb), and The Princess of the Pagodas. The action is framed as a young girl’s dream, and transitions are made with Mother Goose, toy goose tucked under her arm, summoning the characters.

The curtain rises on one of the loveliest sets I’ve ever seen, designed by Portland artist Liliya Drubetskaya. The young dreamer, danced on Sunday afternoon by Sophia Dahlstrom, is seated in an armchair, reading a large book. The armchair faces a large window overlooking a lush garden—this is not a winter’s tale. The child falls asleep, the chair is pulled offstage, and Sleeping Beauty begins with a group of coltish courtiers playing badminton and the extremely gifted Medea Cullumbine-Robertson deploying her pointes as Aurora.  The music darkens, the lights (designed by Michael Mazzola) do as well, Aurora has a close encounter with the wicked fairy’s spindle, and is deposited on an elaborate bed.

Next up is a different Beauty, the dark-haired Kerridwyn Schanck, dancing an eloquent pas de deux with guest artist Josh Murry, a member of BodyVox, who also reprised the role of Gerard, the desperate shopkeeper in The Fantastic Toyshop, which closed the program. Ravel’s music for Beauty and the Beast is particularly lovely, emotionally and rhythmically complex; and the playing throughout Mother Goose of the PSU Orchestra, under the baton of Ken Selden, was as heartfelt and skillful as the dancing.

Lights and slide projections then take our dreamer and the audience to a dense forest, with a corps de ballet of cleverly costumed trees. Generally speaking it’s the wind that choreographs trees, but the kids in this training company did their charming best. Emily Rapp, swooping down in a canary-yellow wig and pointe shoes on the bread crumbs that little Thumb had dropped in order to find his way home again, thoroughly inhabited the greedy bird’s character and displayed fine technique.

Given my dislike of the artificial cuteness of the Chinese divertissement in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, I dreaded the concluding Princess of the Pagodas. But Clifford is to be commended for at no time in this ballet descending into what the British call twee. The corps of red-clad Chinese servants does some acrobatics; and Nick Jurica, as the snake, did lose his balance finishing his pirouettes à la seconde. But more experienced dancers than he have done that. And Charlotte Logeais, who has beautiful legs and feet and increasingly fine-tuned technique, made a regal princess–and a fiercely kind Blue Fairy in Toyshop.

Mother Goose ends with the dreamer reunited with her parents, costumed ’50s style (no jeans for Mom in this ballet; she’s wearing a dress, and Dad is in slacks and shirt). In a reassuring show of togetherness, the curtain goes down on them reading Mother Goose, the book.  The gifted Mary Muhlbach was responsible for these costumes, and with Jane Staugas Bray, for Toyshop‘s as well.

The Portland Ballet has been performing Clifford’s Toyshop for about a decade, and the tale of an impoverished shopkeeper and his longsuffering wife, the accidentally locked-in children and the toys that come to life, contains many roles that offer opportunities for ballet students at all levels to display their dancing and acting skills. On Sunday, it was 10-year-old Andrew Davis–son of The Portland Ballet’s Jason Davis, ballet master and school principal, and the youngest Pinocchio I’ve seen–who stole the show. His joy in being on stage was palpable, his comic timing impeccable. I missed Alexandrous Ballard doing the Cossack dance, and the Giselle doll’s over-the-top makeup distracted the viewer from Delphine Chang’s perfectly good display of Romantic technique, but Lauren Grover as the Soldier Girl danced with considerable flair and polish. And the PSU Orchestra played well the Rossini-Respighi score that accompanies this Ballet Russes chestnut.

Dance notes: a big bash in Hillsdale

Portland Ballet hammers down on a major expansion, plus Linda Austin's 30th, Conduit, NW Dance Project

The Portland Ballet studio in action. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The Portland Ballet studio in action. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

On Wednesday, the hammers started swinging in Hillsdale.

“We just began yesterday and put a fence around it,” Jim Lane said Wednesday afternoon. “And today they started knocking down walls. Pretty exciting.”

The “it” with the new fence and battered walls is the studios and offices of The Portland Ballet, which is tucked beneath Wilson High School in the anchor corner of  a vibrant shopping strip in the Southwest Portland neighborhood. Lane is managing director of the dance academy and youth performance company that he and his wife, artistic director Nancy Davis, founded in 2001 as Pacific Artists Ballet. They set up shop in the former Fulton Dairy garage in the Hillsdale Shopping Center, and things have been prospering since.

Now, after a dozen years, the company’s having a $170,000 growth spurt. It’s reconfiguring some of its existing space and building out, expanding from 3,500 square feet to 6,100. That includes a new entry, offices, dressing rooms and storage space, but most essentially a new large studio, giving the school three studios. At 1,100 square feet the new studio will be smaller than the existing main studio but considerably bigger than the second studio. “It’ll allow us to bring in more younger kids,” Lane said. “It’ll help us broaden our base.”

The project’s on a tight schedule, aiming for a reopening by September 16, when the next nine-month curriculum program will begin. And it’s mostly paid for already, with $30,000 still to be raised. Major funding has come from a $70,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, with $20,000 from the Meyer Memorial Trust, $10,000 from the Collins Foundation, $20,000 from board members and some anonymous matching challenge gifts. In addition, the academy’s landlord, Ardys Braidwood, has promised a five-year rental break while the company restabilizes after its expansion. “She’s actually been quite an angel for us,” Lane said.

Lane and Davis were both principal dancers at Los Angeles Ballet in the 1970s and early ’80s, and have kept a strong relationship with LAB founder John Clifford, who was a New York City Ballet principal and choreographer when Davis was a scholarship student at the company’s School of American Ballet in 1966. Clifford has set ballets on the Portland company and works with the young dancers often. PB grads have gone on to prominent professional schools and companies across the country, from San Francisco Ballet School to Israel’s internationally touring Batsheva Dance Company. The faculty includes such leading Portland dance figures as Zachary Carroll, Michelle Davis, Elizabeth Guerin, and Josie Moseley.

Portland Ballet has about 150 students in its curriculum program, plus another 150 who attend open classes. Those numbers should grow significantly with the expansion. In the meantime, summer programs continue. They’ll be housed temporarily a couple of miles away, at the former home of Portland Festival Ballet, 4620 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

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LINDA AUSTIN’S “REACH:30”

On July 2, 1983, Linda Austin gave her first public performance as a dancer. And for the past 30 years, she’s just kept going, through a lengthy stint in New York and an even longer time in Portland. This weekend – Thursday through Sunday, July 27-30 – she’ll celebrate her 30 years of provocative, individualistic, searching, and sometimes funny contemporary dance with “Reach:30,” at Performance Works NW, the Southeast Portland studio she runs with partner Jeff Forbes. The program will include that very first piece – “An Atrocity Exhibition in Two Parts,” which she’ll perform with guest Todd Ayoung – and a new solo, “Three Trick Pony,” with set by artist David Eckard and music by Doug Theriault. The 30-year celebration will wind up Monday night, July 1, with a performance by Ayoung and a bash called “WE: Only the PARTY will save the PEOPLE.” Details on both are here.

 

CONDUIT’S TWIN BILL

It’s a busy summer at Conduit dance center on Southwest Yamhill downtown, beginning with performances Friday and Saturday, June 28-29. of “Swimming in Green,” by Ohio’s Merge Dance Project. Merge just happens to include as a member Sandra Mathern, twin sister of one of Portland’s foremost contemporary dance figures, Conduit’s Tere Mathern. Sandra, according to Conduit, does collaborative work “characterized by real-time composition, video and interactive media and inquisitive movement born of natural forces acting on the body.”

Then things gear up for Conduit’s annual Dance + Performance Festival, July 11-13 and 18-20. Its eight performers/projects will feature work by Jessica Hightower, Michelle Fujii, Linda K. Johnson and others. Details on both are available on the Conduit Web site.

 

PRETTY CREATIVES

Meanwhile, over in the North Mississippi district, the adventurous Northwest Dance Project is getting ready to leap into its annual “Pretty Creatives” program, featuring new works created on the company’s dancers by choreographers chosen in competition. This year’s winners are Vancouver, B.C.-based Simone Orlando, a former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and Ballet BC; and Shanghai-born Yin Yue, who now has her own contemporary dance company in New York. There’ll be two public performances on Saturday, July 20, and tickets usually go pretty fast. Details are here.

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