Urban Bush Women

Urban Bush Women: hep and sweet

The dance legends triumph at White Bird. Next up: Dance Theatre of Harlem and tapper Michelle Dorrance


“Hep Hep Sweet Sweet.” Those four twinned words—joyful, dancing words—made up the title of the first piece on Urban Bush Women‘s recent program in White Bird’s Uncaged series at the Newmark, and they capture something of the spirit and energy that are the hallmarks of the company.

Choreographer and all-around wonder-woman Jawole Willa Jo Zollar founded Urban Bush Women in 1987—making this UBW’s 30th anniversary season—and from the start the group has been devoted to using African-American dance forms to make work that is both superb art and a force for social change. That devotion to political action is only one aspect of what makes the Bush Women not just a dance company but also a national treasure. UBW’s ability to create dances that can encompass story, memoir, autobiography, music, humor, tragedy, speech, and song (the dancers will regularly knock your socks off with their vocalizing) challenges our notions of what dance can be. The company’s vision of the art form is so expansive, so unconcerned with the usual boundaries, that you realize anew how rich and challenging dance can actually be.

Photo courtesy Urban Bush Women

Photo courtesy Urban Bush Women

All of the company’s virtues were on display in Hep Hep Sweet Sweet. The work is an evocation of Zollar’s memories of her own family—in particular her parents—during the period of the Great Migration, when massive numbers of African Americans moved from the rural South to the cities of the North looking for a better future. Zollar’s parents, like so many others fleeing poverty and violent racism, made their way from Alabama and Texas to Kansas City, where her mother eventually found work singing in the city’s many nightclubs.

Hep Hep Sweet Sweet is set in a fictional version of one of those nightclubs and weaves Zollar’s often poetic memories, which are heard in her own recorded narration, with lush jazz and pop ranging from Charlie Parker to Dinah Washington. The piece comes on all sequins and spangles and explosive, joyous energy. The dancers move through an encyclopedia of African American dance idioms of the 1930s to the early 1950s, all of which are somehow seamlessly melded together. We see UBW’s famous ensemble work here (the six company members in this piece move as if they’d started dancing together right out of the cradle), each woman an individual but seeming to love joining together with the rest. Whether they are banging out a series of rhythmically sharp tap-derived steps or whirling through a sort of deconstructed Lindy Hop, they form a tight unit.


Dance Weekend: Urban Bush Women and much more

A-Wol Dance Collective, Linda Austin, Kalabharathi School of Dance, PICA, Jefferson Dancers, PDX Dance Collective

Spring is the season of renewed energy and new life and out of this comes abundance and a whole lot of dance. If you’re wondering where the Portland dance community was during the winter and the larger community as well? It was in the studio. If you need a dance fix every night of the week then you can have it from tonight through Monday. Dance, dance, dance, dance and more dance.

Urban Bush Women
8 pm Thursday-Saturday April 9-11
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Directed by Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, this New York City based contemporary dance company, celebrating its 30th year, focuses on the energy, vitality and boldness of the African American community. The company will present three pieces in a ninety-minute program, featuring music by Coltrane, Count Basie, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Bernice Johnson Reagon and live music.

Urban Bush Women perform at White Bird this weekend./Photo by Rick McCullough

Urban Bush Women perform at White Bird this weekend./Photo by Rick McCullough

(Un)Made Solo Relay #2
8 pm Friday and Saturday
Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
Stage two of Linda Austin’s new multi-year project that functions like a great game of telephone. “In Leg #1, Linda Austin played with timing and tangential realities in a solo brimming with unpredictable perceptual, physical, textual and emotional currents. Plus just a few objects! Now it’s Jin Camou and Keyon Gaskin’s turn. In Leg #2 they perform their own perfectly imperfect versions of the solo, playing out what they have remembered, misremembered and adapted in this pass-along relay–the first stage of Austin’s long term project (Un)Made.”

A-Wol performs this weekend.

A-Wol performs this weekend.

Closed Doors: A-Wol Dance Collective
April 9th-12th
513 NE Schuyler St. Portland, OR. 97212
In a new, original aerial dance production, A-Wol invites the audience to go where you’re not always allowed: behind closed doors. They will expose audiences to a unique portrayal of those things that happen when we think we are safe behind our walls. “From obsessive rituals to embarrassing feelings to surreal behaviors, A-WOL’s collective Pandora’s Box is about to be opened for all to see… “

Creative Exchange Lab: Meet the Artists
3 pm Sunday, April 12
PICA, 415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300
Happy Hour and Conversation. Meet the first round of artists selected to be part of PICA’s new Creative Exchange Lab and residency. The Creative Exchange Lab promotes peer exchange and artistic exploration across genres. Join in for discussion and an informal reception with choreographer Wally Cardona (New York) and dancer Myint Mo, (Myanmar), visual artists Jibade-Khalil Huffman (Los Angeles) and Dawn Kasper (New York), composer and musician Holcombe Waller (Portland), and performance artist Lucy Lee Yim (Portland).

Trust Rhythm
7:30pm Friday and Saturday April, 10-11
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St.Suite 9
PDX Dance Collective, a contemporary dance company, presents “Trust Rhythm,” an evening of new works created out of experimentation and improvisation featuring tap dancing as the musical score.

Noontime Showcase: Jefferson Dancers
noon Monday, April 13
Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway
The Jefferson Dancers, a talented group of high school dancers from Portland’s renowned performing arts high school, Jefferson High School, will be performing excerpts from their upcoming concert as part The Portland’s Centers for the Arts Noontime Showcase series.

Nalacharitham-Kathakali Dance Drama
7pm Friday, April 10
St. Mary’s Academy, 1615 SW Fifth Ave
Presented by the Kalabharathi School of Dance, directed by Sri. Sadanam P.V. Balakrishnan, this large ensemble of dancers and musicians from Kerala India, will perform Nalacharitham, a romantic story from the Mahabharata to live percussion. Kathakali is a form of classical Indian dance drama from south India that specializes in elaborate costumes and makeup with refined hand gestures. English subtitles will be projected to assist in the enhancement of the viewing experience.

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