East Side scramble: enter the N.E.W.

As a heated real estate market intensifies the hunt for performance spaces, an arts entrepreneur and a real estate investment firm take over the old Zoomtopia

Real-estate bingo and the scramble for performance and studio spaces continue to do an awkward dance on Portland’s inner East Side, sometimes executing a neat two-step, sometimes stomping on each other’s toes.

Latest entry in the dance: the former Zoomtopia space at Southeast Eighth and Belmont, where a real-estate investment company and an arts entrepreneur appear to be enjoying a mutually beneficial tango: WYSE Real Estate Advisors gets a new headquarters, and dance teacher and producer Subashini Ganesan gets 3,000 square feet of studio and gathering space that’ll also be used by several other arts groups. What’s more, both parties are happy with the arrangement.

PICA's TBA 2014 workshop by Meryem Jazouli (Casablanca, Morocco) in Zoomtopia's Studio 2. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

PICA’s TBA 2014 workshop by Meryem Jazouli (Casablanca, Morocco) in Zoomtopia’s Studio 2. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

The deal struck for Zoomtopia, though less than the outright purchase Ganesan had originally hoped for, seems like a solid win for both parties, and it’s not the first one. In spite of development pressure and the loss of spaces such as the old Theater! Theatre! building on upper Belmont, which rendered more than a dozen performance groups temporarily homeless, a few other winners have emerged in the East Side dance.

Northwest Dance Project, squeezed out of its spot on the Mississippi Corridor, landed a bigger, better home space in the shadow of the Franz Bakery plant, just north of Burnside. Miracle Theatre and the nearby Imago Theatre, where Third Rail Rep will also take up residence in the fall, have solidified their East Side beachholds, creating vibrant small centers for performance. The tiny Shoebox Theatre and the Backdoor Theatre, a little room behind a coffee shop on Southeast Hawthorne, have helped define an East Side theatrical style: bare-bones, rough-and-tumble, experimental in a variety of ways. Shaking the Tree has planted a new, bigger flag on the East Side, Triangle Productions has pioneered performance on Sandy Boulevard, The Headwaters has colonized the far north, and multiple-studio buildings for visual artists and other creative workers now dot the inner East Side: indeed, they’ve been so successful that rents have begun creeping up, and artists, inevitably, are starting to look farther east and south in search of cheaper work spaces.

s_313The Central Eastside Industrial Zone, in particular, is under pressure, and the squeeze there ripples out to nearby areas. Hard by the Willamette River and only a short bridge-hop away from downtown, it’s being eyed increasingly as a potential gold mine for apartment and condo development – especially since Portland has one of the tightest housing vacancy rates in the nation.

So far, zoning stipulations and opposition from the light-manufacturing and warehouse businesses that have made a thriving industrial home there have kept things relatively quiet. (Information on the city planning bureau’s draft plan for the Southeast Quadrant is here.) But with the Rose District and the Oregon Convention Center to the north and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Portland Opera headquarters to the south, the land between is becoming more and more coveted for its development potential.

Add the rapid development of the long-slumbering nearby Lloyd District, and the heat’s starting to rise. People in the arts and creative fields who’ve found comfortable and relatively inexpensive quarters on the inner East Side are beginning to look nervously over their shoulders, wary of spiraling costs that would push them out – ironically, the same sort of feelings that blue-collar workers and business owners in the industrial area are having. Some artists are advocating live/work rezoning, which would allow actual loft living as opposed to the faux-loft apartments and condos in the Pearl District – in effect, they argue, creating a symbiotic relationship with the industrial and warehouse interests to keep a flexible status quo in the area, with some added residential use.

Other artists are beginning to toss around the risible words “rent control,” a term that not so very long ago, when Portland was known as the low-rent district of West Coast cities, would have been dismissed as both alien and outlandish. Rent control likely would face opposition from both developers, as a loss of potential market-rate returns, and the city, as a tax-revenue drain. And to control rent, you need to have rentals in the first place. As Chad Rheingold, a shareholder and vice president of WYSE, says: “The city is pretty clear that they don’t want housing in the Central Eastside Industrial Zone,” unless it’s on major thoroughfares, where it can be clustered.


Amid this overheated atmosphere, an intriguing meeting of commercial and creative minds is taking place at the old Zoomtopia space, across the street from Grand Central Bowl and close to the studios that Oregon Ballet Theatre is abandoning to move to the West Side’s South Waterfront district. Zoomtopia, the lively arts incubator founded and developed in 2010 by Carole Zoom, has emerged from uncertainty to become a dual-purpose space.


Dancing to the how and why of ‘It’

Katherine Longstreth and Christy Funsch find a beautiful way to the heart of women

Katherine Longstreth in "O Where." Photo: Marv Johnson

Katherine Longstreth in “O Where.” Photo: Marv Johnson


What is the “it” in “The How and the Why of It,” the title that Katherine Longstreth and San Francisco choreographer  Christy Funsch bestowed on their new show, which opened in Studio 2 at Zoomtopia on Thursday night?

In the highly detailed, beautifully clear movement of Longstreth and Funsch, as well as New York-based dancer and filmmaker Kelly Bartnik, “it” reveals itself as a “way” — the way women think, the way they move, the way they cope, the way they love, the way they find strength, the way they suffer, the way they take all of the above and make it into art.

The show begins with “Reins,” a film made by Geoffrey Ehrlich and Bartnik, that has been screened at a number of festivals, and sets the evening’s introspective mood. Bartnik walks down a city street, has a glass of wine, encounters some bones arranged at the center of what might be a mandala, goes to a ladies’ room, sits on the toilet, watches projections of her dancing self (Doppelgangers, they’re called in the program), looks at herself in the mirror, goes up to the building’s roof.  I am urban, I am human, I am an artist, this film seems to be saying.

In “O What,” a solo choreographed by Longstreth, Funsch – after playing with a flashlight, shining it around the darkened space to the strains of “O What a Beautiful Mornin,” – rises slowly from a bed of artificial turf, a fluffy crinoline at one end, stretching her arms, seeing if they function, moving one shoulder in a small circle, shrugging at one point with considerable elegance. Some of the movement is finely detailed, and much of it is expansive, although there is little traveling, as Funsch thinks about the day ahead of her, then returns to the turf, gets down on all fours and rests her chin on the scratchy stuff.  The day might not be so beautiful, after all.

There is an immediate bleed into “O Where” and Longstreth’s gorgeous performance of her own choreography.  It starts with a slow, musical walk, to Dvorak, fingers flowing like sea anemones, her movement self-contained and gentle.  Then she sinks to the floor, rolls, pushes herself against the floor on one side, is on her feet, performing a deep arabesque, her black-clad legs seeming endless.  She removes the white tailcoat she’s wearing and folds it, slowly, precisely, the way flags are folded at military funerals. Throughout the piece she uses her face as well as her body in a performance that is simultaneously theatrical and introverted.

Christy Funsch. Photo: Lydia Daniller

Christy Funsch. Photo: Lydia Daniller

Funsch, who has been working with Longstreth since they met in graduate school in the early 1990s at Arizona State, next performed her solo, “Moving Still(s).” The two have a shared aesthetic sensibility, and both are gorgeous dancers, but Funsch’s style in this piece is quite different.  It begins with her standing with her arms raised, her elbows over her ears, then she slowly puts her hands over her eyes—something terrible has happened. The music (a soundscape of music by several composers, designed by Alex Keitel) becomes jittery as all get-out. So does Funsch’s dancing: fingers shake, hips jerk, she falls to the floor. As the sound gets jazzy, so does she, dancing with the only real playfulness in the show, noodling around as if she’s alone in the studio, then scooting  along the studio floor on her bottom, reminding me of Eliot’s lines in “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock” – “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” The solo is in many ways a tour de force, a meticulously detailed performance, in which Funsch seems completely unaware of the audience, but nevertheless connects.

Longstreth’s “Narrative Medicine” ends the show on a fascinating, poignant note. It will resonate with anyone who has been through the diagnostic process themselves, or with someone they love, and speaks volumes as well about the friendship of women, perhaps because it is danced by two women, Bartnik and the choreographer. It begins with the two dancers on opposite sides of the stage, holding big wooden spools (originally for electrical cable), props that are integral to the choreography. Each, rolling a spool, walks toward the center of the space in silence, where they meet, place the spools on their sides and sit on them, facing each other. They use their hands to communicate, in a rhythmic, elegant little dance. Next, Longstreth walks to the front of the space to read something on a cloth rectangle suspended from the ceiling, probably an X-ray, using a pencil light, which she then uses to “examine” Bartnik, who is now lying on the two spools – like, thank you Mr. Eliot, “a patient etherised upon a table.” Then suddenly, to some ominous music, the two are again on opposite sides of the space, shoving the spools at each other extremely aggressively. Bartik pulls strings from Longstreth’s costume, and hangs onto them. Then they link hands and pull each other around in jumping, heaving movement, every jump and every heave imploring, Do not leave me. It’s a stunning expression of helplessness and vulnerability.  And affirmation.

Jeff Forbes’ lights, Rochelle Waldie’s costumes, and for the last piece, the textile design by Jen Hurley, all contributed to a highly theatrical, polished show.


There are two more chances to see this show, Friday and Saturday nights (May 17-18), before it goes to San Francisco the end of the month. Ticket information is here.

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