Brandy Guthery

2019 Ambassador Brandy Guthery

Laura Onizuka: (00:03)

Hi, this is Laura Onizuka, and I am the Ambassador Chair with Dance Wire in Portland, Oregon. I’m here with Brandy Guthery. It is November 20th, 2019, and we are going to talk about her life and career in dance as part of our Artist Stories Series with our Dance Wire ambassadors. Welcome, Brandy. To get started, can you give me an overview of all of your current titles?

Brandy Guthery: (00:31)

That’s a lot. Within the dance world, I am one of the artistic directors with A-WOL Dance Collective. I also run the marketing PR side of that organization as well. I am a coach and choreographer for the Clackamas Cavalettes, which is a varsity high school dance team. Then outside of the dance world, I also work with a property management company and manage a small building in Southeast Portland.

Laura Onizuka: (01:03)

Wow, yes, that’s a lot. Well, let’s focus on the dancing. Can you tell me when you started dancing?

Brandy Guthery: (01:14)

I started dancing probably a little bit later than most, I didn’t really start dancing until I was about nine or 10, before that I thought I was gonna be an Olympic gymnast. And then when I grew too large for that, ballet was the way to go. I started when I was about 10 doing ballet in Tampa, Florida, and then I got a scholarship to come and dance in Oregon Ballet, the School of Oregon Ballet Theater. So, my mother and I moved here in the mid nineties, and I haven’t left. I danced with Oregon Ballet Theater for a couple years, did some stuff with Portland Opera, then eventually found my way to my other current director and the aerial world in the early 2000s.

Laura Onizuka: (02:06)

Cool. How did you get into Ariel?

Brandy Guthery: (02:10)

I was doing a Portland Opera and there was a woman there who was starting to do some trapeze classes with Pendulum, and she thought that I would like it. And I thought, yeah, I’ll go try a class, something different. And there I met Jen and Stacey and Julie, which are the other co-founders of A-WOL and we loved it, and we all formed a company with Pendulum. We were with Pendulum for a couple years and it was amazing and we all decided we wanted to do our own thing. We were in our early twenties and we wanted to do something that we enjoyed with the music that we enjoyed and the style. And so we branched off and started A-WOL, 17, 18 years ago? I don’t wanna date myself too much, but yes. Now what it is today, I don’t think we had a vision, we didn’t envision that 17 years ago.

Laura Onizuka: (03:10)

That’s cool. What do you feel dance has meant to you or means to you in your life?

Brandy Guthery: (03:21)

I need that creative outlet. My entire adult life I’ve always had a corporate job as well, and I need that balance in my life. I like both sides of it. And so that has really helped me enjoy other aspects of my life, knowing that I get that creative side. For me growing up, I really think it saved me in a lot of ways. I feel like without dance, I would’ve probably gotten in more trouble in my teen years. I had a little bit more free time on my hands, I may have gotten into some trouble. So it kept me out of that, because I just didn’t have time for it. And I was so focused on furthering my career and being a better dancer and a better student that it kept me away from trouble.

Laura Onizuka: (04:17)


Brandy Guthery: (04:19)

And it moved me to Portland, which is a big deal. I mean, I can’t imagine. I miss having my family around me in Florida, but I can’t imagine my life had I not ventured to Portland in the mid nineties and fell in love with it and moved here.

Laura Onizuka: (04:33)

Does anybody or your mom still live in Portland?

Brandy Guthery: (04:37)

No, she lived here until I graduated high school. She moved here with me to support me, which was fantastic. But as soon as I was an adult, she needed to go back to the sun.

Laura Onizuka: (04:50)

I get that. How about challenges that you faced in your pursuit of dance and that could be as a dancer or with your company?

Brandy Guthery: (05:07)

Well, currently it’s a blessing and a curse having A-WOL. I love Portland because there’s so many different art organizations, aerialist dancers, jugglers, musicians. We have so many arts here, which I love, but it’s also hard because there’s so many different other companies that you’re competing against in a way. And it’s finding what makes you stand out, and what makes you different, and the nice thing is everybody is so unique here. I feel like we’re constantly trying to find our place in the world, in Portland, in the dance world. So it’s a blessing and curse.

Laura Onizuka: (05:59)

What resources have helped you the most? And again, as a dancer and or as a company owner.

Brandy Guthery: (06:14)

The dance world here is so small, so really it’s just continuing to keep your relationships with people. Because again, that’s how I found aerial. I can’t imagine if had I not done the Portland Opera and then met Judy who introduced me to aeriel who introduced me to Pendulum who introduced me to Jen and, and Stacey and Julie. And so I think it’s really just keeping relationships with people in the dance world, that have been my resources. If you need to know where a dance class is or anything like that, it’s just knowing people in the industry and they’re all very helpful.

Laura Onizuka: (06:55)

Do you feel like you know a lot of dancers from different genres?

Brandy Guthery:

Yeah. And especially as you get older.

Laura Onizuka: (07:08)

Your circle grows, right? What stage do you feel like you’re at in your career and, how to move forward, and what goals do you have?

Brandy Guthery: (07:22)

I feel like I am starting to wind down my performance phase, which is sad in a way, as you get older and as your body’s changing and my goals are changing. Specifically within our current company is we’ve just got such good talent coming up and they’re just so young and their bodies do amazing things. And so, I’m at the point where I’m starting to step away from being on the stage. And it’s a while it’s a little sad, I’m very excited about that kind of transitioning into that next real. So I feel I’m in that phase now where I’m not quite ready, but I’m seeing myself get more excited to be behind the scenes, and just be behind the scenes.

Laura Onizuka: (08:11)

That’s cool that you can make it gradual, but also have such a connection to where you’re still involved with dance no matter if you’re performing.

Brandy Guthery: (08:27)

Right. I think that is the nice thing about having a company that you’re a director of, I kind of get to dictate that a little bit, and that makes the transition a little bit easier. I can go through it slowly, so it’s not just cold turkey where then you’d be really sad to not be on stage anymore as you’re used to it. But I’m very excited about the growth that we have and the talent that we have coming in through our training programs and that are feeding into A-WOL that I’m excited to just get my hands on them and mold them and see what they can do and direct them. I like that side of it. I think it will help the company grow as well.

Laura Onizuka: (09:16)

Do you find most of your company members through the training program or do you have auditions? 

Brandy Guthery: (09:22)

Both. Generally we have two auditions a year, and most of our company has gone through our FlyCo training program, which is our adult training program, it’s a year long program that they do. It’s really intense with dance training, aerial training, theater training. We have a specific set of coaches that are in charge of mentoring them and teaching them and guiding them all year. And the goal is that would feed into the company. I can’t think off the top of my head, but several of our company members right now have gone through that training at least one year or two years through that. And so that’s the goal of those. We have a youth company, and ideally that would feed into the adult company, and then the adult company would go to the performing company.

Brandy Guthery: (10:10)

And then we do have open auditions as well. But, really going through that training is great because then you see what we’re about.

Laura Onizuka: (10:18)

If you want to be a part of it. What goals do you have personally as far as dance goes?

Brandy Guthery: (10:29)

I want to continue to grow the choreography side of it. For me, I feel like I’m really getting into the last couple years enjoying setting full shows and pieces, and we do that as a collective at A-WOL, but we’re doing little sides. Like we’re doing the Fertile Ground Festival coming up soon and really being able to take a group of dancers and create a piece, and then expanding that. I’d love to take our shows and our choreography elsewhere to other companies, and even potentially set it on other companies I think would be great.

Laura Onizuka: (11:08)

Let’s talk about the arts management and administration. How do you balance that with your own artistry? Or do you?

Brandy Guthery: (11:24)

Is that, is that a thing, balance? We’re really lucky because we have such a great organization and we have fantastic staff and employees that really help us balance that out. I think without our staff, I don’t know what we would do. I’ve just been used to it, I’ve grown up in the corporate America world and the dance world. And so I was used to going to a nine to five and then getting off and having 30 minutes and then going and dancing until nine or 10 at night. I enjoy it. I think you have to be really good at multitasking to do all of that, but it is interesting because there’s a part of you that just wants to focus on the artist side of it. I just want to go in rehearsal and I just want to create a piece and just do shows all the time, but you forget, oh yeah, we have to do payroll and we have to have employee meetings and you know, we have to pay taxes and, we’re like, oh, we actually have to run the business side of it too. Sometimes that’s not as fun, but the payoff is worth it. You know when you do all those things and you’re in charge of it and you run a great company, then the path is worth it. But I really think we for sure wouldn’t be able to do it without our staff. We have a really great staff.

Laura Onizuka: (12:44)

That’s awesome. We talked about this, as far as your goals go, but I’ll just ask, do you have a longer term vision that you’re hoping to accomplish through the work?

Brandy Guthery: (13:02)

My vision really is for myself, Alicia and Jen, which are the other two directors of A-WOL, our vision personally falls into the vision of growing the company, because it’s our company. Personally, what I want is to grow that organization. Our long term goal is to continue expanding classes and eventually be able to take our performances elsewhere and venture out of the Northwest area.

Laura Onizuka: (13:41)

And you’re thinking in terms of a tour, or having companies in other cities?

Brandy Guthery: (13:47)

I want all of it. Yes. Being able to tour our productions, but then being able to go and set our shows on other companies, I think would be a long term goal. Really expanding Art in the Dark and being able to take that magical event that we have every summer here to other locations as well as the Portland location.

Laura Onizuka: (14:10)

That would be cool.

Brandy Guthery: (14:11)

It’s hard. Because you have to find the right location for it.

Laura Onizuka: (14:14)

And test it out. But that makes it more exciting also. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that is for if somebody listening hasn’t had that experience.

Brandy Guthery: (14:30)

Art in the Dark. That is our annual show that A-WOL does. The performing company puts on a full length production out in Mary S. Young park, which is off of Highway 43 in West Linn. It’s a park, and we take the full what you would see in a theater and we perform it, set it up, plop it down in the middle of a forest. You get the full experience, it’s 360 seating. There’s no curtains, there’s nowhere to hide, the audience gets to see all of it. It’s a full production outdoors generally in July and August, so it’s a really fun summer event. There’s concessions, there’s beverages. It’s a really magical experience from the time you get out of your car to when you walk all the way into there and sit down. We have about 14 to 17 performers in it every year, and it just continues to grow and grow and grow.

Laura Onizuka: (15:32)

It’s a really unique thing.

Brandy Guthery: (15:35)

We did Frost and Fur this last summer, which was the story of a snow leopard and we had original music that was played live, and then we have a new show coming up that I don’t wanna spill the beans on, but it’s a new production coming up that will be coming up this August, 2020.

Laura Onizuka: (15:56)

When do you anticipate the news will be out about that?

Brandy Guthery: (16:00)

January, February. We have our spring production coming up the end of February. So we will have tickets and everything out on sale by then. So January, February. So coming up soon.

Brandy Guthery: (16:16)

We haven’t told the company yet, so we have to tell them.

Laura Onizuka: (16:18)

That’s probably a good idea.

Brandy Guthery: (16:20)

Before we tell the public so that we can get it figured out, but yes, it’s going to be exciting.

Laura Onizuka: (16:27)

As far as aerial dance goes, what do you think besides the opportunity of somebody suggesting you’d like it? What did you like about it and what do you like about it?

Brandy Guthery: (16:42)

I love that it is an extension of dance. Something I guess I should mention about what our goal is to try and stand out is all of our dancers and myself included. We were all, we all grew up dancing first and foremost. And so then we took the aerial aspects of it and just extended what we would do on the ground up in the air. There are some classic aerial things that we do, but we try to find different ways, new and creative ways to take your movement off the ground. That’s what I love about it, is you can do everything you would do on the ground just extend it into whether you’re jumping on a trapeze or climbing some silks or getting on an invented apparatus that we just made up. It’s just an extension of what we already love to do and you have a lot more freedom. You can’t do that without the aerial side of it. You’re grounded. So the possibilities become endless on what you can do. That’s where A-WOL came from, it’s aerial without limits.

Laura Onizuka: (17:51)

I mean, I haven’t seen other aerial, but definitely you can tell that the dancers have a dance background, a contemporary dance background.

Brandy Guthery: (18:02)

Yes. And that’s generally what we seek out. A lot of our aerialists who are amazingly strong and really good aerialists right now didn’t do aerial before they came to A-WOL. Maybe they had taken a class or something like that, but they weren’t aerials prior. And they went through the FlyCo Training and so they started out as dancers. That’s how all of us started out. Very rarely do we have someone that comes to us or that is in our company now that was a professional aerialist prior. So they’ll train while holding onto that dance. It’s in all of our shows. If it’s a little bit harder, not in the dark, because we’re on smaller stages. In our spring production that we’re doing right now – attention, everyone that opens in February – it’s half aerial and half dance, it’s integrated so much.

Laura Onizuka: (18:57)

I noticed something, that it seems that the partnership and community there’s a lot of trust involved in the aerial. When you’re watching it, you realize how much the dancers are relying on one another with the support.

Brandy Guthery: (19:15)

Physically and emotionally.

Laura Onizuka: (19:18)

It’s beautiful.

Brandy Guthery: (19:20)

You kind of forget that, like I just came from rehearsal today where I’m up there holding somebody upside down by one foot and you kind of don’t think about it because we’ve become such a family that you trust that person, both sides of it. It’s not even just on stage, it’s trusting them all behind the scenes. Rigging is such a big part of it too. We’re holding and we’re hoisting people up and down. So it’s so many different levels of trust. It’s that you’re being present, that you’ve rehearsed, that you’ve thought about it, you know what’s going on and all, and with the physical strength of it. And that’s why we all as a company train all year round, it’s not like we all just come together and do this one show together. We have an entire year, season, that we are all together to build that trust.

Laura Onizuka: (20:16)

I think you can feel that when you see the show.

Brandy Guthery:(20:18)

I can on stage. So I hope the audience does. You can feel that as an audience member.

Laura Onizuka: (20:25)

Let’s talk about the current dance scene in Portland. You kind of touched on it, but how would you describe the current dance scene and what do you think is fabulous about it? Or what do you think is lacking?

Brandy Guthery: (20:37)

There’s so much of it. I think that’s fabulous. And, again it’s harder to try to stand out in what makes you different. You’re constantly, I’m constantly asking myself that question. What are we doing that’s different? Because there’s so much dance and, especially in the aerial side of it, there’s so many aerial companies. Whereas when we started in 2003, there wasn’t that there, a lot of people didn’t even what aerial was. So, I’m pretty proud that we were, obviously, there were companies prior to that we took inspiration from, but we helped pioneer the aerial culture. I love that there’s so much of it here and it’s just, how do you stand out from that? 

But there’s so much, I love that you can find any type of class, aerial ballet, jazz, you can find any type of dance class in Portland. When I go home, when I go to Florida, it’s harder to find stuff like that. There’s no aerial classes anywhere. Most, anything you find are youth, which is great too, but that doesn’t help me. I think we have a lot of options here.

Laura Onizuka: (22:01)

Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about?

Brandy Guthery: (22:10)

I don’t think so. I focus a lot on A-WOL because that is my company and along with the other directoresses, and so again, a lot of my personal goals are this company, because that is my personal, it’s not just somebody I work for. It’s not just my employer. It is me, and my insides that are there. So, continuing to build that is my personal goal.

Laura Onizuka: (22:47)

The next thing you have is the February show, is there anything coming up before that?

Brandy Guthery: (22:53)

There is our youth professional company they’re called the Aeros. They have their annual Toy Box show that is so fantastic, these kids are amazing. And that again is another year-long train program. This is their holiday show called Toy Box. It is the beginning of December, it’s I think the seventh through the 14th, don’t quote me on those, it’s on our website. We also have an annual production that myself and two other women for the company perform. And it’s the White Album Christmas at the Alberta Rose Theater. So the Nowhere Band does the full White Album, and then there’s circus acts on the other side. So we do the aerial side of that. That’s coming up in the beginning of December as well.

Brandy Guthery: (23:43)

And then it’s Attention Everyone after that, which is a really interesting industrial vibe that we have, and that’s at the end of February and beginning of March.

Laura Onizuka: (23:55)

Where would people go to find out about all that stuff?

Brandy Guthery: (23:59)

It’s all on our website and, So all of that info about the company, classes, performances is all on there.

Laura Onizuka: (24:11)

Thank you so much, Brandy.