Eliminating the “Ta-Da”
Kraig Mead – Artistic Director of the Contemporary Circus troupe Tempos says “Dance is a big word. But one of the most important components of it, in the context of Tempos, is the dancer being connected to the music, the sense of gravity, and the other people on stage.” While formally trained in acrobatics, dance and physical theatre, Kraig discovered he needed to deconstruct many of the elements of his training to achieve his vision.
“In stunting there is a definitive ta-da moment, some badass stuff for sure, but overall just not what I’m looking for.” Instead Kraig wants to see every moment as important as the next. He pointed out that an acrobat finishes their trick and then has a feeling of being done, being safe. But a dancer never stops. They flow one movement into the next, the entry, the exit, and the performance quality never getting thrown away. So he challenged himself and his company to transition away from the staccato ta-da moment and move towards more fluidity. That constraint evolved into reworking every trick he knew. “More like good partner dance, tango or blues where it’s more important to connect with your partner, I was seeking that quality in acrobatics.”
While there was some initial resistance from the performers, concerned their tricks would be diminished, once the concept was in their minds it wasn’t as hard as they thought. Use of character and a bit more creativity of movement helped disguise the preps and recovery. And another essential aspect of “dance” was achieved. “If a dancer becomes attached to the movement and is really invested, the audience will feel it.”
Mandy Cregan Co-Artistic Director of POV is an energy worker by day, but she also brings energy work to her artistic vision – in a unique way. She and her company of dancers channel the energy of buildings. POV has created performances at the Left Bank Annex, the Ford Building, a stairwell in the Pythian Building, and in the folding seats of an auditorium – anywhere but the stage. They prefer to dance with the space instead of merely being contained by it. Draping over the railing, sliding down the banisters, leaping from the window sill are some of the ways they play off their environment. POV dancers have a skill set that interacts with structure in a way that they were initially trained to partner with bodies. The angles, architecture, and geometry of a building draws out certain movements that make the dances created exclusive to that building’s features. But how do they channel the energy of a building?? Sometimes they research the history, sometimes they intentionally highlight the craftsmanship of the structure, but mostly, it just comes naturally.
An Artists Home
Whether it’s the gorgeous wood floor, the bright windows or the decades of people who have danced in the room, there is a notable feel to Conduit’s space that can’t be ignored. After 20 years in their downtown building, Conduit’s Director Tere Mathern has only this to say: “What does it take to keep a space empty so we can fill it with dance?” She is referring to how Portland has grown and the landscape surrounding the building that houses their space, right in the heart of downtown, has dramatically changed. These changes have even brought Conduit dangerously close to being pushed out of their home, before the dance community stepped in to save it. Conduit itself has evolved and shifted, but the one binding thread is the actual room that supports their vision of providing an incubator of artistic creation for the dancers of Portland.
One of the programs Conduit will be presenting, for the third year this July, directly supports that mission. Dance+ is one of the only dance focused, curated group shows that highlights artists from our region. Providing a venue for professional work, the program also strives to create space for experimentation, and past participants have described their experience as nourishing. The program is unique in that it offers a commission to choreographers and provides space grants so the artists can spend less time managing the logistics of producing their work and instead immerse more fully into the creative process. The framework of multiple choreographers, dancers and collaborators involved in the same show also leads to better, more sophisticated work. If you want a see into the minds of some of Portland’s developing artists, look no further.
See and Be Seen
Anyone interested in an opportunity to get in front of some of the top working choreographers in the country? Look no further than LAUNCH a program initiated by Northwest Dance Project in 2004 that has now gained international attention. With nearly 200 auditioners for 40 spots, there is certainly a competitive edge, but once accepted, the program is all about fostering the growth, professional development and personal voice of each dancer. Many dancers early in their careers don’t know the inner workings of a professional company. Throughout the LAUNCH two week intensive, topics discussed range from the do’s and don’ts of resumes to the day-to-day expectations of a professional dancer. Not only is it an opportunity for dancers to be thrown into the pot of intense training and creating, it’s also an opportunity for the selection of guest choreographers to see how they work. Out in the “real world” a short audition can never reveal the whole picture of what a dancer has to offer and many choreographers have plucked participants directly from the program having liked what they saw.
LAUNCH is the program Northwest Dance Project was initially known for, but certainly not the last. On April 2nd, 2014 a Mayoral Proclamation was made both to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of Northwest Dance Project over the past decade. Days later their 10th anniversary show “Directors Choice” opened and they projected it live on the JIVE building downtown for all of Portland to enjoy. Executive Director Scott Lewis told us, “We are never done exposing ourselves to the community” and we hope it’s true because we want to see, learn, and experience more!
For anyone out there even slightly intimidated by watching dance, stop what you’re doing and watch a few of BodyVox’s dance for film creations. For years Artistic Directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland have been collaborating with film maker Mitchell Rose to create a delightful collection of pieces you may not have seen anything like. Dance is so foreign to so many people but Jamey and Ashley want to let everyone in. They believe that film opens the door for a lot of audiences to understanding dance. When watching a live performance in a theatre setting, many people don’t know what to do – if it’s okay to laugh, react, make a noise – but with film people are more familiar. It also helps that BodyVox excels at levity. From a touching love affair between a man and a tractor, to fantasies of a more exciting office environment, they prove that movement is a language and we all speak it to some degree or another whether we know it or not. These films have gone viral on YouTube, one awards at film festivals and appeared on French television as well as the Cartoon Network.
While this is just one aspect of the amazing work BodyVox offers we are proud that whether touring, filming, educating or otherwise spreading their reach across the globe, their home is in Portland, Oregon.