CHRISTOPHER STOWELL | The CHOREOGRAPHER
JOHN GRADE | THE Sculptor
Oregon Ballet Theatre
When Christopher Stowell, the director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, heard that Greek and Roman statues would fill the Portland Art Museum under the title The Body Beautiful, he instantly saw synergy. OBT already had two pieces based on Greek myths in the repertoire: Apollo
by George Balanchine and Orpheus by Stowell’s father, Kent. A dance by the popular contemporary choreographer William Forsythe, whose highly athletic pieces call for superhuman feats by the dancers, seemed an easy third. But Stowell wanted more: a centerpiece collaboration with a visual artist. PAM’s chief curator, Bruce Guenther, gave him a list of names, but he didn’t have to look beyond the first one: sculptor John Grade.
“It was the simplicity of it,” says Stowell of his first glimpse of the Seattle artist’s massive, organic installation sculptures, which won Grade PAM’s Arlene Schnitzer Prize last year. “He takes one good idea and develops it, and that’s something I try to embody myself.”
Coincidentally, Grade had just finished designing a pair of sculptures that an Atlanta choreographer then created a dance around. Collaborating from the ground up was the natural next step. “It’s not as though I’m designing something for Christopher, or he’s designing something for me,” says Grade. “The most significant part of it is that Christopher and I are beginning this thing together.”
The two settled on the myth of Echo and Narcissus to explore the themes of reflection and transformation. Grade designed an floating forest of giant paper-lantern-like tree trunks that will hang from the ceiling, rising and falling with the dance. He is making the components out of Tyvek in Seattle and will bring them to Portland in September to be assembled by several hundred volunteers. Meanwhile, Stowell is busy choreographing how the dancers’ interaction with the sculptures—between them, inside them, and manipulating them like bendy straws—and giving Grade feedback on design.
“I like to take a material I’m very familiar with and another I don’t have experience with,” Grade says. “In this case, I’m working with Tyvek, but the other material is the body, and that’s completely unknown to me. Christopher is the conduit.”
SHOWS TO KNOW: Dance
LA Dance Project
Sept 26 Building off worldwide acclaim as the choreographer of the Oscar-winning film Black Swan, former New York City Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Millepied founded LA Dance Project. Thanks to White Bird’s pull, Portland will be the company’s first stop after its world premiere at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program includes Merce Cunningham’s controversial “Winterbranch,” William Forsythe’s “Quintett,” and a premiere by Millepied himself, set to a new score by the wunderkind composer Nico Muhly.
—Laura Lundberg $26–64. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway. 503-245-1600. whitebird.org
New Now Wow!
Oct 4–6 Northwest Dance Project kicks off its season with world premieres from three award-winning contemporary choreographers. Patrons will remember Ihsan Rustem from his 2010 NWDP premiere, State of Matter, which won the 2011 Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest and was performed by NWDP at London’s Cultural Olympiad. Alex Soares, who moonlights as a musician and filmmaker, won NWDP’s 2012 Pretty Creatives Residency Award. And Gregory Dolbashian has won numerous choreographic competitions, including Ballet Austin’s New American Talent/Dance Competition. —JM $25–39. Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. 503-828-8285. nwdanceproject.org
Gather: A Dance about Convergence
Oct 25–Nov 3 Conduit Dance is on a collaboration roll. First there was its Dance+ performance series in July, where dancers paired with musicians, visual artists, and writers. Now Conduit backbone Tere Mathern is teaming up with local jack-of-all-sounds Tim DuRoche and the far-out jazz of Battle Hymns & Gardens to bring together six dancers and five musicians in a project inspired by ideas of convergence, interdependence, and synchronicity. —AS $14–17. 918 SW Yamhill St, Ste 401. 503-221-5857. conduit-pdx.org
Nov 9–11 Innovative local choreographer Tahni Holt’s press materials for Sunshine begin: “Cardboard boxes: architecture, little cities, modern abstract sculpture...homeless camps, forts.” And the list goes on. If her work-in-progress performance at On the Boards in June was any indication, the stage will be a landscape of cardboard that is danced with, lived in, destroyed, and otherwise manipulated by dancers Lucy Yim and Robert Tyree in this postmodern pop exploration. —AS $12–16. Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave. tahniholt.com