Social dancing

Portland Dances! addresses society's problems
By KELSEA BRENNAN-WESSELS  |  August 15, 2007

Portland Dances! A Night of Surprises | 8 pm August 17 & 18 | at John Ford Theater, Portland High School, Portland | $18 | 207.772.9671
Portland Ballet isn’t all pliés and tendus.

This Friday and Saturday, Portland Ballet showcases the work of 13 local choreographers at the John Ford Theater for its sixth consecutive year of Portland Dances! The show is an eclectic mix of choreography including styles minimalist, political, and just plain silly.

Nell Green — a Portland Ballet principal dancer, instructor, and resident choreographer — will debut her piece, “Push Me, Pull You.” Although her past choreography leaned more toward the lyrical side, this athletic number exhibits jumps, straddles, and plenty of push and pull.

Green also dances in two other pieces, including Vanessa Beyland’s “Shall We...,” a comical dance to music by Johann Strauss II. Green describes its basic theme as “a prom in heaven.” Dancers wander in wearing over-the-top prom dresses and begin to waltz. Comedy ensues as the simple waltz gives way to each character’s personal flair.

Costumes are taken farther beyond the top with Esduardo Mariscal’s “The Remaining.” His production relies on powerful visual stimulation using gas masks, flags, and even a guy on four stilts.

“This piece is an offering for peace,” Mariscal says. “It’s pretty surreal. At times, silly.” He uses images of terrorism to comment on the state of fear that we live in. The choreography incorporates aggressive movements, similar to battle. Mariscal’s idea with this is to ask “how we as humans struggle to stay in peace with each other.”

“It’s a basic idea, but an unfortunate need,” he says.

Mariscal moved to the United States from Mexico 12 years ago. As a local teacher and choreographer, he has always pushed to work with male dancers. “Dance is thought as ‘for women,’” he says. “I’m happy to be able to attract men into a performance.” This weekend, five women and eight men will perform his piece — an unusual ratio to see in the Portland dance scene.

The concept of war reappears in the production in Heather Baur’s “displacement.” Choreographed to the music of Bjork, this piece is Baur’s personal statement on society’s ignorance to pressing human issues.

“It’s about how we displace people, and forget about things that are going on,” says Baur. Hers is less of a concern with the right or wrong of war itself, but more about forgetting the people involved. She describes it more sarcastically as, “Thousands of men, women, and children are dying, but I need my frappuccino.”

Baur’s past work has mostly dealt with the subject of child abuse, attempting to open the public’s eyes to the issue. But she doesn’t intend to bring her audience down, rather dancing to give an inkling of hope. “If society reaches out, we can do something,” she says. The modern piece is performed by seven dancers. The movement is strong, in-your-face and drives through the music.

Also in the show are works by Debi Irons, Joanna Patterson, Ann Dubensky, Niles Ford, Karen Lee, Jenifer Bourgeault, Dana Detweiler, Victoria Perreault, and Sasha Randall. No tutus, but a few other surprises.

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