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Center Stage

Head to Portland’s White Bird for national and international dance companies
French company HervÉ Koubi comes to White Bird. Photo by Didier Philispart.
French company HervÉ Koubi comes to White Bird. Photo by Didier Philispart.

Eugene has a thriving dance community, rich with classes and performances of many kinds. But the opportunity to see visiting national or international dance companies has waned in recent years. 

The Hult Center is no longer presenting its dance series, which once hosted heavyweights like Pilobolus, David Parsons and Bill T. Jones. And though LCC and the UO regularly host residencies with visiting choreographers, these events are usually on an appropriately smaller scale and may not have a public component. 

Eugene Ballet Company’s herculean effort to bring companies like Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem to town has been a gift to audiences, but the financial burden of such an undertaking must be extraordinarily challenging. 

So where else can a dance fan go for the next national or international fix? 

Many head to Portland, where White Bird Dance brings regional, national and international dance companies to perform. 

Since its founding by Walter Jaffe and Paul King in 1997, White Bird has presented more than 200 dance companies, commissioned more than 30 new works and developed an education program that reaches 5,000 public school students annually. The impact of their work on the Portland landscape cannot be minimized, shaping a fertile dance and performance culture by exposing audiences to a wide range of world-renowned art. 

Logistically, White Bird capitalizes on the travel time between Seattle and San Francisco. Whereas once companies would have a gig in one city and then motor up or down I-5 to the other city for shows the next weekend, now they routinely make a mid-week stop in hip and cool Portland, performing on Wednesday nights.

It’s smart business with a phenomenal payout: White Bird consistently sells out its houses, in advance, including the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, which has a seating capacity greater than the Hult’s Silva.  

Featuring culturally diverse companies from around the globe, White Bird’s 18th season focuses on great women choreographers: 

The legendary Twyla Tharp makes a long overdue return to White Bird with a 50th-anniversary program of all new dance. Tharp, an American icon, is a wunderkind of energy and ideas as well as one of the greatest influencers of 20th-century movement. Her work is boundless — light and weighty, playful and dark — and she slips between extremes with an impish dynamism and explosive verve. Don’t miss her company Oct.14. 

Canada’s Crystal Pite will appear twice this season: first in an exciting program from Ballet BC, led by Emily Molnar Nov. 18, and later in a collaborative work between Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot and Vancouver B.C.’s Electric Company Theatre, March 31 to April 2, 2016. 

From Israel comes Sharon Eyal’s new company L-E-V Oct. 15-17, and from Spain Soledad Barrio returns with the mesmerizing Noche Flamenca Dec. 3-5. 

France’s Compagnie Hervé Koubi makes its White Bird debut Jan. 28-30, with highly physical, stunningly fluid work for twelve French-Algerian and African male dancers that combines capoeira, martial arts, urban and contemporary dance.

Kyle Abraham’s eight-member company will perform an evening of new work showcasing Abraham’s inspired blending of modern dance technique with hip hop and urban street dance March 10-12, 2016. 

And audiences of all ages will be dazzled by season opener MOMIX Oct. 8-10, as well as by TIMBER! April 19-20, where Quebecois lumberjacks become circus performers. From Latin America, White Bird on May 4 presents their very first Cuban company, Malpaso Dance Company, featuring live music. Also, Grupo Corpo will fire up the Schnitzer stage with their incomparable Brazilian dancers.

Let’s hope the popularity of bringing in international and national dance companies trickles down the I-5, but in the meantime, ticket subscriptions, as well as individual tickets, are now on sale at whitebird.org. ν