When Jen Hackworth enters the room, the first things you notice are her big, expressive eyes and the flurry of funky dark hair. Oh, and those sleeves of tattoos, creeping up past her elbows. Also, she's all of five foot two.
A classical "dancer's physique" she may not have, but Hackworth has something going for her that's much bigger: intriguing dance-making chops and a fresh vision for new work in the Portland dance scene. In a city with a small but ever-expanding corps of youngish dancemakers, Hackworth is one to watch.
She seems surprised by being the subject of a sit-down interview on a recent Saturday afternoon, before heading out to another night slinging drinks at the Northeast Portland hole-in-the-wall bar The Know, where most regulars know her more as a bewitching bartender than a quirky and original modern dancer. "When you say you're a dancer in Portland," she says, "people usually think you're a stripper." But though Hackworth's work doesn't feature a G-string, it does include elements of her early hiphop dance training, as well as happy echoes of some of her heroes, like Bill T. Jones and Donald McKayle.
Massachusetts-born Hackworth is one of three co-directors of Key Turn Project, a loose collective of Portland-based modern dancers that's been around more or less since 2007. The other founders are dancer-slash-choreographers Amanda Byars-Wickens and Aiyana Maye. Without disrespecting these last two women, it was Hackworth's taut, expressive dancing and bold choreography that struck me most in Key Turn's inaugural outing, way back in February 2007.
The company is coming out of the gate again this weekend with their fourth show to date, though Hackworth says a fresh infusion of new-to-Portland dance talent and a more refined vision for the company makes it "feel like this is our very first show." Hackworth's entry on the program? Inspired by a trip to a medical oddities museum, she's created a new 20-minute work titled "Stone Child," which might be the first ever dance about—wait for it—a calcified fetus. No question about it: Hackworth's thinking is way outside the dance box.