White Bird Presents:
Improvography, by Savion Glover, Schnitzer Hall, 1037 SW Broadway & Main, 790-ARTS, Tues-Wed March 29-30 @ 7:30 pm, $19-52;
Birdbrain, by Australian Dance Theatre, PSU's Lincoln Hall, SW Park & Market, March 31 - April 2 @ 8 pm, $14-25
Before I describe the five consecutive days of amazing dance beginning this week, let's get a little background. About eight years ago, a storm of high-profile dance performances hit Portland that has never relented. Beginning with New York's renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company in October of 1997, the proceeding era has seen hugely famous and influential groups like the Mark Morris company, the Trisha Brown company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, and many more coming to grace our fair city. It's been a veritable Golden Age, and I can be completely blunt in saying we owe it entirely to the efforts of New York transplants Walter Jaffe and Paul King, and their organization White Bird, currently wrapping up its eighth impressive year.
"A lot of people still think we're a for-profit organization, a business," Jaffe told me over a lunchtime meeting a few weeks ago. Middle-aged and soft-spoken, he spoke these words with genuine bafflement, but if you're at all involved with the dance scene in Portland and been to or seen press for a White Bird event, you've probably thought the same thing yourself. I know I did. White Bird not only brings in the most expensive and renowned dance acts in the world, but lodges them at the fancy Paramount Hotel. White Bird's promotional literature is glossy and beautiful, and takes pains to thank corporate sponsors like Wells Fargo and Nike. It's hard to believe an arts organization could be dealing with so much money and not be profiting from the endeavor, but in the case of White Bird, it's true.
Successful entrepreneurs in New York City, Jaffe and King have already made their fortune. They came to Portland to enjoy "retirement" and pursue new hobbies, like a full-time, international dance presentation company that operates out of their basement. They have no other goal but to raise the level of dance in this town, and are doing so by not only bringing amazing performers through, but with educational outreach. White Bird provides Master Dance classes for area students with the visiting dance companies, and develops a month-long annual curriculum with Portland public schools. They also have an innovative program called NEST (No Empty Seats Today), which encourages subscribers to donate any unused tickets from a season to charitable organizations.
Hark, DIY naysayers: Portland will not grow as a city and as an artistic presence without purely selfless, yet extremely well-funded groups like White Bird. The money they have access to is being used for good. If you already knew that, I salute you. If you have been nursing a different, negative impression of White Bird, then I urge you to change it, and if you have no idea who I'm talking about then I urge you to use this fawning-but-heartfelt piece as the basis for your budding perception. If you need an intro to the group, there's no better time than this ensuing week, when White Bird brings not one but two sensational companies to town, performing back to back in one, delirious, five-day breath of dance activity.
It begins with Savion Glover (March 29-30), the lanky, unassuming, dreadlocked fellow once described by Gregory Hines as "the greatest tap dancer to ever lace up a pair of shoes." The mastermind behind the exhilarating Broadway spectacle Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk and a five-season regular on Sesame Street, Glover is, if not the "greatest," surely one of the world's most entertaining tap dancers. Of course, that may sound terrifying to you; if so, you'll want to hold out for the Australian Dance Theatre, coming right on the heels of Glover (March 31-April 2) and showing Birdbrain, their crazy-fun spin on Swan Lake that features breakdance, aerial twists and dives, and funny T-shirts. And if that isn't your bag either, stay hopeful and look toward the horizon (April 27), when White Bird presents Pilobolus, AKA pretty much the most innovative and influential dance company ever formed. It'll be the cap on White Bird's strongest season yet, and they're only getting stronger.