At 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday and Thursday on Lincoln Hall’s main stage, Portland State’s Dance program will host its last two shows, featuring student dancers and choreographers. The show is free to all, though they will be taking a donation for the crew.
So. All of a sudden, we don’t have a dance program. All the classes have been cancelled for the coming school year, and according to the School of Theater + Film website, “Admission to the Minor in Dance and the Certificate in Dance has been suspended effective fall 2017, and no applications are being accepted at this time.” Nobody seems to know exactly why, although it certainly has something to do with the various funding issues that plague all educational institutions. (It’s easy to bemoan the lack of funding for the arts, but only because it’s always true.)
The show is called SHUT DOWN: The Last PSU Student Choreography Showcase. Students of Portland State dance instructor Tere Mathern choreographed the program’s nine dance pieces, which will be performed by a corps of twenty dancers. I caught their dress rehearsal today, and several things jumped out at me.
The music! None of it was traditional ballet music, and although I missed the lovely Tchaikovsky I’m probably the only one who isn’t sick of him. There was a bit of pop classical courtesy of Nick Takénobu Ogawa, there was a lot of film music, there was a bit of Rihanna and Walt Whitman. The most striking moment was Eve Cosper’s 20/20, which featured three dancers and no music at all.
The diversity! We usually think of ballet as a skinny white girl’s sport—not so with PSU’s dancers. I was very pleased to see dancers from across the spectra of gender, race, body shape, and sexuality. Kel Dae, Megean McBride, and Hector Zaragoza Valentin were especially powerful in Dae’s Fragmented Youth, “the artist’s address to the social suppression of femininity expressed by people perceived and assigned male.”
And although this may sound like faint praise, it was really nice seeing dancers at a variety of skill levels. Plenty of these performers are all set for the big time, and I know at least a few of them are already dancing professionally, but one of the great things about getting the bulk of your entertainment at a College of the Arts is the endearing work-in-progress charm of hungry, enthusiastic artists who are still in the process of ripening.
Who knows, maybe we’ll get the dance program back. It’s happened before. Sometimes that little bit of disappointment when you lose something you barely knew you had is exactly the spark you need to get the fire going again. Come to the show. Spread the word. Write to the administration (and be nice). Support the arts, go pay for a professional show, take a class yourself. Dance like everybody’s watching.
Matthew Andrews is a graduate student in the College of the Arts.