I began this series of profiles with Living Water Dance Community, a local group whose very nature (improvisational, dynamically spiritual) involves change, growth, and transformation. This installment looks at what’s coming up for another company that’s always looking to explore new theatrical possibilities: Portico Dans Theatre, founded in 2008 by Jennifer Alden and Valeria Cordero, now co-directed by Alden and Michael Lopez.
The big first event of the spring for the whole dance community is the eMerge Dance Festival on April 12, at which this year 10 local choreographers will present site-specific work in the historic tunnels underneath downtown Tulsa. For eMerge Portico will share excerpts from its upcoming season-end production (to premiere at Summerstage July 18-20) titled Mob Mental.ity, which shows the company moving away from the single-narrative format that has structured its previous productions (Project Alice, Super Suite, BorN, and Combined Minds) and toward a more genre-mixing style, incorporating live original music chosen through a call for compositions, video by Kelly Kerr, set design by installation artist Glenn Herbert Davis, and four kinds of dance (aerial, contemporary, hip-hop, and modern), in addition to works by Amy McIntosh and Nina Madsen, originally created for Living Water and Tulsa Modern Movement, that are being restaged on Portico.
“The production focuses on the mentality of mobs,” Alden told me, “how they are formed in even the most innocent of circumstances and how they respond to external and internal stimuli; learn to breathe and work together as a unit, even if they are unaware of each other’s existence prior to the mob formation. Various mobs are depicted: children at a birthday party, religious, political, civic, etcetera. The concept is how an individual ‘I’ becomes a collective ‘they.'”
This is now the third year that Tulsa Ballet has invited local choreographers to present their work as a pre-show for the main company’s “Creations in Studio K” in May. This year Portico will bring Alden’s setting of Axis by Eric Hyrst, the founder of State Ballet of Oregon, with whom Alden danced as a teenager. Portico will present a portion of the piece at Studio K, and will perform the entire 22-minute work, set to music by Stravinsky, when it tours Oregon in August.
“It takes me about a day to get through three minutes of the work and to make sure that I have everything correct in my notation of the work,” Alden said of her restaging, done with the blessing of the choreographer’s foundation. “It is somewhat easier to recreate as I was in the original but many parts I really have to study for intention as I only played my role and not everyone else. As I set it though I can easily show the dancers the movement as it feels so natural for me and I can easily remember how it should look and what Eric was going for. For the process of recreating the work Rachel Bruce Johnson is creating a documentary film around the process from me taking notes to setting the work on the dancers to performing it on stage. We have also gotten the permission rights to show clips of Eric’s archive to give more color to the documentary. This is a great honor for me as Hyrst’s former student. Eric Hyrst studied with the Royal Ballet in England until moving to the US when he was 17 to dance with New York City Ballet and Balanchine. He then traveled the world touring until he decided to become an Artistic Director with Kansas City Ballet and then Royal Ballet Canadian. He then decided to start [the] State Ballet of Oregon [in the 1970s].”
In addition to these two productions, Portico looks forward to a second collaboration with Tulsa Camerata and Tulsa Shakespeare in the Park on June 6 at Guthrie Green as it performs “six pieces from three different Shakespeare comedies, in addition to selections from Axis and Mob Mental.ity. I wanted to keep the tone light thus only using plays with humor,” Alden said. “We [are working on] how the three plays will be set with the actors as we are basically doing an abridged version of all three. Justin McKean is helping me screenplay the three comedies (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice).”
For more on Portico’s spring and summer adventures, as well as its many class offerings, visit http://porticodanstheatre.org.