The holidays once again are filled with spins, stretches and leaps in Oregon. Professional troupes take on “The Nutcracker” to the delight of little ones and offer many more options for ballet lovers. Here’s a guide to the venues that offer everything from the classics to conceptual pieces and what to expect at Oregon’s dance hubs in Portland and Eugene.
Tradition and Experimentation in Portland
Portland — a city of both legendary artistic tradition and innovation — is a hotspot for dance in Oregon. Oregon Ballet Theatre got its start in 1989 and has been a mainstay in the performing-arts life of the city, with big, lavish story ballets that animate the massive, stately Keller Auditorium.
Many of the ballet company’s 2022-2023 performances, including the Balanchine version of “The Nutcracker,” take place in the Keller. Nearby, the Newmark Theatre — with 880 seats and a warm, wood-designed, nearly jewel-box ambience — hosts the later portion of the ballet season, including an all-commissioned performance of new works called “Made in Portland,” where choreographers answer the question “What have you heard about Portland, and how does it make you feel?” in dance.
BodyVox’s airy studio in Portland’s busy and artsy Slabtown neighborhood — close to the restaurants and nightlife of the Pearl District in Northwest Portland — showcases modern athletic dance, lavish imagery and humor, and dance and film collaborations. Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, the founders and choreographers, are fascinated with flexible body power. Colorfully clad dancers swing like acrobats on props and land as lightly as graceful cats.
The internationally acclaimed White Bird, also celebrating its 25th anniversary, presents dance from around the world all over Portland. The troupe performs at locations that include Lincoln Hall at Portland State University, the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Newmark and the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton, which has been warmly welcomed since its opening in 2022.
Eugene: A Tale of Two Companies
In Eugene two ballet companies are based at the Hult Center, the performing-arts site in the heart of downtown Eugene that is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022. The venue has two main performance spaces: the nearly 2,500-seat Silva Concert Hall and the more intimate, roughly 500-seat Soreng Theater for smaller performances.
The Eugene Ballet, founded by Riley Grannan and Toni Pimble in 1978, moved into the Hult Center the year it opened. Dancers perform several full-length story ballets every year in the large concert hall, including such classics as “Giselle,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” — as well as annual favorite “The Nutcracker” — choreographed by Pimble. The founder has remained an award-winning artistic director and choreographer, creating new work such as 2023’s “The Little Mermaid” for the full-time professional company. In 2023 Eugene Ballet’s other new work includes a premiere of “Petrushka,” choreographed by former company member and now choreographer Suzanne Haag.
Also set to live music in the Hult are the shows of Ballet Fantastique, which set up residency in the Hult in 2014. Appealing to fans interested in bold new compositions, the troupe presents new ballets choreographed by co-founders and mother-daughter pair Donna Marisa Bontrager and Hannah Bontrager, who create new story ballets from classic books and fables like “Zorro” and “Pride & Prejudice.”
In November 2022, with its other ballets remaining in the Soreng, BFan’s holiday-themed “Babes in Toyland” is moving to the grand Silva and running Thanksgiving weekend — a new holiday tradition.
Where to Find More Dance Productions
For those seeking more physical feats and larger-than-life stories playing out onstage, dance troupes from Eugene and Portland occasionally perform in locations beyond those cities. Check the calendars at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis, Linn-Benton Community College’s Russell Tripp Performance Center in Albany and Salem’s Elsinore Theatre.
Although there may not be dance, theater-lovers in Ashland will also want to check out performances of all stripes at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as well.