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Flying high: White Bird celebrates 10 years.

When Paul King and Walter Jaffe first presented Paul Taylor Dance Company in Portland, Oregon, they didn't know that supporting contemporary dance through the organization White Bird Dance would become their life's work.

King and Jaffe had moved to Portland from New York in 1996 and were planning to start a business together. Through Jaffe's position on Paul Taylor's board, they were invited to present the company in Portland. They agreed, even though King, a pastry chef, and Jaffe, previously in book publishing, weren't sure what they were getting into.

To their relief, the Taylor Company's performance drew 1,400 people. Next, they planned an AIDS benefit featuring Stephen Petronio Company, then the debut of Portland company BodyVox.

"It was a step-by-step process, an evolution," says King. White Bird's subscription sales have more than doubled in the past 10 years. The nonprofit's budget today is $1.3 million.


White Bird has presented 112 local, national, and international dance companies, commissioned 22 works--including co-commissions such as Trisha Brown's Geometry of Quiet, Marie Chouinard's Body Remix, and Stephen Petronio's Strange Attractors--and reached more than 240,000 audience members. White Bird has helped Portland blossom into a city of passionate dancegoers.

But now, Jaffe says, "Dance presenting is becoming an endangered species, so we have to instill excitement and enthusiasm for dance."

Lately, Jaffe and King have come to view White Bird as a service organization--for Portland, and for the dance world at large. "Bringing dance companies is important and exciting, but it's one part of what we do," says King. Through participation in organizations such as the International Society for the Performing Arts Foundation, Western Arts Alliance, and Dance/USA, Jaffe and King work to address issues facing the field, from health insurance to career transitions.

To free up time to focus on their goals for the future, like creating a new center for dance in Portland, King and Jaffe hope to add a general manager to White Bird's staff of six, half of whom are dancers. (The co-founders take no salaries.)

They'd also like to hire an outreach coordinator to oversee White Bird's busy educational program, which brings world-famous companies face-to-face with Portland's youth and under-served communities. "What we've tried to do since the beginning is put the infrastructure under this organization that was run by two guys," says King.

As Portland audiences become more educated, King and Jaffe strive to keep White Bird's dance-only programming fresh. Stephen Petronio, whose company has performed at White Bird four times, says, "They're cultivating interest in things that aren't well-known, and are always looking for new kinds of dance."

One example of Jaffe and King's willingness to experiment is "4x4 The Ballet Project," which closes their 10th season, May 8-9. White Bird doesn't typically present classical ballet because they don't want to compete with Oregon Ballet Theatre. But Jaffe noticed that West Coast ballet companies are exploring contemporary work and thought, "Wouldn't it be amazing in our 10th season to present these companies in a setting of collaboration?"

So White Bird invited San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Eugene Ballet Company, and Oregon Ballet Theatre to each perform a contemporary work new to Portland, on one program.

"Of course, we were delighted; it's a really neat project," says Toni Pimble, artistic director of Eugene Ballet Company, which last performed in Portland nine years ago.

A place for modern dance, and now ballet, White Bird appeals to choreographers. "It has given me a real audience in Portland," says Petronio. "I love coming back to a place where people know my language."
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Title Annotation:White Bird Dance
Author:Ragain, Rebecca
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2008
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