It's improbable that local dance presenter White Bird exists at all, never mind existing for 10 years. Founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe could have stayed in New York, where they first fell for dance—and each other. They could have reconsidered their western migration after the '96 flood hit Portland, which they'd chosen as their new home two weeks earlier. And they could have peddled sweets for a living, given King's pastry-chef past. ("Bad idea," said King, who at the time had just lost 150 pounds.)
Instead they became, by their accounting, the sole dance-only presenters west of the Rockies, after Paul Taylor Dance Company general manager John Thomlinson suggested that Jaffe, who had served on Taylor's board, show the company in Portland. Rent a hall, buy ads, sell tickets, Thomlinson said—no sweat. That assessment seems laughable now after years of financial uncertainty, a local arts community wary of sharing funding, countless hours and miles logged in search of talent, and the occasional, unexpected onstage nudity from said talent.
But they survived and, to celebrate, are again presenting Taylor in two company classics making Portland debuts, Esplanade (1975) and Aureole (1962), plus the Shakespearean slapstick Troilus and Cressida (reduced) , and Banquet of Vultures (2005), a timely antiwar drama. The first two, Taylor told WW in a recent phone interview, have lasted because they're "happy" dances, with energetic, natural movement. Whether the other two become classics remains to be seen, but as he pointed out, "War is always pretty timely."
Whether White Bird weathers 10 more years is another question altogether. King and Jaffe are scrambling to find alternate performance venues while Lincoln Hall is closed for construction in 2008; they've also been working on a commissioning project and pondering the creation of a dance center to nurture local work. Taylor, whose own company has lasted for 54 years, thinks White Bird will be fine. At 77, he has just finished a new work called De Suenos , which he hopes to bring to Portland someday. "Tell Paul and Walter they've got to see it," he said with a chuckle.