Local dancer Kimberly Ross is one of 150 dancers in the 30-minute performance

by: CAROLYN CAMPBELL - Kimberly Ross of Lake Oswego is one of 150 dancers who will perform in Le Grand Continental dance performance Sept. 30 at 2 and 4 p.m.Mark your calendar because you won’t want to miss this event — it’s free and you’d better get there early if you want a good seat. On Sept. 30, 150 dancers of all creeds, shapes and ages and abilities will take over Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square to perform the West Coast premiere of “Le Grand Continental,” a 30-minute dance performance choreographed by internationally renowned, Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Emard.

The event is produced by local dance presenter White Bird in celebration of its 15th anniversary, to thank Portland audiences for their support over those years. White Bird is committed to bringing the best Portland-based, regional, national and international dance companies to Portland and to fostering the growth of dance in the region. Each year they present 12 companies from around the world and commission new works from Portland-based choreographers.

“Le Grand Continental” will be held at 2 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 30 at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

“This is obviously a special event,” said Walter Jaffe, who with Paul King founded White Bird. “It’s a thank you from White Bird to the Portland community for supporting White Bird and contemporary dance for the past 15 years. The way we’re giving back is through this incredible line dance. It’s also a celebration of Portland’s diversity. There are (dancers of) all ages, men and women, families, a broad spectrum of ethnic diversity. It’s been an incredible experience.”

He said they had been working with Montreal choreographer Sylvain Emard for two years in preparation of bringing “Le Grand Continental” to Portland.

Oregon native and New York-based dancer Jamie Benson is directing the dance marathon.

“I worked as an assistant for the New York version of ‘Le Grand’ and I think your audience will be inspired by how it brings a vast community together through the common denominator of dance,” said Benson. “I have the privilege of ushering Oregon into the international community of ‘Le Grand Continental.’ To share this global dance glory with my family and home state is a real thrill.”

Benson, the first male to receive a dance scholarship from the Dance Drill Coaches Association of Oregon, has moved on to direct, produce, choreograph and dance for dozens of theatre events, commercials and films in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. He is responsible for casting and teaching a very diverse group of Oregonians a wildly creative line dance.

Benson’s mother and twin brother will be among the 150 dancers in the production, as well as Lake Oswego resident Kimberly Ross.

Ross has been involved in the performing arts most of her life. Through the studio where she takes dance lessons she learned that dancers were needed for the massive dance event.

“The call went out for dancers of all ages, all sizes and all backgrounds,” she said. Rather than feeling intimidated by professional dancers, Ross said she felt very comfortable as part of the group, which is made of people from all walks of life - from FedEx drivers to professors, yoga instructors to city planners. “They needed me and that made me feel it was okay to be in the room. It gave me permission to be part of the fun.”

Dancers range in age from 9 to 72; some have never danced before this event, others are much more skilled. The dancers are of all ethnicities and body shapes and sizes.

Ross said by the performance they will have been in rehearsal for 10 weeks meeting twice a week for two hours, plus the dancers are invited to attend the four movement clinics held each week to perfect their stylization.

“Rehearsals run from 7 to 9 p.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m. we can come early to work on specific steps. Most of the dancers usually come early,” said Ross. “That shows just how committed they are to the project, how much they want to do their best.”

She said dancers were working hard to capture Emard’s stylization, as having a uniform style would be critical to the performance.

Audiences will enjoy the wide range of music, which includes Latin, funk and gogo.

“I feel like Goldie Hawn in Laugh In,” she said. “And the funk number — I love that one! It starts slow and then really picks up!”

The dancers perform a half-hour of nonstop dancing in “Le Grand Continental.”

Benson is proclaimed as “one of the strongest, hottest contemporary dancers of his generation” by dance critic Lewis Segal. He is an alumnus of Cornish College of the Arts and first garnered critical attention originating the role of Eldon in LATC’s Ovation award-winning production of “Shag with a Twist” in 2005. He has performed in the film “Rent,” McDonald’s “Mario Art” commercial, Rei Aoo’s “Dance Planet,” on the television series Dance360 and as a member of the Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble.

Emard first distinguished himself as a dancer working with choreographers such as Jean-Pierre Perreault, Jo Lechay and Louis Bedard before forming Sylvain Emard Danse in 1990.

A proponent of the commingling of genres, Emard navigates with ease from one milieu to another — film, theater, the visual arts and opera, as seen, for example by his collaboration on Lorin Maazel’s opera “1984,” directed by Robert Lepage and presented on the celebrated stage of Covent Garden in London in 2005 and again at La Scala in Milan in 2008.

Volunteer Carolyn Campbell has attended every rehearsal, documenting through her photography the evolution of the group of dancers as they learn each of the nine sections of choreography that make up the final work.

She has created a multi-media exhibition that follows the three-month journey from audition to performance which can be viewed at Living Room Realtors, 1422 N.E. Alberta St. in Portland. An opening reception for the show will be held Sept. 27 from 7 to 9 p.m.

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