Power Couple: Walter Jaffe and Paul King

The co-founders of White Bird Dance look back on twenty years of personal and professional collaboration.

Share this article!

Walter Jaffe
Co-founder, White Bird Dance;
born, Fall River, Massachusetts; Ph.D., German literature, Yale

Paul King
Co-founder, White Bird Dance;
born, Cleveland, Ohio; graduate, French Culinary Institute

How we met

New York | 1982
W.J.: “I was working for K.G. Saur Verlag, a library reference publisher based in Munich, Germany.”

P.K.: “Wally asked me to come for his birthday soiree. He made a rare pork roast, but he put it back in the oven and it turned out fine. He made a Sachertorte. I was like: ‘This is really impressive.’”


Life in New York
W.J.: “We went to theater, dance, film, galleries, museums, the New York Ballet. These were the days when Balanchine was around. It was amazing exposure.”


P.K.: “I worked at the Quilted Giraffe, a four-star restaurant that is now closed. It was one of the most expensive restaurants in the country.”


Portland | 1996
W.J.: “We had no plans, no vision. We looked at a chocolate truffle business. I like chocolate, so creating chocolate candy all day was not going to be the smartest thing.”

P.K.: “We visited Portland two weeks before the floods of ‘96, and it was pouring rain. But we fell in love with it, and we thought if Portland’s like this in winter, it will be great in summer.”

Launched White Bird

P.K.: “We did our first show in 1997; 1,400 people came on a Wednesday night to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Schnitzer. For our second show, we were encouraged to bring choreographer Stephen Petronio from New York.”

20180414 155822
W.J.: “We went to Stephen’s showcase in New York and did not like what we saw. Loud and weird. We thought: ‘What are we getting ourselves into?’”

P.K.: “But our audience loved the work. We made it a benefit for the Cascade AIDS Project. That began our longest relationship with any choreographer. We brought Stephen’s company to Portland six times.”


Barney, the namesake cockatoo (age 30)

P.K.: “We always knew Barney would be the CEO. We take him to meetings, and if we’re there too long, he says: ‘Right, right; bye-bye.’ Because he hears Wally on the phone say those things.”

February 6, 2016
Bouley Test Kitchen; Tribeca, New York

160207 Paul Wally wedding 188

W.J.: “We trust each other’s judgment. If we both don’t agree, we won’t present the work. We are looking for the same kinds of things.”

P.K.: “It’s because we do this together; we both say, ‘If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t do it.’ Because it’s so much work.”

P.K.: “We are advocates for dance. We champion it. For us it’s about building relationships with the artists and people around the artists. That’s the most important thing.”

Oregonian March 2013 image before curtain

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 2017

King and Jaffe are underwriting a documentary film about former Jefferson Dancer Matt Bade and the nonprofit he started for orphans in Ethiopia who have aged out of the adoption system.

20170919 040853


 P.K.: “The hardest thing a for-profit and nonprofit can do is transition from the founders. We’d like to have more of a residency component; a creation and performance space on a national scope.”

W.J.: “We’re at our 20th year. We’re going through a lot of exploration for the future, looking at individuals who could help us move White Bird along.”

IMG 8675

A version of this column appears in the May 2018 issue of Oregon Business.  To subscribe, click here.