Steve Christiansen, a quiet mega star who called Eugene, OR, home for the past 45 years, passed away peacefully at home on July 17, 2020, after an 18-month contact improvisational dance with stomach cancer. He was surrounded by family: wife Margie Myska, daughter Claire, sons Jory and Spencer, brother Roger and their various partners. Margie, an incredible rock during Steve’s final days, served as a care provider and master of ceremonies, orchestrating the visits of the multitude of friends and family who wanted to say goodbye to a great friend, wonderful father, and loving brother. The manner in which Steve accepted his passing and opened his heart to all who approached him was incredibly inspiring and healing to those who knew him.
Steve approached the cancer diagnosis with his typical excitement, enthusiasm and energy. Always interested in exploring new projects and investigating different paths, several years earlier he had become a participant in a men’s meditation group. This practice served Steve well in his relationship with cancer as spoke openly of his journey toward death, displayed genuine acceptance and had no anger, fear and few regrets.
Steve had planned to have his own “Big Chill,” a weekend reunion with about a dozen or more old college friends, in April to coincide with his 72nd birthday. When COVID 19 ended that plan, he chose to hold weekly Zoom meetings which have continued after his death. Steve participated in the last one on July 9, 2020, one week and one day before he passed. He was about to check into hospice that night, but seemed to be just as excited about meeting and enthusiastic about his journey as on the first Zoom meeting. Steve was like a magnetic gravitational core that kept many of his Antioch tribe and fellow travelers in an orbit where everyone felt loved and connected to each other. Even as the cancer pulled him to a looming end, he still managed to welcome and invite community and interaction. As one of his Antioch friends noted, “Steve was a gatherer of the tribe, and Steve’s tribe was generously defined and ever-expanding.”
It would be easy to overlook Steve’s passing as he never sought the limelight or wanted the camera focused on him; instead, he tended to be the guy behind the camera or directing or producing the show. When most of the television and film world was just switching over from film to video, Steve was already proficient in the use of the media. He had spent hundreds of hours videotaping, editing and producing pieces at Antioch College, and shortly after that working with Bill Bradbury ’72 on the Oregon coast, first producing land use planning videos and then beautiful documentaries.
Steve shot video of Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey, Wavy Gravy and Ken Babbs; beat poets Alan Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and William Burroughs; actor Bill Murray; writer and publisher of the Realist, Paul Krassner; Outrider experimental poet Ann Waldman; and jazz great Rashann Roland Kirk. And that was all in one day at Ken Kesey’s Hoo-Haw in the late 1970s. He shot video for TVTV Looks at the Academy Awards, riding in the car with Goldie Hawn and eventual Oscar winner Lee Grant. He was behind the camera shooting Clint Eastwood for The Reel West, a documentary about western movies. The great interview with Eastwood ends with him drawing a pistol and pointing it right into the lens of the camera.
The broad range of Steve’s work is hard to grasp. He loved collaboration, almost above all else. With artists, research scientists, business people, teachers, musicians, engineers, media, and environmentalists. Hot Bagels: The Hole Story documented a local bagel bakery and was picked up by the Disney network. The Big Dipper was an award-winning video to help smokeless tobacco users quit their habit and the first in a long string of projects completed with scientists at Oregon Research Institute and Deschutes Research. Steve worked for over the past 40 years to develop media programs to promote health and enhance lives of the participants in research studies.
For the Nova public television series, Steve was co-producer, co-director, cameraman, and editor for Salmon on the Run, about the environmental issues behind the conflict over the fishing rights in California and the Pacific Northwest. Steve worked with Jim Mayer of Ideas in Motion in San Francisco and served as director of photography for Kembali – to Return, done for the Learning Channel in 1990, which followed a group of American musicians invited to play Balinese music in Bali.
In 1972, Steve traveled from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, to video performances of Steve Paxton and Grand Union, a dance collective that was in residence at nearby Oberlin College. He captured several performances that day, among them the first and only showing of Magnesium, a piece marking the beginning of the Contact Improvisation dance movement. Mr. Paxton managed to track Steve down, saw his video work, and later that year, invited him to document a couple of weeks of work in NY and then in Rome, to document the first European Contact Improv event. Video was new to the dance world, invaluable in creating a new movement form, and later, when the form had grown worldwide, Steve’s videos were foundational in exposing and expressing what the germinal moment had been.
Steve worked locally to create Common Ground: Dance and Disability, winner of multiple national awards, a documentary about the work of Alito Alessi and his groundbreaking work in the field of contemporary dance and disability. He also collaborated with Alito on Tango Tangle, another historic piece about the movement in 1996. Steve also was one of the founders of the Chthonian Institute. In the mid-1970s, Steve worked with Buster Simpson, a well-known Seattle artist, documenting human-assisted pollination of several isolated cherry trees, in the middle of Pike Place Market.
Steve’s presence looms large in a multitude of other areas. One small example, those ubiquitous yard signs that have sprouted all over town that read “Choose Kindness,” Steve was part of the group that started the campaign about four years ago to make Eugene an official City of Kindness. Like the Dalai Lama, Steve has said on several occasions that kindness was his religion. For more than a decade, Steve served on the board of directors for Sponsors, an organization that provides life-changing opportunities for those with conviction histories transitioning back to the community.
Steve’s parents were peace activists and early advocates for legalization of marijuana. Gordon left his college teaching position, converted an old school bus, and took his wife Mary and Steve’s teen-age sister on the road, traveling across Canada, and down into Mexico. His mother Mary was a creative force and a feminist long before that was popular. She had a strong mind of her own, multiple passions and endless energy. Traits from both Gordon and Mary were passed down to Steve. Intelligent, creative, compassionate, fiercely liberal, he thrived at Antioch College, at that time a bastion of cutting-edge creativity, anti-war political action, and “future is now” thinking.
Steve loved the New York Times crossword puzzles, Spelling Bee and also in particular the acrostic, all of which he could do phenomenally well. He enjoyed spending time with his family and close friends in a neighborhood bog and sanctuary. He was a fan of U of Oregon Women’s and Men’s basketball and had a pretty sweet jump shot in his day. He held his own against Bev Smith and Alison Lang in their college playing days on the courts under the Washington bridge. His children played sports in their school years and their teams had the best darn end-of-the-season team videos any fourth-grader has ever had.
Many have noted Steve had no regrets as he left this plane, but that isn’t quite true. He really, really wanted to live until November to be able to vote a certain president out of office. This makes the path to honor Steve quite clear. Not sure what happens to our souls and our spirits once we leave the earth, but if there is any essence of Steve floating out there in the universe of about to be reincarnated in another soul, with 100 percent certainty, that spirit is enlightening and assisting others, documenting the process with whatever medium is available in that dimension, looking for acrostics and word puzzles, and most importantly teaching and practicing kindness.
–David Northway ’71
For more information about Steve, please contact Margie Myska at email@example.com