Ten More Years

Director’s Choice Sweeps Away Anniversary with Debut

Will NW Dance Project fans fill the house for a series of reruns? Probably. It’s not like a bad movie that for some reason you just keep seeing on TV or can bring up on Netflix any time.

What if a debut was added to the balance? Definitely. We’re talking about live, world-class dance, performed in the intimate Newmark Theater. They are even projecting the show on a screen in the street for the general public.

Portlanders have the chance to see every world debut by NWDP, right here in Portland. Then the group takes the best of those on the road, elsewhere for rerun. So for me, who hasn’t seen much of this company, I was delighted at the opportunity to enjoy three past works and a debut last night for the Director’s Choice series.

Four works gave life to the stage last night, an ambitious feat. The dancers must be finding their stride by night two—how often do they run two features and two shorts in a night? I admit that my mind was a little cluttered, adding to a diverse collection of complex performances, so I’ll do my best to recount them with honesty.

State of Matter set the night off vibrantly. It is the most recognized and award-winning work on the program, originally debuted in 2010. It begins with a fun illusion; the curtain is raised only a few feet off the stage, displaying a pair of feet across from an upside down head. The feet standing there, slides over to the head and matches up. Humorous and strange.

The music is sparse and also strange. Dancers come out of the woodwork, moving on, in, and around each other, slowly building up. But then almost out of nowhere, glitching beats break out the group in to unison steps. It’s the equivalent of a big chorus in a song with power chords and strong harmonies. Not a bad thing.

I recognize and confirmed that the signature of NWDP choreography can be found in three combustible elements: connection, unison, and tension. It is the same as any great piece of music. Accompanying this compelling score is a poetic narrative. My brain nearly shut it out as it does pop lyrics—small fragments sound like meaningless mumbling to me as I write this, recollecting, but it wasn’t, I swear. I remember being moved but can’t say why!

Wearing fleshy body suits, creating a genderless human illusion, the moves of total connection are fascinating. This company is very developed with acrobatic steps involving lots of carrying and catching. It’s more beautiful than I can easily describe. In fact the next piece, A Fine Balance, is among the first works put on by the company from ten years past in 2004, and it almost entirely focuses on connection.

A Fine Balance is a duet featuring Viktor Usov and Andrea Parson, whom I consider the stars of the company. Hats off especially to Andrea Parson, who takes a leading role in all four works and carries each step like it’s the first one, innocently, without ego, but as if she has done it many times, flawlessly. Viktor, a Ukrainian immigrant from childhood, has studied and worked in the most coveted places, but we are fortunate to have both of them, presumably because they love Portland.

Small in stature but great in strength, Parson is able to pull off some tremendous steps by the grace of Usov. Their relationship, through the flickering lights of conflict is laid bare on the table, but only one chair awaits them to sit. One taunts the other, endlessly tiring themselves, even taunting the chair, for they can only find a place for neither of them in it.

Intermission gives us a chance to hangout in the architecturally lovable Portland Center for the Performing Arts building. It is lightly raining outside and chilly. People are chatting; images of the dancers are displayed near the entrance. We are called back in, so we go.

Narrative is definitely more subjective within these works than straight storytelling like you may find in a classical ballet. But the story is the vehicle driven by this combustion  of conflict, connection, and unison, and it happens inside you.

Harmonie Defiguree (2011) was performed on par as a dress rehearsal, at best. When that happens, it’s hard not to report on it. It has a way of overshadowing the best things—though I could see it was a strong piece. Unison is brought to play here more than the other works, which needs to be as tight as possible.

I do recognize that this Director allows for personality to be expressed, but I could see their timing was off. It would be like a jazz drummer playing ¼-note behind the melody. But to Andrea Parson’s credit, if I wanted to see what should be happening, I watched her. This is when I realized how gifted she is. Given that, I think night two and three will be polished. I am sure of it.

An intermission helped regroup everything.

After the Shake had its world debut, last night. It seems like a seminal work, much like State of Matter. It’s full of entrancing steps, deep connections, break out unisons, and a disfigured narrative that takes place in your own heart and imagination. Or you can read the program notes. It’s about an 18th century American, Christian sect called, Shakers. Their ecstatic religious services and historical timeline bring inspiration for this new, also ecstatic work.

It opens with eight brooms—you know the kind that you find at various Asian markets—standing delicately on their bristles, danced beside to delicately. The brooms are hung early and stay there as a background and symbol, my guess is for gender equality, relating to those Shakers again. Costumes are quite lovely, long knit dresses with a single slit, exposing usually no more than a single leg. Men wore slacks, shirt, and belt—ala Americana. The musical score included a diverse collection by three very different artists, adding power to the composite.

Ching Ching Wong also brought a strong, leading performance in this work. Small in stature as well, she is able to crawl and fly on and around the male dancers with grace and ease. The dynamic of physical differences seems to play out a lot with Artistic Director and Choreographer, Sarah Slipper’s work. This one and A Fine Balance are hers, but NWDP frequently brings guest choreographers to the table. And with a strong finale, not spoiling the ending, it was over.

There are no doubt hundreds of thousands of Portlanders who still have not seen this company, so I recommend that they forget about Netflix and head out to see it live. Don’t use money as an excuse; if you have or know someone with EBT, use Arts for All for discounts, it’s awesome.

One last note, I enjoyed wine and snacks at their wrap party in the Ace Hotel Cleaners, something that was open to the public but felt more like family and close supporters. Mae Pope, who also contributed an article, decided to go home. But I finally had a chance to hang out for a few moments with the great, Linda Austin and her husband, Jeff Forbes the lighting designer for the night’s performance and many others shows in town. I was reminded of why I engage, why it’s important to participate. Just do it.

Northwest Dance Project live show projection April 3, 2014 from Northwest Dance Project on Vimeo.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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