Mixing it up: a snack of PDX dance

The choreographic appetizers of "(a)merging" create an inventive mix of odd dancefellows

Let there be light: checking Summer Turpin's design at tech rehearsal.

Let there be light: checking Summer Turpin’s design at tech rehearsal.

The joint was jumping Friday night: theater openings big and small, all across town, as the annual mob party known as the Fertile Ground new-works festival shifted into overdrive.

So naturally, I went to the dance.

Six dances, actually, all of them short and wrapped into a swift neat package at the Northwest Dance Project studio: producer Lindsey Matheis calls it an “appetizer program.” And even though most of the works are new, “(a)merging 2013” isn’t officially part of Fertile Ground.

It is, however, part of an immensely fertile cross-pollination of dance that’s been emerging in the past couple of years. In spite of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s current financial and leadership troubles, in many ways the scene’s rarely seemed more lively. What’s more, it’s lively in a particularly Portland way, with a creative blend of structured company shows and independent, quasi-pop-up events – some of them, like OBT’s dancer-run “Uprising” series of shows in places like Mississippi Studios, the Wonder Ballroom and the Aladdin Theater, either loosely sponsored by the established companies or side projects by artists affiliated with them. Programs ping-pong around spaces like Conduit and Lincoln Hall downtown, BodyVox in Northwest, and now Northwest Dance Project, in the bubbling Mississippi District of North Portland. And it’s creatively subversive: a mix and match of dancemakers whose home bases might be contemporary or modern or ballet but who break down the walls when they’re working together.

Matheis

Matheis

“(a)merging” is a first for the Dance Project, which has never used its studio space for someone else’s show before, and a first for Matheis, a leading dancer at NWDP, who’s never produced a show before. For both, the project offers the advantage of being something different but something familiar at the same time. It’s a two-weekend event, with Friday’s opening performance repeating at 7:30 tonight and tomorrow (Saturday-Sunday, January 26-27) and a separate show with seven different works, the “Dessert Program,” at 7:30 p.m. February 1-3.

Of Friday’s half-dozen dances, I liked Catherine Egan’s “Minute 5” the best. Performed by Esther LaPointe and Eric Nordstrom to music by Greg Paul, it seemed the most composed and also the wittiest piece on the program: a short, lightly jivey duet that begins with a held pose like a silhouette cutout and proceeds as a very loose-jointed, fidgety yet carefully constructed and technically sophisticated duet. Not a moment of unsureness, not a movement out of place – just a light, insouciant jig of a thing.

Javier Ubell’s “Pues” is even shorter, more of a power bar than an appetizer, and in certain ways a study in style and weight. Ubell is a soloist at OBT and a terrific character dancer, and for “Pues” he’s matched dancers from two companies noted for very different approaches: OBT company dancer Michael Linsmeier and Northwest Dance Project’s Andrea Parson.  Linsmeier dances long and stretched in the Balanchine tradition of grace and beauty. Parson, who is small and intense and so dramatically focused you’re afraid she might explode, is a mightily contained powerhouse of a performer. Whenever she moves she seems to be visiting some deep place within herself that is pristine and almost shockingly energetic. Watching the combination of those two approaches is fascinating, like watching a hammer wrapped in velvet swing through the air.

The program opened with a filmed dance, “Surface,” created by Carla Mann as a 10 Tiny Dances piece for the 2004 TBA Festival and featuring Patrick Gracewood and N.D. Newburger. It’s a nice bit of videographic illusion, with small dancers seeming to dance on a large dancer’s back, slipping in and out of crevices that seem to shift between human and geological. Former BodyVox dancer Lane Hunter’s “Caravan,” which he dances with Melissa Framiglio to a lightly swinging bit of music by Back to Earth, is a romantic duet maybe most notable for its opening and closing images of the delicate Framiglio floating elegantly above Hunter’s sturdy legs. In “twice, elisheva,” Elizabeth Bressler, working with Tracey Durbin, creates a piece for herself that seems about the power of the human body: Bressler moves emphatically, like a steam shovel or a power forward in a basketball game, sometimes slapping the floor for effect.

The program closer, Jennifer L. Camp’s “Beneath the Surface,” comes with a program note that it explores the stages of grief – “fear, denial, anger, acceptance, and hope” – and I feared it might be an overly illustrative outpouring of emotion. In fact, it’s light on its feet, and quite affecting, working in suggestion rather than statement. Its four young dancers – Tracey Carboneau, Melissa Framiglio, Cait Powers and Amelia Unsicker, all draped in bright valentine costumes by Caitlin Quinn – move through the sometimes elegant pacing with freshness and coltish restraint.

“(a)merging” is a refreshing blend of experience and inexperience, the familiar and the new, in an intimate atmosphere that embraces the idea of crossing borders and trying things out. Not just onstage but also in the audience, it was good to see a mix of creative people who are doing closely related work but don’t bring it together very often. A sizable group of OBT dancers was in the crowd, along with Dance Project regulars and others: a regular gumbo of Portland dance. This seems like a very good thing.

NOTES:

  • The Northwest Dance Project studio is at 833 N, Shaver Street, at the corner of Mississippi. Ticket information for this weekend’s remaining shows and next weekend’s program is here.
  • Featured in the February 1-3 program will be choreographers Anna Marra of BodyVox2; Eowyn Emerald Barrett, who’s also active as a dance pop-up producer; Chase Hamilton; Christopher Peddecord & Kara Girod Shuster; Sydney Skov of Polaris; Matheis; and Matheis’s fellow Dance Project performer Ching Ching Wong.

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