NW Dance Project wraps a decade

… still sock-footed, fluid-moving and full of surprises!

“Ten years! 160 new works!”

Northwest Dance Project’s artistic and managing directors, Sarah Slipper and Scott Lewis, veritably beamed through their opening announcements. They gloried in a successful tour to Slipper’s native Canada. They teased preliminary plans to move their company into a new space. They marvelled aloud that moments from now, the facade of the Jive Building on Southwest 10th and Stark would host a giant projected simulcast of this show. It was clearly a thrilling evening for the NWDP—a victory lap, with each of the evening’s four pieces culminating in an extended curtain call.

Parson and Nieto in "After the Shake." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Parson and Nieto in “After the Shake.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Considering the company’s huge repertoire, the “Director’s Choice” must have been a hard one, but the four pieces that made the cut were, in order of performance:

  • State of Matter, by Ihsan Rustem: A seeming conflict between nude, natural fluidity and black-clad, martial-arts-like ferocity, set to ambient/noise music and spoken word that somewhat romantically equates human beings with dust and clouds.
  • A Fine Balance, by Slipper: A pas de deux featuring Andrea Parson, Viktor Usov, a table and a chair. A seeming couple enacts the varying dynamics of power, domesticity, detainment and upset by posing selves and furniture amid filmic flashes and fadeouts.
  • Harmony Défiguréé, by Patrick Delcroix: Beginning with three couples, introducing three interlopers, culminating in a trio of love triangles. Music and action build to a whalloping climax and subside in a long denouement.
  • After The Shake, a world premiere by Slipper: Ingeniously free-standing brooms that double as pendulums are props in this religious reverie about the rise and decline of Shaker communities. ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple, as arranged by Aaron Copland, is identifiable, as are the motions of chores, barn-raising, worship, and spirit-slaying.

Just for fun, let’s suppose the Director’s Choice program is a concise current summary of the company’s identity—representing not only the benchmarks of a 10-year run, but also the hallmarks of Slipper and Co.’s celebrated vision.

What distinctive elements recur in a NWDP show? Here are a few that stand out.

Awards

NWDP will be the first to tell you how well its works have been received, and in this program, two pieces demonstrate NWDP’s ability to nab prestigious international honors. State of Matter got Audience Prize at the Hanover Competition for Choreographers, won the Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest in 2011, and was among 2012’s Cultural Olympiad performances. A Fine Balance took the 2006 Benois de la Danse Award and was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre. NWDP Dancer Andrea Parson won the Princess Grace Award in 2010, as did Franco Nieto in 2012.

Fluidity

If there’s one trait all NWDP dancers share, it’s fluidly graceful, limpidly flexible form. Sure, they can execute sharper moves…but even then, there’s an overriding sense of a larger flow. Could dancers describe this better than I? Probably. But it’s better just seen.

String-and-Synth Arrangements

Before he was NWDP’s managing director, Scott Lewis had a considerable tenure working in a record store. Over the years, I’ve heard NWDP dance to a little of everything, but it seems that in their most epic and representative repertoire, they favor combinations of chamber/orchestra and synth/goth/industrial sounds. Perhaps this isn’t unusual for a dance company, but it was a notable through-line for these four pieces.

Sock Feet

Paradoxically, the company fronted by Slipper favors socks over ballet footwear or bare feet. Are the NWDP’s ubiquitous stockings a fashion idiosyncrasy or a technique secret?

Uncommon Holds and Partner Role Reversal

A worthy challenge in contemporary partnering is how to invent and implement new holds, and in this respect NWDP pieces are full of surprises. In Balance, Usov lifted Parson with her legs frozen in a chair-sitting pose. At one point in Défiguréé, an unusual hold saw men cradling women’s heads as they sank to the floor. Role reversals, where the woman supported the weight of the man, also occurred frequently throughout the body of work, creating an impression of give-and-take gender equality or negotiation.

Unique Props and Mechanisms

State of Matter begins with striking stagecraft that half-parts the curtain while dangling Parson’s torso upside down and drifting Patrick Kilbane’s feet far above the ground. After the Shake also has cunning devices: brooms that can magically free-stand upright or, with minimal guidance, tick like pendulums. In A Fine Balance, the table and chair often perch precariously, ready to topple…but remain arranged. Such props provide a heady sense of suspended physics where anything could happen.

Andrea Parson
Not listed as a principle, Parson is nevertheless the most consistent focal point in the sampled shows. She ushers the others in and out of State of Matter and After the Shake, and she holds half the spotlight in A Fine Balance. A graceful mover with an expressive face, she rises admirably to these occasions.

Thursday night's simulcast on the side of downtown's Jive Building. Photo: NWDP

Thursday night’s simulcast on the side of downtown’s Jive Building. Photo: NWDP

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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