Portland Playhouse The sounds of Afrolitical Movement Portland Oregon

Dance review: Singing, strife and stray oranges


They’re going Gaga at Lincoln Hall this weekend, and I don’t mean the Lady variety. NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances, which run nightly through Saturday and close the company’s season, feature work by Ohad Naharin ambassador Danielle Agami, a master teacher of Naharin’s Gaga movement language.

Agami’s 2013 piece This Time Tomorrow illustrates the benefits of Gaga study, which emphasizes heightened physical awareness and clarity of form. Although much of this ensemble piece is set to fuzzy electronica, the movement is clean and purposeful throughout, whether it’s slithering/rolling/crawling across the floor, silly walks, multiple fouette turns or full-body freakouts.

Samantha Campbell, Julia Radick, and Elijah Labay in Danielle Agami’s “This Time Tomorrow” in NW Dance Project’s Summer Performances/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

It’s a wonderfully weird piece—choreographically varied, with sharp tempo and directional changes—and absurdist in feeling (kudos to the dancers for not wiping out on the oranges that come rolling out from the wings across the stage). It likely stretched the company kinesthetically and artistically, and it gives the rest of us something to mull over long after the show ends.

NWDP Artistic Director Sarah Slipper’s 2011 MemoryHouse , which earned high praise when the company took it to the storied Massachusetts dance festival Jacob’s Pillow, returns on this program. It’s an emotionally fraught duet for a woman (Andrea Parson) and man (Franco Nieto), although the state of their relationship isn’t certain: in the course of the performance, Parson puts on and takes off an apron, the pockets of which are filled with flour, so we at least get the sense that theirs is a domestic arrangement. The lighting design from Jeff Forbes, one of Portland’s unsung (or at least undersung) dance heroes, sets the mood without fanfare: what looks like sun streaming through blinds darkens gradually, suggesting the passage of time in the room this pair inhabits.

Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto in Sarah Slipper’s “MemoryHouse” at NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

And what is happening between them? Slipper gives us the agony and the ecstasy of intimacy: there’s plenty of touching, but are they actually connecting? When Parson stands or sits on Nieto, is he supporting her or is she dominating him? It depends on your perspective. There are recognizable relationship moments here—sweetness and conflict, and especially vulnerability; in the final moments, Parson dances with eyes closed, unsure if Nieto is there, and on the spot, chooses one of many possible choreographed endings.

The evening’s world premiere, If You Stay , comes from resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem. It’s accompanied by live music from Savage Nightingale, a Portland-based project by vocalist Brent Woodson Smith, joined here by fiddler/banjoist Collin Stackhouse, who emerges with one instrument, recedes, and returns with the next. (Smith isn’t Bobby McFerrin, but there are commonalities in the vocalizing, which layers tones and beats.) The cast rotates: on opening night, Nieto, Parson, Anthony Pucci, Katherine Disenhof and Kody Jauron danced this plotless collage of contemporary movement.

NW Dance Project dancers Anthony Pucci, Katherine Disenhof, Kody Jauron, and Andrea Parson in the world premiere of Resident Choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s “If You Stay”/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The mood is clubby, especially with Smith behind the decks and Forbes’ lighting scheme, which morphs from icy blue to spring green. Rustem—whose Carmen will open the company’s new season this fall—knows these dancers well by now, and this athletic piece is a good fit for them. There isn’t much in the away of unison movement, except when Smith steps into the center, cheerfully moving to his own voice as the dancers swirl around him.

If You Stay is a mesmerizing integration of movement, light and sound that sends us off into summer with a song.

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