NW Dance Project: Darkness falls, great dancing continues

The company's fall program was full of dances on the dark side, but the dancing met their considerable technical demands

By HEATHER WISNER

There were echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic Monster, the opener of NW Dance Project’s fall season concert, which played Lincoln Hall over the weekend. The piece felt industrial, edgy, dark; a little European, a little dystopian—a feeling that suffused the whole evening.

In his Monster program note, Landerer, a German choreographer, gave viewers this to chew on: “What stands between two parties or people can be described as an organism that at some point might develop a dynamic of its own. So what we intend to form and build might eventually turn into something that gets out of control and shapes us instead.” (Before we go on, for a bit of grim fun, take a minute to apply that idea to any number of historical events in the last century.)

Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong in Felix Landerer’s “Post-Traumatic-Monster”, NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Landerer’s vision of fractured dynamics was built around two groups of dancers dressed in utilitarian black, save the two leads, Franco Nieto and Ching Ching Wong, who wore more flesh-and-blood tones of red and tan. Propelled by an electronic score punctuated with clicks, clangs and breaths, the two groups seethed and heaved en masse, lifting and manipulating Nieto and Wong as puppeteers might. The pair ultimately got their moment alone in a sinewy duet, but the group dynamic tended to dominate. There were only occasional moments of individualism—memorably, when Andrea Parson bent back to lean against something that wasn’t there, then slowly dissolved to the floor, unnoticed by the others swirling around her.

Czech choreographer Jiri Pokorny’s 2016 piece If at Some Hour You Return was similarly intense, if a little more skittish and spidery. The six black-clad dancers traveled, mostly together, through a Jeff Forbes lighting scheme that ebbed and flowed between bright and dim, pooling solos and duets in the spotlight along the way. Another pulsing electronic score—this one layered with birdsong and snippets of French speech—set the mood as pairs of dancers rolled, lunged and sparred through partnerships that never seemed to fully connect. Theirs was a togetherness that still maintained a certain distance.

Elijah Labay and Andrea Parson in Wen Wei Wang’s “You Are All I See,” NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

There was sparring, too, in the program’s third piece, Canada-based choreographer Wen Wei Wang’s You Are All I See. A row of footlights toward the back of the stage divvied up the action; behind the lights looked something like Fight Club, as dancers punched at the air or each other. In front of the lights, a muscular tension hummed between between shirtless men and women in black turtleneck leotards.

Wang’s piece, created in collaboration with the dancers, was a world premiere; and the program also marked the debut of new company dancers Katherine Disenhof and Anthony Pucci. It served as a swan song for veteran company member Ching Ching Wong, a small but mighty talent who, during her tenure, earned a prestigious Princess Grace Award and the admiration of viewers in Portland and elsewhere the company has performed. She will be missed, although the new dancers seem to have integrated into the company as seamlessly as a zipper through teeth, and the dancing is as good as it has ever been, meeting the considerable athletic demands visiting choreographers continue to make. This program, if aesthetically homogenous and temperamentally cool, still showed off considerable technical skill on the part of dancers and dancemakers alike.

Julia Radick, Andrea Parson, Elijah Labay, William Couture, Franco Nieto in Jirí Pokorný’s “At Some Hour You Return,” NW Dance Project/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The company’s next venture, December’s Bolero + Billie program, will give the dancers a chance to play around with comedy, narrative dance and music steeped in emotion. By then we may all want something to lighten the mood.

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