Preview: NW Dance Project’s really BIG show

The contemporary company celebrates its 10th anniversary onstage, and in a great big outdoor simulcast on the side of a downtown building

Call it the Attack of the 50 Foot Dancers.

While the 10 dancers of the Northwest Dance Project are performing onstage in the Newmark Theatre Thursday night, their giant avatars will be cavorting on the side of downtown’s aptly named Jive Building, taking their art to the streets.

“I’m not chintzing out. I’m going big,” Sarah Slipper, NDP’s co-founder and artistic director, said with a laugh a few days ago while taking a break from rehearsing her newest piece.

Andrea Parson and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix's "Harmonie Défigurée." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Andrea Parson and Patrick Kilbane in Patrick Delcroix’s “Harmonie Défigurée.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

This week’s shows, called Director’s Choice, mark the Dance Project’s tenth season, and Slipper wanted to celebrate that landmark emphatically: in the past decade, the company’s dancers have premiered more than 160 works. So the idea of the giant projections on the side of the Jive, at Southwest 10th Avenue and Stark Street, was born. The project’s sheer size and street-accessibility create the possibility of generating an entirely new audience. “We were very interested in bringing vibrancy to the city,” Slipper said. “You know how I’m always saying I want to crack things open. Let people in. Even, it becomes visual art. It’s First Thursday, so the area’s going to be pretty active, which is cool.”

Thursday’s almost-simulcast starts at 8 o’clock, with sunset, a half-hour after curtain in the Newmark, and catches up with the indoor show during intermission. It’s underwritten by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which likes to fund “value-added” projects, and it should be an eye-catcher. NDP’s dancers are swift and agile and arresting, and seeing them move in giant form in the middle of the city should be startling, in a good way.

Those giant dancers on the side of the wall aren’t the only big things happening at NDP.

  • The company’s just returned from a successful two-week Canadian tour, with well-received performances in Vancouver, Banff, Edmonton, and Salt Spring Island. Reviews were long and appreciative, and for Slipper, who comes from Vancouver, it was a nostalgic homecoming. She trained at Banff, and her family had a second home on Salt Spring Island: “It was like a time warp, in some ways.”
  • Even bigger news: the company is looking for a new home. Its lease is expiring at its studios in the Mississippi District, which NDP has outgrown, anyway. Slipper and executive director Scott Lewis are looking at another East Side space, in the close-in Southeast warehouse district, that would offer 9,000 square feet, enough for two studios, offices, changing rooms, showers, storage, and other necessities. If that space or a similar one works out, Lewis said, it’ll still need “at least a three-month buildout” that would move the company’s busy summer programs to temporary spaces. The company is in the quiet phase of a $300,000 capital campaign for renovations, and will take it public once a space is secured. “It would set us up for the next 10 years,” Slipper said. “It would be an arts center.”

In the meantime, Director’s Choice is almost here – in the Newmark, where it’ll be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; projected giant economy size on the side of the Jive, at 8 p.m. Thursday and re-broadcast at 10:30 p.m.; and streamed online at nwdanceproject.org.

The program will include a large-scale world premiere by Slipper and the first piece she made for the company, A Fine Balance. Between the two will be restagings of two more pieces that were created for NDP, which specializes in new work. British choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s State of Matter is the piece that won the 2011 Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Concert; NDP’s dancers performed it at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad in London. Harmonie Défigurée is a repeat of a work for nine dancers by company favorite Patrick Delcroix, a Nederlands Dance Theater alumnus who now choreographs internatonally and is a frequent repetiteur for the works of Jirí Kylián. “The idea is, it’s kind of a retrospective show, with the bookends by Sarah, and she got to choose the other pieces,” Lewis said.

Parson in Ihsan Rustem's "State of Matter." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Parson in Ihsan Rustem’s “State of Matter.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

“It will be a very robust show,” Slipper said. Her own work tends to be at least implicitly narrative: “I’m not an abstract person so much. I’ve tried that, I do that, but I like the theatrical, the emotional.”

A Fine Balance, which inaugurated the company 10 years ago and will close the anniversary program, is a two-person dance, with a table and chair as integral props. It’ll be performed by company veterans Andrea Parson and Viktor Usov. “You know how I love relationships,” Slipper said. “Always have, always will. The table and the chair really are the metaphor for the relationship. The table is the man, the chair is the woman. (The dance) was also really influenced by the world of film. The lens opens, and then it closes. There are a lot of blackouts.”

Slipper’s new piece, which will open the program, is big and broad, created for the entire company, with a lead role for Franco Nieto, who like Parson is a winner of the Princess Grace Award. It is not, Slipper said, a celebratory anniversary piece: it reflects a lot of stress from the past year, including her sister’s death. She’s found her inspiration in the lives and art of the Shakers, the religious sect known for its simplicity, hard work, and beautiful craftsmanship. “I’m fascinated by the Shakers and their spirituality,” she said. The Shaker concept of God was dualistic, both male and female, “and women had equal rights. They were way ahead. They had music and dance. And it interests me that they were also celibate. I don’t know how they thought they’d continue themselves.” The new dance starts off with a bit of Appalachian Spring, “but then I’m taking it more contemporary.”

A bold move, no doubt. And on Thursday night outside the Jive, a really big one.

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Thursday night’s simulcast on the side of the Jive Building, at 8 p.m. and repeated at 10:30 p.m., is free. Performances in the Newmark Theatre are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday, April 3-5. Tickets and details here. The performance will also be streamed online at nwdanceproject.org.

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