Carmen

Comedy tussles with drama in NDP’s ‘Room 4,’ ‘Carmen’

Physical humor animates premiere and revival in the dance company's 15th season opener

The premise of Sarah Slipper’s new dance Room 4, which opened Thursday in the Newmark Theatre and is continuing its premiere production through Saturday night, is quirky and appealing, in a how’s-she-going-to-do-that? way: to cross the cryptic playwright Harold Pinter with the over-the-top comedy troupe Monty Python, translate both into the world of dance, and see what happens.

From left: Disenhof, Couture, Parson, and Nieto in the premiere of NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper’s “Room 4.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

In a way, it seems an impossible challenge. Pinter and Python are almost opposites of the British theater, Pinter with his minimalist pauses and impenetrable meanings, Python with its absurdist maximalist glee. Pinter can be humorous, but in a dank and baleful way. Python stares into the abyss and finds it an uproariously funny place, a droll minefield of jokiness. Yet both also share an ingrained suspicion of human nature and institutions, both rely on cleanliness and sharpness for their theatrical effects, and both are bent on upsetting the apple cart of convention. It’s here, in Pinter’s evasive precision, Python’s oddball physicality, and their shared jaundice, that Slipper and her Northwest Dance Project performers find a common vein. Cleanliness is next to godliness, not that either Pinter or Python holds a lot of truck with the Big Guy.

Room 4 is performed by four dancers, each named simply and cryptically by a color: William Couture (Mr. Brown), Katherine Disenhof (Ms. Green), Franco Nieto (Mr. Grey) and Andrea Parson (Ms. Blue). They are in an office, that enduring 20th and 21st century symbol of hell on earth, with desks and no windows, and are struggling for supremacy in quest of a rumored promotion for one of them to the much-desired “outer office,” which includes a window that actually opens. There’ll be a twist, and that’s really all you need to know about the plot. The dancers move in concert to text recorded by a quartet of actors and consisting of a string of repeated office-hell phrases: “Why bother?”; “We’re all in this together.”

One of Slipper’s great strengths as a choreographer is her knowledge of what her dancers’ bodies can do and her ability to shape their motions in surprising ways. The four dancers in Room 4 move fluidly yet somehow also haltingly together, reaching, bumping, stacking, stretching against one another and the desks onstage, creating a bumptious action that at once goes all over the place and nowhere at all. And in spite of the forced conformity of the office atmosphere, the dancers’ individual personalities find their space, from Nieto’s swagger to Disenhof’s sly sass. The piece begins with a paper bag stuck over one of the office workers’ heads, and the whole thing’s carried out in a blind and empty routine that seems to want to be both comic and harrowing. The miming’s terrific – stylized large-gesture movement that surely owes something to Monty Python’s exaggerated physical storytelling, although in one of the funniest sequences the modus operandi seems closer to the Three Stooges.

The color-coded costumes are by Alexa Stark, the excellent lighting by Jeff Forbes, and the suitably foreboding found-sound score by Owen Belton. In the end, the unstable balance between comedy and drama tips toward the dramatic, which lands the comedy a square one on the jaw. That would be Pinter, winning over Python in a TKO.

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The company in Ihsan Rustem’s “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The humor comes out to play more clearly in the second, longer portion of the program, the return of resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s Carmen, which is updated to the 1950s, complete with rockabilly impressions and a concentration on hair: a beauty shop for the woman dancers, a barber shop for the men. This Carmen was a delight when it premiered in 2017, and it’s a delight now: Rustem’s taken a story almost as familiar as the tale of Santa’s visits down the chimney, and made it his own. This program marks the beginning of NDP’s 15th season and reflects a natural evolution. The company began with a commitment to perform only original works, and has done them by the dozens. It’s an adventurous mission, by its nature something of an unpredictable joy ride. Some of the dances, of course, stand out from the pack, and the company has gradually begun to build a repertory of such pieces that it keeps and repeats. Now, all of NDP’s dances are original, but not all of them are new.

Three of the four main dancers from 2017 return to their roles here: Andrea Parson as the cool-temperature, nouveau-riche seductress Carmen; Franco Nieto as DJ (for Don José), who falls intemperately for Carmen’s charms; and Lindsey McGill as the sweet but forlorn Micaëla, who was engaged to DJ until Carmen slinked into town. A late injury sidelined Elijah Labay, who is replaced quite swimmingly by Anthony Pucci as Eli, the sideburned, swiveling new guy in town, who plays Carmen’s game possibly better than she does herself.

Nieto hoists Parson in “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Rustem knows how to shape a narrative beautifully, creating something of a contemporary riff on the classic story ballet, and his wit is always present but never overpowering. Once again the dancing is crisp and superb, with the Wolf Pack women’s corps of Disenhof, Samantha Campbell, Colleen Loverde, and Julia Radick matching the men’s corps of Kevin Pajarillaga, Couture, Kody Jauron, and the slyly named “Hair Dryer” like socks to a hop.

As Jamuna Chiarini reported a few days ago, four long-time company members are leaving after this production. Labay and Radick, who recently married, are moving to his native Quebec. McGill is going home to Texas, and Campbell wants to move into arts administration. All four will be missed. Newcomers Loverde and Pajarillaga are stepping in, and look to be good additions.

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Northwest Dance Project’s Room 4 and Carmen have their final performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in the Newmark Theatre of Portand’5 Centers for the Arts. Ticket information here.

 

 

This is a really big week for NW Dance Project. The company, directed by Sarah Slipper, celebrates its 15th season; premieres Slipper’s new work, Room 4; remounts the dark, quirky Carmen by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem; says goodbye to four longtime company dancers, and welcomes two new ones.

Room 4, which I saw in rehearsal Tuesday, is a dance/conversation/argument for two women, two men, and four desks. It takes place in a small, dark, windowless office. The source of tension is a coveted promotion to “the outer office,” which causes strife among the office workers. The work is loosely inspired by Counterpart–a science-fi-thriller television series that takes place in parallel dimensions full of intrigue, espionage, and government conspiracies–and the witty repartee between characters in Monty Python’s absurdist comedy sketch Argument Clinic. Owen Belton’s score for this piece is a cinematic mix of found sounds that he recorded out and about in the world, like the sound of a buzzing electric light, mixed with a recording of four Seattle actors performing a script Slipper wrote. The costumes are genderless; instead, color is used to distinguish each character.

Rustem’s Carmen, which premiered in 2017, is back, deeper and richer than ever. His twist on Georges Bizet’s Carmen sets the story in a beauty parlor and barber shop instead of the bullrings of southern Spain, and this time out, there’s a new character, Rusty, who is just a little too keen on the scissors. What hasn’t changed is the wealth of seduction, secrecy, betrayal, and death: enough to satisfy all your carnal desires. And there is fierce, exhaustive dancing with quite a bit of comedy to balance it all out. This 40-minute work uses Bizet’s Carmen Suite without the vocals, and features sets by Spanish designer Luis Crespo and costumes by Portland fashion designer and Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak. In 2017, ArtsWatch senior editor/writer Bob Hicks reviewed it, which you can read here.

The dancers leaving the company are Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, and Julia Radick. Labay and Radick, who were married this summer, are headed for Quebec, in Labay’s native Canada. Campbell, who has been with the company since 2009, plans to transition into arts administration, and McGill, who has been with the company since 2012, will return to her native Texas to pursue a range of interests, including dance.

The company has added dancers Colleen Loverde and Kevin Pajarillaga, both of whom Slipper chose through NW Dance Project’s summer Launch program this July.

Performances this week

NW Dance Project Carmen dress rehearsal, Ihsan Rustem choreography. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Carmen and Room 4 (World Premiere)
NW Dance Project, Ihsan Rustem and Sarah Slipper
September 27-29
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
See above.

Ahmet Luleci
Presented by Ruby Beh
8 pm September 29
New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St

Turkey native and Boston resident Ahmet Luleci, an expert in Anatolian folk dances, comes to Portland for two days to present workshops, lectures, and a Saturday evening performance focused on regional styles of folkloric Turkish dance and music. Luleci, a choreographer, performer and dance teacher, serves as artistic director of the Boston-based Collage Dance Ensemble.

Super dancer Carlyn Hudson leaping through the cosmos. Photo by Design By Goats.

Some Are Silver
Carlyn Hudson
7:30 pm September 29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Some Are Silver, a collection of three world premieres and several older works that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance, ballet, and vaudeville, and weave together humor, heartache, and beauty. The choreography reflects an array of contrasting ideas performed to jazz, classical, and folk music. The cast includes Briley Jozwiak, Amelia Unsicker, Elle Crowley, Anna Marra, Kara Girod, Mari Kai Juras, and Hudson herself.

Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is the daughter of a dancer and a visual artist/woodworker. She earned her BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet, and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino, and Zahra Banzi.

ArtsWatch writer Elizabeth Whelan reviewed Some Are Silver, which you can read here.

Dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Center For The Arts.

China In Dance
Beijing Dance Academy
Presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre
7 pm September 30
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Beijing Dance Academy, a state-funded professional dance school in China that specializes in ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance, musical theater, and contemporary dance, will debut 30 of its most talented dancers performing ten classical dances. The program includes Liang Zhu (Butterfly Lovers, known as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Yellow River, which depicts the origin of Chinese culture and spirit.

Upcoming Performances

October
October 4-6, Come to your senses, Pilobolus, Presented by White Bird
October 5-6, Shiny Angles in Angular Time, Melinda Ring, and Renée Archibald
October 6-13, Napoli, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 6-7, Hamlet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
October 9, The New Chinese Acrobats, Eugene
October 11-15, Portland Tango Festival
October 11-16, Circa, Presented by White Bird
October 11-20, Bloody Vox: Deadline October, BodyVox
October 12-13, Change(d) Together, The Circus Project
October 12-20, A Spine Tingling Soiree, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 12-21, Portland Dance Film Fest
October 18-20, Lucy Guerin Inc, Presented by White Bird
October 19, Everything’s Copacetic, The Skylark Tappers
October 20, Clock that Mug or Dusted, Cherdonna Shinatra, Presented by Risk/Reward
October 20, As You Like It-A Wild West Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
October 20-21, The Man Who Forgot, The Portland Tap Company
October 22, Dance Artist Talk: Lucy Guerin, Reed College
October 26, Star Dust, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Eugene
October 26, Flamenco Pacifico, Presented by Berto Boyd
October 28, Matices Criollos, Peruvian Cultural Festival

November
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

The red and the visible dark

The premieres of Ihsan Rustem's swift new "Carmen" and Patrick Delcroix's "Visible Darkness" color the spectrum for NW Dance Project

The beginning is not the fall itself, but the struggle to get up. Elijah Labay, the central figure in Patrick Delcroix’s new dance Visible Darkness, lies prone on the stage of the Newmark Theatre, raising his shoulders, lifting his torso, and then sinking back again. He’s been lying there, intermittently resting and struggling to move, for who knows how long. He is discovered, with alarm, and slowly, gently raised, and the dance moves on.

Visible Darkness is one of two world premieres (the other is resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s swift and witty new take on that old reliable potboiler Carmen) that opened Thursday evening in NW Dance Project’s newest program, which will repeat Friday and Saturday in the Newmark. Both tell stories, though not in the traditional story-ballet sense: they are narrative, but elliptical, allowing suggestion and mood to fill in much of the storytelling detail.

Ching Ching Wong and William Couture in “Visible Darkness.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The story of Visible Darkness is very personal for Delcroix, the French choreographer and Jirí Kylián associate who’s created several dances for NDP beginning in 2011. According to Scott Lewis, NDP’s executive director, it’s about an accident Delcroix had two years ago: “He fell off a ladder while working on his home in The Hague and was found days later, unconscious, with a broken nose and other injuries,” including brain trauma. His recovery was long and arduous. This is Delcroix’s first new dance since the accident, and an emergence: As he says in a program note, “a difficult chapter in my life is complete.”

Continues…

DanceWatch Weekly: Openings and closings

The dance weekend bubbles with new work from the likes of NW Dance Project, BodyVox, the Necessity Arts Collective and the Baroque Dance Project

This weekend is all about openings and closings, transitions, and possibly a change from winter to spring. I can already smell my neighbor’s fragrant magnolia tree beginning to bloom. I am feeling hopeful that we will see more sun soon, although I love the rain.

Opening tonight is NW Dance Project’s world premier of a modern day Carmen, choreographed by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, joined on the program by choreographer Patrick Delcroix’s Visible Darkness. Visible Darkness is the first piece that Delcroix has made since a harrowing fall off of a ladder two years ago that left him unconscious for several days. The dance tells that story.

ArtsWatch welcomes new civically minded dance theatre company Necessity Arts Collective, directed by Hayley Glickfeld Bielman, who will be collaborating with Ping & Woof opera company to perform Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in a fundraiser for Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation.

The Baroque Dance Project, a collaboration between harpsichordist Alice Sheu and baroque dancer Julie Iwasa, will take place at Performance Works NW on Friday night. Iwasa has painstakingly recreated the the dances steps to Jean-Philippe Rameau and J. S. Bach’s keyboard suites from 300-year-old dance manuals, a deep-dive into the history of dance in the West.

On Sunday BodyVox founders Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland will don wearable Intel technology and accompany the Oregon Symphony in a composition written especially for them and their high-tech costumes by principal percussionist Niel DePonte, punningly entitled Intel-ligent Juxtapositions.

Mr. Gaga is still showing at Living Room Theaters. The film captures the life of Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director Ohad Naharin. In April, it will also be part of the Contact Film Festival, a collaboration between BodyVox and NW Film Center.

Also closing this weekend is the musical theatre hit In The Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda with choreography by Sara Parker. The story is a celebration of the immigrant story in America that takes place in a Dominican-American community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

Continues…

‘Carmen.’ It’s big. Really big.

As Portland Opera heads toward a small-scale future, a brassy Bizet reminds audiences that the company will continue to play big, too.

Ninety-four. That’s the magic number. Ninety-four performers onstage at Keller Auditorium, counting 11 named characters, a couple of flamenco dancers, a chorus the size of Montana, and a sprinkling of supernumeraries. That doesn’t include the 60-odd musicians in the orchestra pit, driving the action under George Manahan’s brisk and lively tempos in Portland Opera’s latest production of Georges Bizet’s sizzling potboiler Carmen. The tale of the sensuous cigarette-factory worker and her fatal attractions opened to a packed house on Friday night, and has three more performances – tonight, Thursday, and Saturday – before resting once more (oh, so temporarily!) in peace.

This Carmen is big and vivid and glorious to look at, and it fills the 3,000 seats of the cavernous conundrum that is the Keller with seeming ease. Not all of the voices are huge, but they carry well in a notoriously difficult auditorium, filling it with spectacle, or maybe cutting it down to size. You can read Angela Allen’s illuminating background piece for ArtsWatch here, and James McQuillen’s perceptive review for The Oregonian here.

Katrina Galka (left) as Frasquita, Sandra Piques Eddy as Carmen, Angela Niederloh (right) as Mercedes at Portland Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Katrina Galka (left) as Frasquita, Sandra Piques Eddy as Carmen, Angela Niederloh (right) as Mercedes at Portland Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

So how, you might be wondering, does an all-stops-pulled extravaganza like this fit into Portland Opera’s plans to reinvent itself as a chamber-sized opera company, presenting its productions festival-style in a summer season? That’ll start next year, when the company produces half or more of its shows in the much more intimate, 880-seat Newmark Theatre, a move that will radically alter the relationship between performers and audience, and presumably will also reshape the sorts of operas being produced. Twentieth and 21st century fare, Baroque operas, smaller-scale and more theatrical works, experimental operas, operas outside the warhorse canon might well come to the fore. That’s an exciting prospect.

But this Carmen is a healthy reminder that roughly half of the opera’s season won’t be performed in the Newmark: two shows each season will stay in the vast and tricky reaches of the Keller. And it’s good to be reminded that, when the company approaches the Keller smartly and imaginatively and with the proper resources, that isn’t a bad thing.

I have a quibble or two about this production, mainly about the relationships among the ill-fated lovers: theatrically, Chad Shelton’s Don José seems cowed by Sandra Piques Eddy’s sensual powerhouse of a Carmen, as if he’s afraid of her, which makes it tough to buy her attraction to him, and makes her throwing-over of him for the swaggering toreador Escamillo seem an inevitability rather than a tragedy. But that’s a matter of interpretation, and in other ways stage director Eric Einhorn keeps the three hours flowing swiftly and involvingly. What makes this production work (besides the undeniable appeal of the music and story, which together make Carmen the gateway drug of operas) is the richness of the production, a traditional but beautiful work of visual imagination ignited by Eddy’s prowling, nervy, physically unshackled performance as Carmen. Paul Shortt’s towering scenic designs, Eduardo V. Sicango’s exuberant costumes, and Shawn Kaufman’s savvy lighting combine to say: This is how you do this thing. This is what opera’s about.

Musical theater will become a regular attraction of the “new” Portland Opera (we’ve seen a Pirates of Penzance recently, and Show Boat is coming up in May), and that brings its own opportunities and challenges. Pirates, for instance, took on water partly because of how it used amplification in the Keller, a problem that doesn’t exist for Carmen and other mainstream operas, in which voices simply aren’t amplified, ever. On the other hand, there are great musicals, and operettas, and frankly admitting them to the performance mix as part of the spectrum both broadens the company’s audience base and emphasizes that it’s all musical theater, from Siegfried to South Pacific.

I can imagine Carmen, with its kinship to the theatrical traditions of the Broadway musical, playing even more effectively in the more intimate and actor-friendly Newmark. But old favorites will remain part of the company’s mix – and most likely in the Keller, a hall whose dimensions demand a certain grandeur. The shows there are likely to remain most seasons’ big draws; the popular, beyond-the-core-audience attractions. And with only two a season, they’re likely to become big events, which means they can’t afford to be slapdash. Intriguingly, going small could also help elevate the quality of the few shows that remain big.

Aficionados may well gravitate to the smaller stage and the intrigue of its hopefully riskier projects. That’s good. A few dynamically produced traditional favorites in the big barn (or more ambitious big-scale operas rarely done here), performed as likably as this Carmen, should help balance the repertoire – and, as importantly, the books. Ninety-four well-deployed bodies can have a very big impact.