“Chopin Preludes”

Summer Splendors: The ‘Chopin Project’ returns with an ambitious new Sarah Slipper dance

The NW Dance Project's Summer Splendors brought back the delights of "Chopin Project" and explored the dense possibilities in relationships with a world premiere

This year’s version of NW Dance Project’s Summer Splendors, which concluded its run Saturday at Lincoln Performance Hall, featured the premiere of director Sarah Slipper’s inventive, ambitious new piece, Tell me How it Ends and the welcome return of Chopin Project” from 2015.

For Slipper’s world premiere, two distinct sets fill the stage—on the left a stripped-down interior with a wall, a door, and a table, and on right, an empty space, save for a large backdrop for ambient projections. There is a sense of gravity on the left, the “real world,” while the open space on the right is a view into another dimension of that reality, and the interplay between the sides is a looking-inward rather than a comparison.

Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay are the couple who live on the left, and Julia Radick and Franco Nieto inhabit the dreamier space on the right, dancing at a more pensive, lyrical pace. The piece begins with Parson and Labay attempting to enter their simple home side-by-side, but they’re unable to both go through the door while holding their props—a vase of flowers for Parson and a cardboard box for Labay.

Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay in the world premiere of NW Dance Project Artistic Director Sarah Slipper’s “Tell Me How it Ends”/Blaine Truitt Covert

The chemistry between Parson and Labay is intense and finely honed. It’s clear that they have studied and imagined the relationship between the characters they play, not just the choreography that brings them together. They show a remarkable fluidity of tone as they move through the squalls, doldrums, and currents of their relationship, once entering the “house.” The most successful sequence involves an apple held between them, each biting down on one side. Starting with a crisp bite that is hard enough to be heard in the audience, the tactile memory of the resistance, flavor and lightness of biting into an apple fleshes out the space between the two, and gives their movements and their opposing bodies’ weight a sharp immediacy.

We can imagine how careful and in sync they have to be not to tear out another bite from the apple or damage their teeth, as they move together. The device is successful because it’s more than a gimmick—it’s a simple, insightful hook of personal experience with the audience on which to hang the dancers’ immediate, physical concerns.

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