Here’s a good idea: Cultivate a group of super talented young, often local dancers. Invite choreographers from across the globe to come experience Portland while they create inventive new dance pieces for those fresh movers. Perform those work locally and nationally, building buzz and nabbing awards, all the while running a community center back home where Portlanders can take inexpensive ballet, jazz, hip hop, and yoga classes, taught by both company members and a who’s who of the local dance scene. Repeat for 10 years. That’s Sarah Slipper’s Northwest Dance Project.
The 10-member company celebrated a decade of unconventional dance creation last night at the Newmark Theater with a quartet of intense, forcefully danced pieces cherry-picked from the company’s 160 works (and counting).
The evening ping-ponged from full company onslaughts to intimate duets, but the through line was strong, athletic movement. In French dancemaker Patrick Delcroix’s Harmonie Défiguréé (2011), pairs of jelly-spined dancers twisted and tangled their limbs; swooping and catching each other over and over, their movements mimicking the ever-building thrum of Johann Johannsson’s hypnotic, reverberating score.
Artistic director Slipper's own A Fine Balance (2009) was an, in turn, sensual, winsome and cutting duet for company star and Princess Grace Award–winner Andrea Parson and Viktor Usov that doubled as the most spectacularly acrobatic session of couple's counseling ever. Parson is a gamine powderkeg—her small form cutting through movements with knife-edged grace one second, melting against and seemingly into her partner the next. I suspect she’d be captivating to watch even if she was just eating Rice Krispies at her kitchen table; she’s that interesting.
She’s not the only standout: lilliputian Ching Ching Wong, who PoMo recently profiled, possesses such spring and bounce, it’s as if she’s perpetually floating on her own bit of Crystal Ballroom dance floor. Patrick Kilbane’s passionate, lithe quality of movement stole focus early and continued to be a highlight. Dude is simply sinuous.
Northwest Dance Project’s Director’s Choice
Slipper also offered a world premiere of a longer work focused on Shaker spirituality (After The Shake). A near-extinct religious sect big on celibacy, separation from the outside world, and public confession of sins is choreographic catnip, and Slipper’s piece makes the most of the Shakers’ trademark ecstatic movement, creating vivid tableaux of rings of the faithful, quivering with exultation, and women in blood red dresses swinging brooms like clock pendulums. The danced narrative dragged a bit, but the choreographer’s dramatic balletic forms and thoughtful partnering twists are always interesting to watch, and the moral of the story was stark: celibacy will make you batshit crazy.
A highlight was Ihsan Rustem’s supple State of Matter, which won the 2011 Sadler’s Wells Global Dance contest and opened with a disconcertingly lovely image of floating, jittering feet and heads. The piece slips and slides through both ethereal duets and swarms of black clad dancers straining against a driving, stuttering beat. There was some spoken word nonsense about people being like clouds, but, really, it was all about Rachelle Waldie’s barely there costumes, which drew attention to the real, physically demanding work of hoisting arms, legs, and entire whole bodies in the air for unreasonably long periods of time.
Dance is hard; it’s a delight to watch it performed with such energy and abandon.