NW Dance Project’s Bolero + Billie = A Rollercoaster of a Night of Dance

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Let me start this review by reminding you all where my dance lover’s heart resides: in Portland.  More specifically, with NW Dance Project.  I simply adore this company, more than I can say, and was absolutely heart broken that my inability to plan well cost me the opportunity to see their fall show in October, and the final performance of the marvelous Ching Ching Wong.  So, when I realized there was a winter show, I simply had to drive myself down to see it, because not only would I get to see my beloved NW Dance Project dancers do what they do best, but it was a relaunch of Ihsan Rustem’s Bolero +, which as you’ll recall from my review of the premier, it is one of my all time favorite pieces I’ve ever seen. And I love me some Billie Holliday, so to Portland I trekked.

The evening started on a wonderful high, dining with two of my favorite people on the planet at the nearby Raven & Rose (I highly recommend you check that out, btw), and then off to the performance hall we went.  As I took my seat, and looked through the program, I saw that the choreographers for the Billie part of the program were the dancers themselves!  And Artistic Director, Sarah Slipper explained during her curtain speech that at NW Dance Project, they are not only developing outstanding dancers, but also the next generation of choreographers, so the winter show is the time in the season where the dancers get to flex their creative, choreographic muscles.  Intrigued?  So was I.  So let’s get into it, shall we?

So Billie came first, and it was set to a montage of songs sung by the incomparable Billie Holiday.  And the dancers set up a scenario of a holiday party where Billie is the musical act, and the cast of characters navigate their way through the evening as Ms. Holiday sings all the feelings, and for me, this program took me on a rollercoaster of an experience with some lovely highs, and some unfortunate lows.

Concept and design were two of the major high points!  I loved the lighting, the minimal set, and the single old microphone with a single spot light on it where I could almost see the ghost of Billie Holiday standing there crooning.  The costumes were era specific, fit beautifully, and seriously, nobody wears a fedora like my beloved Franco Nieto!  Bellissimo!  The show opens with the entire company slowly entering the party, where each dancer played out a different character (some as couples, some as hopeful singles looking to meet someone new, some as smooth swaggering studs) and all were wonderfully done.  Good acting all the way around. An outstanding start.

And from there the dancers navigated through 13 different pieces each set to a different song, and each song brought a new level of intensity and catastrophe because the characters were getting drunker by the 8 count.  And to be frank, the more the program went on, the more my stress level went up, because in the first few numbers, the intentions were clear, the narrative of each piece beautifully danced and executed, and the story was believable.  But as the program went on, intentions got muddy, the narrative got confusing, and the story took a weird tangent before it found its way back.

I found Kody Jauron’s choreography on Franco Nieto during the Leonard Feather announcement section in the first half of this piece particularly stunning.  A short piece, but very powerful and impactful all at once.  Then, be still, my dance lover’s heart, not only are Elijah Labay and Franco Nieto two of my favorite dancers, but seeing the beauty they created in their first pieces set to What A Little Moonlight Can Do and Summertime Billie - Katherinerespectfully put them on the list of future choreographers I will no doubt fall in love with because the work was good!  Creative, flowing movements, that matched the easy, haunting beauty that flows from Billie’s voice, fully embracing the sultry tempos, and utilizing the stage and the light to really showcase the music as well as the dancer.  Loved it!  And this was my first time seeing Katherine Disehof perform, and she absolutely won my heart dancing Mr. Labay’s piece.  What a wonderful addition to the company!

Although I must say, my favorite piece in the first half of this program was created by Lindsey McGill to On the Sunny Side of the Street.  This piece, danced by Mr. Jauron, Mr. Nieto, and the always stunning Andrea Parson was witty and fun, and to be honest, was such a nice wrap up from the pieces that came before it, I thought it was the finale piece.  Ooops!  But in my defense, it was such a well rounded creation, with a strong story, clear and crisp phrases that highlighted the talents of each of these dancers, and the whole company was involved, and the piece was beautiful and amazing and it just felt like a perfect end to a party on a high note!  I was really impressed, and look forward to seeing more choreography from Ms. McGill in the future.

Sadly for me, that was where the magic ended for a bit, because as the program went on, the dance, the dancers, and the energy got extremely frantic and uncontrolled to an uncomfortable level.  As the characters got deeper into the party, I felt the dancers got too deep into their characters as to forget that the dancer must control the dance to ensure that no one gets hurt.  And to be frank, I was seriously concerned during a couple of lifts because the landings, or better phrased, the falls, were completely out of control.  Additionally, there was a lot of pushing and falling going on, and either the fallers weren’t falling where they were supposed to, or the catchers weren’t where they were supposed to be, but something felt very chaotically off, and I had a hard time relaxing and enjoying the show as I was worried about my beloved dancers getting broken out there!  One moment in particular, where Mr. Jauron was launched into the air with such reckless abandon, that he landed, stumbled, and fell quite loudly onto the stage (and I wasn’t sitting that close!), the impact had me clutching my pearls and the leg of my friend sitting next to me out of sheer fright for my favorite sprite’s tail bone!

The story also moved on to include a brawl between Mr. Labay and Mr. Jauron, and while I adore them both, I don’t think either of them have ever thrown a punch, or have been punched in their lives, cuz the movement was completely over the top, and not in a dramatic artistic way, but in a “I think this is how drunk people would brawl” kind of way.  So many unrealistic falls, and pulled punches, it was rough to watch.  Stage combat is a true craft, and getting it right is a challenge, and I hope in the future, should any fight sequences be utilized in the winter shows where the company choreographs themselves, that they’ll recall the beauty and grace with which they pulled that off during Carmen, and emulate that style more than what I saw on Saturday night.

So the midsection was a bit all over the place, including a very uncomfortable spoken word section that felt very forced, and out of place because there was no Billie beneath this section, and it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the storyline.

Billie1 - Sam and AnthonyHowever, as the company approached the end, they won back my heart through the lithe and graceful lines of Samantha Campbell and Anthony Pucci dancing to Mr. Jauron’s choreography once again.  These two, the most adorable storyline of the night, tugged on my hopeless romantic heartstrings as these two adorable lonely souls find each other, and danced so beautifully together that it truly re-anchored the show into what it started out as: beautiful movement gliding and flowing around the stage while Billie Holiday croons on all around them.  This section, was, in a word, lovely.

And the finale, set appropriately to I’ll Be Seeing You, was a wonderful bookend to the beginning of the show.  Character appropriate exits, tons of good acting, witty movement and humor, wrapped the show up in a pretty decent bow.

All in all, my biggest cheer for Billie was the main concept of a Billie Holiday holiday party, and it was when numbers strayed from that concept and/or pushed the concept too far into the ridiculous that it didn’t work for me.  Choreography is a different animal from performing, and I applaud the dancers for taking this on, and I applaud Ms. Slipper for giving her dancers this opportunity to explore this side of their creativity and grow as artists. While the entire company looked like they were having fun up on the stage throughout every section of Billie, with stronger editing and conceptualization from start to finish to ensure there aren’t random tangents that don’t fit, this show could turn into something timeless, and I hope to see a stronger edited show next winter, because I’ll definitely be back to see what new creation these dancers come up with next time.

Now, onto Bolero+….(those dots are me heavy sighing)….where to begin….this is a relaunch, and I was sooooooooooo excited to see this piece again, although Ching Ching Wong had such an epic part in the original, so I was already going into it like, who was going to dance her part, and how would that look, and all those wonderings you do when you follow a dance company as closely as I follow NW Dance Project.  So upon arrival, I was given a tip that sadly, there was a snafu with the body paint, and so the dancers would be dancing the whole thing in the costumes from Mother tongue, which are black pants, shirtless for the men, and flesh toned bandeau tops for the women.  And my heart sunk.

The body paint is the main design component of the piece, and when painted on the dancers, creates this fluid, sensual, naughty kaleidoscope of sorts that pulls you into the piece as you are almost hypnotized by the paint patterns on perfectly taut bodies.  So to not have the paint on the dancers, and instead have them all in garments literally devoid of color, well to be honest, it was weird.  It was like going from seeing it in Ultra HD Technicolor to seeing it again in black and white.  Picture seeing the Wizard of Oz, except when Dorothy gets to Oz, the color doesn’t show up.  It’s just black and white the whole time.  Something about the body paint added to the camp and wit of the piece and without it, the piece just didn’t have the depth of concept I got in the original.

There were also some tech challenges with the flower props/drops, missed lighting cues, and ill-fitting pants for a few of the men.  It was like going from a campy flirty rom com to a dark, strange film noir.  I preferred it as the former.

On the upside, the choreography is still brilliant, and I will say again, I was highly impressed with the new dancers, Mr. Pucci and Ms. Disenhof.  They definitely hold their own with the dynamic dancers of NW Dance Project.  Their stealth technique and gorgeous lines add to those of the company, and they performed Mr. Rustem’s movement very well.  I am very excited to see what all they are capable of in future programs!

Overall, I always enjoy being at the Lincoln Performance Hall watching my favorite dance company, because a day I get to watch these wonderful dancers dance is better than a day I don’t, and Saturday was no exception.  The rollercoaster ride of this show left me with some lovely highs and some opportunities where I see growth for the company, and as a fan of the company, that is exciting to find out what new heights they will grow to from each experience.

I can’t wait to come back in the Spring and see what they do next, and until then, as always, I leave my heart in Portland with these amazing artists, and I will gladly make the trek from Seattle any time I can to see them perform.

Well, that’s all on this one.  Here’s me wishing everyone who reads this a very happy 559112_332957660122406_1191550343_nholidays and wonderful New Year, and to NW Dance Project, I send you all my love and support!  I will see you all in the Spring to meet Hedda and find out what she’s all about!

Ciao for now,

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Photos from NW Dance Project’s Facebook page

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When You Grow You, Come Back to Me! (A bittersweet farewell to the incomparable Ching Ching Wong)

Entertainment Review

It is with immense pride and a sad heart that I write this post about the next chapter awaiting one of my all favorite dancers: Ching Ching Wong!  I discovered Ms. Wong as part of my beloved NW Dance Project, and while any dance lover knows that dancers must continue to grow, and that often that growth means them moving on to a new company or a new project, it doesn’t stop those of us from missing the hell out of them.  And since I didn’t get to see Ms. Wong’s farewell performance with NW Dance Project (a fact I will never forgive myself for, BTW), I had to put my fingers to my keys and wish her farewell in the best way I know how.  To immortalize the impact she has had on me in print.  But she is too fierce, too fabulous, too fantastic for me to use prose, as Ching inspires the poet within me….so here we go…

Shakespeare must have been thinking of her when he wrote his famous phrase

About being little and being fierce, because she’s both in the most beautiful ways.

A powerhouse of emotion and artistry, she’s mesmerizing to behold

Whether on the stage or off, she’s walking, breathing, dancing gold.

I remember the first time she took my breath with her lithe and stunning artistry

In Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic-Monster, she showed off her intense chemistry

With Franco as they pushed and pulled each other across the stage

Whether a flick of her hand, or a sweep of her foot, she embodied controlled rage!

That piece lives in my memory, because she was absolutely epic in it

She’s simply perfection in every which way, no matter how you spin it!

In Bolero and Le Fil Rouge, her characters were too many things!

Full of fire and fun and fierce fabulousness, they were in a word: Everything.

A wolfpack lady in Carmen, Misan Look Look werked it out!

She could control my emotions and pull my focus with a simple flirty little pout.

All the roles I’ve had the honor to watch her dance over the past few years

Have filled my heart and moved my soul, and often brought me to tears.

She’s the kind of dancer you dream about seeing live on the stage some day

A giving partner, stunning soloist, and a strong company member in every way.

She’s surrounded by talent at NW Dance Project, I can’t imagine it without any of them,

But this is the way of things in the dance world, you embrace, then must let go of these rare gems

And now she’s off, to spread her wings, and share her gifts with the world.

And the world is one lucky bitch to be able to embrace this wonderful girl

Whose talent is endless and whose grace is divine, but you want to know the best part?

As amazing and big as her talent his, what’s even bigger is her heart.

Not just a wonderful dancer, but one of the kindest humans you’ll ever meet.

She’s all the good words there ever were, especially giving, and loving and sweet

And strong and tough and fierce and fabulous, and an absolute delight to know

She’s the best of us, which is why the rest of us are so sad to see her go.

But I’m also excited to see where she takes her amazingly exciting career.

I’ve no doubt that she’ll have all the success in the world, she should have zero fear

About venturing out in the world, to dance, and teach, and grow artistically

But Miz Wong, when you’re done growing you, please, come back to me!

Come back to the PNW because we simply adore you, you shining star!

But for now, spread those wings and fly little one, and soar like the angel you are!

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“Boléro” by Ihsan Rustem Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

With all my heart, Ching, wishing you and Joe the most epic of adventures!  Can’t wait to follow your journey on the social media.

Ciao for now,

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I Want to be a Yee!! ACT Theatre’s King of the Yees is a Downright, Fantastic Night of Theatre

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

Ok, People, we gotta talk right now about the current show going up at ACT Theatre:  King of the Yees.  This show, oh, this gloriously hilarious show is filled with outstanding writing, phenomenal acting, and wonderful design.  It was downright fun from the ‘turn off your cell phone’ message to the last blackout.  I cannot recommend you go see this show strongly enough!  GO SEE IT!

And let me get into a little more detail as to why you should go see it without giving too much away.  Let’s start with the design.  Set in the wonderful Allen Theatre, this show is done in the round.  And I love shows in the round, it’s such a fun challenge for Actors and Creative Team Members alike, and the Creative Team killed it for this production.  Carey Wong’s (I love that he’s a Wong, and you will have to go see the show to know why!) smart and simple set design used not only the stage beautifully, but the entire theatre with finesse.  Brilliantly done props and expertly using the space’s fly system, Mr. Wong created a some-what black box space for the actors to simply act without a lot of things in their way, and it definitely added to the complexity of this play.  Mr. Wong understands space in the most beautiful way, and I really loved what he did with this show.

Ancestor1Christine Tschirgi’s costumes were in a word, epic!  From her modern dress to her outlandish creative pieces, she dressed each character perfectly!  Each new character who joined the show had a look and style all their own, each so clearly defined, that you really did lose the actor playing, and just saw the character.  And is there any better compliment to give?  I could gush about the brilliance of Ms. Tschirgi’s work, but if I did, I’d give too much away, and I really want you to go see this show.  Ok, one teaser – Miami Vice meets Bubble Tea!  GO!

Sound and lighting also played a big part in this show, and both were expertly designed, and my kudos go out to Brendan Patrick Hogan and Jessica Trundy for the wonderful job!  All in all the tech was just outstanding in this show, and any actor will tell you, without good tech as your foundation, an actor can’t relax and be in the moment, and the tech in this show was stellar from start to finish!  Bravo!

Now, let’s talk about this cast, shall we?  A small cast of only five actors, these artists take character development to new heights.  Each one so nuanced and clear, I was mesmerized by the transitions from one to the next from every actor in this cast.

Lauren Yee, played by Khanh Doan, was so wonderful and dynamic in the way she seamlessly anchors this play.  The only actor to only play one character, her performance in this show was both uplifting and inspiring.  She takes a journey that any child who struggles with finding balance between the life you want for yourself and the life your parents’ want for you has had, and she did so with outstanding grace and respect.

Larry YeeStan Egl as Larry Yee, the title character, gave us so much fun loving dad stuff, that he had me and my friends in the palm of his hand.  He was goofy and delightful, and gave both my funny bone and my heart strings a workout during his performance.

Rounding out the cast are Actors 1, 2, and 3, with 2 and 3 played by Annelih GH Hamilton and Joseph Ngo respectfully and both had some epic characters to play!  Ms. Hamilton, fearless in her attack of the numerous characters she plays in this show, I found her charisma addictively hysterical.  She really took all the good stuff her fellow actors were doing and played off of them beautifully.  Mr. Ngo had extremely dynamic shifts from one character to the next, and had one of my most favorite moments of the night with some footwear that, honey, I don’t know how he did it, but he did the damn thing in those! No two characters for these two actors were anywhere near each other, and I applaud them both for their impeccable character development and commitment to seamlessly transitioning from one to the next.  Bravo!

But let me just talk to you, right quick, about the genius that is Ray Tagavilla, Actor 1, in this show.  Now, some might call me biased, as I went to UW with Ray, and have been witness to his genius for sometime (you’ll remember me gushing about him in my review of Four Dogs and a Bone at Theatre Schmeater a few years ago), and to those people I say, ‘If you think I’m biased, you’ve clearly never seen Mr. Tagavilla on stage, because if you had, you’d know, I’m not biased, I just speak the truth.’  Cuz, oooooooooooooooo, did he kill it in this show!  Mr. Tagavilla’s comedic timing is something that has always blown my mind, and in this show, oh my god, it’s on a whole new level.  The way that he is able to sink so deeply into the character he is playing, that every small gesture specific to that character, and that character alone, is absolutely mesmerizing.  I brought five friends with me to this, and at both intermission and after the show, they just kept asking me, “How does he do that?  How does he just shift so quickly from one character to another like that?”  Answer: Training and Talent!  And Mr. Tagavilla has both running through his veins.  He gained five new fans with this performance, and nothing warmed my heart more than when my friends said “Let us know the next time Ray is in a show, because we are there!”

I’m always proud of Ray when I have the joy of watching him on stage, am always mesmerized by what a truly phenomenal actor he is, and love him in comedic roles more than anything because his timing is absolute perfection, but this show in particular, these characters that he brought to life, really impressed the hell out of me.  Bravo, my amazing friend!!  Thank you for bringing the thunder with this performance, for your epic character development, and for pulling audiences into the story in the way that only you can.  You know, through talent, and training, and bedazzling prop work, and most of all through the delicious, yet arduous task of sipping on some bubble tea.  Oh, those chewy bubbles!

Lauren Yee1Seriously, though, these actors are no joke, and are expertly directed by Desdemona Chiang.  She truly created a space for actors to play, and the way she brought the real Lauren Yee’s words to life was delightful and thought provoking.  Her staging in the challenging round theatre was fantastically simple, and allowed for the actors to just listen to each other and lean in to each other, and create real, powerful moments on stage.  Some will leave you dying laughing.  Some will leave you thinking about your relationships with your own heritage.  And for this theatre lover, it left me so damn proud that I live in a city filled with such talented people, and theatres that invest in such good work, where my talented friends can share their gifts with the world.  But I guarantee, whoever you are, this show will leave you wanting to be a Yee!

This is not a show to miss, I’m telling you.  Go see it!  Take friends.  Take family.  Take everybody!  But there isn’t much time left, as the show closes on Oct 1, so go get tickets now.  RIGHT NOW!

Tickets and show information can be found on ACT Theatre’s Website.

Thank  you all for an amazing night of theatre that I’ll not soon forget!  Bravo to everyone involved in this show, you really have created something special!

Ciao for now,

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Whim W’Him’s Approaching Ecstasy: A Feast for the Senses

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

This was the first show at my favorite Seattle based dance company where I have not been able to go get a preview of some part of it by attending a rehearsal.  This was an exciting and new experience where I had no idea what was waiting for me behind the curtain of the Cornish Theatre, but with the entire show being one piece created by the Maestro, Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, I was extremely amped to see what he created this time around.

As I took my seat, I opened my program to read the Choreographer’s notes, and was highly intrigued to read that Mr. Wevers was inspired by the poetry of Constantine Cavafy, a Greek closeted gay poet who lived in early 1900s Egypt. To quote Mr. Wevers, ” …hiding shamefully under a business suit.  Repressed, tormented and frustrated, he evaded his reality with poetry.  His exquisitely arranged words still resonate true today, and are as relevant as ever.”

How would Mr. Wevers interpret the poetry?  It was clear there was going to be live music on stage, of which I was suuuuper excited about because it was all strings, and I love me a string quartet! But there was also a list of esoterics with a chorus master listed, so would we get live singing as well??!?!?  So many questions!

And I would get my answers quickly after the lights faded and the curtain rose.  The music that came from the string quartet was hauntingly melodic.  As always, the lighting by Michael Mazzola set an ominous glow where, two by two, under the golden wash, the Esoterics entered the stage to take their places in two rows of chairs, set just past the wings on stage, to leave the floor wide open for the wonderful Whim W’Him dancers to do what they do best.

Most of the dancers shared the same costume as the Esoterics, the business suit which Constantine Cavafy hid within, complete with bowler hats, reminding me of Magritte’s The Son of Man painting.  From my seat in the 3rd row, I found it tough to make out the faces of the dances, as the hats, and Mr. Mazzola’s brilliant lighting created an anonymity amongst the dancers that I fould beautiful and frustrating at the same time.  The one clear vision, shining bright as the star she is, was Ms. Tory Peil who came leaping ontothe stage in a gorgeous costume of a bustled short dress made primarily out of neckties!  0007-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe light on her was so crisp and clear, and was a lovely contrast to the blur of businessmen surrounding her on stage.

338-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe Esoterics sang parts of Cavafy’s poetry throughout the piece, sometimes from their chairs, sometimes joining the dancers on stage.  I will say, I didn’t enjoy when they came on stage so much, as I found it more distracting than anything.  They were often blocking my ability to see the choreography, and I hated missing even a minute of the beautiful movement Mr. Wevers created.  I also didn’t find the singers to react well in the scenes where the dancers interacted with them, which again, distracted me from watching the nuances of the dancers.  I think it was more about where I was sitting, though, as I had friends with me who sat on the other side of the stage and said they didn’t find the singers distracting at all, and never had their view of the dancers blocked.  Not sure if this frustration was part of Mr. Wevers’ vision, in staging the way he did where only part of the audience could see certain parts to mirror Cavafy’s dual life where he hid parts of himself from the world.  Either way, I just hated missing any part of the dance, so for me, the singers needed to keep their lovely voices in the chairs on the side of the stage so I could watch the dancers dance.

And let’s get to these dancers, shall we?  Each dancer transitioned from phrase to phrase180-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-S effortlessly, telling the tales of this heartbreaking poetry.  Liane Aung, with her amazing lines, and those breathtaking feet dazzled me as she always does.  Mia Monteabaro danced a stunning pas de deux with Ms. Aung that was both sensual and joyful, and together these women ignited the hope portion of the program.  You couldn’t help but smile watching that part of the program.  And that duet was a striking contrast to my favorite part of the show which was a pas de deux with Patrick Kilbane and Karl Watson dancing on either side of a mirror that was so 0002-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-S.jpghauntingly tranced, that I feared blinking in case I missed one moment.  Mr. Kilbane, facing the audience, Mr. Watson, dancing his reflection, these two men are not even remotely built the same, however, somehow, the movement was so mesmerizing that I was able to 100% suspend my disbelief and got lost in Mr. Kilbane anxiously exploring his reflection, trying desperately to figure out who he is, addressing his facade, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

The rest of this show had the dancers transitioning between their suits to white underwear and tank tops, and in stripping the dancers down, the scenes danced in that attire perfectly matched the poetry exposing Cavafy’s struggle in his own skin.  The moments of freedom Mr. Wevers created, of sheer abandon and joy, and then just as quickly the dancers were trussed back up in their suits, hiding from who they truly are and it broke my heart.

0008-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe final section of this show that I want to write about was a danced by Mr. Watson, Mr. Kilbane, Jim Kent, and Justin Reiter.  Mr. Kent, completely vulnerable dancing in only his white shorts, no shirt, lounges on top of Mr. Reiter, Mr. Kilbane and Mr. Watson who were all dressed in their suits, complete with hates, in the most glorious moment of this show for me.  Mr. Kent was pushed, pulled, lifted, twirled, and slid all over the stage by these three men in suits, and it felt like the wish from Mr. Wevers for all the closeted gay artists out there to say, “You don’t have to hide! You can be you! And that which you hid behind, let them lift you up, because what you create is about them, too, and is part of them, too, and you don’t have to be them to be ok.”  And I just loved it!  I have no idea if that’s what Mr. Wevers intended for that moment, but it is the emotion it evoked in me, and I am so proud of these men for so beautifully bringing that out in me.  It was the only moment in this piece that touched me to the point of tears, because the so much of the show brought out anger and frustration for me at the closeted life of so many.  But to have this hopeful moment at the end, yeah, tears rolled down my face, and I’m so grateful for them.

Tonight is closing night of Approaching Ecstasy, and I’m thrilled to announce that it is sold out.  This entire Senses season was absolutely wonderful, and I’m extremely excited to see what the next season holds!

Before I sign off, however, I want to say a special farewell to Mr. Kilbane and Mr. Reiter.  Tonight is their last show with Whim W’Him, as they move on to pursue new adventures and the next steps on their careers.

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Patrick…I know we didn’t get to spend as much time together as I’d like, but please know that watching you dance has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my dance lovers world.  The way you interpret choreography, the beautiful lines you create, and your ability to combine strength and grace is incomparable.  I wish you all the success and happiness in the world in your next chapter. Ballet BC is lucky to have you. Toi Toi Toi!!

006-Bamberg-Fine-Art-1200x1800.jpgMy beloved Justin…what can I say?!?  I am going to miss you so very much.  It is through you, and the wonderful people you call friends, who helped me find Whim W’Him in the first place.  And I will never forget the first time I saw you dance.  You blew my mind with your fluidity, and your honesty, and your raw emotion on stage.  You, my darling, are the stuffs that dance lover’s dreams are made of, and I’m so grateful that I had the privilege to watch you dance for the past three years.  You, and those amazing lines of yours, have a special place in my heart.  Please let me know where your next chapters lead you so that I can continue to come watch and support you throughout your career.  All the best, my darling!

Ciao for now,

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All Photos by Bamberg Fine Art 

Hope & Love: NW Dance Project’s Spring Show Redefined Both

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Ok, so let me start this post off with an apology that it has taken me so unbelievably long to write this review of NW Dance Project’s Spring Show.  Day jobs and life have been so distracting until now that today is the first day I’ve had to sit down and devote the time needed to do this beautiful program justice.  The choreographers and dancers have all moved on to other productions and other shows, (their current show, Summer Splendors, opens tonight for Christ’s sake!), and I just want them to know that even though its been over two months since I saw Visible Darkness and Carmen, the nuance and details and haunting beauty of both performances have been floating constantly through my mind.  So, please accept my profound apology for my tardiness and sharing with the world how you all pulled off yet another set of masterpieces that absolutely blew my mind!

As you’ll recall, I had the profound gift of being able to watch the birth of Carmen as she evolved and showed herself to the world through the imagination of the always brilliant Ihsan Rustem.  Mr. Rustem, along with Artistic Director Sarah Slipper, so graciously allowed me behind the curtain into the first days of Carmen rehearsals, and I’m telling you, people, I am forever changed by that experience.  To see brand new steps being created is something I will never forget, and it felt like forever until I got to drive back down to Portland to see the finished product!

As usual, I only get to see closing night, which is such a shame given how wonderful these shows always are, but when I arrived at the theatre, there was something different about the energy in the room.  It had a different electricity that I hadn’t experienced before from a pre-show at NW Dance Project.  And when I walked up to get my ticket, I saw what the buzz was all about.  Three words explained the excitement rippling through the lobby and Art Bar like electricity: Show Sold Out.

OMG! You guys, I almost cried when I saw that, because I’d never seen a full house at NW Dance Project show before, which always baffled me because they are so damn good.  Why were the houses not full?  Not enough promotion?  Portland folks just don’t know what amazing art is right in their backyard? So I immediately sought out Mr. Rustem to wish him Merde and tell him how excited I was about the sold out crowd and he told me this was their first sold out crowd in the history of the company!  Whaaaaat!?!?

All I could think was that finally, finally, finally these amazing dancers and choreographers will perform to the packed house they deserve!  And if I played even the smallest part in getting a few more people to the theatre to see it that night by being able to go to a rehearsal and write a promo piece about them, I am thrilled!  And you bet your ass I’ll be doing that again as often as I can to do my part to keep up momentum to get all art appreciating butts in those seats to make full houses the norm for NW Dance Project.

Ok, back to the show.  So off I went to my seat, and readied myself for the show.  And first up on the program was Visible Darkness by Patrick Delcroix.  This piece told Monsieur Delcroix’s journey back to dance after a horrific accident where he suffered major injuries and brain trauma.  This dance was the first piece he has created since his 17861810_1301594579925371_1060764376150142067_n-1.jpgrecovery, and people, it was spectacular!  My beloved Elijah Labay, ever the stunning dancer, showed me a new level of acting I hadn’t seen from him before as he danced the role of Monsieur Delcroix.  Watching Mr. Labay struggle physically as the injured Monsieur Delcroix was heartbreaking.  His ability to portray a broken body, broken spirit, to then push back against the universe as if to say, “The hell you will keep me down!  I will dance again!” was so real, so raw, so emotional that I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face.  And at first they were tears of sadness that Monsieur Delcroix had suffered such trauma.  Tears of anger that he had to struggle physically to get back, while internally and mentally he was always moving, always dancing, always fighting.  And then tears of joy at the end of the piece when Mr. Labay walked confidently tall and strong around his company of dancers as they moved to his chroegraphy.  He was back!  He was healed!  He was creating!  He was home!

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This was a performance of Mr. Labay’s I will never forget.  The entire company did an amazing job in their parts for this piece, but the journey Mr. Labay went on for this one, the honesty and bravery by which he told Monsieur Delcroix’s story through his powerful execution of Monsieur Delcroix’s movement touched me at the very center of my heart. I’m so grateful Monsieur Delcroix was brave enough to share his story with the world.  I’m so proud of Mr. Labay for telling it so beautifully.  And I am so honored to have seen the world premier amidst a full house of dance loving people so that we could all jump to our feet and applaud this magnificent piece together and embrace the hope and the love it represents.

After this wonderfully emotional piece, as I went to the lobby for a tissue to dry my eyes, and get a quick glass of wine to prepare myself for the reveal of Carmen!  I was like a kid at Christmas counting down the sleeps until I got to the day where I would get my presents in the form of the NW Dance Project dancers moving to Ihsan Rustem’s choreography to one of my all time favorite scores! Shivering with anticipation like a crazed fangirl in my seat as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose on what I am going to call the single most powerfully haunting portrayal of love through dance that I have ever seen.

There is so much to say about this show, so lets get the fun logistics out of the way.  The costumes were epic!  The protagonists in white, the antagonists in black, and the men affected by both sides dressed in both colors with 1950s Vogue/Vanity Fair silhouettes with these chic edgy touches of sheer fabric, leather pants/jackets/harness (yes, daddy, you heard me say harness!) and metal chains strategically draped over the equisite specimens of humans that these dancers are, and from the moment the light hit them, I guarantee you, not a dry seat in the house!  This show slams into you like lust at first sight, and it damn near took my breath right out of my chest!

And all this deliciousness is set amidst the backdrop of a men’s barber shop and a women’s hair salon, again more black and white décor, but with vibrant pops of color in the forms of yellow hair dryers and electric blue light washes.  The aesthetics were off the charts on this one, just adding to the sexiness of it all!

NWDP_3-16-2017_1051ver1fil3crpsml-e1489792828739-1.jpgNow let’s get into the best part of this show, shall we?  The characters.  The ladies, the amazing, outstanding ladies, whose characters were all so clear and mesmerizing, even more so than when I watched them all in rehearsals.  The fierceness of the “Wolf Pack Ladies,” as Mr. Rustem dubbed them, were ferocious and feral and yet synchronized like a pack who stalked and moved this piece forward.  To quote Ching Ching Wong in a promo video for Carmen, she described these amazing characters perfectly when she said, “…We are vicious and feisty and we love gossip and we’re in this kind of utopia town where our world revolves around us and our men, and then Carmen comes into it, and the worlf pack ladies are fearful and jealous and this mob against her.”  And oh, individually they are fantastic, but when they all dance together in their pack, they are down right mesmerizing!  Each character so clear in her intentions, so honest with her emotions, and so beautiful in her movement.  Loved it!

And then the men, oh these gorgeous, brilliant men, being pushed and pulled around the stage, all in some form or another manipulated and used by Carmen.  Their characters added so much to each scene, their wants and desires so clear and obvious (including a little ass grab made by the devilishly playful Kody Jauron that was hiiiilarious and hot!) that the audience was absolutely entranced by them!NW DANCE .jpg

But when one thinks of Carmen, they think of a love triangle filled with passion, betrayal, and murder and the trio that made up that triangle were phenomenal!  Let’s start with the jilted lover, DJ, danced by the ever sensational Franco Nieto!  Oh, this man, this gorgeous, talented man, with those feet, and those lines, and the unabashed way he embraces emotion so real and so raw that you can’t help but feel everything he is feeling unnamed-35.jpgas you watch him dance whether you want to or not!  Every scene he was in from the adorable puppy love section with the lovely Lindsey McGill, to the lustful encounters with Carmen (danced by the spectacular Andrea Parson, who we will get to in a second), so the solo he danced just after discovering Carmen’s betrayal was full of truth like a light beam split through a prism to be a fragmented rainbow of emotion from joy to despair and everything in between.  The acting from this dancer was out of this world, and that post-betrayal solo, my god, all I wanted was to run up on that stage and hug him and tell him it would all be ok, and then smack the crap out of Carmen for daring to hurt him!  Mr. Nieto, as he often does, stole every scene he was in for me, because his intentions were so clear, his reactions so genuine, and his artistry was so breath taking.

And the man in Mr. Nieto’s way, Eli, danced by my beloved Elijah Labay, oh people…this character that Mr. Labay brought to life was walking sex!  Every time he slithered and stomped around the stage, demanding Carmen’s attention, igniting passion in the Wolf Pack Ladies, even as the damn police siren (You’d have to have been there to understand or appreciate this), made every person in the room sigh with wanting!  His pas de deux with Ms. Parson as they gave in to their carnal desires so openly and powerfully that they don’t notice when Mr. Nieto catches them in the act, staged epically across the stage simultaneously as Mr. Nieto danced his solo of betrayal, was so erotic, so full of fire and want and need that when they were done, so help me God, every person around me picked up their program to fan themselves off!  Mr. Rustem, you dirty devil, you pulled no punches with this lust filled, sensual encounter, and we the audience thank you for letting us play voyeur to one of the most gorgeous combinations that has ever raised my temperature and made my mouth water at the same time!  Bravo!

And while you all sit there and picture the raw sensuality that I was priviledged to witness, let me finally come to the star of this piece: Andrea Parson.  You’ll remember my gushing about her in my promo piece, but people, I was NOT ready for everything she brought to this performance, including the drastic makeover of a platinum blonde pixie haircut that reflected so fiercely off of all of her black costumes, making her eyes pop as electrically as the blue light often washing over her, that they pierced everyone in the audience.  She completely embodied passion in this piece.  A true antagonist, always selfishly going for what she wants at all costs, Ms. Parson was the perfect Carmen.  She danced this role so perfectly that I don’t think I’ll ever hear this music again without picturing her face.  She anchored Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay so wonderfully, and complimented every scene she was in with them, that I found myself rooting for this brazen siren to get everything she wanted whenever she wanted.  Any woman would want to be the Carmen Ms. Parson created for at least a day, to just grab life by the balls and say “You’re mine, now,” have life respond with “Thank you, Mistress, as you wish!”  Ms. Parson’s Carmen was sexuality unleashed, and she matched Mr. Labay’s carnality and also provoked Mr. Nieto’s romantic passion.

But the reaction she evoked that moved me the most was that of Ms. McGill, who, when discovering she was losing the love of DJ due to his lust for Carmen, danced one of the most riveting duets I’ve ever seen, and with a hair dryer on wheels, no less!  Ms. McGill, her entire life in the palm of Carmen’s hands, refusing to give up her love without a fight, ultimately ending Carmen’s life to stop her, with a final moment so hauntingly, gorgeously vicious, blew my freaking mind!

While her act was vicious, it was driven by love, which is the theme of Carmen, isn’t it? Wanting, loving something, and not always thinking of the consequences.  But that final moment, Carmen’s death, still haunts my dreams sometimes, it was so impactful and beautiful.  Well here, take a look:

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I loved this show so much.  I hate that I only got to see it once.  But I am so grateful for the experience.  Once again, NW Dance Project has taken me on an emotional journey I won’t soon forget.  Once again, the entire company moves me to tears with their brilliance and their bravery.  Once again, I am filled with hope and love and excitement for this Company, and look forward to many more experiences with them.  Once again, I left my heart in Portland, so that I can come visit it again to see what magnificent program they will put together next!

18951187_1357315634353265_8211540830725458457_n.jpgSadly, I am missing their Summer Splendors show opening tonight, but if you are in the Portland area, please go see it!  I’ve no doubt it will be outstanding, as its a new work by Artistic Director, Sarah Slipper!!!!

Thank you, Ms. Slipper & Mr. Lewis, Mr. Rustem, Mr. Nieto, Ms. Parson, Mr. Labay, Ms. McGill, Mr. Jauron, Ms. Wong, Mr. Couture, Ms. Barber, Mr. Rohayem, Ms. Radick, and Ms. Campbell.

 

Ciao for now,

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Photos from NW Dance Project taken by Blaine Truitt Covert

 

NW Dance Project’s Carmen: Be Still, My Heart!

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

Let’s be honest.  I’m a very small time blogger, who happens to adore all things performing arts, but as of yet, this blog is not read by zillions of followers, nor am I a well known force in the arts world.  So with all of that, I don’t expect any perks from this gig.  It’s just an outlet for me to express my feelings on shows I see.  So, imagine my surprise that when I reached out to NW Dance Project and asked if I could come watch a rehearsal as the unbelievably brilliant Ihsan Rustem began creating his latest work, they said yes! The ultimate perk!!

Now, this ‘yes’ is so exciting and important to me because it means one thing: they trust me!  They trust me enough to let me into their world as they work out the steps to their latest program, and I literally got to watch brand new, original steps being created out of the mind of the always brilliant Ihsan Rustem and on to the agile, lithe, powerful beings that are the NW Dance Project Dancers!

As I don’t live in Portland, I only know NW Dance Project by the wonderful productions I’ve been blessed to attend, and through the generosity of Sarah Slipper, Artistic Director, Scott Lewis, Executive Director, and Katie Holliday, Company Manager in sharing the reviews I have written about their company.  And while I had connected with a few of the dancers via the magicks of social media, I had never had the chance to meet them face to face and get to know them personally.  So to be allowed to come into their space and watch them all work, meet them, and get to know them was an opportunity I was not going to pass up!  So I packed up the car, and off to Portland I went!  And People, I was not ready for what was waiting for me.

16473596_10210825635531722_4515968238184693784_nFirst of all, let me talk about the amazing space that NW Dance Project has created for their company and choreographers to work within.  It’s gorgeous.  There’s no other word!  It’s luxurious white decor that flows from the lobby to the education studio to the office to the dancers’ locker room, to the main studio, creates an inviting and enveloping canvas that just makes you want to create something colorful to fill it!  The staff were all so wonderful, and just welcomed me in with open arms.  I instantly felt like one of the family!

And as the dancers were just finishing up ballet class, Mr. Rustem and Ms. Holliday escorted me in to the main studio to meet the dancers.  And one by one, they were so gracious and inviting, and I’ve been such a fan of all of them for almost two years, that while I kept my exterior cool, inside I was fan-girling out like you wouldn’t believe.  These artists, these unbelievable artists, were about to literally create art with Mr. Rustem, and I was simply giddy with anticipation.

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Choreographer Ihsan Rustem creating with Carmen, danced by Andrea Parson

And every hope I had of what this experience would be came true within the first few minutes.  Creation. Collaboration. Chemistry.  All of these elements collided and intertwined in a way that only happens when people have worked for years with each other.  So much trust between Mr. Rustem and the dancers, evident in the way they digested and interpreted his movement, and in the way he would step back and watch them move through and past his latest phrase to gain inspiration from them. Ms. Slipper joined rehearsal multiple times, and seamlessly joined in on the collaboration, and it’s one of the most pure, organic moments of creating art I have ever seen.  I had no idea there would be as much collaboration as there was, and it absolutely blew my mind.

For seven glorious hours I watched them work, frantically taking note after note on what I was witnessing.  And if I told you everything I experienced in this blog, you’d be reading for days!  So, I’ll keep it to this: what they are creating for the Spring show of Carmen is something phenomenally exciting, and I am begging you all to find a way to go see it.

The women in this company are collectively some of the strongest dancers I have ever seen, and individually they take my breath away.  And the men, as technically brilliant as they are powerful are the perfect compliments to these ladies.  And in those 7 hours, I was able to learn more about each dancer’s personality as well as their tenacious work ethics.  Mr. Rustem knows these dancers so well, and that knowledge is utilized to perfection in the roles he has created in his version of Carmen.  I am not going to give away too much now, because I will be gushing about them in my review, I’ve no doubt, but I do want to tell you about Carmen, herself. (The pic below of her…those eyes, though!  Right?!?  People!  She’s the physical embodiment of ‘fierce’!)

NW Dance Project,"Carmen" studio rehearsal,Ihsan Rustem choreography

NW Dance Project,”Carmen” studio rehearsal,Ihsan Rustem choreography

Carmen, a story you’re all very familiar with if you love dance, is not a new story.  However, Mr. Rustem’s twist on it is genius, and the promo pics give a hint to the time and setting, but I won’t give it away if you haven’t figured it out.  Anyway, Carmen, placing herself purposefully between two lovers, causing havoc wherever she goes, leaving angst and devastation in her wake is going to be danced by the beautiful and powerful Andrea Parson.  You’ll remember how Miss Parson moved my heart and soul when she danced the lead in Ms. Slipper’s piece in last year’s Louder than Words, well she is back with a vengeance as Mr. Rustem’s Carmen.  Her commitment to this role, her depth of character development on day 8 of creation has me all in a frenzy over how much deeper she will go with this character between now and performance.  I swear, watching her work this part, her majestic ability to embrace everything being thrown at her, to play this very dynamic character so fully is the stuff that makes me think Shakespeare was describing her when he wrote “Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

And the two men tangled in her web are danced by the incomparable Franco Nieto and Elijah Labay.  Mr. Nieto, dancing Don Jose in the heartbreakingly emotional way that only he can.  Any day I get to watch this brilliant artist dance is a wonderful day, but to get to watch him explore his journey, find nuance after delicious nuance as his character’s story is pushed and pulled by the two antagonists danced by Ms. Parson and Mr. Labay is something I’ll never forget.

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Franco Nieto and Andrea Parson

And then there is Mr. Labay, in case you’ve forgotten is my beloved dancer in the purple shirt who I adore more than words can say, so to get to meet him, and to get to watch him work was something I was looking forward to more than anything!  Like Mr. Nieto, watching Mr. Labay discover the layers and dimensions of the swaggering character of Eli was something I was very much looking forward to, and I was not disappointed.  Something about the way Mr. Labay dances just speaks to me, and I could watch him dance all day long!

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Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay

And then, oh you guys, there’s a scene, this heavenly, steamy, sultry scene danced by Mr. Labay and Ms. Parson, and people you are not ready!  I wasn’t ready, and I should have been ready, but I was NOT ready, and it was just rehearsal!  By performance that scene, lord honey, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to handle it!  Mr. Rustem, you fantastically devilish man, I am so excited to see how this evolves!  And in tandem to this steamy scene is a solo danced by Mr. Nieto that brought tears to my eyes.  He’s going to make you feel all the feelings you’ve ever felt, and probably a few you didn’t know you could feel.  It’s going to be glorious!  GO SEE THIS SHOW!

Both ferocious in their movements, both exquisite in their roles of protagonist and antagonist respectively, Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay create a trio with Ms. Parson that had me clutching my chest, for be still, my beating heart, they’re so good in this piece!  I mean it, damnit, go see this show!

Carmen is not just a story, it’s a journey.  It’s emotional for the choreographer, it’s emotional for the dancers, and the audience will be pulled into the fray, trust me, and you will be being tossed and jostled amidst the emotional waves that this piece generates, and you’ll thank them for the delicious torture of it all, I promise you!

This company was born to dance this piece, and every single dancer brings exactly what is needed to create the many layers of the story.  When you come see this show you’ll be dazzled by solos, mesmerized by duos and trios, knocked to your core by wolf packs, and forever impacted by secrecy, seduction and murder.  And all of that will be performed by dancers so brave, so willing to open themselves up emotionally that you feel everything they are feeling, and I don’t want any of you to miss this!

This gift of getting to spend not one, but two days with NW Dance Project makes me so happy because I am able do share this show with you before it happens for the first time, because sadly, NW Dance Project only performs their masterpieces for one weekend each season.  And I am going to do everything I can to continue to promote this phenomenal company to hopefully increase attendance at their shows so that they are able to add performances to their schedule because as hard as these dancers work, as amazing as their seasons are, they deserve to have more than three performances for each program!

15895382_1212524365499060_4991593005079827235_n.jpgSo please join me in coming to see Carmen at NW Dance Project in March.  Shows will be Mar 16-18, I myself will be there on Mar 18, and really hope to see you all there! Show times and ticket info can be found on NW Dance Project’s website.

Thank you so much to the entire NW Dance Project family for making this dance lover’s heart soar by allowing me behind the curtain to watch you work.  I am so grateful for the opportunity and forever changed by the experience.

Ciao for now,

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Photo Credit to Blaine Truitt Covert & NW Dance Project’s Facebook Page 

Whim W’Him Gave Me Life with Sensation

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

16194886_10158070312345035_8100611831711689121_nJanuary 20, 2017 is one of the darkest days in American history for anyone with a conscience and a soul.  And both the Whim W’Him family, and those of us that support them are full of both, so it warmed my heart to be in a theatre with these people reminding ourselves what is truly important after a day full of nonsensical political propaganda.  As Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, said in his curtain speech, “At Whim W’Him, we don’t build walls,” and he broke down as he started this speech, but you know what happened next?  The audience jumped to thunderous applause to remind him that we are all behind him and all right there with him!  We, the Whimmers, are a loving, supportive family, and we are going to always come together to enjoy the beauty and light that Whim W’Him always provides to its audience.  I’m so proud to be a Whimmer, and Friday night, that pride expanded to the rest of the folks sitting around me.  What was a very hard, emotional day, one where I just wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head, I’m so glad I made it to the Cornish Theatre because the show that waited for me was everything I needed to remind me what is good in this world.  So, let’s get to talking about Sensation, shall we?

People, people, people, this show, I can honestly say, is breathtakingly moving.  Aptly named, it created Sensations within me that were wonderful, dynamic, and powerful.  You’ll recall that I wrote a promotional piece about Penny Saunders’ piece: play-by-play when I was gifted the wonderful experience of watching her rehearsal a few weeks ago, and you guys, it evolved into one of the most beautiful dances I’ve ever seen.  Gorgeously costumed, brilliantly staged, the journey of this piece transcended beauty for me into something I don’t even have a word to describe.  It was ethereal, dark and light at the same time, and so technically and physically challenging!  Ms. Saunders did not take it easy on the dancers, and pushed them to their physical exhaustion.  From my seat in the fifth row, I could see sweat flinging off of the dancers as they turned and launched themselves around the stage. And that pas de deux with Patrick Kilbane and Liane Aung was as mind blowing as I knew it was going to be!  The lines, the extension, the core strength, the intensity, and the beauty by which these two dancers connect in their section took every breath from me!  I believe the word “Wow” came out of my mouth as a shocked whisper at some of the movement these two dancers are able to bring to life.  It was amazing!

91afe50c-e04a-11e6-a303-e49f56b5b765-1020x680The canons, the delicious, delectable canons were, as I knew they would be, unbelievably exquisite from a distance.  Absolutely mesmerized me.  And also as expected, the growth in the journey that my beloved Justin Reiter moved through in this piece brought me to tears, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was on stage.  So plugged in to his fellow dancers, so expertly pushed his body through each phrase after challenging phrase, zapping his strength and pushing his emotions, I think this is the best I’ve ever seen Mr. Reiter dance.  Two people just up behind me put it perfectly, when Mr. Reiter began to move before the music joined him and one said “Oh my god!” with complete wonderment in her voice and her friend said, “Exactly.  That’s Justin.  Just wait,”and oh was she right.  Bravo, Justin, for taking on this powerful journey and sharing it with all of us.  The light you bring to the stage, even in dark moments, is the stuff that gives me life! Thank you!!

The second piece the dancers took on was called Line Dance by Larry Keigwin, and people, this was everything I needed on this dark day!  This beautiful, pure piece was the physical embodiment of joy!  The dancers, all dressed in white, shifting and moving from straight line to cluster, from full company phrases, to single dancers moving, it all felt like a stunning kaleidoscope that brought joyful tears to my eyes!  Let me try to explain what happened while I watched this dance – I felt complete elation.  I felt hope and happiness.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  The dancers watched each other’s solos and duets they weren’t in, and it created this bridge between performer and audience.  And they were enjoying watching their fellow dancers dance.  And the joy of that alone was infectious and just filled the room with light and joy.  Did I say joy?  Cuz there was just joy dripping from the stage, and I was so moved by it!

16142219_10158071168780035_6800517553139421950_nSo many favorite moments from this piece, but there are two I’ll share that just brought sheer ecstasy to my wounded heart.  First, Miss Tory Peil, we all know I love me some Miss Tory, and it’s because in addition to being an exquisite dancer, she is a phenomenal actress as well, and there’s this bit where she’s drawing lines and squiggles in the air with her finger, playing with Jim Kent and with Patrick Kilbane, and for all of her long, lithe frame, she was so playful, so adorable, it was just fantastic to watch.  Took you back to playing with friends as a child, and transported me back to moments of that childlike innocence.  And the second is during a super-quick moment where it was just Mr. Reiter and Mr. Kilbane dancing side by side, and they shared a look of complete friendship and happiness to be dancing together, and happy tears fell from my eyes at that moment.  I don’t know if it was part of the choreography, or just a real organic moment that happened between these two, but it was so beautiful to behold.  Mr. Kilbane dances with such serious expression, the technical genius that he is, so to see him let go and just dance with abandon next to Mr. Reiter is a moment I will never forget.  I jumped to my feet the minute the dancers lined up for their curtain call on this, because this!  This amazingly beautiful piece full of joy and light is what everyone needs right now.  It was my favorite piece of the night.  Thank you all for this!  I just love you for this experience, and thank you Mr. Keigwin for reminding us what joy looks like, because we all need to cling to it as we struggle with these terrifying times.

Lastly, the Maestro brought us another of his masterpieces, this one titled Catch & Release, although I must say, I’d love to rename this piece to be called Fractured, because that was what I got from this very deep, very poignant piece by Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers. Between the fractured light dispersing light and shade at harsh angles, as only the brilliant Michael Mazzola can do, and the way those light patterns were splayed across the costumes of the dancers, all I felt throughout this piece was Fracture.  Darkness fractured to just let a bit of light through.  And depending on your perspective, it’s either the light cracking through the dark, or the dark almost shutting out the light.  Either way, this piece was absolutely brilliant.

This piece centered around Ms. Peil, tortured again in a way reminiscent from last Spring’s show, where the object of her affection treats her so cruelly.  Mr. Wevers expertly uses his dancers to push and pull on Ms. Peil, both physically and emotionally depending on their presence or absence from the stage.  Ms. Peil’s ability to be emotionally open on stage is one of my favorite things about a Whim W’Him show.  She is not afraid of any emotion, she does not close off the audience, but instead just opens her heart and lets us all the way in, and my heart broke with hers in this piece.  Her breath, her beautiful breath, always present, always driving her through her journeys, caught so many times in this piece, and it was haunting and heartbreaking at the same time.

1-7-768x576There’s a major music change at the end, after Ms. Peil has been jerked around by her antagonists, fantastically danced by Mr. Kilbane and Karl Watson, and the company are all on the floor and randomly they get up and slow dance with Ms. Peil.  It was heart wrenching.  Gave me the sensation of when we’ve all been searching for something to fill the void left by someone who was in our life, but hasn’t fully gone away.  You know that sensation i’m talking about where, you start to move on, but then they show back up again and get in the way.  Every time Mr. Kilbane came back in to the scene to interject himself into a moment she was having with another dancer, I wanted to scream “OMG, just let her be, ugh!”

This piece was danced beautifully, and everyone played their part brilliantly.  And like Ms. Peil, Mr. Wevers is not afraid to open himself up to his audience and share his emotions and experiences, and i’m always so moved by his art.  And this one really rang true on a personal note for me, and I just loved it!14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_n
Overall, this is one hell of a show!  And I urge everyone to make time to go see it while it runs through Jan 28.  Show and ticket information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Bravo!!

Ciao for now,

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Images from Bamberg Fine Art and Whim W’Him’s Facebook Page

 

Canon in P: Brilliant Creativity by Penny Saunders on Whim W’Him

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_nIn addition to having a few days off of work, the other thing I love about winter vacation is that I have time to get to go do one of my favorite things: watch a Whim W’Him rehearsal! And this year, I got to watch the company work with the choreographer Penny Saunders, and I must say, it was a mesmerizing experience.

In the new rehearsal space, which is much smaller than the studios in the old space, I found Ms. Saunders’ choreography to take up all the space in the room, in the best way possible.  This piece centers around my beloved Justin Reiter, and I can’t tell you how good it was to see him at the heart of this piece. I missed his presence terribly in the Choreographic Shindig, as he was on the periphery for so much of it, and I missed his beautiful lines and powerful breath.

And speaking of breath, you’ve read numerous times how much I love how breath plays a strong part in the success of a WWDC performance.  The company finds a way to breathe together in a rhythmic way that does, in fact, mesmerize me, and Ms. Saunders uses their collective breath to her advantage with this piece.

Mr. Reiter sets the pace and timing of much of the movement with his breath, and the rest of the company follows beautifully.  Whether the only one moving, or whether immersed amidst his fellow dancers, his breath can be seen and heard as he takes the journey Ms. Saunders has created for him.  His complete control of his powerful, yet lithe body to isolate and flow through Ms. Saunders’ choreography is going to take your breath away, I promise you.  It’s everything I love about the way Justin moves, and can’t wait for the actual performance to see the growth he will have between now and then.

I’ve called this piece Canon in P, because Ms. Saunders utilized numerous canons throughout the piece, each more unique and interesting than the one before.  And the company, lined up differently each time, elevates something as simple as a canon to a level of art in that, they are doing the same movement, however, they manage to subtly insert their individuality to each movement creating a soft, yet dynamic symmetry.  Sitting in the small rehearsal room, I was completely entranced by all the canons, and I can’t wait to see how beautiful they will look when I’m up in the house watching this piece from a distance. When I said as much to Ms. Saunders, she smiled and said, “Me, too!”

And without giving away too much, I do quickly want to tantalize you with the promise of something ridiculously special waiting for you in this piece if you are wise enough to buy a ticket and come see this show.  And that special gift is in the form of a duet danced by the 004-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800incomparable Patrick Kilbane, and new company member Liane Aung.  Mr. Kilbane, one of most stunning dancers I’ve ever had the privilege to watch dance live, has lines and feet that bring tears to my eyes, they are so beautiful.  And in Ms. Aung, he has met his 007-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800match on that front.  Ms. Aung’s lines, sweet baby Jesus, and her extension are the stuffs that dance lovers’ dreams are made of, and her feet are so gorgeous, that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.  I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about them, they are that spectacular as she finishes movements with her long, graceful fingers, or the exquisite point of her toe.  These two technical masters, these two emotionally open artists, these two breath-taking dancers have a section in this piece that absolutely transported and affected me.  I won’t tell you which feelings I felt, or where their beautiful moment took me, as I don’t want to color your experience, but trust me, people, you want to see this!  You need to see this!

Whim W’Him’s next show, Sensation opens on Jan 20, and runs through Jan 28.  Please 14962572_10157676466410035_9115623630654052940_nstart your 2017 off right by indulging your senses in this show.  I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!  I’ll be there opening night showing my support for my favorite Seattle Based dance company, and I do wish you’d join me. 

Ciao for now,

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Photos from Whim W’Him’s website and Facebook Page

Broadway Bound’s Elf: Perfect Mix of Adorable & Professional

Entertainment Review

I wouldn’t normally review a children’s theatre show because, well, I’m me, and we know how judgy I am, and contrary to popular belief, I would not enjoy making small children cry.  So, when I headed to SMT’s theatre space in Magnusson Park on Saturday night to support the daughter of a colleague of mine who is performing in Broadway Bound Children’s Theatre’s production of Elf, I was off duty, and just there as a patron to watch some kids have some fun on stage.  However, I was so impressed by the professionalism of this adorable cast that I had to put fingers to keys and tell you about it.

First of all, I applaud Broadway Bound for taking on 3 casts of kids, because as someone who spent almost a decade working on a summer teen musical program, I know how hard it is to put a show together with just one cast!  And they do it with three.  I had the privilege of seeing Cast 2 perform, and the things you’d expect in a children’s show were all there.  Cute kids, check. Adorable elf costumes, check. Simple blocking and choreography they can all manage, check. Opening night nerves, check. Proud families, a supportive audience, and children running in the aisles, check, check, check.  The entire cast maneuvered through the well-known story of Elf with super cute enthusiasm, and looked great in their outstanding costumes whether as elves, Santa, businessmen and women, or  as family members.  However, a few shining stars stood out.

Tatum Poirrier, who played Charlie the Elf absolutely stole the show for me.  This little one is not only tiny and adorable, but is very talented.  She worked those tap shoes like nobody’s business, delivered her snappy, sarcastic lines with impeccable timing, and managed to be very much in the moment of each scene she was in.  She made choices, good choices, from character to character that she played, and I was highly impressed. Good job, little one!

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Also Rose Hunksor who played Mr. Hobb’s assistant, Deb, was fantastic!  She had wonderful comedic timing!  She understood the role beautifully and brought a depth to each scene she was in that showed craft and talent well beyond her years. Bravo!

Lastly, I really enjoyed Ryan Musehl, who played Santa.  His dry line delivery cracked me up and was such a fun choice.  Kudos to him for pulling that off with a consistent performance all throughout the show, even when he was having serious issues with Santa’s hat in the final sleigh scene.  He didn’t break character at all, just worked through the struggle and stayed in character the whole time.  Well done, you!

But the main reason I wanted to write this review was because I wanted to publicly applaud the entire cast, especially Max Zorn who played Buddy, for managing to masterfully maneuver through the myriad of technical problems that were rampant through this show.  Buddy’s mic went out multiple times, and while Mr. Zorn didn’t project as much as he needed to for me to hear him back where I was sitting in row N, he didn’t break character or get thrown or stop.  He pushed through, showing poise and gumption well beyond his years.

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Additionally, when the paper shredder didn’t work, he again didn’t falter, didn’t break, didn’t stop, he just improvised and it was brilliant.  He set a great example for the rest of the cast, and they all followed suit.  The lead of a show should be a leader, and young Mr. Zorn was definitely that on Saturday night.  I don’t know this child, but I was so proud of him for performing with the utmost professionalism.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Mia Kunins, who is the child I came to see, and thought her colorful elf, and sassy businesswoman were well done!  Also, I found out that Ms. Kunins was given new lines early that morning, and with such a short turnaround time, she delivered them so well!  She was also in quite a few scenes where there were technical difficulties, and she never broke, once!  Not even when another actor wasn’t where they needed to be and she stumbled on stage.  She didn’t break character, just got back up and kept singing.  Bravo!

The tech issues didn’t stop there.  There were lighting/blackout timing issues, mic issues where the sound tech left mics hot for cast members who were backstage and you could hear the little ones whispering and chattering away in the house distracting from what was going on during the scene on stage, and Santa’s sleigh got set wrong and when they tried to pull it off it got caught on the set.  Sigh.

While this was opening night for cast 2, it was the second night for the production team, so I’m hoping they get things fixed and work out the kinks because these kids are working really hard on stage, doing really good stuff, and they deserve to have a clean tech.

Elf runs two more weekends, and if you’ve got little ones in your household, andelfposter you want something fun to do with them this holiday season, take them to see Elf.  It’s really cute and a lot of fun to watch.

I give this a big Bravo to the kids, and thunderous applause  for their outstanding professionalism in the face of major technical difficulties!

Ciao for now,

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Mind Blown at NW Dance Project’s Bolero +! Ps, I’m Baaaaaack!

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Hello, people, did you miss me?  I know its been a long time since I posted a review of anything, but that’s because things like day jobs and bill paying took over all my time I had allocated for seeing shows and writing about them.  So, I retired in the spring, thinking my writing days were behind me.  But after what I experienced on Saturday night, there was absolutely no way I could refrain from putting fingers on keys and sharing it with all of you.

So where was I, might you ask?  Well, I was in Portland, OR, seeing the fall show at NW Dance Project titled Bolero +.  And while that + might seem like a tiny little symbol, trust me, there is sooooooo very much involved in that +.  And it all began with the amazing movement of Felix Landerer.

You may remember my review of Mr. Landerer’s work at last year’s fall show at NW Dance Project, New Now Wow,  where in addition for professing my love for Mr. Landerer’s exquisite choreography, I may or may not have mentioned how much I wanted to be a purple shirt (that piece was so fantastically powerful!), in this show, Mr. Landerer brought us another powerful piece, this one entitled: Post-Traumatic Monster which followed a dark and twisty journey of two people fighting their way to each other.

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Cody Jauron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in “Post-Traumatic-Monster” by Felix Landerer Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The monster, or obstacle was anchored by the beautiful and talented Ching Ching Wong who gave one of the most mind-blowing performances I have ever seen!  Ms. Wong, often positioned on top of her fellow dancers, shifting positions in the dark, twisting and contorting, holding intricate positions for beat after delicious beat, managed to transition from phrase to phrase with the most effortless grace I have ever seen!  She was so aware of her surroundings, of her fellow dancers, of her light, that I swear the woman has eyes in the back of her head!  Every time she placed a foot, a hand, a hip, or anything that another dancer needed to grab on to in order to hoist her into the air was perfectly placed!  She was magnificent, and haunting, and delicately stunning all at the same time.

And her protagonist to antagonize in this piece was expertly danced by Franco Nieto, who moved me to tears with this performance!  He literally took my breath away with the level of emotion he put into this performance.  Mr. Nieto’s lines are so stunning, the fluidity of his movement so superb, and his acting so on point that watching him go on this journey in this piece is something that I will never forget.  Mr. Nieto danced every count, every moment in this piece with everything he had, so much so that his gorgeous gold shirt was drenched with sweat and the willowy, lithe bow of his body at the end of the piece as the audience thunderously applauded for him showed that he left everything on that floor, and we were blessed to have been witness to it.

The rest of the dancers also played their parts well, creating the foundation for Ms. Wong, pushing Mr. Nieto around the stage, rippling and cannoning through Mr. Landerer’s gorgeous choreography, filling the stage with unique, compelling and dynamic pictures, so expertly performed, that at times I forgot they weren’t one being.  They filled every space between Mr. Nieto and Ms. Wong until they all faded into the wings leaving Ms. Wong and Mr. Nieto to finally have nothing between them except the space of their own making.  I yearned for them to find peace at finally being together, and Mr. Landerer tormented me by creating so much angst through his phrases, and the dancers embraced every nuance with almost obsessive emotion, that my heart broke as they never fully embraced each other in the way I wanted them to, but I’ve no doubt that is part of what Mr. Landerer wanted me to experience, and it was fantastic, albeit painful.  I’m such a fan of Mr. Landerer, and this piece just reinforced all the reasons why.  Bravo to the dancers for bringing this piece so hauntingly to life, and to Mr. Landerer for the magic he makes.

The second part of the + was a piece by a new choreographer to me, Lucas Crandall, which featured three dancers, and was titled Salt.  Oh, people, this piece spoke to me!  A trio danced by Samantha Campbell, Lindsey McGill, and Elijah Labay took me on an emotional rollercoaster that left my heart fluttering and my mind blown.

Salt opens with the three dancers, dressed in white from neck to ankle moving in slow motion towards the audience in front of a bright blue-white backdrop.  The movement was uncomfortable on Mr. Labay, yet Ms. Campbell and Ms. McGill seemed to frolic with abandon so slowly towards the audience, even sharing a blissful smile, when I suddenly realized, Mr. Labay did not share their bliss.  From moment one, there was a pull towards sad that Mr. Labay subtly conveyed, and as the piece sped up to tempo, and then stopped at a screeching halt, I knew what we were in for next was going to be intense.

What was last year’s purple shirt was this year’s white long sleeve shirt. (And, Mr. Crandall, I almost died when you teased us with the potential of the shirtless Mr. Labay, only to bring him back on fully clothed!  Such torment!) But then all that torment made sense as Mr. Labay did not discard the shirt, but instead kept the weight of it on him as he glided all around the stage back and forth from one woman to the next, and the shirt became part of the journey he was on.  He was the pillar and safeguard of this piece while at the same time being caught up in the storm that surrounded him, and the costume, so clingy and yet flowy, stretched around him in an intoxicating way that made my heart break for his struggle. (and also had me thinking this year that I’d never wanted to be a white long sleeve shirt so badly in my life! Wow!)

But back to Salt, I interpreted this as a story of a man stuck between two amazing women, where at the start they both seemed equally alluring, yet, as the piece went on, Mr. Labay gravitated towards Ms. McGill, and yet Ms. Campbell was still a driving force, constantly involved, now starting to appear to be in the way of the other two being together.  Mr. Crandall’s brilliant way to keep the women coming and going around Mr. Labay, who was forced to slide them and shift them to keep them away from each other, just made me ache for them all.  For anyone who has experienced unrequited love, longed for someone who belonged to another, found themselves in love with two people at once or desperately worked to hold on to someone they feel slipping away would relate to the journey of one of these dancers.  I just love pieces that tap into primal human emotion, and this is what the piece did for me.

I had friends with me at this performance, and they all had different interpretations of the story, but it was fascinating to see how much they were all impacted.  While we all had different experiences watching, we all had the exact same reaction to the ending.  Twice during the piece, gorgeous footage of ocean waves crashing down onto white sand created a wild juxtaposition to the storm raging amongst the three dancers.  And for me specifically, the ocean is where I go to relax, where I go to reclaim my center, where I go to breathe, so having that sound be the piece of music this journey was created upon rocked me to my core.  And in the end, when Mr. Labay and Ms. McGill found their way fully to each other, and hand in hand walked towards the crashing waves, leaving Ms. McGill behind in their wake, I held my breath to see how she would react.  And the ridiculously brave Mr. Crandall chose to not have her drown in that wake, but instead let her just lay on the sand, and peacefully watch them go.

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Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay, and Samantha Campbell in “Salt” by Lucas Crandall Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

Mr. Crandall has a way of driving this audience member to the edge of a storm, and then gently laying me down with a soft landing and a peaceful ending that brought tears to my eyes.  He put a quote in the program from Karen Blixen that said “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the salt sea.”  And Mr. Crandall gave us all three in this peace, and I am the better for having experienced it!  I’m an instant fan and can’t wait until I can see one of his creations again.  Thank for telling this story, Mr. Crandall, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Bravo!

The finale was where we finally get to the Bolero part of the program choreographed by my beloved Ihsan Rustem, and to say I was excited for this piece is the understatement of the year!  The promotion art showed the dancers painted, and I was just sure that was going to be the costume for Bolero, and oh was I right! From the first move to the final prop drop, Bolero entertained, excited and enthralled me in only the way Mr. Rustem’s wit and genius can do!

This piece to this amazingly challenging music was full of whimsical sensuality.  All of the dancers, clad in black pants and body paint and nothing else were provocative and sexy throughout this piece.  Shifting between duos, trios, and full company synchronicity, a signature of Mr. Rustem’s that I have come to adore, was so brilliantly done that I found myself on the edge of my seat to find out who was going to come out and dance next!

With a music so repetitive, the test comes in finding new, interesting phrases to fill an entire piece, and Mr. Rustem did this with epic creativity!  No two phrases the same, no two counts repetitive, I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing one delectable moment!  No one fills an 8 count like Mr. Rustem, and Bolero had so many for him to fill and he did each one more masterfully than the one before it!  Loved it!

Always a brilliant master of light and space, Mr. Rustem created a second plane of performance utilizing backlighting, raised raked platforms, and black curtains that gave the dancers the ability to tantalize and tittilate in silhouette and shadow!  And utilizing a rose in a deliciously phallic accoutrement/through-line to the entire piece showed off Mr. Rustem’s dazzling ability to play with an audience!

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“Boléro” by Ihsan Rustem Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The entire company was brilliant in Bolero, and the new faces in the company held their own with the veterans who already have my heart.  The women in this piece were a lovely combination of flirty and strong, enticing and teasing the men every chance they got!  The men, all of whom were a delicious mix of sexuality and humor took center stage in this piece for me!  Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay, specifically, enflamed the stage, yet again, with their heavenly bodies contorting around Mr. Rustem’s movement, and man did the paint look fantastic on them!  You, two, I swear, I’d travel around the world to watch you dance!  You just simply take my breath away no matter what story you are telling!

However, Kody Jauron, who I fell in love with during Mr. Rustem’s piece from last spring’s show, Le Fil Rouge, was the one my eye went to most often, enticing little sprite that he is!  Mr. Jauron danced with so much abandon, so much flair, so much fierce energy that he pulled my focus whenever he was on stage, entertaining me all the way through! (although there was one phrase where the full company was to be dancing in unison, and Mr. Jauron was doing juuuuuuust a bit more than the rest, and I became Zach from a Chorus Line in my head for a moment, where I silently shouted to myself, “Cassie, there’s no head release with that kick!” but when a dancer is dancing with such joy, it’s easy to overlook.)  Mr. Jauron kicked off the show with his Puck-like mischief, and carried that level of fun all the way to the final bow.  Bravo, Sir!  I simply adore you!

Bolero is now in the books for me as one of my all time favorite performances I’ve seen.  I love wit, I love sensuality, I love innuendo, I love confidence, and I absolutely love brave, creative movement, and Mr. Rustem just gave me everything I loved, complete with a troupe of painted, gorgeous dancers bringing his imaginations to life!  It’s this level of passion that makes it so easy to drive the three hours to see a NW Dance Project show.  And should you be anywhere near there where you can get to Portland to see one of their shows, you absolutely should!  Guaranteed your mind will be blown!  Come with me to the next one, won’t you?

I’m so sorry that there aren’t more performances of this wonderful program for you to go see, but sadly it closed on Saturday night.  But please believe me when I say the best gift you can give yourself, if you love dance even a little bit, is to go see a NW Dance Project production.  Not only did Bolero + give me an epic experience, but it inspired me to get my ass back to writing this blog, because I really have missed it.  Thank you, NWDP for that gift!

I give this entire show a thunderous applause and a Bravo +!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

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