What do you get when you take a company of phenomenally talented dancers, add three brilliant choreographers, and a visionary artistic director? Why, you get art, in it’s purest, most beautiful form. And art this elegant, this radiant, and this exquisite simply took my breath away from the first isolation to the final stunning pose. Where, might you wonder, can one experience such art? Why a quick three hours or so drive south, in Portland, Oregon, at NW Dance Project!
My incentive to make the trek to Portland to see this company perform was solely based on my desire to see more of the masterful maestro of dance, Ihsan Rustem’s choreography. You’ll remember I saw Mr. Rustem’s work on Whim W’Him for their Choreographic Shindig back in September, and was so enamored with his movement, I simply had to see what else he’d been up to since I saw him last. We’ll get to Mr. Rustem’s piece in a moment, but first, let me talk about this company of dancers.
Under the Artistic Direction of Sarah Slipper, this company is made up of power and beauty and grace all blending together within each stunning dancer. The control on these dancers to move, contort, and stretch their bodies was mesmerizing to behold. Each uniquely different than the next, they somehow compliment each other as if they’d spent their entire lives dancing together. This being my first experience with NW Dance Project, I instantly felt connected to their vision, their work, because this company of dancers have a magnetism that draws you in, and delicately, yet passionately invites you to stay.
The first piece in this trio of brilliance was created by Choreographer, Jiří Pokorný, and is titled The Presence of Absence. This was the world premier of this piece and it captivated me from the first move. One solo dancer in a warm golden spot light began isolations, so smooth and precise, I felt each of her movements. In her own world, oblivious to the group of dancers just off to her right, moving and shifting as one, creating picture after picture, each filled with nuance and humor. This piece explored all elements of absence, from company members entering and exiting the piece, to light shining and dimming over this eclectic movement, to the music blasting and going silent, leaving only the dancers breath as their rhythmic guide. It was haunting and stunning at the same time, and it set the tone for a very grand and creative night of performance art.
After a brief pause, and a breath for the company, they came out with a fire and command of their stage in a piece titled What We’ve Lost on the Way by the ingenious choreographer, Felix Landerer. Mr. Landerer’s piece featured four dancers: Kody Jauron, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill and Ching Ching Wong. These four, just through walking a straight, powerful path downstage, then upstage, then downstage again, all in their own lanes, slowly converge on each other, and the audience isn’t sure if this is competition or cooperation, and I loved it! The sheer force of the commitment to movement as simple as walking elevated it to an art form full of complexity that blew my mind! With the pulsating music by Christof Littmann daring your heart to beat along with it, the company splits off into enigmatic duos and solos that simply stole my breath! Mr. Labay, in particular, had a solo, dancing right on the edge of the light, draped in a muted jewel toned purple shirt that reflected and hid Mr. Landerer’s stunning movement with a sensuality and quiet power that captured my heart, enflamed my soul, and well, I’ve never wanted to be a purple shirt so badly in my life! This powerful world premier physically embodied a graceful power like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The ability of the company to commit to this movement so completely, had me on the edge of my seat watching each individual journey of the dancers to find their place in this emulous world, so when the fifth company member, Julia Radick, joined the dance moments before the end, literally replacing Ms. McGill, showing her as what they lost along the way, I was shocked and awed, and then the blackout happened and it was over! What?!?! No! What happens next?!?! Pure drama! Loved it! Bravo!
Now, finally, after a very delicious first two acts, the piece I drove 3.5 hours for was finally here! Mother Tongue by the beautiful and brilliant Ihsan Rustem began, and from the first breath of the dancer before the first movement in the opening phrase, Mr. Rustem ignited the flame within my dancer’s heart. One of my favorite things about Mr. Rustem’s choreography is that, good lord, can he fill a count of music! No beat or nuance of music is left unexplored or unused, and I adore the complex grace of his movement, and Mother Tongue had this in spades!
Viktor Usov, in an epic opening solo, commanded the floor and took possession of all of my senses with his controlled, yet exquisitely organic-feeling interpretation of Mr. Rustem’s choreography. A combination of air and ground, Mr. Rustem’s opening phrase took his dancer on a powerful journey. As the rest of the company joined Mr. Usov, they all entered from various places behind the mid-curtain, which had a stunning light orange/golden light hiding behind it. When revealed, it created silhouettes of the dancers entering or exiting Mr. Usov’s journey, and it gave hints of a warmth to come.
Mr. Rustem has a ridiculous talent for utilizing the entire space he choreographs within, not limiting himself to the dance space we can see. The beauty of this is that elements like curtains, lighting, and effects elevate from elements of a piece to an additional character within the piece. The curtain, this dark veil, hiding the warmth of the light from the dancers created an ache in me for the dancers. I so badly wanted the curtain to lift and shed light on the gorgeous journey Mr. Usov was taking. And when my wish was granted, and the curtain did lift, it revealed a ethereal ice-white and golden glow, that gave way to the company dancing in silhouette, finally blending Mr. Usov with the rest of the company. As the conclusion of this moving story drew near, a shower of black confetti rained down as Mr. Usov danced the final phrase with his company looking on. Dressed in simple black pants and nothing else, the confetti stuck to Mr. Usov in a way that brought tears to my eyes. It was as if this world he’d been struggling with finally became a part of him, as he allowed it to embody him while he danced. The final moment of this piece, this breathtakingly beautiful piece, will forever hold a place in my heart. Thank you, Mr. Rustem, and the NW Dance Project Company for the experience of Mother Tongue. I will never forget it, and am so much the better for having experienced it. Thank you!
Sadly, this beautiful trio of dance perfection closed last Saturday. However, Mr. Rustem is the resident choreographer for NW Dance Project, so you can bet your ass I will be driving to Portland for the rest of their season, and I think you should all join me! I’ll keep you posted as new shows are coming up, but please, go check out NW Dance Project’s website for more information on the artistic team, choreographers, and dancers, as well as upcoming show information.
While I had to return to Seattle, I left my heart in Portland with this stunning dance company, and will be counting the days until I get to see them perform again. Bravo to the entire company, creative teams, choreographers and crew. This truly was New, Now and WOW!
Ciao for now,
Photos courtesy of NW Dance Project and Ihsan Rustem.