Portland is about 3 hours away, by car, from Seattle, and there are few things that would entice me to make that drive knowing that I have to turn around and come back the same day. And the thing at the top of that enticing list is NW Dance Project.
You’ll recall I raved about this brilliant company in my last review of them back in October, and I had no doubt this show would be as wonderful as that one. However, I was shocked and awed this go round, because this show, titled Louder Than Words, is the best piece of art I have seen since I took fingertips to keys to start this blog! I was not prepared for the impact each choreographer would have on me, both as a dance lover and as a human being. My only regret is that I’m only ever able to see these shows on closing night, because I wish I could see it early enough to tell you about it and have you get the chance to experience it yourself. But since that is not an option, let me walk you through the mesmerizing brilliance of three spectacular choreographers: Alex Soares, Sarah Slipper, and Ihsan Rustem.
The first piece of the night was titled Trace in Loss, and was choreographed by Alex Soares and took the audience on a journey through three phases of a relationship, and was danced beautifully by Samantha Campbell, Elija Labay (still have a huge crush on this one!), Franco Nieto, Andrea Parson, Viktor Usov and Ching Ching Wong. The movement Mr. Soares placed on these six stunning dancers was as bold as it was bashful, as controlled as it was charismatic, and as delicate as it was daring. The first phase took us through the beginning of love; that delicious time where you’re exploring and learning about your lover, falling deeper the more you learn. The second phase told the story of friction when in love; possibly betrayal, definitely anger the more you learn. And finally, the end of a relationship; perhaps through death or through walking away, but loss none the less. The story was so clear, the choreography so perfectly placed on individual dancers, the collaboration of this company and Mr. Soares was breathtaking to behold.
The two themes throughout this entire show that impacted me the most were control and the forehead. Mr. Soares introduced both to me in this piece, because there were so many phrases where the dancers, the female dancers especially, would hold seemingly impossible positions effortlessly, with complete control. And then in the middle phrase where the anger came in, the push and pull of control within the movement, and with each other, Mr. Usov and Ms. Wong blew my mind! And the final phrase, loss of control over the relationship’s mere existence mirrored in the movement. Stunning all the way around.
And the forehead, Mr. Soares had so many moments where the male dancer would touch his female partner’s forehead with his palm; sometimes leading her, sometimes caressing her, and sometimes violently pushing her away. The forehead is such an intimate place to be touched. We all know the impact of someone kissing us on the forehead. Buddhists greet each other by touching foreheads. It’s a connection that Mr. Soares really played with beautifully in his piece and it really spoke to me.
Lastly, I want to mention that Mr. Soares, along with lighting designer Jeff Forbes, utilized a white draped fabric with a projector behind it which gave the most intense geographic shapes on to the screen that enhanced each phrase in the most beguiling way, especially the end moment where a relationship ended amidst the lights. It was absolutely brilliant! I’m an instant fan of Mr. Soares and hope to see more of his work in the future.
The second piece, titled Airys, was choreographed by NW Dance Project’s Artistic Director, Sarah Slipper, and people, this piece, this glorious piece literally knocked the wind out of me with its power and beauty. I didn’t know anything about the story going in, but afterwards, in speaking with Ms. Slipper, she told me she was inspired by news footage of the war in Syria, where a female reporter was inside the war torn area, and behind her was a woman holding her dying child who had been mortally wounded in the bombings. The child died during that broadcast, and it impacted Ms. Slipper right down to her soul. The next day, the female reporter was killed as well, and all of that loss, all of that violence, all of that sorrow inspired Ms. Slipper to create one of the most hauntingly stunning pieces I’ve ever seen.
The piece opens with two black curtains draped from the ceiling to the stage floor, and they are placed in such a way that depending on where you are sitting will determine how much of the dancing you will see. From my seat I could see the featured dancer in this piece, Andrea Parson performing phrase after gracefully controlled phrase in a soft light wash. However, those to my right couldn’t see her at all, and I could hear murmurings from the audience members expressing their frustration with not being able to see what was going on. It was in that moment, I realized, that was Ms. Slipper’s intention. She didn’t want everyone to see the same thing. She wanted limited views, limited frustrations, because that energy fed the story being told on stage.
Ms. Parson, oh Ms. Parson, this sensational dancer, ebbed and flowed through this piece, a dazzling combination of control and emotion, so in the moment during every phrase, she literally stole my breath. The rest of the company, dancing in and around Ms. Parson added to the story in the most impactful way. They physically embodied struggle, heartbreak, loss and fear. One phrase, with Ms. Parson downstage twisting and turning, all the while the company running around the stage in a group, lost, as if not knowing where they would be safe, eventually pulling Ms. Parson into their herd. And as the audience, you just want them to find a safe place!
The curtains eventually fall in two large clumps of fabric, and while the company frantically rolled one curtain off the stage as quickly as they could, Ms. Parson handled the other with the care and gentleness a mother would have holding her infant. And Ms. Slipper confirmed for me that is exactly what she intended. The complex dichotomy of these two moments happening simultaneously brought tears to my eyes that continued to flow down my face for the rest of this emotional kaleidoscope of a piece.
And what I mean by that is just when the sorrow and the loss and the grief began to take over the room, the music changed, and the lights changed, and suddenly there appeared a soft waterfall of earth pouring down onto the stage. And Ms. Parson, who had been clothed in a tight black top and pants turned her back on the audience, removed her top and simply stood and breathed for a few beats, and something in that subtle movement brought me peace. And then Ms. Parson was joined by the single most stunning male dancer I have ever seen dance live in my life. And his name is Franco Nieto.
Mr. Nieto’s movement, his lines, his ability to complete a movement all at the same time being so emotionally connected to every moment was something I was NOT ready for! Mr. Nieto did not perform with NW Dance Project last October, so this was my first time seeing him, and people, I think I found a new religion, and its name is Franco Nieto! Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, because I was so mesmerized by the charismatic authenticity this dancer brought to this role, I was afraid to blink for fear of missing one single moment!
So when the graceful sprite that is Ms. Parson was joined on the floor by the heart-stopping dance God that is Mr. Nieto, both topless and vulnerable to the element of the earth falling around them, connected immediately in both rhythm and soul, my dance lover’s heart was so full I feared it would burst in my chest from sheer joy!
This entire series, Mr. Nieto lifting and leading Ms. Parson, in and around the earth falling around them was full of intensity, and yet had a lightness that signaled a bit of peace for Ms. Parson. She was headed to her grave, you could sense that the moment this phrase began, and as the section went on, Ms. Parson’s movement because more and more peaceful and calm, while Mr. Nieto’s became more intense with a push and pull of ‘stay with me just one more moment’ and ‘I know you have to go.’ More forehead touching came in during this piece, in that same tender way, and I would give anything to have Mr. Nieto palm my forehead, because he does it with such an intimacy, such controlled connection, and it hit me how much the forehead was featured throughout Louder Than Words.
When he finally laid her to rest amidst the the pile of earth on the floor, and allowed the earth to fall on her still body, Mr. Nieto’s weeping could be heard throughout the theatre, and it was the perfect ending to this magnanimous story. He wept for her, and we wept along with him. And when the lights went out, there was that hush. You know the one I mean, that delicious hush that comes when the audience is so impacted, so moved by what they just saw, there’s a brief pause while their heart reconnects to their brain reminding them that it’s over, and time now to bring the thunderous applause that these dancers deserve.
Afterwards I thanked Ms. Slipper for this piece, because it truly changed my life. I’ve never been affected by a piece like that which I knew nothing about going in, and not only was the story clear, the artistry with which she reminded us of the very real horrors that people in war torn places endure is something everyone should see. Bravo to Ms. Slipper for her bravery to take this on, and Bravo to the company for bringing her vision to life. We are all the better for having seen it! And I will never forget it. Thank you all!
The final piece of the night came to us through the creative genius that is my beloved Ihsan Rustem! It’s no secret I’m in love with Ihsan’s choreography, but last Saturday I saw a whole new side to Mr. Rustem, and good Lawd, was it a good time! After all the heaviness and emotional turmoil in the first two pieces, Mr. Rustem ended our night by reminding us that comedic genius is also something that is Louder Than Words!
Le Fil Rouge, a delightful and whimsical journey soundtracked by the likes of Doris Day, Edith Piaf, and La Lupe was gorgeous from moment one! It started with Mr. Nieto on stage in front of the curtain, wearing the very French ensemble of black pants, a black and white striped shirt, and a black tuxedo jacket. And when he slid, albeit was pulled, under the curtain to kick off the laughter, I knew we were in for a treat.
The entire company was in the same outfits, with one single red balloon looming over the stage making me wonder how that would play into this piece. The dancers moved through a black and white world with their black and white costumes changing from the striped shirts/pants to booty shorts and tuxedo tops, to shirtless men and bandeau top wearing women, but always with a bright red accent somewhere within the piece. Loved the choice, loved the colors, loved it all, loved it!
Whether the entire company was on stage, or just two or three dancers at a time, the through line of this piece was evident: Fun and Flirty! There was a pas de trois where three female company members danced practically in the dark with red bicycle lights in their mouths, and they were lip synching along with the music, so whenever they opened their lips, this glowing red light shined and contrasted the dark lighting, and it was hysterically hypnotic! I also loved the moments when the whole company was on stage, where two to three dancers would be downstage dancing solos, and the rest of the company would be all the way upstage, backs to the audience, flirting with us in silhouette utilizing their coats over their booty shorts in a very Gypsy Rose Lee montage, and it was tantalizingly spectacular!
All the dancers were brilliant in this piece, but the one who stood out to me this time was Kody Jauron. Mr. Jauron truly embodied the comedic style that Mr. Rustem was trying to achieve. He sunk down into each phrase, and was giving some serious face to the audience in the best possibly way. He stood out from the company, phrase after phrase, and I hope there are more opportunities for Mr. Jauron to do comedic dances in the future, because he was friggin fantastic!
And speaking of Mr. Jauron, my favorite section of this amazing piece was danced by the captivating Mr. Jauron and the devilishly handsome Elijah Labay (we’ve talked about how much I’m in love with this dancer, right? Oh, right we have, from the last blog, wanting to be a purple shirt soooooo badly, right, ok…moving on!) Anyway, Mr. Rustem created a pas de deux for these two to Doris Day’s Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, and people, I can’t! It was so good! So, Mr. Jauron spends the number trying to tempt Mr. Labay into a delectable sexual tryst, and Mr. Labay was seriously playing hard to get, but in that way that a spider plays with a fly. Like, I totally want you, but am not going to give it to you that easily, so how hard will you work for it? And Mr. Jauron werrrrrrrked for it! Loved it! It had a very Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor feel to it. (And if you don’t know who those two characters are, I suggest you Google search those two and then invest in some Netflix time, because it’s all kinds of hot!) And Mr. Labay and Mr. Jauron were just as hot, and fun, and flirty, and sexy, and naughty, and Bravo to these two men for committing so fully to these characters! I loved it! And just like the purple shirt moment from the last show, now I also never wanted to drag someone across a floor by their ankle so badly in my life! Yummy! Thank you, Mr. Rustem, for this tantalizing piece!
This witty and whimsical creation was the perfect ending to a dazzling night of dance. And in Mr. Rustem’s piece, guess what else showed up? More touching of the forehead! I know these three choreographers didn’t collaborate on these pieces, especially since both Trace In Loss and Airys were created in 2012, whereas Le Fil Rouge was world premiering, and yet the forehead being such a dominant movement choice really struck me. I simply adored it.
The control with which the NW Dance Project company dances is an inherit talent that I’m not sure can be taught. Because with that control comes the ability to know when and how to let go of that control. And with dancers with that innate bravery, it has to be such a gift for any choreographer who is blessed enough to get to make dances on them.
I know I said I left my heart in Portland in my last blog, and I meant it. It’s still there. And I look forward to the next time I get to visit it to see more beautiful art created by choreographers who Ms. Slipper brings in to collaborate with her company. And as always, I can’t wait to see what else Mr. Rustem has in store for this company because it really is a match made in heaven!
I hate that there isn’t an opportunity for you to go see this show, but trust me, if you can make the trip to Portland to see this company, please do! And if you want to go with me next time, shoot me a note and let’s go see it together!
Bravo to NW Dance Project for the brilliant art you create! I can’t wait to see you all
Ciao for now,