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.
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.
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!
“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 +!
Ciao for now,