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,

cropped-unnamed-16.jpg

Photos from NW Dance Project’s Facebook page

Advertisements

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.

NW Dance Project,dress rehearsal,"Post-Traumatic-Monster",Felix Landerer

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.

NW Dance Project,dress rehearsal,"Salt",Lucas Crandall

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!

bolero1

“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,

cropped-unnamed-16.jpg