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 2015 Choreographic Shindig: A Three Course Feast for All the Senses

Dance Review, Dance Show Promotional

It’s a complete understatement to say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of Whim W’Him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig after experiencing the magic of watching the company rehearse for this production. I’ve been shivering with anticipation to have a new experience, the likes of which only Whim W’him can provide.  It was like being invited to a dinner party at an good friend’s house who is a phenomenal chef in their own right.  You’ve dined with them numerous times before, and are always excited to be extended an invitation, because you know the meal will be exquisite.  Yet, this time, your friend and host lets you know they’ve hired three new chefs who have prepared a feast you’ll not soon forget, igniting excitement and curiosity at a totally new experience in a familiar setting.  Only, the host is Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, and the three new chefs are a trio of choreographers chosen by the company to come create a feast of originality and ingenuity just for you, and it will entice and arouse your senses in the most delicious way!

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Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Joshua L. Peugh Dancers: Jim Kent, Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil, Thomas Phelan, and Lara Seefedlt

The appetizer, if you will, is presented by Joshua L. Peugh.  You’ll remember I got a taste of Mr. Peugh’s brilliance when I was invited to watch one of his rehearsals. It was at that rehearsal where Mr. Peugh landed on the name of his piece: Short Acts on the Heartstrings, and my heartstrings couldn’t agree more!  Seeing this piece in its final form, complete with costumes and lighting took my breath away.  White tuxedos and Cotton Candy Green flowing dresses twirled and whirled around the stage, creating light and happiness straight into the audience!  It’s akin to sampling various amuse-bouche where sweetness and freshness brings delight and joy, followed by a hint of heat which sneaks up on you, and the slow, delectable burn of spices tickles your senses, opening up your palate for the flavors yet to come.  That’s how Heartstrings affected me.  Light and funny one moment, deep and connected the next, with pops of unexpected heat that had me craving more!  Of all the fantastic phrases throughout this piece, there are two duets that simply stole my breath.  One was with Kyle Johnson and Tori Peil, and the other was with Kyle Johnson and Justin Reiter.  The beauty of these couples performing the movement created by Mr. Peugh was stunning to behold.  I laughed. I sighed (the kind of sighs you give when you watch a happy ending to a fabulous RomCom). I enjoyed every minute of being transported back to the, as I described before, a Mad Men meets Pulp Fiction dinner party hosted by Rosemary Clooney.  Pulled on the heartstrings for sure, and set the unbelievably beautiful tone for the evening.

The second course, if you’ll continue to indulge the metaphor, was a rich and meaty creation by Maurya Kerr titled into the wide welcome.  Although, I found myself adding “or not” onto the end of the title, because this piece took the Whim W’him company through a formidable physical expression of emotion that was less than welcoming.  None of the six dancers in this piece were spared a heightened emotional journey that, to me, showed the constant human need for contact, often with someone who is unhealthy for you.  The design elements added to the impassioned voice of Ms. Kerr as she weaved and threaded the dancers around each other.  All dancers dressed in shades of grey, the lights a harsh grey-white, and I’m not sure if it was part of the choreography, but when the air conditioner kicked on right as the pace of the piece accelerated and the music piped in, I swear, I was transported right into the middle of someone’s icy cold heart.  And I loved it!

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Maurya Kerr Dancers: Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art
Choreography: Maurya Kerr
Dancers: Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil

Again, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Peil had my favorite sections of this piece, my heart aching for them as they struggled with their want for each other, yet never finding comfort in the contact for long!  With every frantic separation, my heart broke for them, and tears rolled down my cheeks.  The final section, all six dancers moving as one, creating a new pulse in the room.  Like a human chest compression, slowly and methodically easing life back into the room.  Creating heat and breath, where there was none before.  It’s one hell of a journey, and I hope all of you will give yourself the gift of experiencing it.

With the palate tantalizing appetizer and complex filling main course complete, that left room for the final course; a luscious, sinful dessert created by the incomparable Ihsan Rustem.  The piece titled The Road to Here was mouth-watering from the first move.  Seductive lines, provocative pictures, and sensual music pulled me, and everyone around me into Mr. Rustem’s hypnotic rhythms.  All seven company members shifted and

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Ihsan Rustem Dancers: Justin Reiter, Thomas Phelan, Tory Peil, Kyle Johnson, Mia Monteabaro, Lara Seefedlt, and Jim Kent

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art
Choreography: Ihsan Rustem
Dancers: Justin Reiter, Thomas Phelan, Tory Peil, Kyle Johnson, Mia Monteabaro, Lara Seefedlt, and Jim Kent

moved from one divine phrase to the next as if they were made of water. The company was audibly breathing as one unit, and I found my own breath catching with every new titillating movement.  Mr. Rustem’s use of the entire space was fiercely brilliant, with a deliciously devilish surprise half way through that I won’t say any more about, because you MUST experience it for yourself! Let’s just say it’s the cherry on top of a decadent experience you don’t want to miss.  From start to finish I was on the edge of my seat watching this piece, savoring every morsel Mr. Rustem provided.  When it was over, I was both satiated and satisfied, and I highly suggest you go get a taste for yourself!

I also want to take a moment to applaud the lighting designer for the Shindig, Mr. Michael Mazzola.  Mr. Mazzola’s designs for these three unique and powerful pieces were absolute perfection!  The warm, angelic glow for Mr. Peugh, the cold frigid wash for Ms. Kerr, and the seductive vibrancy for Mr. Rustem were all at a level of mastery that matched the vision of each piece brilliantly.  Bravo!

My hat is off to the ingenuity of Mr. Wevers and the unbelievably open way he runs his company.  Encouraging and championing his company members to grow as true artists, and allowing them the opportunity to choose the choreographers for this Shindig is truly inspired. Mr. Wevers said in the Q&A after the show that his goal for Whim W’him was to create a company where artists can flourish and grow, and I’d say the 2015 Choreographic Shindig proves that his goal has been beautifully and exquisitely achieved.  With selfless vision like that, Whim W’him has a very bright future ahead.

With every new experience, my respect for this dance company grows.  I’m definitely a Whimmer now, and a very proud season subscriber.  My hat is off to the entire company, the choreographers, and the designers of the 2015 Choreographic Shindig.  It was a resounding success, and I am definitely the better for having experienced it.

This gets a resounding Bravo, and a standing ovation!  Congratulations!

The Choreographic Shindig has five more performances at the Erickson unnamedTheatre Off Broadway in Capital Hill:

  • September 13 (today!) at 5pm
  • September 16, 17, 18 and 19 at 8pm

Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.

Ciao for now,

M lg