Ok, so let me start this post off with an apology that it has taken me so unbelievably long to write this review of NW Dance Project’s Spring Show. Day jobs and life have been so distracting until now that today is the first day I’ve had to sit down and devote the time needed to do this beautiful program justice. The choreographers and dancers have all moved on to other productions and other shows, (their current show, Summer Splendors, opens tonight for Christ’s sake!), and I just want them to know that even though its been over two months since I saw Visible Darkness and Carmen, the nuance and details and haunting beauty of both performances have been floating constantly through my mind. So, please accept my profound apology for my tardiness and sharing with the world how you all pulled off yet another set of masterpieces that absolutely blew my mind!
As you’ll recall, I had the profound gift of being able to watch the birth of Carmen as she evolved and showed herself to the world through the imagination of the always brilliant Ihsan Rustem. Mr. Rustem, along with Artistic Director Sarah Slipper, so graciously allowed me behind the curtain into the first days of Carmen rehearsals, and I’m telling you, people, I am forever changed by that experience. To see brand new steps being created is something I will never forget, and it felt like forever until I got to drive back down to Portland to see the finished product!
As usual, I only get to see closing night, which is such a shame given how wonderful these shows always are, but when I arrived at the theatre, there was something different about the energy in the room. It had a different electricity that I hadn’t experienced before from a pre-show at NW Dance Project. And when I walked up to get my ticket, I saw what the buzz was all about. Three words explained the excitement rippling through the lobby and Art Bar like electricity: Show Sold Out.
OMG! You guys, I almost cried when I saw that, because I’d never seen a full house at NW Dance Project show before, which always baffled me because they are so damn good. Why were the houses not full? Not enough promotion? Portland folks just don’t know what amazing art is right in their backyard? So I immediately sought out Mr. Rustem to wish him Merde and tell him how excited I was about the sold out crowd and he told me this was their first sold out crowd in the history of the company! Whaaaaat!?!?
All I could think was that finally, finally, finally these amazing dancers and choreographers will perform to the packed house they deserve! And if I played even the smallest part in getting a few more people to the theatre to see it that night by being able to go to a rehearsal and write a promo piece about them, I am thrilled! And you bet your ass I’ll be doing that again as often as I can to do my part to keep up momentum to get all art appreciating butts in those seats to make full houses the norm for NW Dance Project.
Ok, back to the show. So off I went to my seat, and readied myself for the show. And first up on the program was Visible Darkness by Patrick Delcroix. This piece told Monsieur Delcroix’s journey back to dance after a horrific accident where he suffered major injuries and brain trauma. This dance was the first piece he has created since his recovery, and people, it was spectacular! My beloved Elijah Labay, ever the stunning dancer, showed me a new level of acting I hadn’t seen from him before as he danced the role of Monsieur Delcroix. Watching Mr. Labay struggle physically as the injured Monsieur Delcroix was heartbreaking. His ability to portray a broken body, broken spirit, to then push back against the universe as if to say, “The hell you will keep me down! I will dance again!” was so real, so raw, so emotional that I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. And at first they were tears of sadness that Monsieur Delcroix had suffered such trauma. Tears of anger that he had to struggle physically to get back, while internally and mentally he was always moving, always dancing, always fighting. And then tears of joy at the end of the piece when Mr. Labay walked confidently tall and strong around his company of dancers as they moved to his chroegraphy. He was back! He was healed! He was creating! He was home!
This was a performance of Mr. Labay’s I will never forget. The entire company did an amazing job in their parts for this piece, but the journey Mr. Labay went on for this one, the honesty and bravery by which he told Monsieur Delcroix’s story through his powerful execution of Monsieur Delcroix’s movement touched me at the very center of my heart. I’m so grateful Monsieur Delcroix was brave enough to share his story with the world. I’m so proud of Mr. Labay for telling it so beautifully. And I am so honored to have seen the world premier amidst a full house of dance loving people so that we could all jump to our feet and applaud this magnificent piece together and embrace the hope and the love it represents.
After this wonderfully emotional piece, as I went to the lobby for a tissue to dry my eyes, and get a quick glass of wine to prepare myself for the reveal of Carmen! I was like a kid at Christmas counting down the sleeps until I got to the day where I would get my presents in the form of the NW Dance Project dancers moving to Ihsan Rustem’s choreography to one of my all time favorite scores! Shivering with anticipation like a crazed fangirl in my seat as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose on what I am going to call the single most powerfully haunting portrayal of love through dance that I have ever seen.
There is so much to say about this show, so lets get the fun logistics out of the way. The costumes were epic! The protagonists in white, the antagonists in black, and the men affected by both sides dressed in both colors with 1950s Vogue/Vanity Fair silhouettes with these chic edgy touches of sheer fabric, leather pants/jackets/harness (yes, daddy, you heard me say harness!) and metal chains strategically draped over the equisite specimens of humans that these dancers are, and from the moment the light hit them, I guarantee you, not a dry seat in the house! This show slams into you like lust at first sight, and it damn near took my breath right out of my chest!
And all this deliciousness is set amidst the backdrop of a men’s barber shop and a women’s hair salon, again more black and white décor, but with vibrant pops of color in the forms of yellow hair dryers and electric blue light washes. The aesthetics were off the charts on this one, just adding to the sexiness of it all!
Now let’s get into the best part of this show, shall we? The characters. The ladies, the amazing, outstanding ladies, whose characters were all so clear and mesmerizing, even more so than when I watched them all in rehearsals. The fierceness of the “Wolf Pack Ladies,” as Mr. Rustem dubbed them, were ferocious and feral and yet synchronized like a pack who stalked and moved this piece forward. To quote Ching Ching Wong in a promo video for Carmen, she described these amazing characters perfectly when she said, “…We are vicious and feisty and we love gossip and we’re in this kind of utopia town where our world revolves around us and our men, and then Carmen comes into it, and the worlf pack ladies are fearful and jealous and this mob against her.” And oh, individually they are fantastic, but when they all dance together in their pack, they are down right mesmerizing! Each character so clear in her intentions, so honest with her emotions, and so beautiful in her movement. Loved it!
And then the men, oh these gorgeous, brilliant men, being pushed and pulled around the stage, all in some form or another manipulated and used by Carmen. Their characters added so much to each scene, their wants and desires so clear and obvious (including a little ass grab made by the devilishly playful Kody Jauron that was hiiiilarious and hot!) that the audience was absolutely entranced by them!
But when one thinks of Carmen, they think of a love triangle filled with passion, betrayal, and murder and the trio that made up that triangle were phenomenal! Let’s start with the jilted lover, DJ, danced by the ever sensational Franco Nieto! Oh, this man, this gorgeous, talented man, with those feet, and those lines, and the unabashed way he embraces emotion so real and so raw that you can’t help but feel everything he is feeling as you watch him dance whether you want to or not! Every scene he was in from the adorable puppy love section with the lovely Lindsey McGill, to the lustful encounters with Carmen (danced by the spectacular Andrea Parson, who we will get to in a second), so the solo he danced just after discovering Carmen’s betrayal was full of truth like a light beam split through a prism to be a fragmented rainbow of emotion from joy to despair and everything in between. The acting from this dancer was out of this world, and that post-betrayal solo, my god, all I wanted was to run up on that stage and hug him and tell him it would all be ok, and then smack the crap out of Carmen for daring to hurt him! Mr. Nieto, as he often does, stole every scene he was in for me, because his intentions were so clear, his reactions so genuine, and his artistry was so breath taking.
And the man in Mr. Nieto’s way, Eli, danced by my beloved Elijah Labay, oh people…this character that Mr. Labay brought to life was walking sex! Every time he slithered and stomped around the stage, demanding Carmen’s attention, igniting passion in the Wolf Pack Ladies, even as the damn police siren (You’d have to have been there to understand or appreciate this), made every person in the room sigh with wanting! His pas de deux with Ms. Parson as they gave in to their carnal desires so openly and powerfully that they don’t notice when Mr. Nieto catches them in the act, staged epically across the stage simultaneously as Mr. Nieto danced his solo of betrayal, was so erotic, so full of fire and want and need that when they were done, so help me God, every person around me picked up their program to fan themselves off! Mr. Rustem, you dirty devil, you pulled no punches with this lust filled, sensual encounter, and we the audience thank you for letting us play voyeur to one of the most gorgeous combinations that has ever raised my temperature and made my mouth water at the same time! Bravo!
And while you all sit there and picture the raw sensuality that I was priviledged to witness, let me finally come to the star of this piece: Andrea Parson. You’ll remember my gushing about her in my promo piece, but people, I was NOT ready for everything she brought to this performance, including the drastic makeover of a platinum blonde pixie haircut that reflected so fiercely off of all of her black costumes, making her eyes pop as electrically as the blue light often washing over her, that they pierced everyone in the audience. She completely embodied passion in this piece. A true antagonist, always selfishly going for what she wants at all costs, Ms. Parson was the perfect Carmen. She danced this role so perfectly that I don’t think I’ll ever hear this music again without picturing her face. She anchored Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay so wonderfully, and complimented every scene she was in with them, that I found myself rooting for this brazen siren to get everything she wanted whenever she wanted. Any woman would want to be the Carmen Ms. Parson created for at least a day, to just grab life by the balls and say “You’re mine, now,” have life respond with “Thank you, Mistress, as you wish!” Ms. Parson’s Carmen was sexuality unleashed, and she matched Mr. Labay’s carnality and also provoked Mr. Nieto’s romantic passion.
But the reaction she evoked that moved me the most was that of Ms. McGill, who, when discovering she was losing the love of DJ due to his lust for Carmen, danced one of the most riveting duets I’ve ever seen, and with a hair dryer on wheels, no less! Ms. McGill, her entire life in the palm of Carmen’s hands, refusing to give up her love without a fight, ultimately ending Carmen’s life to stop her, with a final moment so hauntingly, gorgeously vicious, blew my freaking mind!
While her act was vicious, it was driven by love, which is the theme of Carmen, isn’t it? Wanting, loving something, and not always thinking of the consequences. But that final moment, Carmen’s death, still haunts my dreams sometimes, it was so impactful and beautiful. Well here, take a look:
I loved this show so much. I hate that I only got to see it once. But I am so grateful for the experience. Once again, NW Dance Project has taken me on an emotional journey I won’t soon forget. Once again, the entire company moves me to tears with their brilliance and their bravery. Once again, I am filled with hope and love and excitement for this Company, and look forward to many more experiences with them. Once again, I left my heart in Portland, so that I can come visit it again to see what magnificent program they will put together next!
Sadly, I am missing their Summer Splendors show opening tonight, but if you are in the Portland area, please go see it! I’ve no doubt it will be outstanding, as its a new work by Artistic Director, Sarah Slipper!!!!
Ciao for now,
Photos from NW Dance Project taken by Blaine Truitt Covert