Review: NW Dance Project’s splendid ‘Splendors’

The company closes its 10th season on a high note, and looks ahead to a new and bigger home

Summer Splendors is very likely the last program Northwest Dance Project will present in its small light-filled studio on North Shaver Street, and if so the company’s going out in high style: this is one of the most appealing dance programs I’ve seen in months.

Forced out by the frenzied real estate roulette of North Mississippi Avenue (the studio is just around the corner from the hubbub of the Mississippi strip), NDP will move its busy summer schedule to the new glassed-in studios at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. And the company’s in negotiations to move permanently into a much larger space on Portland’s close-in east side. If all goes smoothly, that space will be converted for studios over the summer, and ready for NDP to begin its 11th season in the fall.

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in "Tis Is Embracing." Photo: Christopher Peddecord

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in “This Is Embracing.” Photo: Christopher Peddecord

In the meantime, nab tickets for Summer Splendors if you can. The program opened Friday night and continues through June 15, and not a lot of tickets are available.

NDP has long been known for its devotion to new work, and this program has two premieres (Carla Mann’s How the Light Gets In and Yin Yue’s Before Dawn) to go with reworkings of two pieces previously premiered by NDP (Gregory Dolbashian’s This Is Embracing and Tracey Durbin’s Atash). With new works you can’t always tell how a show’s going to balance. This one gets it right, with intriguing musical choices throughout the evening, enough similarities and enough differences in the choreographic approaches to keep things interesting, simple but effective costuming (particularly Mann’s whispers of white for her own piece) and always, virtuoso work by the company’s 10 dancers.

Portland audiences have had the pleasure of watching this company, now 10 dancers strong, grow into an astonishingly tight ensemble. Most started at NDP when they were young, and most are now in their primes: self-assured, deeply experienced, and in superb physical condition.

Routinely working on fresh material with a broad variety of choreographers has undoubtedly helped the dancers’ flexibility and the trust they put in one another. A lot of what they do involves close personal contact: dropping, catching, swinging, crawling, clutching, sinking into and climbing onto one another. A hint of danger touches much of what the dancers do, falling out of control but never quite all the way, like a spinning top that falters and then somehow rights itself. And they do it, even when the movements are deliberately awkward, with style and grace. The choreographers chart how the dancers will move. But these dancers also have a deep influence on how the choreographers decide the dances should look and move.

The full company in "Atash." Photo: Christopher Peddecord

The full company in “Atash.” Photo: Christopher Peddecord

As in many troupes, NDP’s dancers combine solid ballet and contemporary training. What’s special is that that they work so well together and yet also project such strikingly individual personalities. The company’s four men are unmistakably themselves: Franco Nieto’s cool tattooed dazzle; Patrick Kilbane’s compact muscularity; Elijah Labay’s lanky stretch; Viktor Usov’s contained freshness. Among the women, the alertly skittering Ching Ching Wong and fiercely focused Andrea Parson are both small and quick, but exude utterly different personalities. Veterans Lindsey Matheis, Lindsey McGill, and Samantha Campbell are classically long and lean and distinctly themselves, each with her own form of fluidity. And the company’s newest dancer, Julia Radick, is beginning to make her own impression: in this program, she has an extended solo in Durbin’s Atash.

When the choreography’s good, this group nails it. And these are four good, well-shaped dances, none of them really narrative but each suggesting a dominant mood. Longtime Portland fixture Mann’s How the Light Gets In is reflective and internal, an evocation of memory and dreams, with snippets of conversation interwoven. Yin Yue’s Before Dawn ­– performed by the lean quintet of Metheis, McGill, Nieto, Usov, and Wong ­– slithers and slides in quick, surprising, and consistently interesting ways. It’s clearly the work of a rising star: she was born in Shanghai, studied Chinese classical, Chinese ethnic, and eventually modern contemporary dance there, then moved to New York, where she leads her own highly regarded contemporary company. Both of the program’s new works might benefit from a little pruning. But they’re genuinely good pieces.

Yin Yue (center) rehearsing Ching Ching Wong and Viktor Usov. Photo: NW Dance Project

Yin Yue (center) rehearsing Ching Ching Wong and Viktor Usov. Photo: NW Dance Project

Dolbashian’s This Is Embracing and Durbin’s Atash have the sharpness that a little history and fine-tuning bring. Embracing is quick and physical and efficient, with a sudden-impact ending; Atash, performed by all 10 dancers, plays around with aggression and standoffs and physical fights: the little rancors and challenges of deciding who’s top dog. The piece bristles; it also has wit.


Summer Splendors has seven more performances through June 15. Ticket and schedule information is here.



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