Review: NW Dance Project’s ‘Spring Performances’

The local company embraces spring (and a good deal of drama) with two world premieres and an old favorite. Through March 30

By Rachel Rasmussen March 29, 2013

Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto in the world premiere of Patrick Delcroix's "Drifting Thoughts"

With the Waterfront transformed into a botanical wonderland of pink cherry blossoms and temperatures expected to hit the 70s this weekend, Portland is ready for some fresh new dance. With two world premieres and the return of Wen Wei Wang's Chi, Northwest Dance Project’s Spring Performancesgive us just that.

The opener, Chi, makes it clear from the onset that it’s not all sunshine and flowers, however. Set to the dissonant sounds of echoing strings and the haunting clip of voices by Georgio Magnanensi, it feels more like you’re looking at nature under an electron microscope. In one movement, the dancers crowded together in a singular circle of light at center stage, buzzing like molecules. Throughout the piece, they mimed cradling an orb of energy in their hands, carrying it with them, passing it back and forth, and otherwise embodying it in undulating movements reminiscent of Tai Chi. There was a strong sense of groundedness and connection to the earth as movements emanated from and returned back to deep grand pliés. As enjoyable as it was to see the muscles of the dancers emphasized by the minimal (but powerful) lighting effects by Jeff Forbes, the chaotic music grew exhausting, and Wang’s ending of casting the dancers as silhouettes in the bright light of the backdrop scrim was a phenomenal close that could’ve come earlier.

Artistic director Sarah Slipper’s Oxford theater background shined through in her world premiere Casual Act, inspired by Harold Pinter’s drama Betrayal. A minimal set by Jon Plueard divided the stage into three wedge-shaped rooms and then rotated like a revolving door, revealing three dramas that unfolded separately before beginning to interweave through window and doors.

Without speaking, five dancer/actors portray a story of extramarital affairs based on the playwright’s seven-year affair with a BBC Television presenter. Princess Grace Award–winner Andrea Parson excelled at portraying Emma, the dark haired, black-clothed temptress, through her burst of villainous laughter as well as a stealthy use of the set itself. After escaping her abusive husband (Elijah Labay), with whom duets consisted of abusive wrist grabbing and groping, she haunted and lured her lover (Franco Nieto) away from his wife (Lindsey McGill). The climax arrived when the two kissed and a loud crash of glass signified the break of the window that had separated them. Watching Casual Act one almost forgot the dancers weren’t expressing themselves with language, as their movements so clearly and beautifully relay the drama of the story.

Northwest Dance Project
Newmark Theatre
March 28–30
After the dark, intense music in Chi and the emotionally fraught plot of Casual Act, Francis Delcroix’s Drifting Thoughts opened with a most welcome upbeat energy: rhythmic drums evoking a sexy night club in the likes of French Algiers. Drifting is the French knight’s third world premiere choreographed for NWDP, and the audience was more than happy to see him once again taking full advantage of the dancers’ expert technique while celebrating their ability to get funky and take themselves less seriously. Despite her dainty figure, Parson was especially irresistible to watch as she committed fully to the booty shaking. Audience members hooted and hollered at the finish of the first duet, enthused by the psychological break from the previous pieces and joining in on the fun of Delcroix’s fast-paced athletic choreography.

The bright lights and joyful, overtly sexual opening movement gave way to a more sedate piece with melancholic blue lighting, exploring dramatic content more on par with Slipper’s piece. However, the tone abruptly transitioned back into an almost animalistic state as an orgiastic quartet had three male dancers tossing the petite Ching Ching Wong through the air, manipulating her like a toy before freezing—a power-shift occurring as Wong threw her hands in the air sending them crashing to the ground in her wake.

All in all, it was a lovely show that will leave you eager for a stroll in the freshly-warmed Portland night to talk about relationships and the dramas of the human condition with your fellow audience members. Or with the dancers and choreographers themselves, if you stick around the ArtBar for a drink or two.

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