“Intimate” might seem disingenuous when a dance company uses it to promote a show in a small space—much like how real-estate agents use “cozy” to describe a kitchen that’s actually cramped.
But in the case of Northwest Dance Project’s Summer Splendors, “intimate” aptly characterizes a show in which dancers are sometimes mere feet from your chair. For those who’ve never seen a performance in a studio venue, the first few minutes are alarming in their starkness and exposure. The dancers are no longer abstract bodies on a stage, they’re human. They have flesh and sweat and tattoos. Their joints crack as they extend their legs into développés.
The show is an annual tradition for the company, often a vehicle for new work. Unusually, this year’s show features only one new piece. The others are repeats: Carla Mann’s Illumine, Loni Landon’s Covered and artistic director Sarah Slipper’s MemoryHouse. With new work, executive director Scott Lewis says it’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”: When the company has a string of premieres, audiences become so accustomed to the new that originality becomes unremarkable.
Slipper chose pieces that complement the small space, the company’s home studio. Slipper’s MemoryHouse is even choreographed for the space: Dancers Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto perform a dramatic duet, at one point leaving the studio and performing outside in the company’s garden. The audience can see some of the action through the windows, and the trick also draws spectators along North Mississippi Avenue. By the end of the piece on opening night, a sizable crowd of onlookers had gathered around the open doors and windows. In conversation afterward, Slipper said she loves this aspect.
While MemoryHouse is the showstopper, a piece called X-ing
is the world premiere. Choreographed by Minh Tran and featuring the
entire company, it starts out like a game of “follow the leader,” in
which the first dancer in a line performs a movement and the others
repeat it, one after another. The dancers then break into groups of
three and travel as disjointed units across the stage, often striking
warriorlike poses. Perhaps not surprisingly, X-ing seems like the
only piece that would work better in a larger venue. In the studio,
dancers are often waiting against the wall until their turn, which
speaks to the unpredictability of new work—and the skill it takes to
SEE IT: Summer Splendors is at Northwest Dance Project Studio & Performance Center, 833 N Shaver St., 421-7434. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday and 4 pm Sunday, June 12-16. $30-$40.