I wasn't expecting topless dancers at a rehearsal for the Project Company, but that's what I found when I arrived at the studio two weeks ago: a half-dozen naked backs facing the door as performers huddled around Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Lucas Crandall. The women's breasts were bound in blue electrical tape, which was coming unstuck in the 100-degree weather. There was debate about how best to secure the tape for performance: Liquid latex and "bum glue" (used to keep leotards in place) came up. Then it was back to work.

The Project Company, also known as the PC, is the elite branch of the Northwest Professional Dance Project, an annual summer intensive where professional-track ballet and contemporary dancers nationwide audition for the privilege of taking classes and performing with internationally employed choreographers. Emerging talent and dancemakers with hiring power meet here. Since the project began in 2003, alums have been hired by established companies, and now there's talk of making the PC a year-round entity. This year marked two important steps in that direction: NWPDP artistic director Sarah Slipper was invited to show dancers at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival and video to bookers at the Western Arts Alliance.

NWPDP accepts about 20 dancers each year—the PC, with just eight dancers who have returned by invitation, is even more exclusive. For a stipend, members take class and rehearse from 9:30 am to 6 pm six days a week, as well as perform. When I ask what they do on Sundays, their answers reveal a cheerful stoicism: "Epsom salts," "acupuncture," "normal-people things, like laundry," "a glass of wine," "ice, ice, ice."

That last one came from one of the PC's four homegrown dancers, Olivia Ancona, who returns to Juilliard this fall, dancing for Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti en route. Her fellow dancers have done time with MOMIX, Nashville Ballet, Alabama Ballet and BalletMet Columbus, among others. Catch them now—in world premieres by Crandall, James Canfield, Aszure Barton and Alejandro Cerrudo—before they scatter to the winds once more.


Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 790-2787. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, July 11-12. $28-$32.