So what's cool about the Northwest Dance Project's Cool Yule
show? Its collaboration with Portland jazz collective Blue Cranes
. Each of the six choreographers who contributed to the show chose a piece from the Cranes catalog and set work to it, which the band accompanies live onstage.
Variations on this theme are not unusual in the dance world—a single choreographer choosing a suite of music by a band, or a band creating a score for a company to use—but this is an interesting and less-traveled direction to take.
It's also cool to have a break from Christmas music and décor. Cool Yule is held in the company's airy, white-walled studio, with paper globes hung from the ceiling and tea lights lining the windowsills. The dancers are simply costumed in earth tones—green short shorts, black turtlenecks and the like.
Despite the simple setting, musical mood and movement vary in the show, which zips along briskly. Minh Tran's Evanescence
opens it with two duos set to the propulsive “Ritchie Bros.” There is a compact muscularity to the work, with push-pull partnerships and the occasional group entanglement. On the flip side, Carla Mann turns in a lyrical duo, Dovetail
, warmly performed by Samantha Campbell and Patrick Kilbane on opening night.
Company member Andrea Parson, a 2010 Princess Grace Award winner for her dancing, demonstrates a facility for choreography as well with The Wall
, set to the Sufjan Stevens cover “Seven Swans.” Here, the back of the studio becomes a climbing wall, an immovable obstacle, a support for upended balances and a reinforcement for the company as Kilbane dashes backward and leaps into their waiting arms. In Sarah Slipper's Snow
, Parson is a white parka-shrouded gremlin with twitchy legs who deposits a snowball on the head of a mute, wide-eyed Elijah Labay as a prelude to their duet.
In Tracey Durbin's Broken Muse
, Ching Ching Wong actually interacts with a Cranes saxophonist before melting slowly into the floor on the first notes of “Maddie Mae.” The evening concludes with Kemba Shannon's ensemble number Why Me?
, in which the dancers, wearing festive knee socks, jump, slide and shout in a kind of house party led by a most excellent good house band. “I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to have live music,” said Slipper in a post-show address. Agreed—it's a cool Christmas gift for dancers and viewers alike.
Cool Yule at Northwest Dance Project Studio and Performance Center, 833 N Shaver St., nwpdp.com/shows.html. 9 pm Friday and Saturday, Dec. 17-18 (7 pm shows are sold out). $33-$50.
Images: Photo 1—Northwest Dance Project dancer Patrick Kilbane and company members with Blue Cranes in the premiere of Andrea Parson's "The Wall" Photo by Jim Lykins. Photo 2—Northwest Dance Project dancers Joni Tuttle, Lindsey Matheis and Ching Ching Wong with Blue Cranes in the premiere of Kemba Shannon's "Why Me?" Photo by Steven C. Neighorn