The annual summer show from Northwest Dance Project, Portland's standout contemporary chamber company, is a sea of airy turns and dreamlike reflection. The four pieces, two of them world premieres, have notable similarities in style and approach, even though they were created by four different choreographers.
The first, How the Light Gets In, is a world premiere from Portland dance mainstay Carla Mann, whose work plays with the abstract. In this, her fifth piece for the company, dancers intermittently recite lines of cryptic poetry, narration spliced together with stretches of violin. "Have a memory," says Viktor Usov, facing the audience while the rest of company stands with their backs turned. "Don't tell about it, but flow." Then the dancers collapse on their sides to the floor.
"Suppose you were alone in a room," says Lindsey Matheis later, after several sequences of sliding, turning and bending backwards, "and suddenly, spontaneously, your body caught fire...Ask yourself whether you believe in this story about fire more than other stories I cannot tell you." Between these head scratchers, the dancers move in and out of linked clusters, breaking into different formations and partnerings before again collapsing to the ground.
The next piece, a world premiere by Yin Yue called Before Dawn, is similar in its abstract quality but more energetic. It's also the longest piece of the program, clocking in at what must be an exhausting 30 minutes for the dancers. While in the first piece the dancers seem to drift into space, here they seem focused on a distant goal. Dressed in white and taupe (like they are in every piece), they slice through the air and slap the floor. They have a quality of inertia, often not moving until they are compelled to by an outside force. Matheis stands still and tall until Franco Nieto nudges her knees, causing her to buckle and fall. Usov punches his own hip, making it cock to the side and into a swivel. Usov actually doesn't even dance for half the piece—that is, until Ching Ching Wong approaches him, as he stands at the side of the floor, and smacks her hands together challengingly in front of his face.
Yue, the choreographer, has a New York-based company, and she won Northwest Dance Project's Pretty Creatives competition last year. Her piece is undoubtedly the most ambitious of the program. You can see a preview here.
The remaining two pieces, This is Embracing by Gregory Dolbashian and Atash by Tracey Durbin, debuted at the company's 2012 Summer Splendors show. Dolbashian's short piece has the dancers running with a sense of desperation, a longing to comfort or be comforted. It lives up to its title as it ends, two women lifting two men off the ground in a tight embrace. The final piece, from Portland choreographer Durbin, has the company wandering the floor and looking up into the sky, as if the dancers are the lone survivors of a terrible disaster. More familiar vocabulary follows: leg extensions, turns, rolls, slapping the ground, all accompanied by Turkish folk songs and film scores. As the piece ends, you can hear a distant helicopter.
If you can't catch the entire show, know that the Summer Splendors program is unique among Portland dance shows in that you can watch bits of it through the studio's open windows. The sun is still out, and plenty of passersby on North Mississippi Avenue do. Northwest Dance Project all but encourages it.
GO: Northwest Dance Project's Summer Splendors program is at Northwest Dance Project Studio & Performance Center, 833 N Shaver St., 421-7434. 7:30 pm Saturday, June 7 and Wednesday-Saturday, June 11-14; 4 pm Sundays, June 8 and 15. $32-$40. Tickets here.