NW Dance Project opens its 13th season on a high note with Bolero +
Three world premieres opened NW Dance Project’s 13th season last night at Lincoln Hall and the stage transformed with each, holding what felt like three completely different worlds. The range of everything and everyone involved was far reaching: dance, lighting, costumes, music. We went from a psychic battleground to a paradise to end at the night’s highly anticipated performance, “Bolero +.”
Felix Landerer: “Post-Traumatic-Monster”
The night began on a grave note, with “Post-Traumatic-Monster.” Each component of this piece — music, costume, lighting — combine for an unsettling experience. Imagine a ping-pong ball falling to the floor and tapping at faster intervals before landing into a roll, but it doesn’t settle, and this launches a score of similarly trapped, tense sounds from Christoff Littmann.
His score sounds like the city and not music. It has its own presence that doesn’t stay in the background when heard in this context: It’s the sound of trains, thunder, the shifting between high piercing swipes and low hums.
Nine of the company’s eleven dancers are on stage, moving like a tribe across the floor, caught between two potential leaders, who counter each other with severe stares and rough contact. They’re all dressed in button down, long-sleeved shirts and pants, all in black, except for the two leaders in red. The fabric looks like suede from afar, easily made to appear disheveled.
There is continual contact between the dancers: it comes to look like they are all holding each other up in separate piles of indiscernible movements. It is tense, all the way around. My friend who joined that night said it reminded her of the popular Netflix series, Stranger Things. I am not familiar with it so I asked about the premise and how she linked the two. In her brief description she says it’s about an abduction, its scary and sinister. “It’s like that,” she gestured at the stage.
For me, I saw how comfortable I was watching something so fraught with tension and confusion, barbaric in a way; the serious-faced clamoring and falling in the dark, desperate for a leader who can stand up on their own. It’s this 2016 presidential election. It’s the daily Facebook wailing. The sounds, lighting, and costumes all speak to entrapment. The dance itself doesn’t communicate a language of flourishing like I often feel with dance, watching limbs unfold, instead, it closes in on itself, expressing that trapped feeling.
It has stayed with me, especially Ching Ching Wong, a dancer with the company since 2009. She is powerful at conveying that desperation of being caught up in an unwinnable fight, taking all the roles she has to, both a monster and a victim.
Lucas Crandall: “SALT”
The sound of waves and a bluish white light turn the stage into a soft beach paradise for “SALT,” from choreographer Lucas Crandall. Three dancers stand against an illuminated screen at the back of the stage and to the music of Schubert, their black silhouettes come toward us, running in slow motion like those fantasy dream scenes we’ve all seen: beautiful people reaching for only you in a darkened room.
“SALT” remains lovely to watch as bursts of energy give way to moments of tranquility throughout. The costumes of white satin flowed like in a breeze, in the soothing lighting from designer Jeff Forbes (and Lighting Technician for each set). The three dancers, Samantha Campbell, Elijah Labay, and Lindsey McGill, are showcased, forming a cast that expresses relationships to one another as much as stepping aside to be alone. There is a story, a love triangle it seems, but that felt secondary to simply taking in the view and being serenaded by the performance.
It’s a movement to join, with an unforeseeable conclusion.
Ihsan Rustem: “Bolero +”
After intermission, the opening drums of Ravel’s Bolero sound, and although I am anticipating it, it still tugs quickly on the attention, like I’ve heard someone call my name in the distance. All eleven company dancers are on stage. Ching Ching Wong breaks the silence and moves to the first quiet sounds of the flute and snare drum.
Bolero only gets louder as it goes on, the music stays the same, while using many instruments. It is like a march going down a street to the beat of stomping feet, amassing in numbers as people join in from the sidewalks, repeating their steps while amplifying each loop. It’s a movement to join, with an unforeseeable conclusion.
The stage set presents a diagonal horizon in the back and on the side, creating a landscape of two straight slopes. A single red flower is dropped to the stage, and carried throughout the performance like a torch, in the teeth of Andrea Parsons and others, to ultimately peek above the horizon in the back. Each of the dancers has a role in Bolero, they are like the instruments of the composition, moving in and out, each with their own solo, designed to highlight the individual as a part of something much larger.
As the music gets louder, Ihsan Rustem’s choreography takes on more and more character — its assorted, quirky, and funny. Ching Ching Wong hisses at one point, and another dancer laughs maniacally: two of a few guttural sounds climbing with the music’s notes. The gestures of mimes are mimicked, dancers’ faces are unusually expressive, they encounter one another without touching, and clumsy movements transform into grace: all this happening coupled with all the dancers wearing black trousers pants made me think of Charlie Chaplin in how playful, nonrigid and articulate this performance is.
The lighting and stage set also had a black and white film feeling, but all dancers, from the waist up are shirtless (breasts masterfully concealed) and along their arms and chest were wide brush strokes of all kinds of color. Flashes of bright yellow, red, orange and blue move across that stage, like the dancers were stirring things up, disturbing the black and white order of things.
“Bolero +” does more than maintain attention. It pulls you into the performance, like the audience has a role. The dancers looked out at us, not to focus on the horizon, but to see us.
I see myself sitting in the theatre last night, engrossed, slowly sliding up my seat, reaching the seat’s edge for the conclusion which is loud and abrupt — I nearly fell off. Because that’s the thing with Bolero: it mounts and mounts, and you go with it. It doesn’t give you a conclusion, but it has to end.
Bolero + runs tonight at 7:30 at Lincoln Hall. See below for more info.