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Northwest Dance Project breaks barriers

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

REPUTATION CEMENTED – Portland-based Northwest Dance Project, a contemporary dance company, is on its first tour of Western Canada and makes a stop at the Arden Theatre on Sunday, March 16.
REPUTATION CEMENTED – Portland-based Northwest Dance Project, a contemporary dance company, is on its first tour of Western Canada and makes a stop at the Arden Theatre on Sunday, March 16.

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The Best of Now
Northwest Dance Project
Sunday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Arden Theatre
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: $35/adults; $20/students plus facility fee. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at

Northwest Dance Project, the little company that could, has suddenly hit the double digits.

This season the American contemporary troupe marks its calendar with a landmark 10th anniversary.

No longer is it the ballsy newcomer. NWDP has morphed into a genuine Portland mainstay and the envy of similar companies across North America.

In the past decade it has won several international awards and wowed audiences from Los Angeles to New York and across the pond in Europe.

In celebration of its milestone year, the mixed repertory company has planned its first Canadian tour.

The Best of Now showcases the power and beauty of the company’s artistry during a stop at the Arden Theatre on Sunday, March 16.

Although NWDP has catalogued over 160 original and innovative creations, only four signature works will appear on the 90-minute program.

The dances are Wen Wei Wang’s Chi; Ihsan Rusten’s State of Matter; Danielle Agami’s This Time Tomorrow, and artistic director Sarah Slipper’s MemoryHouse.

As NWDP’s founder, Slipper’s focus is to push the art form into the future by giving emerging choreographers an opportunity to develop their vision. The end product is a style that fuses modern, physical theatre and classical ballet.

“We present a platform for choreographers. We don’t tell them what to do. We give them a chance to develop their voice and develop their careers. We allow them a platform to exist even if the work is weak,” Slipper explained.

Born and raised in Vancouver, she received her professional training at London, England’s Royal Ballet School and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. In 1980, Slipper made her professional debut at RWB in the corps de ballet and rose through the ranks to become one of the company’s leading dramatic ballerinas.

After leaving the stage, she worked as ballet mistress at Alberta Ballet and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Throughout a relatively successful career as a dancer and choreographer, Slipper realized there were several chinks in the industry.

Incredible dancers who lacked wraith-like ballet bodies were cut with nowhere to go. And economically driven dance companies were afraid to take risks on young choreographers creating new dances. The result was stagnation in the dance world.

“I saw a need and I was trying to fill two holes – dancers with incredible talent and choreographers with a vision.”

NWDP has nurtured a reputation largely as an incubator for new work and as a playground for emerging and established choreographers from around the world to create and premiere their newest artistic dreams.

Although company budgets are slim, dancers and choreographers beat down the door to become involved.

“They don’t come for the money. They come for the idea they could create what they wanted. We also have strong dancers. It shows in the work.”

The Best of Now kicks off with Wen Wei Wang’s Chi, an energetic work that features Giorgio Magnanensi’s agitated score. Styled similarly to a movie, it features martial art and kung fu moves combined with odd shoulder-tilts and torso turns.

NWDP also appears to have found a soul mate in Ihsan Rustem, a young choreographer of Turkish descent raised in London. His State of Matter was internationally acclaimed, receiving the audience choice award at the 2011 International Competition for Choreographers in Hanover, and the 2011 Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest. Northwest Dance Project also received a standing ovation from their performance at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad in London.

In addition, the program features a piece by Batsheva Dance Company alumna Danielle Agami. This Time Tomorrow is a work that attempts to disconnect the mind from the body to create organic movement that pushes the normal limits.

“This one is whimsical. It’s going out into the world with little stories.”

Rounding out the program is Slipper’s own MemoryHouse, an intimate duet reveals a couple grappling sweetly, erotically and then violently.

“We have such a diverse range and I try to show its depths. What we’ve accomplished is phenomenal and on this tour we have works with influences that are Canadian, Chinese, European and from Israel.”

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