NWDPs Franco Nieto, all wrapped up and ready to go.
  • Christopher Peddecord
  • NWDP's Franco Nieto, all wrapped up and ready to go.

A couple weeks ago I stopped by the Northwest Dance Project's studio to do a preview of their upcoming holiday show. During our meet-up, executive director Scott Lewis talked a bit of smack: “We can do everything OBT does. And more.” Though the shows may not be entirely comparable, after seeing OBT's The Nutcracker and NWDP's In Good Company over the same weekend, I’m starting to think this may be true.

I probably don’t need to tell you why, or necessarily how, the company is so good. There’s been a ton of buzz over them this past year. (To brush up, look here, here, here, or most everywhere else.) The opening of In Good Company was packed last Friday, sold-out in fact, and it had the pleasant and cozy atmosphere of a small winter party: booze, comfy sweaters, low lights.

All of the show is choreographed by the company’s dancers (twist!)—six of them—and they take their songs from the expansive record collection of their aforementioned director: this makes for an even more special experience. I was predisposed to love the show, as the dancers landed on a lot of musicians (Nick Drake, Nina Simone, Buddy Holly, and Godspeed) that I already loved—I mention this not out of narcissism, but because that’s the beauty of choreographing to popular-ish music: I’m sure most people in the audience had at least one of those moments, where they heard a song associated with a particular time in their lives, and it had a transformative effect on the dance, making them sit up in their seats, and listen more closely.

Conversely, Franco Nieto choreographed a piece to Louis Armstrong’s "La Vie en Rose," and I can honestly say I don’t think I will ever hear this song again without associating it with NWDP’s performance the other night. The piece is choreographed to two couples (Patrick Kilbane and Andrea Parson, and Elijah Labay and Lindsey McGill) acting out domestic scenes: they first set the scene in two shared bathrooms—they mime putting on lotion, brushing their teeth, occupying the sink out of spite. At one point a dancer turns his back to take a wobbly, drunken piss, and it’s gracefully melded into the choreography. The tension, the push and pull of this, is so fluid; matching it with the music, it takes the swagger of Armstrong’s melody, but still keeps the underlying melancholy of the brass tone.

"La Vie en Rose" is followed up by Nina Simone’s "I Love My Baby." I have a crap-ton of Simone albums, yet this song was unfamiliar. (Why!? Apparently it was an obscure release, on an obscure label…on vinyl.) Getting past this, holy shit. Can Nina Simone sure bring down a house. (Have you SEEN this video?) The two couples are still there for this song, but the tension has escalated and become more physical: they grapple back and forth, swinging, clasping, and even throwing one another around their bodies (try not to hold your breath, like the woman next to me who kept gasping). Sometimes it’s sexy, but it’s always with a tinge of ambivalence and anxiety—kinda like, you know, love. One of the great things about a small, tight show at the NWDP studio is that you can easily see the dancers’ facial expressions; the performance can become about acting, as well as movement. A big nod goes to Patrick Kilbane (who incidentally used to dance with OBT!): He’s incredible—his expressions—apathy, sarcasm, doe-eyes—are dead on.

Besides the heart wrenching stuff, there was levity in the show, with choreography to Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. The show closes with a piece set to Martin’s "King Tut," which brings this medley of performances around to the light holiday spirit, with the red Zissou caps, and red kneesocks.

The second (and final) weekend of shows begins tonight. I hope you were quick on the draw with tickets! If not, you’re out of luck, because the show is sold out completely. (Hey, we warned you!!)