RETROSPECTIVE DANCE 'ENCORES'
A choreographer flying in to work with the Northwest Dance Project is not necessarily a big deal. Artistic Director Sarah Slipper routinely invites choreographers to Portland, an arrangement that has helped elevate the company's status in the dance world. But a person flying in from 5,375 miles away?
It happens all the time, as Ihsan Rustem performs his role as the company's resident choreographer. From his home in Zurich, Switzerland, it's about a 13-hour flight over Scandinavia and Canada to Portland International Airport.
"I've done this trip probably 27 times," the London-born Rustem says. "I have a lot of air miles. And this is one of many jobs."
Works by Slipper, Rustem and fellow visiting choreo-grapher Patrick Delcroix are part of the Northwest Dance Project's 15th anniversary retrospective show, "Encores," April 25-27 at the Newmark Theatre. The company that has performed around the globe, hosted world-renowned choreographers and produced four — yes, four — Princess Grace Award winners turns 15.
"Where has the time gone?" Slipper says. "The longevity, I never imagined this many works (around 300).
"In some ways, our plan always was to create a place that was a home for a creative center and company and community. There was always a drive."
Slipper, who leads the company with Executive Director Scott Lewis, set out to build a company focused on the work of not only herself but others. She was a freelance choreographer, not to mention a tremendous performer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She knew the value of diverse minds.
Northwest Dance Project has worked with scores of choreographers from around the world, but Rustem has fit the company enough to earn a semi-permanent position.
"There's a trust level there," Slipper says. "He knows the dancers."
Indeed, it has been a good fit from Rustem's perspective, too. He's been resident choreographer since 2015, since he first choreographed "Yidam," which company dancers will perform again this weekend.
"I had been working with the company for five years, and had three world premieres, so our relationship was already quite established," Rustem says. "The company for me is like family. We clicked. With my style of work, the personalities matched, and collectively our vision was the same. It's a very creative home for me."
Northwest Dance Project has won awards and acclaim in Europe, which Rustem had taken notice of. And he really wanted to work more with Slipper.
"She's highly respected," Rustem says. "She is a relentless coach, all about the art. She's able to push artists beyond their limits. She's a mentor to the dancers, but also to me as a choreographer. In 2010, when we made our first piece, it was the first commission I had received as a choreographer, for 'State of Matter.'"
Slipper speaks highly of Rustem, whom she characterizes as an in-demand choreographer. So it's a coup to have Rustem developing dances in Portland.
"Very talented and great personality — warm, effusive and outgoing, connects with people," Slipper says. "You get a sense that he doesn't just walk in with a sense of, 'This is how it must be.' He understood our ethos.
"He's rising quite a bit on the international stage but calls Portland his second home. I think he has more friends in Portland than I do."
Northwest Dance Project has grown from a small company with a $30,000 budget to a touring company with a $2 million budget that provides for strong support for dancers and employees and a nice building at 211 N.E. 10th Ave.
"I don't think people realize we're one of the most established companies in the country for contemporary dance," Slipper says.
Two of the Princess Grace Award winners have left the company: Ching Ching Wong to pursue other dance interests, and Viktor Usov to pursue naturopathy medicine.
Princess Grace Award winners Andrea Parson and Franco Nieto are still two of the company's stars. It's Parson's 10th year and Nieto's ninth.
"They're really the leaders of the company," Slipper says. "We've had new people come in the past three years. I'm slow to hire, and I love the investment in the differences they bring."
Rustem enjoys working with the two pillars of the dance corps.
"Two of the most unique artists I've ever worked with," he says.
"Andrea is the quietest one, but she's always picking things up. And there's that moment that she just transforms, and goes to places that just blow my mind, she has an aura that is electrifying. It's quite something ... so honest, no fake about her. Calm, sensitive and grounded.
"Franco's a powerhouse, lively," Rustem adds. "He's one of the kindest people I've ever met. As a coach, he helps everybody. He has a physicality like no one else. He can eat up the stage. He has energy, joy and passion, and is a fantastic partner just like Andrea. You never see him go less than 100 percent."
Northwest Dance Project's "Encores" features works by Sarah Slipper ("Casual Act"), Ihsan Rustem ("Yidam") and Patrick Delcroix ("Drifting Thoughts") and takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 25-27, at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. Tickets: $38-$62, www.nwdanceproject.org.
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