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Northwest Dance Project, fresh off a high-profile appearance at the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York City last week, performs in Salt Lake City on Friday with some significant local connections.
The thriving contemporary dance company based in Portland, Ore., is the brainchild of Sarah Slipper, whose celebrated stage career includes the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, though her personal aesthetic drives her toward the new and unexplored.
"When I moved to the states from Canada in 2004, the outlook on innovation had become conservative," Slipper said, explaining that post-9/11, many company directors cautiously reflected the mood of the country by programming tried-and-true traditional, full-length ballets.
"I come from a big ballet company, but I was always interested in new work, and there weren't many platforms for new choreographers in 2004," Slipper said. "I saw a need, and I founded Northwest Dance Project based on that need."
In addition to four full performances per year, the 12-year-old company offers public classes to youth and adults in Portland. It also fills a national niche by weaving together the summer workshop, the Pretty Creatives choreographic competition and the summer residency Launch program.
Though Slipper's history is mainly north of the Utah border, her connections here are significant. Utah native and University of Utah ballet department graduate Samantha Campbell is a Northwest Dance Project company member; U. associate professor of modern dance Eric Handman was awarded the company's Pretty Creatives choreographic prize; and U. associate professor Sharee Lane teaches ballet at Northwest Dance Project's summer program.
Campbell's success is a good example of how the company's system functions. While studying ballet at the U., her ballet professor Lane suggested she audition for Northwest Dance Project's summer program. Campbell returned to Portland for several summers, expanding her knowledge and contacts, and this experience eventually led to a company position with a 40-week contract and full benefits.
"I think it was a good fit because I was classically trained and loved Northwest Dance Project's mission of doing all new work, which pushes my artistry," she said.
Handman tapped into Northwest Dance Project's philosophy when he answered an open call and won the 2014 Pretty Creatives Choreographic Competition. To enter, he submitted "Disappearing Days," a quartet performed by U. students in 2014 for the American College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
"I was very appreciative that Northwest Dance Project took a risk on me because there were over 100 works submitted from around the world," Handman said. "Sarah is very open to discovery and new ideas and really let us play."
The Pretty Creatives Choreographic Competition overlaps with the two-week Launch program. During the first week, approximately 40 dancers are given the opportunity to meet and learn from artistic directors from around the globe. During the second week, the dancers engage in the artistic process with the two winners of the Pretty Creatives competition to create a new work.
"These are dancers who go on to dance with companies such as Ailey, Netherlands Dans Theater, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal," Handman said. "I'm not aware of another project that combines all the elements of dancers, choreographers and artistic directors."
Slipper credits the company's growth to "some key corporations and individuals in Portland and a very active board, as well as the NEA and the Oregon Cultural Trust." The company just moved into a brand-new arts center in the heart of Portland.
"In Portland we have a community willing to take risks and try new things," Slipper said. "And that includes everything theater, dance, art, design, food and beer!"
Northwest Dance Project
The performance includes Northwest Dance Project's signature work "Memory House," by founding artistic director Sarah Slipper, a 20-minute duet that concludes differently each night as determined by the dancers onstage. Also on the program: "What We've Lost on the Way," by Felix Landerer; "At Some Hour You Return," by Jiri Pokorny; and "State of Matter," by the company's resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem.
When • Friday, Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Marriott Center for Dance on the University of Utah campus, 330 S. 1500 East #106, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30, $5 U. students, $10 for non-U. students and youth under 18; call 801-581-7100 or visit utahpresents.org