Posted September 24, 2007
Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori
Nakamura and Batkhurel Bold in George
Balanchine's "Ballet Imperial"
Photo Angela Sterling
It may be called
All Balanchine, but there’s actually some variety in Pacific
Northwest Ballet’s current rep. The three pieces presented show
Balanchine in the ’20s, ’40s, and ’50s, and it’s fun to see the
This is the
earliest piece on the program. Balanchine created it for
Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Somehow it still feels avant-garde
to me. The sets and costumes are by Georges Rouault (his first
theatrical commission) and the score is by Sergei Prokofiev.
There’s not much classical ballet in it besides the title
character’s iconic leaps. Instead, look for flailing arms,
stomping, a carousel made out of bodies, circus tricks, and some
strangely funny crotch-tickling. Even so, it’s an effective,
affecting piece, and PNB does it justice.
It’s probably not a
huge exaggeration to say that Prodigal Son has more
acting in it than all the other Balanchine ballets put together.
I love it. The bad guys are scary…the Siren is even scarier. (No
pas de deux for her. Try: pas de dominatrix.) Good
luck to the poor, petulant, prodigal teenager who meets up with
them in the terrifying Prokofiev score.
In his performance
of the title role on Saturday afternoon, Jonathan Porretta
created a fully rounded character whose emotions seemed to
dictate his movements. Lucien Postlewaite, who danced the same
role opening night, was particularly heart-wrenching in the
scenes of abject misery.
A little bit—okay,
a lot—of frosting never hurt anyone, not even a
Seattle audience. We clapped when the curtain went up on the
corps, dressed in Martin Pakledinaz’s gorgeous costumes, in
regal stance in front of a royal backdrop.
this piece in homage to—take your pick (the books disagree)—Petipa,
the Imperial Ballet, the Maryinsky Theater, and so there is a
hierarchical cast, classical formality, gracefulness of
carriage, and brilliance. Forty minutes of this? Not for nothin’
did Ballet Imperial make the New York Times’
best-of-season list in 1943.
The corps plays a
major part in this ballet, and so I’m grateful former PNB
artistic co-director Francia Russell with her exacting standards
returned to stage this difficult piece. The 22 dancers might not
have been perfect across the board, but they are the life of the
piece and it was absolutely, absolutely thrilling when they
danced in unison. Among the dancers in the lead roles, Kaori
Nakamura was her usual clean, precise, musical self, Noelani
Pantastico made my not-so-favorite part interesting, and
Batkhurel Bold and Casey Herd pulled off impressive jumps.
A historical note
from Bernard Taper’s biography of Balanchine: This piece was
created for a 1941 tour to
a tour that was the “first attempt the American government had
made in the direction of sponsorship of the performing arts and,
as such, laid the grounds for the State Department’s cultural
exchange program.” Hear, hear. And, a little irony: Supposedly
one purpose of the tour was to show that the
U.S. was not a “grasping imperialist.” I’m not sure Ballet
Imperial entirely refutes that perception, but, oh well.
I was a little wary
of this piece, having heard it was Balanchine’s attempt to weave
together ballet and American square dancing…with music by
Vivaldi and Corelli. It didn’t take more than a few steps to
make me realize it would become one of my (25) favorite ballets.
The footwork is amazing and exhilarating, for the leads and the
corps alike. Yes, you can see the square dancing in the
patterns, but they are beautiful, and honored, and the movement
is, thankfully, Balanchine—All, as PNB promised,
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