PNB’s Contemporary Classics
Posted November 5, 2007
Northwest Ballet’s current rep is short on tutus and tiaras—and
corps members—but they sure didn’t stint on the dancing. There’s
plenty of dancing, maybe even too much. At any rate, the four
pieces presented in Contemporary Classics on Thursday,
November 1, made for an exhilarating evening.
Northwest Ballet principal dancers Louise Nadeau
and Olivier Wevers in George Balanchine's
© Angela Sterling
direct Agon comes first. It begins as it ends: four men,
in black tights and white shirts, against the iconic blue
cyclorama, backs toward the audience, in silence. They
move through Stravinsky’s music with the deliberate insistence
that characterizes all 13 different sections of this thrilling
28-minute piece. The program notes make a passing reference to
cubism, and the label fits Agon well: there’s so much
going on, but distinct sharp lines and shapes give you something
to focus on.
Louise Nadeau and
Olivier Wevers performed the centerpiece pas de deux, their
exquisite sense of musicality making sense and beauty of the
strange movements. Corps member Benjamin Griffiths took on the
lyrical solo for the first time, turning in a clean and engaging
performance. Other standout performances for me were those of
Batkhurel Bold and Lesley Rausch.
The next two pieces
were gimmicky but they have enough depth that you could see them
again and again.
In Susan Marshall’s
Kiss, two dancers suspended on ropes swing, swirl, and
collide to Arvo Pärt’s chillingly sad Cantus in Memory of
Benjamin Britten. The piece requires patience. Don’t rush
the dancers, just relax. There’ll be some part in this
how-hard-a-relationship-can-be piece that will resonate for you;
there’s something in it for everyone.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de
ballet dancer James Moore in Susan Marshall's Kiss
Photo © Angela Sterling
Caught follows. It starts in darkness, with Robert Fripp’s
otherworldy music. From the music, the dancer’s white pants, and
his initial movements, it’s not clear whether we’re going to get
martial arts or John Travolta. We get something so, so much
better! For awhile, the dancer plays around in huge spot lights.
Then he takes the game to the next level: strobe lights. No
spoilers; go see it for yourself.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal
dancer Jonathan Porretta in David Parsons'
Twyla Tharp’s manic
In the Upper Room ends the program. The piece is
interesting, but it’s too long for me—and possibly for the
excellent dancers, who lost some of their sharpness in the
The setting is
great: a constant (and reportedly hard-to-tame) smoke
effectively paints an otherworldly scene that fits the Philip
Glass music perfectly. The costumes range from beautiful to cool
to hideous: the two themes being RED and ’80s prison-stripe.
Footgear determines the style here: some of the dancers are in
sneakers (“stompers”), the rest in ballet slippers.
At first the ballet
contingent was interesting, their moves so sharp and fast and
different. But towards the end of the 40-minute piece the
choreography seemed to be filling time, making the dancers move
just because there was more music to fill. (Uh, we’re talking
Philip Glass, here…would anyone really notice if we cut a few
hundred or so measures?) However, the dancers gave it their all,
and that kind of commitment and energy reaches out and pulls you
What I really loved
were the stompers. Part ballet, part sport, part aerobics: all
loose-looking and comfortable. The women stompers were often
relegated to the back, a sort of metronome of joggers, but they
were so interesting to watch. When the men joined them and they
took center stage, things really took off. Kiyon Gaines and
Chalnessa Eames were especially riveting, tearing up the floor,
having a great time. It all moved so fast. Did I really see the
conscientious Bold shadow-boxing? And the focused Carrie Imler
crack a smile? And Casey Herd throw off a time-step before
joining the crowd? Just thinking about how good they were makes
me want to brave the piece again. Maybe on the second viewing it
won’t seem quite so long.
Contemporary Classics runs through
November 11, 2007.
By the way, I did return…for the Saturday matinee. For
whatever reason, I came away loving the Twyla Tharp piece and
joined in the standing ovation.
Why? Was it the casting (A Cast vs. B Cast)? Or the
performers’ comfort level with the material? My
familiarity with the ballet? The fact it was a restful Saturday
and not a Thursday-after-work rush? Too many variables.
I still think In
the Upper Room is too long, but the ballet contingent was
interesting throughout. Kaori Nakamura handled the speed
musically. Rachel Foster and Jodie Thomas made their duets work
(you can always count on Foster to get the crazy stuff and
Thomas can move faster than anybody—even as fast as the music in
the end). Not to leave out the delightful Kylie Kitchens and the
other dancers, all of whom made the piece work.
And for the record:
it was not a time-step, and both the fabulous Imler and
fabulous Bold were smiling this time. It’s worth the ticket
price, just to see that.
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