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PNB’s Contemporary Classics  
Rosie Gaynor

Posted November 5, 2007


    Pacific 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.   


Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers in George Balanchine's Agon  Photo © Angela Sterling

    Balanchine’s very 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

    David Parson’s 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' Caught Photo © Angela Sterling

    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 crazy-fast ending. 

    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 in.  

    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.  

    PNB’s 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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