Director’s Choice: “Let’s Give’em Something to Think
By Rosie Gaynor
Posted March 18,
1986…2000…2006…2007—These are the dates of the premieres of the
pieces that make up PNB’s current rep. (Modern!) Add them
all up? 7,999—pretty much the number of questions I had while
watching the performance. I’ve never been to an evening of
ballet that made me think so hard.
Northwest Ballet company dancers in the PNB premiere of William
One Flat Thing, reproduced. (In blue shirts:
Olivier Wevers and Lucien Postlewaite. Photo © Angela Sterling.)
Is that good?
Why do you go to the ballet? For beauty? For a
reminder of what the human spirit is capable of? For the thrill
of rhythm and music made visible? To be reborn in the forge of
so many art forms burning together? To feel? To feel alive?
To think? Sure. Why not?
Director’s Choice rep part of PNB’s way of challenging its
audience—of making us think?
Isn’t that just a little patronizing? (And if we’re meant to
think, when do we get to see The Green Table?)
Or are we just incredibly lucky? Here’s the thing: I went to
San Francisco Ballet a month or so ago, particularly excited as
Mark Morris has been quoted as saying they are the best company
in North America. They are excellent, excellent dancers, yes. Wow! But the
evening was a little dull. (Diamonds, The Filling
Station (very cute), and a Helgi Tomasson piece that was
uninspired—on first viewing, at any rate.) In all my years of
going to PNB shows, I’ve never been offered a dull evening. What
can account for this? Is it the programming? Is it our dancers’
personalities? Is it a question of liking the art we know?
Thank goodness our programming is not just about what pleases,
what sells, what fills seats. It’s not dull.
many viewings does it take before something totally unfamiliar
becomes beautiful to you?
Two for me in the case of William Forsythe’s One Flat
Thing, reproduced. This is the craziest piece in the
Director’s Choice show. Twenty tables fill the stage,
leaving only about a (dancer’s) hip-width between them. Fourteen
dancers run, play, fight, swoosh, and thwack…around, on top, and
below these “flat things.” Are they hurting themselves? Is it
dangerous? Please say James Moore’s mother is not in the
audience watching him slide across the tops of these tables. How
on earth can they throw each others’ body parts around so fast
and not drop anybody?
Is One Flat Thing, reproduced just a gimmick piece?
Does it get boring after the first five minutes? (Yes, the first
time. No, the second time. Why? First floor seats vs. balcony
view? Or is it a question of learning to make patterns out of
Is the piece really inspired by Shackelton’s adventures in
the Antarctic? Or, rather, by PacMan? (Bright colors in a maze…a
voice yelling “Reset!”) Or, maybe, Fame?
Would I want every rep to be like this? No. Do I like it?
Yes; I’ll come back and see it a third time. Here’s a little
mathematical equation: different dancers + different night =
How on earth is
a standard 600-word review supposed to describe a program like
this? My mind is still working away on a long list of questions,
but, for the record, here are a few statements about the other
pieces in this rep:
Gorgeous form and
attention to detail in
Sense of Doubt (Carrie Imler and Casey Herd.
Photo © Angela Sterling.)
Sense of Doubt
—part ballet noir—is the most lyrical, classical
piece of the evening. It also has the hippest, most beautiful
costumes (by Mark Zappone). The dancers’ attention to detail is
crucial. They show choreographer Paul Gibson as a master of
groupings; the kaleidoscopic play from quartet to octet to solo
(etc.) recalls the Baroque and leads to some thrilling moments.
I missed my favorite moment from the 2007 performance, however:
in the pas de deux, the second time the woman lays back
across the man, she doesn’t stop there but completes the circle
of movement, ending up on the other side of him. Last year it
was a cathartic moment, the woman giving herself fully and
inevitably to the movement…and, maybe, to the man? This year it
was more acrobatic. Again with the questions: Why? Is it due
only to casting? Or is it partly the coaching? Or the pacing of
Für Alina is as dark as Sense of Doubt, but has a
much different energy. It’s an intimate, dreamy pas de deux
(Arvo Pärt music, lights-out marking several vignettes), and
it’s sad, with some extraordinarily
beautiful lifts and lovely still moments. One of my favorite
moments: Rachel Foster hanging onto Jeffrey Stanton in the kind
of simple embrace you might see on any street, only here you see
vulnerability and emotion in the lovers’ togetherness; here you
One of many
beautiful lifts in
Für Alina (Batkhurel Bold and Miranda Weese.
Vespers too, has moments of stillness—some peaceful, some
anguished, most involving a rigid New England posture and a
careful placement of beautiful hands on still knees. But the
sometimes-seething quiet is interrupted by series after series
of explosive movements. I have a preference for African dance,
and so was annoyed when modern dance movements and strange play
with the prop chairs broke up the energy and beautiful line of
the African steps in this piece. If you like modern dance,
though, you’ll love this work.
As I left McCall
Hall, the questions kept welling up. I shared a few of them with
an affable-looking man seated at the back of the first floor,
packing up some equipment. “What are you doing?” It turns out he
is Toby Basiliko. “I come with the hall,” he said modestly. In
actuality, this PNB sound technician and his laptop were
orchestra and conductor for One Flat Thing, reproduced.
Very cool. The music, by Thom Willems, is made up of 24
sounds—recorded pieces, if I understood correctly. The only one
I could distinguish was (possibly) a train screeching slowly
through a tunnel. Willems and his purported sense of humor visited
for a week, teaching Basiliko the music. Some parts are scored,
some are a little more flexible, and others are open for
That’s it. As with
most reviews, the most important part has been left out. But
then, I guess, that’s why you go to the performance. That, and,
now we know, to think. There are only three shows left:
March 20, 21, and 22. Tickets are available at
www.pnb.org or at the PNB box office (206-441-2424).
Note: After this,
it’s back to lighter fare. PNB’s next rep is pretty and pink:
A Midsummer’s Night Dream opens April 3. Check out PNB’s
2-for-$25 tickets on April 4 (for folks 25 and
under) and the $5 Friday on March 28.
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