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European-American Topics - Culture - Choreographers' Showcase

Seen—and Heard—at PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase
Submitted by Rosie Gaynor and Toby Smith
Posted April 14, 2008


(l-r) Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancers Kari Brunson and Lindsi Dec in Kylee Kitchens’ Anima.  Photo © Rex Tranter 


    By “She,” “He,” the choreographers, and various members of the audience 

    “Where is everyone?” she has to ask, looking around at the audience, which is on the spare side. “It’s so empty. There were so many more people here last year,” he says. 

    And then, the opposite: “Everyone’s here!” This from the person in front of them, and from a person in the aisle. And it’s true. Patricia Barker is sitting in front of them. Glenn Kawasaki, PNB’s eager patron saint of the new [not afraid of the different] is over there on the left. Choreographer Donald Byrd is there; he’s artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater. And there is Anne Derieux, Spectrum’s executive director, a woman Dance Magazine described in 1998 as possibly PNB’s “most sophisticated ballerina.” Board members… staff members (current and past)…company members (current and past, including Nicholas Ade with his cute little baby in tow)…the list goes on… 

    Everybody is standing in the aisles, talking. It’s like watching a reunion.  

    And then the real show starts: Seven choreographers’ chance to put something in front an audience. They’re current PNB dancers; this is an opportunity to show another side of their artistic selves. They’re from all levels of the company: corps to principal. They have varying levels of choreographic experience: some brand new. And, as we hear in the post-show talk, they have varying degrees of anticipation: from eagerness to dread. 

    “The first one was my favorite!” This from someone in the lobby during intermission. They’re talking about a love-lost pas de deux from the charming Stacy Lowenberg. Her choreographic debut last year, so interesting with its raw emotion and visceral movements, was well received and later featured at Bumbershoot. (It’s not often the work of first-time choreographers gets a second life.) Her piece this year, to cello, is a quieter, calmer telling of the end of that story. “It is poignant,” he remarks. She agrees.  

    “In the second piece, who was the dancer on the left?” he asks. “Kari Brunson,” she says. “And I’ve never seen her dance so beautifully.” Then follows the conversation about how these dancers, who live so much of their lives together—daily class, rehearsal, life in general—know better than outside choreographers how their colleagues move and what inspires them. Whether it’s planned and outlined and discussed or somehow just happens, well, that question is left without an answer.  

    The second piece is by Kylee Kitchens, whose it-started-as-a-prank choreographic debut is a successful, dramatic black-and-white piece for a trio of three strong women to the music of Maria del Mar Bonet. For those of us not in the know, it’s hard to separate the music of this Mallorcan woman from Nacho Duato’s ballet Jardí Tancat. Possibly the same for Kitchens? “It looks like Jardí Tancat,” he says. “Similar lines, similar passions,” she interrupts. “…which is interesting,” he continues, “because I don’t remember Kylee dancing that piece.” “It’s a kind of movement that just gets inside of you and doesn’t let go, even just watching it. I feel like I’ve danced it too” she says.  

    But it does bring up the question(s) of inspiration vs. derivation:“Their first piece…”

    “How do you develop your own style?”

    "Supposedly, Picasso said ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal’”

    “Is that good? Is that bad?”

    “I think it’s the process of becoming a great artist. Start with what you love already, then create something you love even more.”

    “You can see bits of different choreographers in everyone’s pieces: Duato, and also Dumais, Liang, Tharp, more Liang, Paul Gibson even…” 

    “Olivier’s piece wasn’t derivative.” That would be the third piece, Olivier Wevers’ Moi Je Dis Que… to Mozart’s variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” “Uh, I though it felt a little like Balanchine’s Duo Concertant. Except he was dancing with himself.”

    “Himself…and his memories.” 

    Only, this doesn’t come out until the post-performance discussion. Without that crucial information, it is hard to access the piece. 

    A member in the post-performance audience asks Wevers: “You put something on the floor, stepped on it, and then put it into your pocket. What particular meaning did it have?”  “…I was taking my heart out, having it stepped on, and always putting it back in my pocket,” says Wevers. “I thought it was a rat,” says Peter Boal, who is moderating the discussion. Everybody laughs, and the next question hangs in the air, unvoiced: Is a personal piece as effective if nobody knows what story it is telling? 

    And we find out, as Wevers continues, with sincerity, not arrogance: “I didn’t really do it to please anybody but myself. And I did. I’m sure there’s a lot of things you didn’t get. And that’s fine. It was very emotional for me.” 

    “I loved the beginning,” she says later on. “The simplicity of the first motif: feet moving one at a time, with Olivier-precision, into first position, then into the more mod first position parallel—and that little syncopation as he relaxed back into second in later repetitions. It’ll stay with me for a long time.” 

    “He looked great.” This from Eric who sits next to them. He owns the hip clothing boutique Polite Society, so he ought to know from looks. “I like it when they dance in street clothes.” 

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Maria Chapman and principal dancer Jonathan Porretta in Stanko Milov’s Edin.  Photo © Rex Tranter

    Stanko Milov’s piece Edin is for them the surprise of the evening.

    “The music and choreography were more layered this time,” he says. “Last year Stanko wore his emotion on his sleeve.”

    “It was like Underworld, the ballet. Kind of spooky and dark.”

    “Electronic music—”

    “Electric dancing. Jonathan Porretta was awesome.”

    “They all were. I like how Stanko used the stage.”

    “With the sole female all ominous in the corners while the three men dominated center stage.”  

    They find out later that it’s supposed to be represent one man. “Edin” says Stanko, “it means “one” in Bulgarian. So, it’s basically layers of the same person.” 

    Kiyon Gaines’ much lighter piece follows. “I like how it starts,” she says. “Lindsi Dec popping out from the wings, stage right…Kiyon, stage left…her nodding ‘yes’…him shaking his head ‘no.’ They look like they’re having fun. And then, after all the dancing, him nodding ‘yes,’ and her shaking her head ‘no way.’ There’s something so clean and precise about the way he moves,” she says. “I’d love to see a piece with him and Olivier together.” 

    And then: Barry Kerollis’ piece:  Basic Disaster “The title cracks me up,” she says. He agrees, “Funny title for your first piece.” 

    Only, the piece isn’t funny at all…nor is it “basic”…nor is it a “disaster.” Even the choreographer says so later on: “I feel it was not a basic disaster,” Kerollis says. This very young man has brought forth a piece that was seriously effective. 

     “I love the part in the beginning, when Kara Zimmerman and Maria Chapman bourréed backwards across the stage…their feet moving so fast…and in parallel. And the African dance components: they really worked,” she says. “I like that he set it on corps members, so you got to see them highlighted in ways you wouldn’t normally see them,” he says. And later on, Kerollis explains the titles of the ballet’s two sections, “Flood” and “Typhoon.” “Ever since I was very young I’ve always been fascinated by weather and natural disasters. Before I even thought I’d be a dancer I thought I’d be a meteorologist.” 

    “This title cracks me up too.” Again, from her, at the beginning of the evening, about Jonathan Porretta’s Lacrymosa. “Not a word I’d readily associate with Jonathan Porretta,” he says. “It’s gotta be tongue in cheek,” she says. 

    “Knowing Jonathan, it probably is,” says a writer friend a few seats behind them. She actually does know the choreographer; she has interviewed him several times. They all feel they know him, though. For heaven’s sakes, half the audience has been watching him grow over the years from a good dancer to a show-stopping dynamo to an artist with multiple layers and amazing endurance. 

    “His piece last year skirted the ballet/pop cross-over line,” he says. “Fun and froth,” she says.  

    Lacrymosa is not tongue in cheek…or fun…or frothy. This love duet is straightforward and simple: no jokes, but a harsh ending, with the woman standing all alone in the darkness. “So beautiful,” they hear a woman behind them sigh. The choreographer would have been happy to hear it. Later on, Porretta says: I just wanted to do something beautiful… The first serious piece I did and I used (Chalnessa Eames) the funniest person in the company!” 

    Another duet follows, this one called Duet, choreographed by Anton Pankevitch and beautifully danced by Lesley Rausch and Karel Cruz.  

    A man later on asks appreciatively, “Anton, yours was the most classical of the group. Did you have a choreographic inspiration for the piece?” “Yes,” says Pankevitch. “I was very lucky to work at the Royal Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. At the Royal Ballet we did lots of classics so that is my background. And so I found it easiest to choreograph the classical. Especially nowadays it is very little done.”  

    “Look who’s in the last piece,” she says. “All jumpers.” That would be Bold, Postlewaite, Griffiths, Moore, and Pacitti—in Kiyon “Also-a-Jumper” Gaines’s Interrupted Pri’Si’Zh’En. (i.e., “Pre-ci-sion”). “All men,” he says.  

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Benjamin Griffiths in Kiyon Gaines’ Interrupted Pri’si’zh’en.  Photo © Rex Tranter


    Later on, Gaines says, “It was a challenge for myself to choreograph for men. It’s actually easier for me to choreograph for females than for male dancers, which is why I took on this challenge this time. It might seem a little weird, because I’m a male dancer… I think that women in pointe shoes can do incredible things. It’s a lot easier to make them move quicker and come up with wonderful things.” 

    Gaines says, when someone asks about his casting for the piece, “I didn’t dance in the last one because it’s way too hard!” 

    After the final curtain, they hear the disembodied voice of the stage manager: “Ladies and gentlemen, please join PNB’s artistic director Peter Boal and tonight’s choreographers for a post-performance discussion in the Norcliffe Room.”   

    “Wanna go listen?” she asks.

    “Don’t you have to? That’s part of the fun,” he says. 

    Again with the “everybody’s here.”

    “It’s packed,” he says.

    “This is the single largest turnout I’ve ever seen for one of these post-performance talks,” one fellow remarks to the crowd at large.  

    Says another fellow: “I’ve been coming to this set of dances for several years now and every year it has been more impressive. I have to say that this year is no exception.” 

    “Look how proud Peter Boal looks,” she whispers. And then Boal says, “There are so many choreographers we bring in, but these are our own.” 

    Boal goes on to ask the young choreographers to talk about pieces that they are premiering as part of the regular season.  

    “Mine will be in November,” says Gaines. “The music is going to be commissioned as well…by Cristina Spinei… a young woman who composed my music when I was at the Choreographic Institute.”  

    “Mine is next week,” countered Wevers. “It’s called Shindig. It’s for ten dancers. And you’ll have to come and see it… No rats.” 

For the Record:

Choreographers’ Showcase

Pacific Northwest Ballet

April 9 


Stacy Lowenberg 


Kylee Kitchens 

Moi Je Dis Que…

Olivier Wevers 


Stanko Milov 


Kiyon Gaines 

Basic Disaster

Barry Kerollis 


Jonathan Porretta 

Interrupted Pri’Si’Zh’En

Kiyon Gaines


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