PNB’s All Robbins: Three Good Stories and Lots of Laughs
By Rosie Gaynor
Posted June 2,
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta
and guest artist Glenn Kawasaki (at bar) in Jerome Robbins'
Fancy Free. © Angela
PNB now has five
Jerome Robbins pieces listed in its active repertory—and the
company is adding two more next season. It’s enough to put on an
All Robbins show, and PNB did just that, opening on
Thursday night to an appreciative audience.
consisted of Fancy Free, In the Night, and The Concert.
It is interesting to see three of Robbins’ works in one night.
On the surface, there’s not an obvious stylistic similarity
between the pieces. I’ll be thinking about it more carefully
when I return later this week, but if I had to say right now
what makes a Jerome Robbins piece, I would say a concern for
honesty, a sense that the starting point is human behavior
instead of dance, and a sensitivity to music.
The evening begins
with the sailors-on-the-town ballet Fancy Free. On
Thursday, this piece did not exude the same energy I’ve seen the
company give it in the past: it was not exactly the orchestra’s
best-ever half-hour in the pit. I missed the collaboration that
conductor Stewart Kershaw and the dancers are so often able to
achieve with each other across the footlights. Muddy notes and
unreliable pacing made it hard for the three sailors to
coalesce as a team right from the get-go.
tells a good story, and there was much to enjoy. This ballet
features charming characters, pays attention to little details
(an eyebrow raised here, stockings adjusted there), and with a
light hand draws some truths about human nature.
Thursday’s cast of
excellent actors carried off their roles with honesty and even
depth; every move, every expression looked natural, made sense,
and added to the story or characterization. Just as memorable as
Jonathan Porretta’s amazing jump from the bar (see image above)
was the moment when he is torn between wanting the girl and
wanting to fight. The debate took place on his face, in his
body, in his movement, in the timing of that movement, and in
the music: perfect. Casey Herd ’s character was so proud of his
Latin moves that this wolf became charmingly vulnerable—and
funny. Josh Spell danced the sweet sailor (Frank Sinatra’s
“Chip” in On the Town, the movie that eventually grew out
of this ballet), and he did so adorably. Louise Nadeau, Noelani
Pantastico, Kylee Kitchens, and Sokvannara Sar rounded out this
In the Night
followed. Its three pas de deux, danced to Chopin
nocturnes, are variations on the theme of love.
Pantastico and Olivier Wevers danced the gentle first pas de
deux, stepping onstage calmly, with that beautiful care they
both give to simple movements. Ariana Lallone and Stanko Milov
danced the majestic second pas de deux. This is the most
lyrically, classically beautiful I’ve seen Lallone; what
accounts for it? Robbins’ movements, Chopin’s music, Christine
Redpath’s staging, Anthony Dowell’s costume, Milov’s princely
partnering? I wouldn’t give up Lallone’s other strengths, but
it’s lovely to see this side of her dancing as well. Nadeau and
Karel Cruz danced the stormy third pas de deux. The woman
in this section definitely has baggage, and it’s fun to see
Nadeau and Cruz deal with it.
In the Night
ends with all three couples onstage together, discovering,
perhaps, that theirs is not the only way to experience love. To
me, this is the most interesting part of the work, as the three
couples’ different styles and moods intertwine.
walk toward Pantastico in this last section of In the Night,
I had, once again, the revelation that some dancers can own the
stage just by moving a finger, while others can be
super-talented and dance their hearts out and still not
fully connect with the audience. This star quality is something
you expect from principals like Wevers and Pantastico, but you
see it also in soloists Chalnessa Eames and Lucien Postlewaite
and corps members James Moore and Stacy Lowenberg. I
don’t know how they achieve it, but it’s so exciting.)
In the last piece
of the night, The Concert, the curtain rises on a front
drop bearing a deranged-looking piano drawn by (balletomane)
Edward Gorey. It reminds me of a hissing cat rearing up on its
bared claws: this is not going to be just any concert, that much
When the front drop
itself rises, we see a real piano onstage. The pianist (Dianne
Chilgren, who provided excellent accompaniment for In the
Night and so was vigorously applauded during this onstage
appearance) walks pompously across the stage, tosses her tails,
whips out a hanky to dust the keyboard, glares at the audience
for snickering…and her Chopin concert begins.
So does the
We meet the onstage
audience one or two at a time as they take their places and
create a concert-goer community. The characterizations alone
are hilarious (we meet the intellectual, the romantic, two
chatty women with rustling candy wrappers, a bossy wife and her
cigar-smoking, newspaper-reading husband, a shy boy, an usher,
and a passionate, bespectacled termagant) and the stage action
is even funnier.
Laughter goes from
intermittent to almost continuous, however, as the onstage
audience’s daydreams are played out.
One of the early
scenarios is “The Mistake Waltz.” It starts so properly but
begins to unravel almost immediately, right after Lowenberg nods
a correction at Pantastico. Right arms show up where left arms
should be, one dancer steps to the left when the group moves to
the right, one is up, the rest are down—not to mention the
painful mess the women make of a Balanchine daisychain. It’s all
the stuff you expect dancers to get right, because they
almost always do. The whole, hilarious mess eventually comes to
an end, the dancers managing to achieve what looks to be a
symmetrical final tableau. But, as the audience claps, Rachel
Foster ever-so-slowly, almost-imperceptibly, adjusts her arm
into the correct position. Which, of course, sets off another
round of laughter.
was definitely the hit of the night, showing the company’s
across-the-board acting skills and the dancers’ ability to work
as an ensemble. Favorite moments? Standout performances?
Favorite aspects? There are too many! Leaving McCaw Hall that
night, people kept breaking out in after-shock laughter as they
recalled their favorite moments.
The best part about
the humor is that these surreal stories are played not for
laughs, but straight out—which of course only makes them
funnier. And though some of the jokes are ballet jokes and
others are on the adult side, a first-grader friend of mine
readily responded to the humor and thoroughly enjoyed the piece.
With cigar-smoking butterflies and ballerinas whose purple Thing
1 and Thing 2 hats flutter as they walk, what’s not to enjoy?
So, who got the
biggest workout of the evening? That’s a toss-up. Dianne
Chilgren not only played two whole ballets, she also ended
The Concert by running around onstage with a butterfly net.
Jonathan Porretta started the evening out with virtuoso jumps in
Fancy Free and returned for the last piece as the
husband, a military man, and as a very energetic, determined,
lusty butterfly. Noelani Pantastico, however, took on three
roles, navigating huge changes in character and style. (Oh! How
we’re going to miss this young woman when she leaves at the end
of the season to dance with Les ballets de Monte Carlo!) Or
maybe it was the audience? That’s a lot of laughing for a
Thursday night—or, indeed, any night.
plays through Sunday, June 8. Tickets are available at
www.pnb.org or 206-441-2424.
2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise