PNB Review: New Works for Me
By Rosie Gaynor
Works (November 6–16), Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic
Director Peter Boal put together another exciting program for
us. Well, for some of us: the audience thinned remarkably before
(and during) the last piece. However,
I’d guess that even the folks who left early enjoyed the first
three pieces of the evening.
Carla Körbes and Olivier Wevers dancing The Minuet in the
PNB premiere of Mark Morris’s A Garden (photo
2001 A Garden got the evening off to a charming start,
with Richard Strauss’s arrangements of keyboard dances by
François Couperin (1668–1733).
courtly ensemble ballet that speaks to the music and to the
origins of ballet with respectful modern comments. As you might
expect from its ties to the Baroque, part of the pleasure
derives from the patterns, which the PNB dancers articulated
beautifully. (Joanna Berman—on whom the piece was set just a
year before she retired from San Francisco Ballet—staged it for
PNB. Lines looked Francia-Russell-straight, movement made sense,
style was consistent.)
included those by Kaori Nakamura with her exquisite phrasing in
solos that seem strangely disconnected from the music; Benjamin
Griffiths, who danced his lullaby-sweet solo as though it had
been choreographed for him: neatly, gracefully, and with
sincerity; Stacy Lowenberg, who captured the refined grace of
the piece perfectly; and Jonathan Porretta, whose lighthearted
and light-footed jumps and turns energized the piece.
The pas de
deux “minuet.” I understand there is supposed to be a
disconnect between the dancers here—one of those “the emotion
comes from the movement, not from the dancer” ideas—but it
reduces the movement somehow and strips away the dancers’
Opportunity taken: On
November 14, Kiyon Gaines and Carla Körbes slipped up: their few
glances were enough to turn this dry pas de deux into an
exquisite, poignant description of the complexities of love. The
same on November 15, with Olivier Wevers and Körbes: beautiful!
The shadow-dancing of Porretta and Barry Kerollis and the
my-arms-are-floppy pas de trois.
The orchestra mangled the stately, opening strains of the music
some nights (but they nailed it on others, very properly setting
the stage for the dance that was in store for us).
backdrop really detracted from the piece on opening
night. Thankfully, the big, white cloud seemed to change
in intensity over the course of the run (or perhaps it varied
according to seating/sightlines?). On some nights it was a
lovely smudge or ever so slightly defined, a vast improvement
over the huge Curly’s-about-to-enter-from-stage-left cumulus
What a lovely, elegant new piece to add to PNB’s repertoire! I’m
looking forward to seeing it again and again.
Lindsi Dec (who worked with
the choreographer during the early stages of the choreography
process) and Kari Brunson in the world premiere of Kiyon Gaines’
piece, M-Pulse, by PNB’s most ebullient dancer, Kiyon
Gaines, had a lot more pizzazz. This work represents the newest
of New, in the sense that the choreographer and the
composer are both in the early stages of their professional
has seen several of Gaines’ pieces in the company’s annual
Choreographers’ Showcase and spring festival, but this was
his first work commissioned for the company’s main season. It
was a worthwhile effort and I’m glad I was there to see it.
that Gaines’ kindergarten teacher never had to encourage him to
use the whole paper and to try out new colors. M-Pulse
used almost every part of the body possible and blended multiple
dance styles. African dance played an exciting role, including
contractions (which the women did on pointe) and some
extremely effective arm movements.
Choreographer Kiyon Gaines (photo
© Angela Sterling)
achieved his greatest success with his ensembles for men. (He
did an all-male piece last spring for Choreographers’
Showcase that was dynamite. I would love to see it again.)
With his men, Gaines creates the focus, sweep, and thrilling
energy of some of the best works of ballet. This follows his own
center of excellence as a dancer: he covers ground fast and
appears happiest when he’s not touching it. His plucky fellow
danseurs follow his lead.
flashing legs, arched backs, and magazine-ad stares
characterized the women’s choreography for this piece. If the
men were about moving across the stage, the women were about
stabbing up onto pointe and crouching down into
pounce-mode. Effective the first few times, it quickly began to
pall. In the third movement, where the music progresses to huge,
crossing-the-prairies phrases, Gaines still constrained his
women to small spaces and staccato movements. That may be an
interesting artistic statement, but it would have been more fun
to see the women really cover ground.
stage, Gaines’ partner work seems to be less about relationship
and movement and more about “what can I do for this requisite
component that is creative and unusual?” It interrupts the
momentum he achieves elsewhere. If he’s determined to achieve
this kind of innovation, Gaines will need the company’s
most-experienced, most-skilled, best-matched partners.
music by young composer Cristina Spinei has many fine, effective
moments. I love the beginning of first movement especially,
which sounds like Latin locusts and typewriter keys having a
great time on the dance floor. And I still find myself humming
bits of the third movement. Taken as a whole, however, the
composition rambles, leaving Gaines with the onerous task of
trying to shore up the structure with dance.
composer and choreographer do come together marvelously is in
their interest in exploring rhythm. There’s lots of it, and the
jazzy, percussive bits are extremely affecting. The first
movement is especially strong.
to see more of Gaines’ choreography (and to hear more of
Spinei’s work as well). Some in the audience claimed M-Pulse
as their favorite piece of the evening. Some even argued
passionately in favor of the Ice Capades costumes. I loved the
lighting—beautiful golden squares that Gaines used well.
mentioned at the post-performance chat that Gaines’ goal had
been to develop a new vocabulary and that Boal thought he had
succeeded. No small compliment, that.
that—for me—elevated the evening from fun to soul-grasping was
Benjamin Millepied’s 3 Movements. It’s non-stop, as you
might expect from a work set to a Steve Reich score (his 1986
Three Movements for Orchestra. Played live. Thank you!). It is
also tremendously exciting, which you might not expect.
Millepied mines the score, bringing to light its fascinating
change of rhythms and moods.
Postlewaite and James Moore started off this high-energy ballet
with a dash across the stage. In unison at first, like the
“phased” qualities of Reich’s music their movements fell out of
sync with fascinating results. Fourteen other dancers joined
them, creating what felt like an urban street during rush hour.
(The stylin’ business-casual costumes and the gray and black
strips of fabric in the background helped create this effect.)
play out various kinds of relationships with varying degrees of
synchronicity during the first two movements. The groups merge
and morph, and at one point early on, all the dancers find
themselves on the same trajectory. It is one of the most
thrilling moments: they cross from stage left to stage right, in
lines of one-two-three-four-three-two-and-one. Some of the lines
slip back and forth through the forward-propelled-mass, creating
the ballet equivalent of a moray pattern.
In the third
movement, when the music becomes big and heavy, the dancers move
in unison and pattern takes over. Several times, the group
splits and comes back together again, a little like one of those
multi-axis trainers that astronauts use. The effect is
such an interesting style. A look at his early Chaconne
will give you an excellent idea of how he plays with air,
weight, balance, tension, and relaxation. You see the same
qualities in 3 Movements, only more aggressive and dark
does not take full advantage of the abilities of his women
dancers in this piece. He does come up with some lovely Körbes-inspired
movements, but… There are so many memorable moments for the men.
The two-on-two petit allegro with William Lin-Yee, James
Moore, Sokvannara Sar, and Jerôme Tisserand took my breath away.
A later passage by that same group, joined by the rest of the
men, carried me over the edge. Even Tisserand and Seth Orza
running circles around the stage evoked interest and force. But
for the women? Millepied definitely knows how to use them as
partners, they have thrilling movement during the moray pattern
section, and they carry their weight in the unison bits. They
work hard in this piece. They have charming salsa movements…but
nothing as deep, thrilling, and vibrant as what the men are
given. I am interested to see how Millepied’s work for women
changes over the coming years.
will likely be performed in New York next season, since part of
the funding for this commission came from the Joyce Theater’s 25th
anniversary program: 25-for-25. This program granted $25,000 to
25 companies to produce new work. It stipulates a repeat
performance at the Joyce Theater. (25-for-25 is funded in part
by the Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work.)
Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in
William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced
ended (for those of us who stuck it out) with William Forsythe’s
One Flat Thing, reproduced. PNB first danced this
controversial piece last season. The “flat things” are 20
tables, which the dancers move on, under, and around during 16
minutes of Thom Willem’s industrial music. (In his
pre-performance lecture, PNB’s Doug Fullington mentioned that
the initial efforts of Ballet Frankfurt, the originators of this
piece, took 30 minutes and that as the dancers became more
comfortable and daring with the non-balletic movements, they cut
the timing down to 16 minutes.)
I like this
aggressive, multi-faceted piece more each time I see it. I’m in
love with it by now and it has even begun to look like dance to
describe it here, I’ll point you to the excerpts video at
You’ll be able to see why people seeking graceful
tutu-clad dancers ran for the door.
does not deliberately set out to choose pieces that could cause
donors to change their wills and patrons to cancel their
subscriptions. “It’s great to have works that everybody loves.
There’s nothing wrong with that,” he says. He adds that he loves
Swan Lake too, but notes: “It’s also good to have works
that challenge an audience, that stretch their tastes, that test
their definition of what ballet is. I like those works a lot.”
And there were converts in the audience; some of them spoke up
in the post-performance lecture: “I hated this piece last
season, but liked it tonight. It’s growing on me.”
I once asked
Boal how he knows if a new work is any good. “I look for
strong works that I feel are well structured,” he said. “I
sometimes look for works that have their own voice, possibly
making a statement. Also, works that you can sit through: I
don’t want works that are annoying….” If that’s the criteria,
then (with apologies to those who left the show early) New
Works definitely ranks as good. Or, as my friend said while
we were leaving McCaw Hall: “A dream program!”
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