Saturday, April 2, 2011

From our Pacific Rim correspondent

Pacific Northwest Ballet, March 24, 25, 27

McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Choreographers: Mark Morris, Marco Goecke, Paul Gibson, Alexei Ratmanksy

Music: Lou Harrison, Camille Saint-Saens, Frederic Chopin, John Cage, Gyorgi Ligeti, Bela Bartok, Alberto Ginastera, Dmitri Shostakovich

Strong dance presence on the west coast: San Francisco Ballet, the robust calendar of touring legends at Segerstrom in Costa Mesa and the Music Center in Los Angeles plus the streams of companies moving stage to stage at universities and colleges, and, under consideration here, the other "institution" besides San Francisco, PNB with its red labyrinth of venue, sparkly red curtain, red upholstered seating in a hall all decked out in red appointments, plus their own orchestra, a young audience, and they like to whoop and holler---you won't hear bravo but you will hear woo-woo-woo. Virtuosity receives instant approval.

Many years ago a New Yorker writer favorably profiled PNB. In discussing the influence of Balanchine on the company (its directors at that time had both danced for Balanchine at NYCB) the writer mentioned that Balanchine favored a particular type of ballerina: blonde, thin, and built for speed, and that in New York he had had to cultivate the breed, whereas in the Pacific Northwest "apparently they grow wild."

The current artistic director also danced under Balanchine but he has jazzed things up. I saw "Dances at a Gathering" at PNB a few years ago and my outlook on ballet changed overnight. And they did it again for me this time. The company seems young, they might not be any younger than any other company but they seem to be. Their artistic director is building something exciting in the Puget Sound.

PNB offered four dances. I was fortunate enough to indulge my favorite approach: one performance seen from the highest balcony, one performance from three rows from the stage, one performance somewhat further back on the main floor.

No video here, but I marveled how the lighting and backdrops were used to compress and expand and emphasize certain emotions. Very simple technique and applied noticeably but not obtrusively.

They opened with a Mark Morris piece and I don't know what was better, the dance or the opportunity to hear Lou Harrison music (Asian-influenced, Pacific Rim ting-ting music, I call it) performed live. Morris is a cunning choreographer, I enjoy his work a lot.

The second piece was a world premiere, commissioned by PNB: Place A Chill. Based on the story of a famous cellist who had to quit performing as she began to lose muscle control. It took that mechanical dancing mentioned previously into another dance-o-sphere, so that what is at the end of the arm is not a hand and fingers but a butterfly, and every dancer (ten of them in the piece) had two butterflies fluttering around their heads and upper bodies, representing the loss of muscle control yet as a dance incredibly, unbelieveably controlled. At first the spazz movements and the fluttering looked grotesque, I almost turned away, and then it became astonishing just from a technique perspective, and then it turned pretty. The music it was danced to add to the engagement: Saint-Saens cello concerto, and a piece, apparently, associated with the famous cellist. There was some unnecessary and bogus stagecraft toward the end, but the dance overall was awakening.

The third piece, Piano Dance, was what might be expected from the title, happy and dancey, four couples dancing to various piano pieces by the wacky unsweetened composers like Cage and Bartok and Ligeti. The stage was filled with alabaster limbs in costumes of pure red. And Balanchine was there to the max

The final dance, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, is what impressed me the most. Performed to a concerto by Shostakovich, 19 dancers in joyous goofing on stage parings and assemblies, like a day at the beach in a Mack Sennett movie, clever and imaginative stage pictures at all times, stage orchestration if you will, like the circle of activities and one guy just jumping up and down. Dancers exiting in slow motion while dancers enter at warp speed and jete, dancers flirting and running and (my favorite) occasionally leaping or tearing across the stage just for the pure joy of it!. This piece premiered in New York a couple of years ago and I guess tore it up critics wise. I'd be seeking that one out to see again.

During the Sunday matinee my date and I were pounding wine at the intermission on the patio---it was a glorious day, the sun was shining in between rain episodes and the performance had sparkled and we knew the best was yet to come, but because we were given erroneous information by the server we thought we had plenty of time only to have to sneak back in an sit in . (I've done worse, I've missed a whole second act of a play because Susan Walsh and I took a long walk at intermission.) We took the first empty seats in the first row at the extreme right of the stage. Missed a sixth of stage left, but saw the wings on stage right and the dancers as they prep and make their entrances. Even that "mistake" ended up in our favor. It's all good.

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