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Pacific Northwest Ballet - Choreographer's Showcase

'perpetual cipher,' 'Kodai (Ancient Times),' 'Last Touch,'Duel,' 'E.R.A.R.'

by Francis Timlin

April 21, 2004 -- Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Pacific Northwest Ballet presented one performance of "Choreographers' Showcase" on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 on the mainstage of McCaw Hall in Seattle. Five works were presented by choregraphers drawn from the company and one from the school faculty: Olivier Wevers, Stanko Milov, Sonia Dawkins, Jonathan Porretta, and Paul Gibson.

The evening opened with Olivier Wevers' "perpetual cipher," set to the "Winter" concerto of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." This was perhaps the most classically oriented of the evening's works, utilizing six men and six women who often framed the stage for a continuously unfolding series of brief duets in the first movement. In the slow movement, Kaori Nakamura and Le Yin were particularly outstanding in their extended pas de deux. Each dancer was costumed in a tank top with two, seemingly random, letters on the front.

The title of the work is drawn from the endless series of combinations of these letters that may occur as the dancers form and reform lines and patterns. Wevers indicated that this was only one part of a larger idea and he would have enjoyed the opportunity to choreograph the entire "Four Seasons." I hope that he has the opportunity to do so, as there seemed to be elements of the choreography that begged for a more expansive treatment, but were straitened by the limitations of the single work. In particular, it would be interesting to see more interaction among the dancers as an ensemble. The cast was well chosen: Noelani Pantastico and Nicholas Ade, Chalnessa Eames and Jordan Pacitti, Carrie Imler and Casey Herd, Kaori Nakamura and Le Yin, Ariana Lallone and Batkhurel Bold, Mara Vinson and Jonathan Porretta.

Stanko Milov entitled his work "Kodai (Ancient Times)." In addition to the choreography, Milov composed the minimalist score and designed the costumes, a rather striking ensemble evocative of samurai. The work is divided into several sections and the dancers are deployed hierarchically. The opening is a diagonal of eight men, which dissolves to five corps plus three principal/soloist men, to which three women are later added. The movement is big and expansive overall. Milov partnered Melanie Skinner in the central pas de deux. Perhaps the one miscalculation was the blackout following the central pas de deux; the audience (perhaps recalling the end of Forsythe's "in the middle...") thought the piece had concluded in similar fashion and started to applaud enthusiastically. The true closing section, which attempts to provide a more symmetrical and conventional conclusion, seemed a bit of an anticlimax. I would advise rethinking the blackout or following Forsythe. In addition to Milov and Skinner, Karel Kruz, Kiyon Gaines, Joshua Grant, Kevin Kong, Lucien Postlewaite, Josh Spell, Kari Brunson, Laura Gilbreath and Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) School Professional Division student Sean Whiteman were cast. Kruz and Gaines were particularly well deployed and displayed affinity for the big, bold movements that dominated the opening third of the proceedings.

Sonia Dawkins teaches in the PNB School in additional to running her own company. "Last Touch" is set to a song collage punctuated by spoken text (reprinted in the program in English but spoken in French by dancer Christophe Maraval). The opening tableau, with orange drops streaming from the ceiling toward each of the nine dancers, elicited strong audience approval. (Asked why she did not do more with the drops, Ms. Dawkins indicated that, while this had been her original intent, practicality trumped creativity because there was no effective means of rehearsing in the studio with the drops.) The work featured very effective use of the nine dancers -- six men, three women -- as an ensemble. The only work of the evening to be performed barefoot, the overall movement quality and atmosphere reminded me of something I might imagine the Ailey Company performing. There was a pervasive sense of an urban jazz club in the atmosphere and despite big, energetic movement, there was a prevailing sense of ennui and irony.

Jonathan Porretta's first choreographic outing is a humorous piece entitled "Duel" for Carrie Imler (moving very classically in a white tutu) and Melanie Skinner (clad in a tank top and hot pants and moving with deliberate seductiveness). The obviousness of this setup for a competitive duel is emphasized by the anonymous, bare-chested male in the sunglasses and goofy grin (with an undoubted leer behind the sunglasses) who walks across the stage apron holding a sign proclaiming "Round 1," Round 2" as the competition progresses. Altogether, a nice bit of comic relief before the second intermission.

Paul Gibson's "E.R.A.R." closed the program. Begun as a project for the New York Choreographic Institute and New York City Ballet corps dancers last fall, and refined for PNB dancers over the past few months, this piece shows a strongly developed sense of choreographic craft that is refined well beyond the level of experimentation. The piece is divided into four sections ("East," "Revolution," "Autobahn," and "Robots"), corresponding to a movement of the score composed and performed by the Balanescu Quartet. (The music first came to Paul Gibson's attention on a BMW commercial -- the third section, "Autobahn," if I am not mistaken.)

The opening movement ("East") is a corps of four men/four women (Karel Cruz, Joshua Grant, Jordan Pacitti, Lucien Postlewaite, Lindsi Dec, Kylee Kitchens, Erin Joseph and Lesley Rausch) and two lead couples (Louise Nadeau and Christophe Maraval, Alexandra Dickson and Le Yin). Kylee Kitchens replaced another dancer on one day's notice due to illness -- not the first time within recent memory that she has proven to be a very quick study. The second movement ("Revolution") was originally intended to be for women; however, the men at NYCB proved stronger than the women, so a different sort of configuration came into being -- four men, plus a lead couple (Alexandra Dickson and Le Yin). The third, most extended movement ("Autobahn") is clearly the core of the piece and has been given the most elaborate choreographic treatment. The choreographer uses Louise Nadeau's special qualities and Christophe Maraval's partnering skills to superb effect. The last movement ("Robots") provides a suitable ensemble closing.

The lighting by Randall Chiarelli was masterful and an outstanding contribution throughout the evening. The lighting for the entrance of Nadeau and Maraval's in the "Autobahn" section of Gibson's piece was particularly striking. The entire performance received a single lighting/technical rehearsal the previous Friday and a dress rehearsal on the afternoon of the performance.

Edited by Jeff.

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