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Pacific Northwest Ballet - 'Serenade,' 'Carmina Burana'

Performance of a Lifetime

by Dean Speer

Opening Night, April 15, 2004 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle

Our minds and spirits were far, far away from tax time as we experienced the profound and moving joys of Pacific Northwest Ballet's April repertory round of Mr. Balanchine's great masterwork, "Serenade," and Artistic Director Kent Stowell's powerful "Carmina Burana."

It may have been opening night energy or the knowledge that these are the last performances of these ballets under the current artistic leadership or a confluence of many factors, but nevertheless, this show really was a performance of a lifetime. The company and each individual artist within were really "into it" in a way that can only be described as a full maturity "... that that magical place demands [the stage]" (in the words of Martha Graham). From the first lift of Conductor Allan Dameron's baton for "Serenade," each performer, including the musicians, attacked the movement and music with heart, gusto, and bravura. I just finished watching San Francisco Ballet do "Serenade" a couple of weeks ago, where they do this ballet at a slower tempo, and I just knew we were in for an exhilarating ride from the opening measures of Tchaikovsky's famous chord strains.

Watching Louise Nadeau transform her dance character self from bright and sprightly to one of great tragedy and acceptance, and perhaps even welcome, of her fate -- being lifted up and transported to ballet heaven, as this viewer sees it, was genuine artistry and, as this ballet always does with me, moves me greatly, sometimes to tears, and often to quivering jello.

Carrie Imler and Melanie Skinner were well matched, and it was thrilling to see them charge, dancing at full steam ahead. What marvelous and fearless attack and joy each brought. Ms. Skinner also made a wonderful "dark angel," and it was exciting to see the amplitude of her arabesque in the slow, supported at the knee promenade and how she extended herself as the two turns were concluding. Teaching and coaching phrasing is an elusive thing but certainly necessary, and you could see phrasing in Skinner's dancing. "Cantabile" is how I like to see movement go, and here it was. Singing movement throughout.

While partnering skills are uniformly quite good throughout the male population of this company, I have to say I was very impressed with the extremely high level, sensitivity, and strength of Christophe Maraval. He did everything and more. Nadeau and Jeffrey Stanton were perfectly matched for the second movement waltz, and it looked like a playful dialogue between two artists who completely understand, trust, and enjoy each other.

For me, the heart of "Serenade" is the "Elegie" which Mr. Balanchine had the genius and vision to make the last movement, rather than the third as intended by the composer. Here Maraval with Nadeau were more like the pas de deux from Act II of "Giselle" -- meaningful; each gesture a whisper of meaning and deep tragedy, regret. Thank you, Francia Russell -- and company -- for giving us a rendition of "Serenade" that has to be one of the best on the planet. Fresh, exciting, moving -- and a performance of a lifetime.

Everything about Kent Stowell's "Carmina Burana" is big. Enormous. Huge in concept and design, this ballet to Carl Orff's famous music and text is a "wow!" ballet and a sure-fire audience pleaser. A full company work using 37 dancers, 87 singers, and full pit orchestra, "Carmina" fills the stage with visual imagery and dance that utilizes the concept of the sacred and profane, contrasting and playing off of each other. It's a great showcase for the company men throughout but particularly in the opening "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" (As a side note, I noticed former company member Timothy Lynch was lured out of retirement for this dance. Can they continue to entice this artist to perform? I hope so!).

It was great seeing Kaori Nakamura and Le Yin lead off "Primo Vere" in a mode that's different for them. Two peasants joyfully flirting in the Spring (or Summer?) sun.

It would be stating the obvious that "In Taberna" represented the profane. Ariana Lallone (..."one, hot ballerina!") led off the crew that violates a monk, wonderfully interpreted by Oleg Gorboulev, and uses and re-uses the character that I think of as the "roasted goose" (the text is a goose lamenting being cooked) in the form of Paul Gibson. Mr. Gibson really "got into" his part and gave us the sense of almost unending despair and the sad realization of the uselessness of "trying." Nevertheless, his character revives itself and participates in the seduction of the monk. "Low lifes" of the 1200s at their most savage.

When Patricia Barker and Olivier Wevers came running out for the first time in "Cour d'Amours," I heard a gentleman behind me exclaim, "My, he's dashing!" Indeed their first pas de deux, done in regal attire, made both look elegant, dashing, and at the peak of high art. Their subsequent duet in unitards was striking for its contrast and for the impression I got of tender, solicitous expression each character has for the other. If "Elegie" is the heart of "Serenade," then I'd have to say that this movement is the heart of Stowell's vision for "Carmina." It is the expression of human, romantic love -- neither sacred nor profane. I felt the entire auditorium give a collective sigh.

I happened by chance to sit two seats next to the Artistic Directors, and both leapt to their feet at the end of this big, enormous, exciting work and "one swell night" at the ballet. The audience certainly did not need any prompting to join them for much deserved and prolonged applause and bravos.

Both ballets performances of a lifetime.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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