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

by Mike Saunders

April 17, 2004 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle


"Serenade" is a piece that I've seen performed rather poorly and also extremely well. It took the latter to show me what Balanchine's choreography could really do; I wasn't a Balanchine fan until I saw this piece "done right" (which to me, implies that the corps are tight, technically proficient, and very well coached). If there's any piece that I've seen that has fairly stringent requirements on the excellence of the corps dancers, "Serenade" is it. Of course this plays into PNB's hand as a company, as I've always thought one of the strengths of PNB was the immense depth of their corps. Add to this Francia Russell's expert staging, and this piece was everything it should be. Besides the corps, standouts were Carrie Imler, Melanie Skinner, Jeff Stanton, and of course, the incomparable Louise Nadeau.

The opening movements were pleasant, the costumes gorgeous as usual, but for me this piece grows stronger as it progresses. Each series within each movement builds upon the prior, culminating in the defining highlight of this weekend's performance -- the staggering, breathtaking final movement. Simply put, Louise Nadeau knocked this one clearly out of the ballpark -- out of the neighborhood, county, and over the state line as well, for that matter. Like others who have reviewed this piece, I think I noticed my "allergies" suddenly increasing during that last movement as I wiped my eyes more than once. Truly impressive.

I struggle trying to define exactly what it is that I see in Nadeau, being neither a choreographer nor a dancer myself. She's always precise, yet gentle in that precision. More than that, she innately understands the "feel" of the beat. Nadeau just "knows" where to place things in time, but that's not the whole picture. She has amazing quickness, yet in a fraction of the moment can morph from quick and precise to elongated and elegant -- almost as if she changes body type at the precise moment needed by the work at hand. Add to these traits a staggering amount of artistry -- bottom line: I could watch this woman dance until the sun burnt out and the universe collapsed.

"Carmina Burana"

"Carmina Burana" poses an interesting quandary for a "reviewer." Does one look at the piece as a whole "experience," or does one look at it strictly as a ballet? The addition of a massive choir and a fantastic set gives "Carmina Burana" more of a "show" feeling than strictly a ballet at times, so I think it has to be evaluated through both views.

From an "experience" viewpoint, "Carmina Burana" is a sure-fire audience pleasing showstopper. Almost constant frenetic movement, layer after layer of dancers on stage, the huge "wheel of fortune," the choir, the vocal soloists wandering on stage, and the massive orchestral arrangements all make this a spectacle that needs to be seen, felt, and heard in real life. From this viewpoint, I think "Carmina Burana" succeeds. The audience gasped when the curtain was raised, and the movement kept the audience's attention until the very end, bringing a rousing standing ovation from the house.

From a "ballet" viewpoint, I found the opening series very modern-like -- something I've not really seen in my admittedly limited viewing of Kent's choreography, and I enjoyed the first movement quite a bit. The men were showcased here, and once again the depth of PNB's dancers was a strength. Of the ladies (as seemingly always happens when I see PNB dance), a corps member I really haven't "noticed" before comes out, and in this case it was Lesley Rausch who fit well with the excellent Mara Vinson and Melanie Skinner.

The "Primo Vere" section was an area where I was of two minds. First, Noelani Pantastico was featured with Jeff Stanton. Pantastico is to me one of the future stars of PNB, already clearly on her way as a brilliant, expressive, joyous dancer. The problem though, was I thought this whole section didn't stand out so strongly in terms of choreography as compared to other sections, and maybe went on a little too long for my taste. However, things heated up next when Ariana Lallone strutted onto the stage in the "In Taberna" section.

For me, the strongest parts of "Carmina" were the last two movements -- first the wonderful and often extended pas with Patricia Barker and Olivier Wevers. My favorite moments were the "quieter" moments, especially when the wonderful soprano soloist sang. Barker's gorgeous upper body phrasing showed her immense talents: I just sat and stared. I also enjoyed the ending when the entire cast is brought upon the stageÖI still canít fathom how Kent got everyone to look so good together. Choreographing that many people must be difficult, but it worked and brought the piece to a nice finish.

I wish I could name some of the standouts in the corps here, because there were at least four or five that caught my eye, but I'd have to see this piece a lot more (as well as the company as a whole a lot more) in order to do so. But as mentioned, Barker, Pantastico, Lallone, and those fantastically talented men all shined.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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