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Pacific Northwest Ballet School

23rd Annual School Performance

Erin Lewis in Jardin Animeby Dean Speer

June 19, 2004 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle

One of the many things I enjoy the most about end-of-the-year school performances, regardless of the title put on them, is the sheer enthusiasm and exuberance of the participants for each other. I don't mind at all the cheers and occasional shrieking from the opera house balcony as hoards of charming and young bunheads applaud madly for their friends and future ballet colleagues (boys and men from the school too!).

I like it too when at the conclusion of show, the entire teaching faculty and staff come charging on, led by Francia Russell, who then cheer on the dancers behind them.

It's been said that only a Marine can really relate to another Marine, and in many ways I think this is also true of ballet and dance folk, if not others in the arts. We train, suffer, improve, have victories and milestones, perform, and dance together. It does create a kind of silent bond that connects everyone, regardless of personal background. There is also an enormous degree of respect, fondness, and even a loving attitude that's formed.

So it was with this anticipation of support that I attended the noon show of PNB School's annual performance. I have said for many years that it is always "balm for my eyes!" and this round was no exception (the salve is particularly thick at those shows where I have no responsibilities other than watching!).

PNB students show discipline and are very well focused, from the youngest level (Ballet 1) to the top of the ranks. It's easy to see the progression as each class moved quickly from brief showcase dance to dance -- each choreographed by their teachers. I like how they keep the show moving by having someone be "the voice of God," making an announcement of each class group as one batch concludes and the other prepares. No long pauses, nor are we kept in the dark about what's coming up next. A tight operation. The program also benefits from their seeming to keep to the unwritten recital rule of each class not dancing for more than three minutes. Live music for most of the classes helped too.

Some highlights for me included Russell's crisp staging of Balanchine's "Symphony in C" (first movement) and the Men's Division set by Flemming Halby (go PNB men! -- go men in ballet for that matter!). PNB has really captured the attention of guys who are interested in first-class training and experience, and seeing so many well-trained men gives hope to the faint of heart that men in ballet may have a wonderful future and that perhaps we may even have more men than women in ballet schools, such as the Royal Ballet School in recent memory.

"Le Jardin Animé" was certainly a worthy project. Historic, interesting, and very well done -- both in revival and execution. Bravos to Doug Fullington and Manard Stewart for their hard work in its reconstruction and staging. It was like seeing an original painting with years of film layers stripped away -- restored and polished patina for the world to see. I liked many of the patterns and steps, and it was fun to have an insight into Petipa in his original, home element.

The essence of this divertissement is one of old-world French charm. In the context of the ballet, "Le Corsaire," (now cover your eyes, you younger folk!) he smokes opium from his hookah. He falls asleep and dreams of perfect Russian choreography. Hence "Le Jardin Animé."

This excerpt clearly demonstrates the level of training at PNB School and the ability of its dancers to adapt to varying styles and periods. Outstanding were the soloists, Jacquelyn Arcati and Erin Lewis (who has been taken into the Company, if I read the program correctly). I agree somewhat with Mr. Campbell's review in that parts do seem a little slow, and it's maybe a bit too old-fashioned to today's ballet audiences. Nevertheless, an important reconstruction and project for PNB and its dedicated and talented staff to undertake and bring to fruition.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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