Pacific Northwest Ballet's - 'The Merry Widow'
by Dean Speer
March 19, 2005 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington
There is just one word that comes to mind upon viewing PNB’s latest offering of Ronald Hynd’s choreographic testament to a romanticized fin de siècle and that’s “fabulous!” Fabulous costumes, sets and lighting, fabulous rendition (orchestration by Sir John Lanchbery) of Lehar’s music, and a fabulous job of re-staging and coaching by Hynd and his ballerina wife, Annette Page. Not to mention the fabulous dancing by Pacific Northwest Ballet’s stable of talented dancers, whose depth and fully-realized characterizations range from the principal stars to every member of the corps and School Professional Division students.
We have become accustomed to the high level of production and artistic values PNB has brought to its stages and to its public over the years and "Merry Widow" certainly well represents this standard. Mr. Balanchine is quoted as saying that he likened himself to being a chef and whipping up “a little something for everyone.” Merry Widow is what I’d classify as a “dessert” ballet – a very important course!
Patricia Barker brought new depth to her role of Hanna, the widow. Someone who had power, beauty and who knew it but who had also experienced the pain of youthful separation and longing, and, at the end, is sweetly reunited with her beau. Barker is really dancing better than ever and impressed everyone with her sophistication of acting which was overlaid on the superstructure of her incredible technique. My second ballet teacher happened to be at this show and reported to me how impressed she was with how far Barker has taken her artistry. The widow really does carry the show, is pivotal to the plot, and she gave us our money’s worth from her entrance in Act I down a grand staircase to the simple waltz that concludes the ballet at evening’s end.
Jeffrey Stanton as her long-lost beau had the delightful assignment of being required to act and dance a full range of emotion too – from comedic (he is first seen inebriated, drinking presumably “to forget”) to outrage and finally to expressing the joy of mature love and the peaceful satisfaction that comes from knowing he’s with his true life partner at last.
Former PNB dancer and current faculty member Timothy Lynch was perfectly cast in the comedic role of the hapless secretary/treasurer of a country about to go broke but whose pleas for temperance and a call to action are Cassandra-like, and, so are unheeded. This is a country whose safe contains only champagne.
Kaori Nakamura and Christophe Maraval as the “secondary” couple of the evening brought comedy and pathos to a bittersweet love triangle – Nakamura’s Valancienne being married to an older diplomat but in love with a young French attaché.
"Merry Widow" presents the men and women of the Company at their best and particularly provides a strong showcase for some great male dancing. Of special note has to be Karel Cruz as the lead character dancer in Act II’s garden party scene. His natural elevation coupled with his Cuban ballet training made for an exciting divertissement. Speaking of character dancing, it was really great that the dancing of this act is based on this traditional fourth “leg” of ballet training (technique, pointe for women, partnering, character). The regiments of men and women in character boots and shoes using elements of such steps as the czardas and mazurka or polonaise to create Hynd’s version of “authentic” Pontevedrian (a fake country!), vigorous and expressive national dancing were exciting.
I like the many touches that Hynd has embedded into his vision of this operatic charmer. The last act at Maxim’s is totally fun – and on that list I have to put the Can-Can’ers, the “Angry Patron” (who I think was originally listed as an “American” customer; demanding to the point of no appeasement) and of how he wraps it all up for us at the conclusion. My only choreographic wish would have been for the now-found-each-other couple to waltz - yes, with each other - but instead of having them continue this through the fall of the curtain, to have had them finish facing upstage, looking at the Effiel Tower in the distance, arms linked and heads down on each other’s shoulders.
PNB is one of North America’s top ballet companies and we are so fortunate to have them right here in our own backyard. "Merry Widow" is a fun ballet that’s neat to see for its values of production, choreography, dancing, and of the merriment so needed today.
Edited by Staff.
Read related stories in the press and see what others are saying. Click here.