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Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2005 Choreographers' Showcase:

Tomorrow's Choreographers Given Voice

by Dean Speer

March 23, 2005 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

The Glenn Kawasaki New Works Fund was deployed to good use by the Showcase it sponsored.  Featuring new works by four Company dancers and one by a PNB faculty member, this program is a gambit that pays off artistically.  Encouraging and nurturing new work have been supported by PNB’s current artistic leaders and visionaries, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, right from early start of their tenure via its Summer Inventions to PNB Off-Stage and now with the second incarnation of Choreographers’ Showcase.  Future AD, Peter Boal, has already expressed his desire to continue this important venue.  The only potential roadblock, according to one of Stowell’s post-performance remarks is that of funding.  He encouraged each of us to rally to this cause by writing and telling of our own enthusiasm for it and, it might be inferred, to keep those checks coming!

Composing and creating new works, whether it’s music, painting, or writing, can be a difficult process.  Fun too but a challenge.  Dance has the added attraction for the composer of these new works of usually being deadline-driven and needing to go into the studio where dancers are waiting for choreographic gems to fall from your lips and who don’t want their time wasted – nor can it be – by those who might hem and hah while trying to think up something for the dancers to do and that’s, of course, engaging, lively, and of artistic value.  That you have something to say. All while watching the clock You might say there is a temptation to feel just a wee bit of pressure.  Oh, and did I mention that you’re moving from peer to something else and have the unwritten expectation of not losing your cool, of keeping your wits about you, and your sense of humor?  In other words, you have to be brilliant!  And even with all that, no one can be sure that a work will be success or not until it’s actually seen the light of day on stage.

I have to applaud each of the choreographers for having the courage to go through the process and the joy and terror of seeing their works performed.  They each put themselves into their ballets and each had successes, I’m happy to report!

Olivier Wevers’ One’s Symphony impressed me as being the most autobiographical of the five ballets. It’s to a score by Christopher Rouse and began with a corps of 8 women facing upstage in a turned-in first position with arms bent and backs pinched in what I’d call a reverse contraction.  It was a very striking image.  Mr. Wevers used a motif of having the women walk on pointe with the arms using an extended fifth position en haut, hands facing down and making a grand battement devant, sometimes combined with a fouetté.  He then has one couple – Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta – run in from opposite sides of the stage who engage in a very sculptural duet, arching and twisting and reaching in angular and unusual shapes, punching each pose.  When this couple breaks up, Nakamura is left crumpled on the downstage left corner with Mr. Porretta in a similar pose upstage.  A second couple comes in – Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite – who repeat the visual images present by the first couple but with a Haiku sense; same but changed.  Due to time constraints, Mr. Wevers was only able to create to about two-thirds of the full score, so I very much look forward to seeing the completed whole someday.

Ripple Mechanics by Sonia Dawkins, the lone faculty member on the bill, uses a modern dance aesthetic to explore her idea of how neutrons and electrons interact.  She uses the dancers very effectively, particularly Batkhurel Bold who is his own laser beam of dancing energy.  In fact, whether it was intended this way or not, Ripple Mechanics was quite a great showpiece for Mr. Bold and virtually a solo with the support of two women and two men.  Each did get their turn but it was Mr. Bold who really carried this interesting work.

We’re all familiar with the music that’s used for the De Beers’ diamond commercials (albeit this same theme was used for the Father Dowling murder mystery series years before De Beers latched on to it) and it’s clear that the title, Flawless, of Jonathan Porretta’s creation is a reference to diamonds and that could be extended to refer metaphorically to the dancers and perhaps even to his own choreography.  It’s in two parts – the first to a straight rendition of Karl Jenkins score and then a disco version of the same.  The audience gasped and began applauding the moment the curtain went up on the wedge of 8 women in glorious white tutus, each standing in classical ballet’s supreme position, fifth croisé.  Beginning with a battement tendu, Mr. Porretta used and developed movement motifs that included relevé balloneé (which started low and got higher when it was repeated), double sissonne relevés into arabesque and turns of various stripes such as pirouettes and ménage that were fast, sometimes intricate.  Carrie Imler and her partner Casey Herd were the pas de deux couple and Mr. Porretta used the standard structure of a pas de deux, although Ms. Imler appeared first on stage with the corps women.

When we got to the groovy, boogie section of the musical “repeat” cast member Jordan Pacitti (while in a line of four men across downstage) began to “groove,” much to the amusement and applause of many.  Because Mr. Pacitti looked left down the line of men before he began this, my own reaction was that (knowing that rehearsal time had been short) perhaps he’d forgotten what came next or nerves hit him and he was reacting.  My eye ended up following him around to see if he would engage in any more bad-boy behavior, so for me it was distracting.  My only recommendation would be that if you’re going to break loose, then really break loose!  When this occurred, I had thought that perhaps one or more of the other men might follow suit or maybe this grooving would eventually infect the entire cast.  Since it only happened once and by one person, it impressed me as an aberration and not “on-purpose.”  Cut loose and find ways to infuse this new twist (pun intended) more into the second half.

Speaking of the music, my ear thought and mind associated the music with Fortuna from Carmina Burana; same driving rhythm and tempo.  This ballet also had a drive to it and was marvelously relentless in its unfolding of classical turns, shapes, and patterns.  Mr. Porretta’s work had many facets to  it – lively choreography, good use of motifs and their development, and making the dancers look fabulous.  A polished and nearly flawless diamond and with a little tweaking, already just about ready to be mounted as a main stage work somewhere.

O is a play on the French word for water, l’eau and Christophe Maraval’s used three of Satie’s piano pieces to make a ballet that evoked images of rippling water, of being in a wonderfully clear, cold and pure pond, and of the return of water to its source.  Played live by Dianne Chilgren, Satie’s music cascaded out of the orchestra pit and was caught by the dancers in their movement.  Set for two couples – Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta plus Louise Nadeau and Bathurel Bold, they sometimes mirrored each other, sometime not and always with choreography that was sweet and Gaullic.  The men functioned primarily as partners, giving the needed support and line to their respective women.  Each couple got their own piece and then came together for the third section.  The movement palette was especially perfect for Ms. Nadeau whose effervescent interpretation really made us feel part of the magic of the romance of these water-lets.

Newcomer to choreographer, Kiyon Gaines, chose two contemporary composers that have been popular with many, including Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins.  As a piece of composition, I felt that Mr. Gaines’s blitz...Fantasy was about the strongest.  He clearly already has a head and an eye for strong and clear development of his movement motifs.  He’s open to suggestions for editing and re-working – he reported during the post-performance discussion that Mr. Stowell came around to each of their works in progress and made some suggestions to help make each piece stronger.  Mr. Gaines totally re-did his ending into what he feels is a stronger finale.  The only thing working against the piece, at least in my own feeble mind, were the costumes and lighting which kept suggesting “Rubies!” to me so I had do have a stern talk with myself and say, “No, not Rubies; see and take it as it’s own, unique work.”  So when I got past myself and the temptation to think that it had a Rubies look (which of itself would be okay!), I got into really looking at the structure of what he had done and how it was unfolding.  I was struck and pleased by his use of only corps members in his ballet and how much each of them shone and how he had a section just for three men where each guy got to have a brief and impressive solo: Brennan Boyer; Taurean Green; and James Moore.  Kara Zimmerman and Josh Spell as the lead couple were strong and given work to do that showed off their many strengths.  I really believe Ms. Zimmerman will be a ballet superstar someday and with her endless line and seemingly effortless technique, is well on her way there.

Programming – the placement and order of each piece on the program – was smart done so that the pieces played off of and complement each other and built the evening nicely.  Kudos to Showcase coordinator, Nicolas Ade, for his hard work and diligence in getting this valuable project to the boards.

I should also report that the post-performance discussion with Kent Stowell and each of the choreographers on the panel was jam-packed with enthusiastic audience member, friends, and supporters who kept the questions coming and the discussions informative, fun, and lively.

I can remember when dance was spare in the Puget Sound area and how we all used to hunger after and go to just about everyone’s performances – from school recitals to regional ballet and modern dance concerts.  How exciting it is that dance has grown to the point where it’s sometimes impossible to see everyone that’s going on.  That said, there still aren’t enough forums for new works and so it’s doubly great to have this venue that give pinions to PNB’s Company members who wish to try their choreographic wings and who, we hope, will continue to find and speak their artistic visions.

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