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Pacific Northwest Ballet's - Director's Choice

'Artifact II,' 'In the Night,' 'Duo Concertant,' 'Symphony in Three Movements'

What's New is New Again

by Dean Speer

September 24, 2005 -- Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

William Forsythe would be pleased that his twenty-one year-old work, “Artifact II,” engenders as much controversy and lively conversation as it does nearly a quarter of a century after its premiere – as the audience buzz and post-performance remarks and questions to Peter Boal, PNB’s new artistic director might indicate.

Forsythe has a distinct aesthetic and one that barks its artistic marching orders right in your face. No “nice” musical accompaniment here; it’s a recording of a Bach partita for solo violin with the volume cranked up – just as the visuals are also cranked up. The appropriately named “knife” curtain crashes down. Bang! Again and again. Each time it rises to reveal an evolving tableau of dancers pushing and hurtling themselves through choreography that rushes at us emotionally and visually. He wants us involved, perhaps even irritated, and this work is certainly not one that audience members can – or should – hide from. It’s a demanding piece for both the performers and the audience.

Sometimes the patterns and motifs are simple semaphores followed by the entire company, or it’s two couples sharply attacking space and being thrown into new shapes at all spacial levels – standing, in the air, or on the floor.

The stage is dressed starkly – opened to the wings so we can see right to the mechanicals and rigging.

Individuals and even the corps, when they rush and try to make a break for it, running across the stage (by birth month – it’s a rehearsal secret, so don’t tell anyone), are eventually returned to the unit as a connected whole. You know we’re being presented with a tough, ‘80s kind of view of the world. And when, in the last movement, the two couples are assimilated into and by the goose-stepping corps – who, with heads turned, look as if they are in a military trooping-of-the-colors – it’s not hard to connect the dots to the irony of Forsythe’s social commentary and contemporary pockets of Nazism. This, premiered by a company in the heart of Germany, Ballett Frankfurt.

The two couples we saw were fabulous. The first couple out were the amazing Ariana Lallone and Olivier Wevers. This “one hot ballerina” was ablaze to a white heat tonight as were Wevers and the second couple, sharply danced by Chalnessa Eames and Christophe Maraval. Kylee Kitchens was The Other Person, aka, the “mud woman” who leads the corps in their semaphoric and assimilating exercises.

New to the PNB stage was the introduction to its repertory of Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night,” staged by Christine Redpath, with costumes designed by Anthony Dowell. (Yes, that’s “Sir” Tony who was a star with the Royal Ballet and, until recently, its longtime director.)

Set to four Chopin nocturnes, “In the Night” is three pas de deux, with the fourth movement for all three couples. Each represent different aspects of a relationship from innocently romantic and tender to tempestuous. The second couple is probably the most different in that – according to Bart Cook, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s stager of this same work – they are representative of the nouveau riche and are really interlopers at this evening garden party. I find that the third couple is the one that moves me the most. As high-pitched as their relationship is – maybe like those that like to fight and kiss and make-up, theirs is the one that seems the most vulnerable, the most heartbreaking, and the one where we are so happy that they hold each other, clinging, as they go off.

I really like how Robbins hints at the relationships between the couples, using space and entrances and exits to suggest this. Only once, at the conclusion, do the couples actually stop, look at each other, communicate knowingly, and then return to their own worlds. Yet the relations are clear from how he’s progressively built what we know about each of them individually and as a group.

“In the Night” is an important acquisition; a good and solid addition to PNB repertory. The cast included Noelani Pantastico and Olivier Wevers; Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton; and Kaori Nakamura and Casey Herd. Each danced beautifully through the material and had a clear understanding of their dance characters and imparted this through a careful and dramatic rendition of the steps. Arabesques, turns, and being held upside down really mean something. If you like seeing unusual partnering moves, lovely costumes that suggest a long-forgotten but longed for place and time, to the atmosphere provided by Dianne Chilgren’s experienced playing of the Chopin, then this ballet is one for you – and for our times.

Two of the gems that came from the 1972 New York City Ballet Stravinsky Festival have also been added to the repertory – “Duo Concertant” and “Symphony in Three Movements.”

The first with Louise Nadeau and Le Yin is really a ballet in two parts. The first has the dancers listening and responding to the on-stage music rendered by Allan Dameron and Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi and the second is where the stage is lit merely by follow spots and frame only certain portions of the dancers’ bodies; a head and neck, an arm. This section immediately plunges us into high drama as Nadeau turns her head from en face to the right, as if searching for something lost. A single arm reaches across the light to her, and they reconnect – or do they?

Nadeau is dancing better than ever. Her technique sets a high tone and her intelligent dancing is always moving, always mercurial. This is a good part for the talented Yin to dig his teeth into, as not only does he get to show off his training, breeding, and articulate technique but also to dig into the character as presented by the choreography of the second part. A pairing that I perhaps would not have thought of at first blush but thought worked well, so bravo to Boal for seeing that this was a possibility.

Okay, the big blockbuster of the evening, hands-down, had to be Susan Pilarre’s staging of Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.” From its long, opening diagonal of corps women in simple tendu effacé en arriere, to its genius conclusion of no movement at the end as the curtain rang down, just a visually sharp tableau, this ballet is a feast for the eyes. And when those women in line begin to punch out space with alternating motifs, you know you’re going to be in for one, swell ride at the ballet.

As Annie Warbucks used to like to exclaim, “Great Leaping Lizards!” Thus, our excited utterance as Jonathan Porretta comes charging on in with the first of many huge assemblés, parallel and with the knees tucked up. Then in comes Carrie Imler who engages Porretta in a kind of jumping contest. Very cool and exciting. They are joined in sequence by Noelani Pantastico with Batkhurel Bold and Kaori Nakamura and Jeffrey Stanton. The entering motif for Nakamura is full of sharp coupés and includes a bravura sequence of two tours around the stage making en de dans piqués turns through an obstacle course of women, who are charging at her from the other direction!

Nakamura and Stanton’s six-plus minute “Balinese” pas de deux follows. Rippling arms, Buddha images and a flourish of legs and interactive designs.

It’s nice having the Company “back” after a Summer hiatus. We continue to be so fortunate to have PNB right here in our own backyard and fortunate to have a new artistic director who is intent on building from the legacy of Kent Stowell and Francia Russell and whom I’m confident will continue to surprise and delight us, year after year, with new and old ballets and who will continue to make PNB the top ballet company that it is.

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