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Well Seasoned:

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Past, Present and Future Program

by Dean Speer

November 5, 2005 -- McCaw Opera House, Seattle, Washington

Well, let’s cut to the chase and get to the “Mopey” topic right away. If, as Artistic Director Peter Boal has stated in post-performance talks, one of his goals in presenting new ballets is to get people talking about them, he has very successfully fulfilled this ambition with Marco Goecke’s “Mopey.” My own little group engaged in lively discourse for at least 45 minutes. By those criteria, this PNB solo premiere is a smash hit.

Danced with Joanthan Porretta’s 100 percent energy, focus, and artistic commitment, it’s built on a hand gesture motif that builds over the course of its 14-minute length and which takes it to unexpected and unusual places – a quick sit fall to the floor, the hand leading the torso and back in shaking, undulating, and jabbing reaches – and to moments both humorous and brooding. Goecke seems to be quite aware of building and structuring his piece. It’s not random. It’s much more developed in a sophisticated way than would appear at first glance, which might suggest that it’s a light and simple piece.

For all its newness, the piece did not go far enough for me. It could also be better titled. For the average ballet-goer who may not be familiar with modern dance, it could appear to be fairly radical. It certainly is a modern dance piece. I find myself coming back to a mantra that repeats how important it is for dancemakers to research and know about dance history. While Goecke’s movement experiments may be new to him and to some audience members, they are neither as fresh nor as ground-breaking as I would have liked for them to be. I look forward to a future group work by Mr. Goecke to see how it fits in with PNB’s repertory. Will it be something new or something newly-made?

“Concerto Barocco” on the other hand, is at the other end of the choreographic spectrum and is the oldest work (1941) on the program. Yet, no matter how often I see it, I find that it comes across as fresh and new, despite its familiarity. I’ve often said it’s a lesson in (ballet) choreography. Staged by Francia Russell, it’s been in the PNB canon for 27 years.

Kaori Nakamura as Violin 2 and Louise Nadeau as Violin 1 were well matched. Nakamura is a powerhouse of technique and attacks this bravura part with the kind of verve I find exciting. Technique is certainly no problem for Nadeau either and it’s great to see her expressive interpretation. Both make each step and pattern seem fresh, approaching the movement as if it’s being done for the first time.

A group modern dance made for ballet-trained dancers, Nacho Duato’s “Jardi Tancat” is a miniature gem of expression about our relationship to the Earth and our continuing struggle to survive and thrive in a rather harsh environment. The dancers beat the ground and rail against the gods in their attempt to reconcile their lives and their condition.

Among the best of Duato’s creations, it’s filled with Martha Graham (Graham “lite” – for they don’t really ‘contract’ and ‘release’) shapes and juxtapositions. Audiences LOVE this piece and, it’s no wonder given the taut and emotionally intense reading by the ensemble (Ariana Lallone with Jeffrey Stanton; Mara Vinson with Batkhurel Bold; Carrie Imler with Olivier Wevers). Stager Hilde Koch worked closely with each cast member over the course of a couple of weeks and this kind of detailed and careful coaching shows and clearly pays off.

Each dancer was totally fabulous and performed with an intensity that helped peal the layers of the work back and reveal what Martha like to call “The Inner Landscape.”

My first, gut reaction when the curtain went up on Kent Stowell’s “Hail to the Conquering Hero” was “It’s dated!” – and this was before anyone had moved a muscle. I think it was my reaction to the men’s tunics. I also have to remind myself that in 1985 the Company did not have the across-the-board depth that it now enjoys. I’ve always thought “Hail” to be one of Stowell’s best works and have always enjoyed it, so found myself a little surprised at my own response. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it and like the glimpse into Stowell’s mini-bio on Handel’s struggle to create that led to his amazing Messiah (Handel being the Conquering Hero in the work’s title).

Christophe Maraval had everything right as the Hero of the opening number – fabulous technique and beautiful line coupled with an inner sense of this character’s suffering and triumph. Patricia Barker was radiantly cool and calm in the Xerxes pas de deux at the heart of the ballet. Her character calms and centers the creative impulses and pushes the Hero to create and inspire anew. Barker has been at a peak for the last several seasons and it’s great seeing her range as a dancer, perfectly cast and bred in Balanchine ballets to something expressive like Stowell’s 20 year-old “Hail.” As impressive as the all-white set and lighting are, someone commented to me that a change of either one of these might make the piece seem less of the ‘80s and more visually relevant to what today’s discerning and discriminating ballet audiences want and expect.

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