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Pacific Northwest Ballet

'Points of View' Repertory Program

by Dean Speer

March 18, 2006 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s late-Winter repertory program, “Points of View,” is among the darkest and most serious in tone of my 30-plus years of observing this company’s offerings. Each work dealt with death, loss, isolation or, as in the case of Dominique Dumais’ newest creation, the dramatic and highly expressive side of the artistic nature. [Richard Tanner’s “Ancient Airs and Dances,” which tread the boards during PNB’s last repertory program, was originally booked to be on the bill this month, but was switched which I believe made for a happy circumstance.]

Each work was danced with utmost conviction, under-girded by the technical strength for which this company is known. Each was also operatic in terms of its scope, beauty, and universal message. A message which I interpreted to mean “anything less than love will not last and anything more than love, will diminish us all.”

In one work, the futility and wastefulness of war is encapsulated with the death of a young and religiously-diverse couple; in another, “self and pelf” pull in a young débutante who meets her doom in the whirlpool of riches and adornments of the self. The world premiere reveals aspects of an artist’s unresolved and troublesome journey.

The revival of Val Caniparoli’s “The Bridge” was well received. It was commissioned during PNB’s 25th Anniversary Season and premiered in 1998. Set to the Shostakovich “String Quartet No. 8,” with costumes by Victoria McFall and lighting by former technical director Randall Chiarelli, all of the elements – choreography, concept, production, music – come together seamlessly and create a powerful statement. I appreciated the opportunity to re-visit it.

Caniparoli wisely abstracted the story and gives us not one but five couples who, while sometimes sharing movement motifs, refract moments from differing points in time during their unsuccessful bid for freedom. I particularly like the one where the couple faces each other, and he pulls and swings her around himself, while she is in second position en pointe and tilted forward. Memorable also are the lifts that hold, seeming to capture a moment of hope, and then dissolve to the earth. It finishes with the male clearly being shot and both being encased in bright light while the female holds the upright male from behind.

The opening couple was Chalnessa Eames and Lucien Postlewaite, followed by Ariana Lallone and Christophe Maraval, Carrie Imler and Karel Cruz, Kaori Nakamura and Jordan Pacitti, and with Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers beautifully and deeply interpreting the duet that’s at the heart of this – if I can say it – anti-war ballet.

Quebecker Dominique Dumais’ second creation for PNB is, well, very Canadian. A showcase for Ariana Lallone (aka, “One hot ballerina!”), “Time and Other Matter” – to a score by David Lang – builds slowly. The dancers enter and exit, sometimes under the giant drop that’s in the upper left corner near the wing. I liked Dumais’ use of what appeared to be random or chance meetings of pairings and groupings of the dancers. They interact before tumbling away again under the drop. Someone suggested that the work is biographical of Lallone. However, I found it more telling of the choreographer herself; autobiographical, revealing much about her creative self and journey yet not in a narrative way – abstracting it for us. I did find it to have a Canadian sensibility about it. It’s hard to explain but I know it when I see it. It’s kind of like how I find myself modifying my vowels and speech rhythms slightly whenever I visit north of the 49th parallel. Canadians have their own “accent” as does this ballet. Both of Dumais’ creations for PNB have been strikingly different and I believe this new one is an interesting and strong addition to PNB’s artistic voice, and one worth subsequent viewings.

It’s been pointed out before that a World War (WWI) separates the two works of Ravel’s waltz music that comprise Francia Russell’s staging of Balanchine’s “La Valse.” For the first part, we see young men and women cheerfully on their way to a ball. In the second, it’s a dance gone awry, with fate casting a gloomy pallor over the ballroom. In her program note, the late Jeanie Thomas suggests that the swirling party-goers have joined the débutante in a macabre dance-of-death. “La Valse” is an important Balanchine creation and one that has been in the PNB repertory for over 25 years. Operatic in nature, like many tragic operas, it’s also very beautiful and I think this combination has kept it popular since its 1951 début.

Louise Nadeau was ravishing as the fresh white-tulle-encrusted late-comer to the ball who finds an arm to escort and dance with her during the last waltz of the first set but who succumbs to “self and pelf” in part two.

Mr. Balanchine has filled his work with stylized port de bras and motifs that we recognize and which truly tell the story. This is first set up by three women who, with their full-length gloved arms make gestures that suggest elegance and a learned sophistication. Some refer to them as the “Three Fates.” Mr. Balanchine, while a master of choreographic ballet, was also a man and master of the theatre and knew how to deploy effective theatrical devices well. I’m thinking of how “La Valse” ends with the entire ballroom madly running in joined and enclosed circles around the lifted form of the now black-tulle-encrusted débutante while the knife curtain comes quickly down for the last and crazily crashing chords. Brilliant.

This was an “A” cast with Nadeau paired with Wevers and Maraval as death. It’s a full-company work and while narrative, also shows off what this glorious body of dancers is trained to do: to fully realize the choreographic vision of many choreographers, ranging from Balanchine – which fits them like a glove – to those who are at the forefront, finding their own expressive voices, sometimes in an operatic way.

The fabulous PNB Orchestra was alternately led by maestros Stewart Kershaw and Allan Dameron.

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