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Pacific Northwest Ballet - Choreographers' Showcase

'The Flip Side'

by Dean Speer

March 22, 2006 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Palatable excitement was in the air for the latest edition of the forum presenting new choreography by Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers created on their peers – Choreographers’ Showcase. Last year’s edition was so good that it alone set a standard by which future programs may be measured.

One of the clear challenges to each choreographer who also made a piece last year was the problem facing all creative artists: having to top and not repeat themselves, the latter being probably the most difficult, and one which Paul Taylor has written about in his autobiography. [He reports that he works very hard at not repeating himself and finds this one of his greatest challenges.]

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. One is that while chatting during intermission with a friend, her husband, and Glenn Kawasaki, who is the sponsor of this program, she waxed on enthusiastically about how great it was to see the same pieces over again. Collectively, we stopped her, emphatically waving our hands and said, “No, no. It’s all NEW. Everything is a new, fresh piece. First time ever seen on the stage!”

Then I realized why she came to her conclusion and impression. It’s because Jonathan Porretta’s piece, “Jubilant,” has the same production palette as did his creation from 2005. It was like watching side B of an LP – virtually the same music and virtually the same white costumes but with new choreography. So, it’s understandable that she felt she was seeing a repeat. For his future oeuvres, he would be well to ditch the Bond and Miles music and veto anything in white.

On the credit side of the ledger, he is very inventive, gives us fresh ideas, knows how to move groups around well (no small feat!), and gave us a work that has lots of fun energy and exuberance. It’s clear that both sides of the proscenium enjoyed “Jubilant.” I liked his deployment of Carrie Imler, particularly the long diagonal from up left to down right. He tapped into the strengths of her own high energy level via her turns, jumps, and allegro. When she returned for one of her subsequent solos, Imler had the biggest, joy-filled grin on her face that invited the audience to enjoy the steps with her, allowing us to relax and get into the “groove” of this fast-paced piece as well.

Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite wowed us with their workout duet, which contrasted nicely with a more “traditional” one for Noelani Pantastico and Jeffrey Stanton. Another strength Porretta showed us was sticking to Doris Humphrey’s admonition of, “Never leave the ending to the end.” Even if he did make his ending last, it didn’t come across as an afterthought but was a strong and logical conclusion.

Stanko Milov’s “Heartfelt” was exactly that. A series of three pas de deux, Mr. Milov was also the composer. The ballet opened with Milov seated upstage left at a grand piano, with a work light overhead, hard at composing – playing, writing, editing, playing, tinkering. He then leaves and a recording of these compositions is heard as the first duet begins.

Milov gave us a strong opening, and I would have preferred that he stay at the keyboard and have had the dancers come in while he performed his compositions – perhaps coming in only in his imagination, or “for real.” I believe this would have logically continued what he set up for us to expect and would have made the work stronger. Each pas was lyrical and almost impressionistic. I liked how each flowed and was interpreted with appropriate expression by Lindsi Dec paired with Karel Cruz; Kari Brunson with Kiyon Gaines; and Laura Gilbreath dancing with the composer and choreographer.

Topping one’s own work – building on past successes – can be daunting. Olivier Wevers managed to climb this Matterhorn with his “X stasis,” to music by Adès. I mentioned in my review of “Points of View” that Dominique Dumais’ work came across to me as clearly being Canadian. Wevers made a work that impressed me as being pays-bas: low countries, northern European, which was a good thing. It didn’t look like anything that a North American choreographer might make (I know, I know; I’m engaging in some blatant stereotyping here), and I liked it.

Particularly striking was the male duet for Porretta and Postlewaite – a kind of yin and yang approach. Also very much in the intriguing European mode was the solo (duet?) created for elusive Chalnessa Eames, whose partner was a tailor’s dummy, who ended up on the floor with Eames at the end, tangled in her long hair. Casey Herd and Ariana Lallone caught the perfumed intent and humor of “Les Barricades mystèrieuses,” with Lallone in a skirt with a wide woven net pattern that, as it moved, threatened to have a life of its own.

Lallone has lots of that marvelous, mystic artistic quality we call, “je ne sais quoi.” I really liked how Wevers has her begin in his work for solo dancer, “Pigment.” Lallone is centerstage in a pose like Venus, with arms drawn across her chest in an “X.” As she begins, her elbows pull out sharply three times.

At times like Noh and others like Kabuki, Wevers melded a combination of gestures and steps that were evocative of the “color” of Japan. My only fuss is that I felt he could have been more disciplined. For example, the opening arm gestures set us up for a compositional direction that he did not take. There was sufficient motif material in the opening gesture to develop.

Rather than breaking the mood and giving us something new, I wanted to see how far he could have taken it, then to have that lead us to the next movement. I enjoyed how Wevers was clearly pushing himself with “Pigment,” and it was a thorough pleasure seeing Lallone interpret a small nugget of Nippon.

Innately talented for choreographing, Gaines gave himself the challenge of making a long ballet to tangos [Piazolla]. I believe the challenge was the music itself, and I’ve become convinced by watching ballets made to this genre over the years, that they don’t lend themselves to sustaining a choreographic idea. A handful may be fine, but it doesn’t seem to work when wanting to use them to undergird a more substantive piece.

Alas, this was true with Gaines’ “?” [Schwa], as the piece had trouble sustaining itself. Some parts were downright brilliant, and others were pleasant and interesting, but the parts did not sustain the whole. In terms of craft, I’m not convinced we needed the reprisal of “La Calle.”

Outstanding in my mind were the first “La Calle” (The Street), a duo with Benjamin Griffiths and James Moore and “Death of an Angel” – “La Muerte de Angel” with Josh Spell really breaking loose so much that I had to ask myself, “Who was that!?”

Like the other choreographers, Gaines has worked hard to top himself, and successfully so, even though I think the musical choices could have assisted and served his vision better.

PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase is a great and much anticipated annual event. This year’s was fun, challenging, and a spotlight on some very gifted talent. Next year’s (using PNB School students rather than Company members) promises to bring new moves to its club of Northwest fans, including myself.

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