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Pacific Northwest Ballet

All Premiere Program

by Dean Speer

November 4, 2006 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

If the last PNB repertory outing was “Director’s Choice,” then this “All Premiere” repertory edition might be called “Choreographers’ Choice.” Choreographic commissions present both creative opportunities and challenges – and restless and relentless choices that can improve and strengthen the work. Composition is a tricky process and especially so in dance, as your instruments of expression are right there in the studio with you, expecting you to be brilliant.

From the standpoint of composition, I found Ulysses Dove’s “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” to be the most sound work on the program and a more developed and mature work than his popular “Red Angels.” One of the cast members reported to me that he gets goose bumps just thinking and talking about the piece. It’s an emotional work (subtitled “Odes to Love and Loss”) intimate in nature, yet grand in its vision of the elevation of human relations.

I liked his opening circle motif with the dancers taking hands and lunging forward into the center of this circle into a fondu coupé position and using sweeping rond de jambes. Dove made this a truly ensemble piece for the three women and three men. Even though the group is broken up into smaller units as he explores and develops his material, there is always an overall sense of the whole and when they re-connect, Haiku-like, at the end, it makes a strong case for choreographers knowing the basic compositional tools and how to use them.

Patricia Baker has reached that marvelous artistic point in her career development where, chameleon-like, she changes radically from one ballet to the next. I had to remind myself that, yes, that was Barker. I recall how Deborah Hadley had this gift of being able to completely physically transform herself (or so it seemed) from role to role, looking so different and, like Barker now, sometimes hardly recognizable, both subsuming their own personalities and temperaments to the demands of each ballet.

It was fun seeing Lindsi Dec in with Barker, Ariana Lallone (aka, “...one, hot ballerina!”), and the amazing Batkhurel Bold, the elegant Christophe Maraval, and the impressive Stanko Milov. Dec has an innate dramatic sense that was deployed to good effect.

Next on my hit parade list would be “Waterbaby Bagatelles” by Twyla Tharp which made a really good ‘closer.’ Tharp is known for combining strict discipline with what appears to be loose and quirky movement. This palette works toward fun here. While the women have plenty to do, it’s really a great showcase for the men. Batkhurel Bold led the platoon, each of whom really seemed to be enjoying himself. From turns to shoulder shaking to twisting jumps and floor work, the audience ate up every inch of this male extravaganza. Tharp must certainly have had a good time when she first created this piece for the Boston Ballet in 1994.

Peter Martins’ “Valse Triste” was very nicely danced by Louise Nadeau and her partner Jeffrey Stanton. More than a solo but less than a full-blown pas de deux, it came across as a solo for the ballerina with partnering. It starts out well but doesn’t really go anywhere compositionally. Both Nadeau and Stanton have technique and experience to burn, and their deeply-felt interpretations made this pas more than a piece d’occasion.

Now we come to Victor Quijada’s much-publicized large-scale choreographic début for a ballet company, “Suspension of Disbelief.” Unfortunately, his movement palette – which for purposes of discussion, I’ll put under the rubric “folk” – just doesn’t stage well – at least not for a sustained work. While perhaps exotic enough to enlighten and entertain a segment of the ballet-going public, it is common fare in lots of dance studios – those where hip-hop and lyric predominate and where ballet is the exotic import – and all dances rarely exceed three minutes in length. Even with the consistent and superb performances of the dancers [such as the ever amazing Jonathan Porretta], their punch and energy were not enough to sustain choreography that was more about presenting a style than about taking its material and building on it. The piece became tedious, as the overall workdidn’t go anywhere, which I’m confident was not the choreographer’s intention. Quijada has a talent for inventing fresh movement ideas. He just needs to craft these ideas better into a more cohesive whole.

I was pleased to see how full the house was at the evening show I attended. Drawing in those who are new or returning to the ballet is important and the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy itself, particularly as the dancers got to showcase themselves in new and sometimes exotic ways. Commissioning and presenting new works is important and PNB must be applauded for continuing to take artistic risks.

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

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