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Pacific Northwest Ballet

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Patricia Barker Farewell Performance

by Dean Speer

June 10, 2007 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Headlines are usually fun for me to write.  I enjoy the challenge of coming up with something that encapsulates the event or which tries to capture the imagination.  After drafting about a page of potential ones such as: “Assoluta?  Absolutely!” and “Cheers, Tears” or even “The Roar of the Crowd, the Scent of Roses,” you’ll see that the above headline is a blank with brackets around it.  I thought that somehow this would be a better symbol to mark the retirement of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s incomparable Patricia Barker from the stage. Blank because so many phrases could describe the event, blank because no one phrase is perfect without the others, and blank because of the void her retirement leaves on the ballet stage.

Several things impressed me at this event.  One was seeing her pat the back of her “Agon” pas de deux partner, Olivier Wever, upon conclusion of this still amazing duet.  This signaled for me a measure of her character.  Another was the sheer joy with which she tackled each of her self-assigned parts.  She never let up on the concentration, hard work, technique, artistry or any of that for a moment, yet it was clear that she was riding a wave of satisfaction throughout the evening, allowing herself to enjoy and savor every moment.  She was enjoying dancing.

It was also thrilling to experience the genuine roar of the crowd as we each rose in tribute and thanks.  I was additionally impressed by her smart programming – putting in four ballets that represent a cross section of her career.  “Le Corsaire” pas de trois; the queenly Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream;” the earlier-mentioned pas de deux from “Agon;” and finally, Act IV of Kent Stowell’s setting of “Swan Lake.”  I was even more impressed that she had the artistic sense to give us the famous iconic pas de deux from Act II of the same ballet as her encore and true finale.  She knew we needed more, and somehow bouréeing off in Act IV was not quite “it.”  But this one was.

The film montage put together by “her prince” husband Michael Auer was a delight.  We got to see pictures of her taking class early in her training; enjoying watercraft; jumping off of a cliff into a pool of water. There was also ephemera, such as program covers and posters from where PNB has toured, and shots of her making dance art in the studio with longtime mentors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell.  Barker narrated portions and embedded the important message of continuing ballet’s legacy by providing scholarships to future generations of aspiring artists, in the form of  an endowment that has been set up under her name. It’s clear that Auer and Barker adore each other and this medium brought us closer to knowing both of them.

We enjoyed the remarks given by Peter Boal and Francia Russell, including Russell’s observation that when Barker came to the PNB School, she was, “a young colt and a bundle of contradictions.”

Okay, let’s get to what you really want to know: in Corsaire she did 26 fouettés with a total of 28 revolutions.  And, yes, every ounce of her formidable talent was deployed: extension, jump, elevation, attack, phrasing, allegro.

I adored the complete hush of the audience during “Swan Lake”. Were we all aware that we were so attentive? One of those magical, marvelous moments that’s important to note.  It was great having a partner change from Jeffrey Stanton (Act IV) to Stanko Milov (Act II, encore)– very dramatic and a neat way for them to pay tribute to her.

I was pleased she included as much of the full company as these excerpts could include – corps for “Swan Lake” and dance partners Wevers, Stanton, Milov, and Casey Herd.  Other notables on stage included Jonathan Porretta in the “Agon” Pas de Trois and as Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream;” Mara Vinson in the Second Pas de Trois in “Agon” with Batkhurel Bold and Karel Cruz.  Porretta was picture perfect in the First Pas de Trois from this ballet, as were his female counterparts Maria Chapman (who is Barker’s high-arched foot successor) and Lesley Rausch. Young PNB School students were used as Butterflies, Fairies, and Oberon’s Pages, giving us a glimpse of the full range of PNB ballets – those that use and have roles for full corps de ballet, soloists, and children.

With a deafening roar of loving approval and recognition, all too soon the curtain came down as we – from both sides of the footlights – said thank you and farewell to one of our own ballerinas.

[One fun trivia statistic: I recall reading recently that Patricia Barker used over 4,000 pairs of pointe shoes during her career.  One pair requires about three yards of ribbon, so that’s 12,000 yards or 6.818 MILES of ribbon!]

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