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Pacific Northwest Ballet

Opening "First Look" Performance

by Dean Speer

September 15, 2007 - McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Going Gala

I’ve always wanted to return to the exotic Mediterranean coast since leaving it as a young ballet student many years ago.  Pacific Northwest Ballet provided a virtual means via its “From Monte Carlo with Love” themed “First Look” 2007.  Eschewing the much-used moniker “Gala,” PNB has re-tooled its language by calling its annual opening gala, “First Look” – which it was.

Amid sleek black décor and gambling tables set up in the opera house’s café, Club Royale, PNB gave us a peek at this year’s upcoming season:  The first movement of Balanchine’s royally glorious “Ballet Imperial,” followed by a premiere for PNB – Edwaard Liang’s duet, “Für Alina,” David Parsons’ suspension-of-disbelief “aerial” solo “Caught;” from Europe, the balcony scene from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette;” and Jerome Robbins’ comedic “The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody).”

It was also our first real peek at Miranda Weese in a principal role.  Ms. Weese has permanently joined the company and while she did perform in a number of ballets last year, this was an opportunity to get to know her dancing more intimately.  As the lead ballerina in “Ballet Imperial,” she was clear and sharp, with good energy and focus.  Her work was solid and it was nice seeing her paired with Casey Herd.

Newly-minted that night (it was announced from the stage which made it all the more exciting and special) as a Principal Dancer, Mara Vinson essayed the secondary ballerina part first made for Gisella Caccialanza, the god-daughter of Enrico Cecchetti.  Both would have been proud – Vinson is a strong and very experienced dancer who made the steps seem effortless and fun.

Anytime either Carla Körbes or Batkhurel Bold are cast in anything, run – don’t walk – to the box office.  And when they are paired together, cast aside the throngs in front of you to get to the front of the line!  Together in “Für Alina” by Edwaard Liang, they made the most of a ballet about isolation and exile – perhaps being nostalgic for lives lived past.  Or perhaps they are even grieving together.  Never the less, this ballet builds through a series of short scenes – sometimes solo, sometimes in duet, sometimes moving separately but together.  Körbes and Bold are artists of the first rank  – blessed with amazing natural facility, superior training, and above all, depth and a thoughtful, elevated approach to each ballet.

When I first saw “Caught” done by the David Parsons Dance Company a couple of years ago, it certainly did grab my attention.  The premise is that we see a solo dancer only in the air, through the use of a darkened stage and a strobe light.  And Parsons is very smart and clever in how he builds this – we are able to follow the logic of it and when the dancer seems to drop out of the air and land on the floor at the conclusion, it’s a truly delightful moment.  What better person to cast in this than the PNB’s resident Belgian, Olivier Wevers?  Wevers always dances smartly and it was clear he was transmitting this work’s message – it’s humor, kinetic qualities, and timing.  Like the previous pair, Wevers is also blessed with beautiful line and a bounty of experience. He brings a certain noblesse to each ballet – even contemporary ones like “Caught.”

The next excerpt was very French.  Set to Prokofiev’s score, if Maillot’s rendering of the balcony pas de deux from his full-length “Roméo et Juliette” seemed slightly overwrought, think of how the French tend to express themselves.  Who else says the poetic pomme de terre for ‘apple?’  This couple didn’t spend a lot of time deciding if they were in love or not – they were in love!

And what better “First Look” couple than Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite?  Mr. Postlewaite was promoted to soloist that night – also a move very well-deserved.  Both are young, beautiful dancers with technique to spare.  And in Postlewaite’s case, blessed with a true arabesque, so unusual in a man.  Each brought a sense of sweetness to their roles.  I know I look forward to seeing the complete ballet later this season.

A fitting conclusion of the performance portion of the non-gala gala was “The Concert.”  This ballet is a hoot and if you wanted to see into the minds of concert-goers and into some of ballet’s best nightmares, this one if for you.

Perfectly cast in the ballerina part first made on Tanaquil Le Clerq, Louise Nadeau was the ideal foil to Dianne Chilgren’s attempt to play a serious concert of Chopin at the piano.  But when Nadeau hugs the piano and then falls asleep while still seated there, we know any pretext of this being anything but a farce is over.  Ditzy dancers, feisty patrons (who would have thought it possible of sweet Noelani Pantastico?), a husband out to get his wife, umbrellas, and butterflies – what more could a ballet patron and music lover want?!

The mighty PNB Orchestra was led by Conductor Stewart Kershaw.

Our glamourous night in Monte Carlo ended with dinner on stage.  Planted at each table were either dancers and/or PNB staff.  What a delight and thrill to be able to get to know these artists a little better.

PNB gave us a great “First Look” at its third season under the direction of Peter Boal – and what a slick glimpse it was


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