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Having The Last Laugh

Pacific Northwest Ballet's "All Robbins" Program

by Dean Speer

31 May 2008 -- Seattle, Washington, USA

By all accounts Edward Gorey was a very eccentric person with a bizarre sense of humor.  He was a big fan of the New York City Ballet and was particularly smitten with the work of George Balanchine – never missing a performance for many years.

His scenic frontdrop design for Jerome Robbins’ 1956 comedic romp, “The Concert (or, the Perils of Everybody – A Charade in One Act)” is fitting and totally fun.  At its center is a grand piano with claw-like feet that suggests a very tense cat digging its claws into something – or perhaps being itself alive.  Wingèd ballerinas float above, perhaps to inspire, yet these are not cherubs.

At the conclusion of the dance, the main characters come out in front of the drop with their folding chairs, deliberately open them, and plunk down, sitting to look at us, the audience – implying that the joke is on us, and that perhaps, we ourselves are the actual show.

Before we get to this ending, we are treated to concert-goers and performers who represent archetypes: the out-of-sync corps de ballet; the ditzy ballerina who’s lost in her own world of fantasy; the chatty patrons; the latecomers; the hen-pecked husband; and fittingly, for Seattle, a scene where everyone has an umbrella.

It was a delight to enjoy Miranda Weese’s rendition of the ballerina.  Weese tends to impress one as a very serious dancer – which she is – but it was nice to see her tap into this part of her artistic palette as well.

“The Concert” is a solid, important addition to PNB’s growing canon of Robbins works.

Freed Fancy

While clearly of its 1944 era, “Fancy Free” depicts a time of innocence that’s been sadly lost to future generations.  Bored sailors on leave in a big city [New York] playfully teasing a young woman (who is actually ultimately in control of the men) by tossing her purse amongst themselves wouldn’t necessarily be realistic today – many women today would pull out a can of mace, or whip out a cell phone to call 911, or, at the very least, shriek and run away, unless they already knew the sailors.

It is a fun showcase for the three men who, each get a solo that highlights their dancing and acting abilities.  Impressive were Jonathan Porretta’s double tours en l’air to the splits and his à la seconde leap off of the bar.  Joshua Spell has the double trouble challenge of having to do all of the balletic requirements, but also to control these as he’s wearing taps on his dancing shoes, unlike the other two who have black jazz shoes.  His boyish charm and fresh-faced wonder of being in town were great fun.  Casey Herd’s sailor is one who pictures himself as God’s gift to women, and his a capella rumba displays great self-admiration.

Noelani Pantastico showed her considerable comedic gifts as the beleaguered gal with the elusive red purse, as did Louise Nadeau as the woman in purple whom Herd’s sailor really tries to impress.  Her initial reaction is more like, “Yeh, yeh; I’ve seen it all before.”

Ironically, the two ladies hit if off, do their own gossiping and while the men are fighting amongst themselves (behind the bar), they depart – too fed up and impatient.  Nevertheless, the guys go chasing off after a platinum blond, just when they were thinking they were over pursuing the gals.

After Dark

At the other end of the dramatic spectrum is “In the Night” – three dramatic yet contrasting pas de deux, set to Chopin nocturnes.  A fourth section brings all the couples together for a brief public moment, and then each go off with their partners.

It has become one of my favorite chamber ballets.  And what a deal for each of three couples who get to do it: departing ballerina Noelani Pantastico with Olivier Wevers; Ariana Lallone with Stanko Milov; and concluding with Louise Nadeau with Karel Cruz.  Each duet represents differing aspects of a relationship.  The first is the most innocent; the second perhaps have gone through fiery trials and are re-assuring themselves, growing from their uncertainties; and the last the most tempestuous – pushing at each other, until tenderly and sweetly reconciling.

Pantastico and Wevers are intelligent dancers who are on par with each other and who played off of each other very smartly.  Lallone and Milov each have inner fire and are tall, imposing dancers.  Their couple’s movement motifs suggest Polish roots, and are the most “character” in style.  They also have some unusual lifts that are starkly beautiful, such as the one where Lallone is upside down and begins making small, fluttering beats – one foot against the other. [As a side note, I’m still lobbying for Lallone’s doing Odette/Odile someday, perhaps partnered by Milov – why not!?]  Cruz is tall and long legged, while Nadeau is long of line but petite, yet this pairing worked very well for the dramatic intricacies required.  Cruz is still in the early phase of his career, and it is a pleasure seeing him work with an artist of the depth and caliber of Nadeau.  We look forward to more!

Pianist extraordinaire, Dianne Chilgren, accompanied “In The Night” and was the much-put-upon on-stage artist for “The Concert.”

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