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Bumbershoot Boosts Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet at Seattle's Bumbershoot Arts Festival

by Dean Speer

1 September 2008 -- Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle

With only one chance to show its mettle, Pacific Northwest Ballet put together a one-hour program that fit well within Bumbershoot’s mantra of variety and drive-through presentation of the arts.

Programming for any bill is part science, part art, and part voodoo.  Are the presenter’s wishes being fulfilled?  How do the pieces play off each other?  Is everyone who needs to dance given at least one slot?  Ditto casting.  Notwithstanding, what do you want to say to the audience yourself, and when you do, how does that inform or shape their views of your art and of your profession in general?

The matrix of these considerations falls directly into the lap of a presenting organization’s artistic director.  Even with sage and experienced advice from colleagues and staff, it ultimately boils down to one person making sound decisions that may affect many.

Such was the case with Peter Boal’s selection of the three works that represented PNB this year at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival: “Nine Sinatra Songs” by Twyla Tharp – who was in residence at PNB, creating two new ballets; and two works by company members – Jonathan Porretta’s “Lacrymosa” and “Interrupted Pri’Sh’Zh’En” by Kiyon Gaines.

The performances of each were among PNB’s best.  The dancers looked fresh, refreshed, strong, together, and fully ready to tackle the assignments of this year’s quickly upcoming season that would begin in a few, short weeks.

“Nine Sinatra Songs” was the “biggest” of the works, with seven couples.  “Lacrymosa” is a brief pas de deux, and Gaines’ work is for five men.

Each of the seven couples were well-cast and completely “on.”  These included Kari Brunson and Karel Cruz; Ariana Lallone and Batkhurel Bold; Maria Chapman and James Moore; Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta; Carla Körbes and Jeffrey Stanton; Jodie Thomas and Josh Spell; and Kaori Nakamura and Olivier Wevers.

In “Lacrymosa,” Chalnessa Eames and Karel Cruz’s duet was one of remembrance.  I liked how it began with her clutching his back and the two of them rocking back and forth, building into a walking pattern.  Ultimately, he leaves and she is left alone with her life and thoughts.

In Kiyon Gaines’ work, anytime you put five superb male technicians and artists into the same room, let alone the same piece, you’re going to enough energy and excitement to light up and power a small city.  Even more so with crafted choreography and the likes of dancers Batkhurel Bold, Lucien Postlewaite, Benjamin Griffiths, James Moore, and Jordan Pacitti.  I note, if I’m not mistaken, that with the exception of Bold, each is a former student of Boal’s at School of American Ballet.

Gaines knows how to use a motif effectively; in this case, a big step, almost a small leap and a thrust of the back leg into a sharp attitude.  He also incorporates elements of popular hip-hop – arms at right angles that switch and invert.  He fills the sections with many quick steps, concluding with one that allows each guy to “strut his stuff” with a short solo and then finishing with an ensemble finale but with each in their own special spotlight – a neat trick of honoring the individual but recognizing the whole at the same time.

The phrases, particularly the last half of the work, parcel out in fours.  I mentally turned off and tuned out the sound score and tried counting what I was seeing visually, and it was phrasing in four. [Move, two, three, four, now new thing/phrase, two, three, four.]  I believe he’d find it to be stronger to change phrases on the previous beat or “and,” rather than on one.  Continuing to have movement phrases of four is fine, but shifting where they begin in relation to the music would also “counter” the music.

My other observation is that I would have liked to have seen stage patterns that used more depth, particularly circles.

Gaines is a fresh choreographic voice and one that I hope continues to find and build strength.

Annually pushing through the teeming crowds of Bumbershoot to enjoy the oasis of PNB is definitely worthwhile and signals its adoring audience of the good things to come.

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