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You've Come a Long Way Baby

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Men in Ballet program

by Dean Speer

March 4, 2013 -- PNB Studios, Seattle, WA

The joke about male dancing when I was going through my own ballet training as a youth was that male dancing consisted mostly or only of the three “L’s:” Lift, Lean, and Lunge. How wonderful and nice it is that this has completely changed and that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Men In Ballet program demonstrated that this urban myth has long been dying and, hopefully, will never be revived from the beyond.

It also proved how much men are eager to have “dancey” and meaty parts – ones that I call delicious – and that they are more than capable of doing them and that they can also be artists of great depth.

We tend to think of the rise of men in ballet as a relatively recent phenomenon, since the early ‘60s, but in fact the first dancers were almost exclusively male until the advent of the professional dancer and the hegemony of women due to the Romantic Era and its pointe shoe.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Education Programs Manager, Doug Fullington, in tandem with Artistic Director Peter Boal, put together a terrific program that both showcased and informed giving an overarching view of men in ballet using as their springboard excerpts from its large and diverse repertory plus a couple of nuggets just for the occasion – and starring of course, not a few of their fleet of superb male athletes.

With salient remarks, Fullington provided the context, beginning with a male quartet from the latest creation of Paul Gibson, literally finished just minutes before, from his new “Mozart Pieces” that will be seen on the mainstage later this month.

This was followed by another male quartet, one which opens Balanchine’s iconic 1957 “Agon” with Gibson counting out loud the complex and irregular Stravinsky phrases, accompanied by Christina Siemens with Messrs. Batkhurel Bold, Jonathan Porretta, Ezra Thomson, and Jerome Tisserand.

Two duets were given – the Bransle Simple from “Agon” with Thomson and Tisserand, followed by Benjamin Griffiths and James Moore in a sunny dance from Gibson’s new work.

Charming was the next piece – a reconstruction of a rare Petipa work, the Sarabande from “The Pupils of Dupré” that had as its theme, the pas de bourée in all of its guises – plain, turning, traveling, with a partner danced neatly by Jahna Frantziskonis, Liora Neuville, Price Suddarth, and Ezra Thomson.

Comparing and contrasting two versions of the same variation from “Coppélia” was fun – first the original – or at least near original as revised by Petipa and Cecchetti with Mr. Suddarth, followed by the Balanchine choreography from 1974 with Kyle Davis.
Seth Orza interpreted Apollo’s solo that opens the “new” version of Apollo that Balanchine made in the late ‘70s – the one where he cut the opening prologue and had it begin with the solo where Apollo holds a lute.

It was a treat to see live a solo that I’ve only seen on film and represented in photos – the “Golden Idol” solo from Petipa’s full-length “La Bayadère.” I’ve seen the Paris Opera do this ballet and perhaps I just don’t recall this segment. This particular solo was added much later [1948] and is actually made by Nikolai Zubkovksy. Lots of turns and exotic jumps – very athletic and beautifully reconstructed on himself and danced by Mr. Davis.

One of the most poetic and lyric of all male solos is the one Balanchine made for Bart Cook in 1976, adding this piece to "Square Dance" just for him. It’s an extended adage sprinkled with bursts of energy and emotion that never the less evokes the Baroque, interpreted soulfully here by Mr. Porretta.

The concluding expressive male solo was from Jerome Robbins' wonderful “Dances at a Gathering” and is the one where the “Brown Boy” enters and reflects on the past and, perhaps, is also reconciling himself to the future. Very bittersweet and lovely and danced with great depth by James Moore.

The demonstration ended with the return to the upbeat “Mozart Pieces” – its Finale with full cast of Lindsi Dec, Karel Cruz, Kaori Nakamura, Griffiths, Moore, Cardea, Davis, Hipolito, Jr., and Thomson. While it would be premature to review Gibson’s latest ballet, it would be safe to say that audiences will find it delightful and filled with interesting and classical steps, pumped up to today’s expectations.

Today’s male an athlete but is also expected to be a great artist, capable of many things – clean technique, good at partnering, exciting, and providing a deep experience of great art.

All this, and more, can be found right here in our own backyard at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

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