Fellers Under the Umbreller
Pacific Northwest Ballet at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival 2007
3 September, 6:45 p.m., Bagley Wright Theatre
by Dean Speer
Presenter One Reel’s Seattle Music and Arts Festival – the sometimes aptly named Bumbershoot Festival – is a mecca for the vox populi hungering for buffet-style art, served with a dash of class, lots of starch, a few vegetables, and some yummy desserts and drinks thrown in. The prix fixe menu includes popular music of many stripes, visual art, new performance art, street performers, and vendors selling everything from baskets made from recycled chopsticks [I’m not making this up] to contemporary lava lamps to faster-than-fast Starbucks Coffee.
One of the more intriguing acts that caught my wayward eye was a new hybrid of the Prius sort: “Can Can Carnival” which describes itself as a blend of dance, pushing the boundaries of cabaret into a juicer called “cabaresque.” Their 30-minute act (performed by [and I’m also not making this up] Herr Doppelganger, Johnny Boy, Rainbow, Benihanna, and Fushcia Foxxx) was certainly breathlessly aerobic. Energetic to the point of being manic and humorous in that slightly naughty “wink and wave” way. Performed to music provided by a live band, they kept their audience captive indeed. One of the women – I think it was Fushcia Foxxx, although I’m not entirely sure – had a full 12 O’Clock penchée arabesque and nice line. It was clear that she had real ballet training. The men seemed to be very strong, good partners and were on stage for at least two-thirds of the time.
Another one that drifted into my line of fire was a street urchin who, while playing a very good classical violin, also did hoolahoop. Again, I’m not making this up. Her partner was a very good juggler, keeping a plate spinning aloft while holding it up with a stick in his mouth.
My appetite whetted by these aperitifs, I made my way over to the theatre where Pacific Northwest Ballet was slated to perform several contemporary works from its repertoire, including two pas de deux that premiered at its Choreographers’ Showcase earlier this past June. I was most pleased to see fans lining up in the buffet line for this event. [I should make clear that patrons pay one price for admission to the Seattle Center Fair Grounds, and this includes entrance to all acts on a first-come, first-serve basis. So it really is an arts buffet, with people scientifically choosing and hoping what acts to catch.]
Well-chosen for this atmosphere was “Jardi Tancat” by Nacho Duato with soulful music by Maria del Mar Bonet and which featured an “A” cast of veterans: Ariana Lallone [aka, “one hot ballerina”] with Casey Herd; Mara Vinson and Batkhurel Bold; and Carrie Imler with Olivier Wevers. It was very nice and pleasing to see Imler back on the boards, dancing again after being sidelined for much of this past season.
“Jardi” is a tight piece about a close community and it was given a powerhouse rendering. While the women have plenty to do, particularly in parts given to Lallone and Imler, the men are well featured. Historically, men have not always been given a lot of prominence – and a lot of dance water has gone under the bridge to get us to where we are today – but this piece really gives the guys opportunities to not only show off their considerable techniques and prowess but also the depth of characterization and artistry each, and as a group, they bring to this popular nugget. With only a cast of six, it works well in the Bagley Wright space and brought the audience cheering to their feet during the bows.
Next in line was a re-casting of Wevers’ duet set originally did on PNB students for Choreographers’ Showcase. The students reportedly captured well Wevers’ way of moving, and certainly and easily did Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite. I’m not sure I would have titled it after the cast members (“Kaori and Lucien”), but it’s certainly truth in advertising.
Wevers’ pas is loosely structured around the traditional order of a classical ballet pas de deux: entrance; adagio; a solo for each; and a coda, although he had the female go first for her solo in this case. He smartly uses and returns to motifs – fourth position, sharp relevés, pushes off center and balance, double shakes of the head for the man. It showcased these two amazing dancers very well. At about the time when the piece was hinting at collapsing in on itself, soufflé-like, Wevers rescues it from the choreographic oven and gives it a firm ending.
I was very pleased with Stacey Lowenberg’s first choreographic essay, “Rushed Goodbye,” also first done for students on the Choreographers’ Showcase. Pleased because she is the first female Company member to take advantage of this opportunity and pleased with the result – a work that was just the right length for its subject matter and material. I liked the overall dressing of the stage palette – light red with a drapery and matching costume for PNB Soloist Lesley Rausch and something complementary for Karel Cruz, also of equal rank.
Like Wevers, Lowenberg was smart in giving herself motifs as a springboard for developing her work. She returned to these several times, using either repetition or other compositional devices such as transference – as when she had Rausch and Cruz change positions and do the same movement yet changing roles. Rausch is a bright performer with a very strong fundamental technique and a nice plastique. Cruz is able to marshal his power and artistic depth into this duet that evoked feelings of longing yet that of isolation – something bittersweet. Lowenberg wisely brought it back to the “tonic chord” – the same opening pose on bended knee with Rausch extending herself over Cruz’s leg in a very legato and romantic pose.
Lowenberg is well on her way, having shown she can make a very nice chamber work. She has a commission to choreograph the promotional film dancers for the Peking Opera Acrobats for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I hope she also gets the chance to expand her experience with a group ballet sometime in the not-too-distant future.
A hungry audience member while looking over the printed program before the show, exclaimed, “…the best for last!,” referring to Marco Goecke’s “Mopey.” While it’s not necessarily my own cup of tea, you cannot help but greatly admire and applaud its performance by James Moore. There is a lot that happens – and not – during this extended solo. It’s up, it’s down, it’s athletic, it requires a quixotic change of mood, it requires enormous control – and importantly for the audience, it’s fun.
Artistic Director Peter Boal chose well for this year’s edition of Bumbershoot on parade. One that showcased PNB’s range, its ever lovely dancers, and particularly its fellas. Whether conscious or not, it’s great to see this recently retired NYCB star cull works that bring male dancing to the fore – and to the front of the arts buffet line at Seattle’s be-there-among-a-few-thousand-of-your-closest-friends [40,000] Bumbershoot offering. It will be interesting to return in 2008 and see what new delectable delights the chefs prepare for an ever, eager crowd.