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 Post subject: Pacific Northwest Ballet: New Works (November 2008)
PostPosted: Mon Nov 03, 2008 12:40 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2000 12:01 am
Posts: 14418
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Pacific Northwest Ballet's "New Works" program opens on Thursday, November 6 and runs through November 16 at McCaw Hall in Seattle. On the program are works by Mark Morris ("A Garden"), Kiyon Gaines ("M-Pulse"), Benjamin Millepied ("3 Movements") and William Forsythe ("One Flat Thing, reproduced"). Seattle press previews are focusing on Kiyon Gaines and his new work, his first for PNB's main stage series.

Philippa Kiraly in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Seattle P-I

Moira Macdonald in the Seattle Times:

Seattle Times

Here is link to the program information on the PNB website:

PNB New Works Program

Casting is now available:


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 Post subject: Preview with Stager Joanna Berman
PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2008 5:44 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 680
Location: Seattle, WA. USA
Staging Marks Berman’s New Career
Joanna Berman at Pacific Northwest Ballet
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

We met with stager Joanna Berman while she was in residence at Pacific Northwest Ballet to set Mark Morris’ “The Garden.” Our conversation took place on a break between busy rehearsals and we spoke while the perennial strains of the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ wafted up from their largest rehearsal hall where a ballet mistress was putting dancing flora through their paces.

One of my goals was to try to get at the heart of what makes a Mark Morris piece a Mark Morris piece – what is its essence?

Here is the summary of that lively and delightful exchange.

First of all, please tell us a little but about your background – how you got started in ballet and your career highlights.

I started dancing at the age of four in a recreational program but went to Marin Ballet at 8 and stayed there until I was 17. I credit Maria Vegh with my foundation, and certainly my technical foundation. I then spent one year at the San Francisco Ballet School; they started using me in the Company; I received my apprenticeship in January 1984 and was promoted to full company member later that year. I stayed until 2002.

I got to do the classics, such as the full-lengths plus Balanchine and Robbins, but my favorite thing was to work with choreographers on new works. I first met Mark when he made his work, “Maelstrom” for us. Paul Gibson (one of PNB’s ballet masters) was also in the cast with me. I find the process of creating new pieces really thrilling. I found that I mostly had to find within myself how to get at what each one, such as Val Caniparoli, Mark or others wanted.

Tell us about the process of staging a piece.

I enjoy being a regisseur – I get to enjoy the best of all worlds in this role. “A Garden” was first set on me, and the parts I did are in my body; I remember these this way – “muscle memory.” The other parts I’ve learned through video – even watching it once with Mark – and now have these “in my body” too. I also wrote down everything that I learned from my study. Demonstrating to the dancers what we want them to do really is the best way. There is no better substitute. This is the first time I’ve taught the ballet all the way through by myself and it’s gone well. I wasn’t sure how much time exactly it would take, as some parts are more time-intensive to teach than others, but by end of my first week here, I had completed all but two of the sections.
Mark’s own coaching is qualitative and this aspect is critical to pass along to the dancers.

In your view, what is at the essence of a Mark Morris piece?

[Smiles] Musicality must be a top priority. His works make perfect sense when in the process of working as a dancer – visually, physically, and intellectually – you can see the layers of the orchestra right in front of you in the choreography. Mark’s pieces are the most successful when stripped of performance affectations. The work becomes more pure, grounded, clear, and relaxed – this is often not where ballet dancers want to go. His work is rarely “presentational.” It’s very human, and typically devoid of sentimentality.

For example, the pas de deux that’s in “A Garden” is about two people who are going through similar things but are not really connecting with each other through eye contact – each person is very self-contained, and when the pas repeats – “exactly” as Morris wants – it feels so powerful and creates its own exciting energy.

Speaking of “A Garden” describe it to us a little. What will viewers find?

The music is by Couperin and orchestrated by Richard Strauss. There are simple costumes – academic looking – with no frills. Its signature has a distinct baroque style and an understated elegance. It’s for 12 dancers and is an ensemble piece, but everyone gets their moment. There are 8 movements, and only one is in unison. It’s a mix of combinations – of fantastic patterns and mathematical equations. The duet is to be performed as if improvised and there are moments of stillness.

I think readers would find the mechanics of exactly how you stage a work to be interesting. What’s been your process?

I didn’t know any of the dancers, so I started by teaching them one of the unison movements to see how they’d respond. Then I taught a contrasting, very different three-person movement. I worked with Peter [Boal] on the casting. It’s double and in some places, triple cast. I had two weeks of rehearsal – not a lot of time, but got it done, as I mentioned earlier, more quickly than I had first thought. What I thought would be the easiest movement to teach ended up being surprisingly difficult and time-consuming to teach, due to things like coming in on different counts or from different directions.

You had the chance to work directly with Mr. Morris. What is his creative process like?

Mark is not too collaborative – his main source of inspiration is the music. He’ll have a few things worked out, but not all of them. Things do evolve organically. I’ve found that dancers really need to pay attention – even when he’s not working with you, as you may find yourself suddenly being asked to do something that he had just been working on with someone else.

It’s a real mental exercise to work with him. His company members are smart and funny. Pay attention, work hard and it’s fulfilling.

Any valedictory comments or observations you’d like to share?

My husband and I have twin boys – ages 5 and a half – and I spend most of my time with them. I do teach Company Class at SFB twice a week. I limit my professional engagements but do hope to do more stagings of Mark’s work and also of Christopher Wheeldon’s work – it becomes a matter of balance.

My husband is a musician and he will be working with the San Francisco Symphony during my third and final week at PNB (Opening Night!), and I will be bringing the boys with me – to work but also to enjoy seeing the sights!

Dean Speer

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 Post subject: Interview w/choreographer Benjamin Millepied
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 1:39 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 680
Location: Seattle, WA. USA
Making Many Ballets
Choreographer Benjamin Millepied
Pacific Northwest Ballet

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

We caught up with the busy Benjamin Millepied in between his rehearsals at PNB’s spacious and lively Seattle studios where he was creating a new ballet for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “New Work” November 2008 program.

We’d like to hear about your new ballet for PNB. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started making dances.

I was born in France in 1977 and we moved to Africa when I was quite young. My mother was a dance teacher and I danced around the house while growing up, took some modern dance classes, then switched to and started ballet at 11. We had moved back to France and my mother had hired a teacher for her studio in Bordeaux. I enjoyed watching this new teacher’s classes and began taking from her. I took the Boys’ Class and also had a chance to do some “super” work in the opera house.

We decided that I should audition for the conservatory in Lyon – where my older brother was a flutist – where I stayed for three years. I later auditioned for and was accepted by School of American Ballet, where Stanley Williams was my main teacher.

I began making dances for the other students at my mother’s school while I was still quite young and really enjoyed it. I asked Peter (Martins) for opportunities and he said “yes.” I currently have an upcoming season at the Joyce and have put it totally put it together – financially, administratively, and artistically.

Please describe your new ballet for PNB.

For “3 Movements” I had to consider how much preparation and rehearsal time I’d have, as well as how familiar I might be with the dancers. It’s an 18 minute work to a minimalist score by Reich and each movement is quite different from the others. It uses 16 people – I wanted to make something strong to show off the group. The structure of the score was my inspiration to make the piece.

What is your creative process?

I made everything in the studio and was not collaborative in this case. The first movement has layers of sound and the movement quality makes it work. It was a fun project and the company looks great.

And the design elements?

Brad Fields is the lighting designer, the costumes were designed by my girlfriend, and the sets were designed here in the shop – everything is quite good.

Who and what are some of the influences on your work?

Music is first – what ideas it gives me. I find that I’m becoming more classical as I progress – and I’m only 31! I try to find the best ideas and have learned to not to get too attached to my initial ideas, as these may need to be changed.

Certainly Balanchine, Robbins, Cunningham (in Lyon), African dance, Limon, Preljocaj, and Bigonzetti have been some of the principal influences, choreographically, on me.

Expand on your season at the Joyce...

It’s going to be an evening of Brahms, Ravel, and Chopin. I believe the horizon looks bright for new opportunities. Expectations of dance are very different in New York, London and Russia – and certainly very different from France and Germany.

I try to focus on finding my own voice in movement and content. How steps are put together has become more important to me. I love working with groups now – before it was difficult making large, group dances, but a sense of ease has just developed through my work here at PNB. I use a group to create images and use them in more complex ways. This means that I have to be more prepared, and when I am, it opens up more opportunity to make the style more interesting. “3 Movements” has a huge number of changing stage patterns.

What do you see in your future?

I couldn’t do without choreography. I’ll be starting on the Chopin for the Joyce season next week. His music is some that I respond to the most, with both my grandfather and father being pianists. It’s for five couples who spin out subtle stories. I’m a choreographer who also checks for and reads the reviews, as I find them interesting and always learn something from them, even if it’s just a different point of view.

It’s important to keep open to new ideas and other views about one’s own work.

What might be some personal things you’d like readers to know about you?

I like to collect furniture and art – I got a great painting of a bullfight here at a flea market. It’s by Leona White, an artist that Lincoln Kirstein used to promote in the ‘50s. I try to invest myself in the biographies of the composers. I can read a score reasonably well!

Dean Speer

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 Post subject: Two Reviews
PostPosted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 1:49 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 680
Location: Seattle, WA. USA
From R.M. Campbell:
Seattle P-I

From Moira Macdonald:
Seattle Times

Dean Speer

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 3:28 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 680
Location: Seattle, WA. USA
What’s New Is Old Again
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “New Works” Program
November 8, 2008 Evening Show

by Dean Speer

Attempts to be au courant on purpose sometimes backfire, becoming dated practically before they are out of the box or perceived as a period piece. The most successful new or contemporary works are those that focus on the work itself and not its packaging or marketing. Among these examples are Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments” which seems as fresh today and more “modern” than some works created now. Certain classics speak and move audiences as much or more today than when they were first pushed out – “Swan Lake” being an example of a work that bombed at its premiere. Even this music might have been “lost” had not some of it been played at Tchaikovsky’s funeral and a new, revised version of “Swan Lake” made not too long thereafter.

Works that draw attention to themselves, pointing and saying, “Look at me! I’m new!” tend to get under my skin and ultimately, for the most part, lose my interest. When I’m looking at them, they can often become dull or boring; even while recognizing what might be their strengths, there is an inherent weakness in them that tends to bind and prevent them from rising to become great works of art.

I found myself being delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed Mark Morris’ “A Garden.” This is a case where the choreographer truly focused on the dance itself, letting it happen albeit guiding and shaping it. Much to be admired are his movement motifs and his clear, easy to follow deployment of them. Morris elements were sprinkled throughout, including quirky port de bras and having men having a solo to what might be considered feminine music to harpsichord – sprightly petit allegro steps and combinations. Another is his disregard for partnering conventions; in this case, pairing men with taller women and also same gender. His use of unison is smart too – all together but one lone, still figure providing both a focal point and a counterpoint. Morris returns to his motifs, showing them at the beginning and re-showing them during the ballet, concluding with a pose that suggests ease of conviction.

Karla Körbes and Olivier Wevers got to have a duet that was at once elegant and tender. I liked how her standing position was inverted into a lift over his shoulder. Each cast member was outstanding including: Kaori Nakamura, Ariana Lallone and Benjamin Griffiths.

A welcome showcase for PNB’s cornucopia of resident dance talent, “A Garden” is a sunny landscape with a period yet undated flavor that left me wanting more and which was over all too soon.

Kiyon Gaines is also a dance maker who has the good sense to let his dances happen and not let himself get in the way. He has quickly learned that once you get started, dances tend to dictate themselves, particularly when all compositional elements are clicking. His “M-Pulse” which is his first for PNB’s main stage series benefits. There is a sweet sincerity to it and a joy at finding itself. I was pleased that new music was commissioned especially for it, but moderately disappointed in the result itself. It’s a good, minimalist-style sound but it doesn’t reach deep or high enough to fully complement the dance, which when coupled, should elevate them both. The dance was better than the score and ended up being hampered by it rather than energized.

The cast boldly threw themselves into the work and particularly outstanding were Lindsay Dec and Carrie Imler who got a neat solo that challenged her with oppositional weight changes and quick, quirky and fun steps. “M-Pulse” is remarkable for its unabashed joy of discovery and freshness.

Benjamin Millipied is a very active choreographer both here and abroad, in addition to maintaining his performance schedule as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Being very aware of how different expectations can be in exotic locales like France versus England or Germany, he has the duel-edged sword of making a ballet that has appeal aplenty to both “traditional” audiences here and those elsewhere, as his work is known in each.

This belies the question, Who is it that decides what’s popular and what’s not? Is it the audiences, the media, those who create the works, the dancers, those who commission such works or ? Perhaps it’s a blending of some of each that provides the matrix that then spits out prophecies like the Oracle at Delphi, blessing some but not others.

Against this rather tortured backdrop, Millipied jumped into the fray with “3 Movements” to a score by [yet another] minimalist, Steve Reich.

Millipied moves groups and people around well, something that he reported that really came together for him in Seattle. Overall, I found the work to be inventive but perhaps a little too busy. He needs to pare it down and trust his material to speak for itself. These fixes are easy edits, though perhaps too late to adjust now. Never the less, “3 Movements” is a strong piece that nicely features the men in particular, putting them in slacks, shirts and ties with the women in cocktail dresses – suggesting an urban setting with a sense of restlessness throughout; an edginess.

“His work is very controversial” was Francia Russell’s response to my inquiry upon my first viewing of a William Forsythe piece many years ago. It’s nice to know that he’s kept this up, and his “One Flat Thing, Reproduced” certainly bears this standard.

With the dancers interacting with 20 metal tables – in, under, on, against – it’s certainly an entertaining piece and quite unlike classical ballet. For what it is, it’s an interesting work. If you’re looking for anything resembling a traditional dance – ballet, modern, or otherwise, this is not it.

One of my row mates took great umbrage to it, rounding declaring that any high school or college students could do it – admittedly without the refinements of stretched knees and pointed feet. She feels that it is squandering to take beautifully and highly trained dancers and have them do something she feels is beneath them.

Each of the first three works was accompanied by the mighty PNB Orchestra. The Forsythe dance is to a taped sound score. PNB’s “New Works” – a program that gives its audience lots to chew on.

Dean Speer

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