Barefoot at the Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Director’s Choice” Program
Saturday, 25 September 2010, 7:30 p.m. Performance
McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington
by Dean Speer
What is modern dance? How do we define it? For that matter, what is ballet and how do we define it? These questions and more converged on and off stage during Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Director’s Choice” bill which featured three works that were performed in bare feet and one in ballet slippers and pointe shoes.
Modern dance means something different to North Americans than it does to our counterparts in other parts of the globe. For us, it tends to have some specific meanings such as – typically barefoot dancing that traces its roots to Denishawn, Martha Graham [who, by the way did not like the word “modern” and much preferred “contemporary”] or even Merce Cunningham -- and which rarely includes any of the ballet vocabulary. Others tend to embrace the word “contemporary” which can include modern dance but also ballet that’s of a “now” mode and which may or may not be done in bare feet or typical ballet wear and which might include modern dance movement, ballet vocabulary, or a “fusion.”
These days, I believe perhaps the best way to define for ourselves “Is it modern dance?” or “Is it ballet?” is to look at what kind of training it takes to well execute the respective demands of the choreography.
Using this criterion for this program, I’d classify the pieces on PNB’s first repertory program as follows:
1. “Petite Mort” modern dance
2. “Sechs Tänze” ballet
3. “Jardi Tancat” modern dance
4. “Glass Pieces” ballet
Numbers one and three could be performed by some very well-trained modern dance companies, while numbers two and four require those that have been truly trained in the ballet and have the right kind of technique.
The second and last are the newest acquisitions to PNB’s repertory with “Sechs Tänze” being a companion work to Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort” and it’s fluffy and silly. “Petite Mort” has some visual humor, particularly with the use of the iconic rolling period dresses but its overlay is serious.
“Jardi Tancat” by Nacho Duato is not only his first choreographic output but is perhaps his best. I’ve seen a few of his works; they look similar, seeming to come from the same movement palette. PNB has been doing Jardi for 14 years and it was very satisfying to see a seasoned cast of veteran performers and to welcome Jeffrey Stanton back to full dancing – Ariana Lallone, Rachel Foster, Carrie Imler, Stanton, Batkhurel Bold and Olivier Wevers.
I was distressed and disappointed (to say the least) to learn via press release that Peter Boal has decided not to renew Ariana Lallone’s contract for what would have been her 25th anniversary year with the company. What long-term negative consequences could result from giving her one more year? Lallone’s performances from day one have had a special resonance to them and I’m certainly going to hang on every gesture and appearance she makes in the ensuing months. She is certain to be sorely missed.
We also welcomed back Maria Chapman after a too-long absence – about a year – in the central pas de deux of Jerome Robbins’ “Glass Pieces.” She appeared in good form and Stanton, as her cavalier, provided complementary support which is one of his many strengths.
“Glass Pieces” is my favorite choreographic work done to minimalist music. He knows just how to do it, does it well, and is prudent about length – not too long but long enough for development and to let this unfold. I’ve enjoyed this ballet when I’ve seen it elsewhere and I’m very happy that PNB has been able to bring it in; an important acquisition and one that audiences will continue to enjoy.
With the exception of the composer, Maria del Mar Bonet, singing her own songs on a recording used for “Jardi Tancat,” each of the evening’s dances were accompanied by the mighty PNB Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Allan Dameron.
In conclusion, a very strongly danced program by a dedicated and committed cast in dances that bridged the modern and ballet genres. Works that were light to semi-weighted and a dandy lead into PNB’s 2010-11 season and to its next repertory program of “All-Tharp” works in November.