Having A Ball
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “All Tharp” Program:
“Opus 111,” “Afternoon Ball;” “Waterbaby Bagatelles”
6 November 2010, Evening Show
McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington
by Dean Speer
After many decades of ballet and dance-watching, I’ve become increasingly convinced that dance maker and American modern dance pioneer Doris Humphrey got it wrong with her dictum “All dances are too long.” Rather, the truth appears to be “All dances are autobiographical.”
I believe creative artists put more of themselves into their works than they perhaps realize. Authors are sometimes known to have said “look for me in my writings.” So too of choreographers – even the most abstract ballet informs us about its maker.
To the casual observer, Twyla Tharp can come across as personally inscrutable, a little unfriendly, and even a bit scary. Yet, in many, if not most, of her works there can be an abiding patina of humor, usually droll and wry. There is also a great deal of energy, zest, and wit. Tharp can also dip into the darker parts of the human psyche and probe with dances like “Afternoon Ball,” which is an on-the-streets retelling of “The Little Matchgirl,” but with a young man [Jonathan Porretta] as the protagonist. In this case, instead of freezing to death, he is led off quite literally “into the light” by white-clad Ariana Lallone.
At the other end of the spectrum is her “Opus 111" to Brahms. Basically a “serious” dance, it has its moments of quirkiness such as when, out of the blue, two dancers sit on the floor with their feet together and roll around like children in a creative movement class.
Softest of all in color was the concluding dance, “Waterbaby Bagatelles.” It contained some of the best dancing passages too. My only choreographic wish was that I wanted the sections expanded; they seemed too short. In looking back over my review from its 2006 PNB debut, I note that what I said then holds true now:
Next on my hit parade list for me would be “Waterbaby Bagatelles” by Twyla Tharp, which made a really good ‘closer.’ Tharp is known for combining strict discipline with what appears to be loose and quirky movement. This palette is used to fun effect here. While the women have plenty to do, it’s really a great showcase for the men. Batkhurel Bold led the platoon, each of whom really seemed to be enjoying themselves. From turns to shoulder shaking to twisting jumps and floor work, the audience ate up every inch of this male extravaganza. Tharp must certainly have had a good time when she first created this piece for the Boston Ballet in 1994.
Going back to “Afternoon Ball,” it was interesting seeing Chalnessa Eames and Porretta re-create parts written originally for another cast. Their weeks of preparation paid off handsomely with an edge to their discomforting duet. On stage for nearly the entire piece, their energy and focus never flagged – a tribute to their stamina and artistic maturity.
When Olivier Wevers commits to something, it’s also 100 percent and his re-creation of the part made on him two years ago was as iconic and, I think, even deeper than before. His sharp attack and acting bit into his character quite well.
It was great seeing Principal Dancer Jeffrey Stanton stepping into the role made first for missing-in-action Stanko Milov. Bittersweet too knowing this is Mr. Stanton’s last season, after 27 years of professional work. His clear, calm and clean technique and certainly his redoubtable partnering work will be missed. His “background” waltz with Lallone provided the elegant and stark contrast and clear gulf between the street “kids” and those with loaded pockets and apparently without a worldly care.
This brings us to the opening ballet, “Opus 111.” As I said earlier, it’s a serious work, but in the sense of the maker of the dance taking the commission seriously; not content to give us something that either insulted the audience’s intelligence or was too silly or fluffy to have some substance.
Kinetic and joyous, the entire cast of Maria Chapman, Rachel Foster, Carrie Imler, Ariana Lallone, Leah O’Connor, Lesley Rausch and men Karel Cruz, Kiyon Gaines, Benjamin Griffiths, William Lin-Yee, Josh Spell, and Jerome Tisserand danced with crystalline technique and infectious amplitude.
"All Tharp" revealed a lot about this iconic choreographer and, importantly, showed us again that PNB enjoys a company level – dancers, musicians, production team, administration and marketing/communications that’s virtually non pareil.