Eight With One Blow
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Season Encore Performance
Sunday, 12 June 2011
by Dean Speer
I don’t know how emotional it was for them exactly, but for me it was an evening of celebration and loss, good-byes and farewells, and of promises for the future. With eight dancers leaving the roster – Ariana Lallone, Jeffrey Stanton, Stanko Milov, Olivier Wevers, Chalnessa Eames, Stacy Lowenberg, Josh Spell and Barry Kerollis -- it was a full show of ballet excerpts that paid tribute to each but in which the programming principally paid homage to Jeffrey Stanton in the first half and, after the interval, to Ariana Lallone in the second.
Programming the evening to build to a climax, sometimes the best is saved for last and this was the case with Lallone concluding the proceedings with “her” solo from Val Caniparoli’s now iconic “Lambarena” – a marvelous fusion of African dance and music, ballet and Bach. Cheers erupted as Lallone trust out her hips and circled her hands and arms while making ballet bourées en pointe and grand battement à la seconde, accompanied by sharp tilts of the head. No one can radiate joy as Ariana does and this radiance is what sells us.
This was preceded by Caniparoili himself making an onstage gift of his memories of first seeing Lallone in the studio and of working with her. He reminded us that his work was brought to PNB in 1997 specifically for Lallone... and fairly soon after its 1995 San Francisco Ballet premiere.
Using entrances as its theme, a marvelous interview and film montage was shown that touched upon many of the parts created for Ariana and those in which she was cast over 24 seasons. From an entrance behind a turnaround bookcase as a Dominatrix in Mark Dendy’s “Les Biches” to the Witch in Bruce Wells’ “Hansel and Gretel” to the classical and classic, it was fun revisiting these works with the rest of the fans.
Ariana's first appearance of the evening was in the progam opener, Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort." Her first appearance after intermission was in one of her many signature roles – that of the tall girl in Balanchine’s jazzy “Rubies.” Next was the pas de deux from Kent Stowell's "Carmen," choreographed on her and partnered by Karel Cruz. And finally, “Lambarena.” Of the many, many roles and parts that she has danced over the years, I closely identify her with “Rubies” and Peacock (aka Arabian) in “Nutcracker.” I like how these represent her career – and her ability to fit into both classical and contemporary roles easily. How she works as a part of the ensemble as well as being outstanding in solos. Also, how willing she was to be part of the creative process, giving herself to trying things and experimenting.
I first espied Ariana in about 1987 while she was taking one of the adult open classes with us and this visual memory and impression has stayed with me. I was impressed in many ways - first and foremost by her staying at the end of what must have been a long day to take an extra class and thereby pushing herself; secondly, by her hard work and concentration in that class – she wasn’t just taking another class; third, noticing her preferred custom of wearing black tights, fourth, by her grace in cycling her way through the center lines with everyone else and not insisting on being in front or in “her” spot; and lastly by her good cheer and natural smile. I thought to myself at the time that his girl was going somewhere and so was not surprised but very pleased when not only was she invited to join the Company but was given many opportunities and promoted. It is a great credit to Kent Stowell and Francia Russell that they were able to find a place for her here at Pacific Northwest Ballet and she wasn’t shipped off to obscurity somewhere. As time passed and other dancers came and went, she remained and became one of those welcome and familiar faces, whose casting and performances assured us in the house that, whatever it was, it was going to be all right, who calmed us and relaxed us into knowing and believing, and who gave us all that she is. A considerable gift indeed.
Lallone has always embraced what she has and has taken pride in showing it to us -- she is laudable as a role model. Once aptly described by Dance Magazine as “one, hot ballerina!” I have found it to be a great side benefit for me to be able to refer tall students of mine to her. Sometimes taller ballet and dance students unconsciously make try to make themselves shorter, and I encourage them instead to embrace who they are, as Lallone has done.
While distressed over the news that she was leaving the PNB roster, I was comforted by hearing that Teatro ZinZanni has smartly and wisely picked her up and many of us are excited about and looking forward to seeing her in her new performance home this coming year.
Thank you, Ariana, for your hard and dedicated work, the intelligence you bring to it, and for the joy we got to bask in.
Stanton’s “half” was represented also by “Petite Mort,” the Pas de deux from “Agon,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” the “The Man I Love” duet from “Who Cares?” and his tap solo, created especially for him, excerpted from Kent Stowell’s “Silver Lining,” the full-length ballet made to the music of Jerome Kern.
His tap solo was preceded by a film clip that showed a pre-teen tapping away for all that he was worth – and doing some very advanced steps and combinations – some of which, lucky us, found their way into “Silver Lining.”
A versatile performer, Stanton is also known as a dream partner, with ballerinas lining up to dance with him. This special skill was shown nicely in three duets – from the musical hall theatre style of Balanchine’s “Slaughter,” to the contemporary folds and twists of “Agon,” to the cheerful delights of “Who Cares?”
Lauding his work ethic, Jeff is depicted as someone who never misses class, never skips a combination and who is humble and “rises to a challenge” such as filling in at the last minute for injured or sick colleagues. He will also be missed and I hope his future career track keeps him in the profession – he still has a lot to give and give back with.
Olivier Wevers was represented by the Pas de deux from “Monster” created for his group, Whim W’him, which had its premiere earlier this year in January. Danced by Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite, this duet depicts and suggests a rough patch between two males – the conflict seeming to be both internal and external. While working out their life together, they are also having to deal with world pressures and expectations.
During his remarks, Artistic Director Peter Boal reported the welcome news that Stanko Milov will be returning to teaching in the PNB School this coming Fall. Milov has apparently been working through injuries these past couple of seasons and while hoping to return to performing, has not been able to do so. His presence and larger-than-life enthusiastic personality will be embraced by his students.
Stacy Lowenberg was represented in a couple of ways – as a dancer and as a choreographer. As a dancer in the ‘Gailliard’ section of "Agon," well-paired with Lindsi Dec, and as a choreographer, dancing in her own dramatic and lyric “Rushed Goodbye” [an appropriate name for the occasion] partnered by the lanky Karel Cruz. While her career was officially in the corps de ballet, Lowenberg’s talent nevertheless took her to solo and principal parts, as a teacher in the PNB School, and now as a choreographer with something to say.
Chalnessa Eames, who, I’m happy to report is continuing to dance with Whim W’him, was featured in the duet from Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” ‘One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)’ partnered by Jerome Tisserand. Eames has grown in stature and strength as a dancer, particularly in the last few sesons. She became “one to watch” and her unique light will continue to bless us as a performer.
Both Barry Kerollis and Josh Spell danced in several of the ballets, including “Petite Mort” and “Rubies.” Each has been a bright performer and is leaving PNB far too young -- Spell to waters unknown [at least to me] and Kerollis to Philadelphia’s Ballet X.
It was totally fitting that each departing dancer received flowers, with some of their former dance partners coming on stage to present them. Lowenberg was pelted with zillions of flowers tossed by her cheering fans and family. Later, huge bouquets were presented by former artistic directors Russell and Stowell who came on stage to hug and recognize Lallone and Stanton. A heartfelt moment.
Encore was a well-conceived, packaged and presented tribute to these artists who give so much, and who have blessed the stages on which they have danced.
The mighty PNB Orchestra was conducted by both the new music director, Emil de Cou, and Allen Dameron.