Crafting New Work
New Ballets by Bartee, Gaines, Morris, and Mullin
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s "All Premiere" Program
3 November 2012
by Dean Speer
You know you’re in choreographic trouble when you read all of your colleagues' reviews and find that they’re couching their impressions with long introductory remarks, factual descriptions, and comments that read along the lines of “if this, then that, but this.”
Compositionally, the most complete work for me was Andrew Bartee’s “arms that work,” and I find myself returning to and replaying it and thinking about how much I enjoyed it. Regardless of what Andrew Bartee’s own intention may have been, the set and movement gave me the deep impression of taking place in and around an asylum – an Edward Gorey-like set piece that read to me as a Victorian-era wrought iron fence, suggesting a Gothic tale. Indeed, his movement motifs were disturbing and the development of his ideas, troubling. These were characters who were weighed down by life, suggested by their turned-in light contractions, bouncing in place, slightly downcast...and by one getting caught in the snare of the set, tangled and seemingly unable to free themselves.
The piece could have been made more magical the moment Kaori Nakamura went through this apparatus if James Moore could not have followed, finding it impenetrable. Rather, he was able to pass to the other side. This would have been my only suggestion for a different choice of direction at this juncture.
Margaret Mullin’s “Lost in Light” was very pleasant, nicely put together with some initially lovely shapes, motifs, and moments but overall bland. She needs to work on development of theme, and where the piece, overall, is arcing or driving itself to, being reminded of how Balanchine said he’d often start with the end, as it then informed the rest of the work. The chamber music by Dan Coleman was quite good and supported the dance very well. If she were inclined, Mullin could fairly easily “re-write” to strengthen.
“Sum Stravinsky” by Kiyon Gaines had great energy and craft but needed a concluding movement that brought back the entire cast for a finale, so it felt incomplete. A very, very strong piece that could have been a “wow!” work. He either needed to add another piece of music by Stravinsky for this purpose [thus risking “integrity”] or to have chosen other music entirely – keep the choreography but set it to another score, as the dance is quite strong enough to stand on its own, thank you very much.
Each impressed as sincere, which is saying a lot and were engaging and interesting to enjoy.
Probably the best thing that can be said about Mark Morris’s creation for PNB’s Director’s Choice program is the clarity of its performance by the cast.
I’m going to take courage in hand and take the tiger by the tail.
Choreographically, “Kammermusik No. 3" was underwhelming – a disappointment and a mess. I felt Morris had been unprepared, regardless of publically waving around a score, and undisciplined. I came away with the distinct impression that it was off the top of his head; winging it. The PNB dancers deserved better than what they got. He may be, in his own words, “...popular and expensive,” but let’s get real. A now deceased colleague used to like to intone, “If I cannot see it, it’s not there,” and I didn’t see the much touted genius in this work. There were some nice images and occasionally some interesting movement but the piece didn’t hang together and was downright odd [not witty or urbane] in places. Morris has cultivated a mystique of messy – many of his pieces are and while this may work for his own company’s repertory, his own values are placed at odds here. He should have approached this commission -- and he doesn’t -- as if it were his first and potentially life-changing.
Each work on the bill was danced at the very high standard PNB consistently puts forth. Some take-away memories were of Nakamura in both Bartee’s and Gaines’ ballets and of Carrie Imler given the opening of Morris’ piece all of her considerable experience and craft – an insouciance that told me she got and understood it from the inside, out. That everything we needed to know about the work was encapsulated in her first gesture – palm down, reaching forward, legs parallel, one in front of the other.
Presenting a program of all new work is a venture to be much admired and supported and which takes courage – on the part of the organization and that of its collaborators, even if the results are mixed. Craft has to be learned not only by theory but by doing, and PNB is to be lauded for providing venues and opportunities for both today’s and tomorrow’s artists.