Pacific Northwest Ballet’s American Choreographers Repertory Program
Saturday evening, April 16, 2005
McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington
by Dean Speer
As I’ve mentioned before in writing, PNB’s retiring Artistic Directors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, have long been committed to commissioning and presenting new works or works that have been premieres to Seattle audiences. Saturday’s showing of their current repertory run is a good example of this.
Quick Time by Stowell fils Christopher, who is the Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, was made as a tribute to his parents and is set to a duo-piano piece by Saint-Saëns. It’s a colorful and bright work and a good program opener. Stowell uses an inversion of the hands and a rounded arm position – 5th position en haut but taken to the front – as one of his movement motifs and to good effect. Jonathan Porretta and Noelani Pantastico bring their considerable talents to the leads and dance with authority and with a knowing wink as to their insight to this fresh ballet.
Encapsulating an entire Shakespeare play into a dance was the genius of modern dance choreographer José Limón. Using Purcell’s music and formal renaissance dance modes as the premise, Limón brilliantly captures the intrigue and hot-house emotions that lead to Othello’s crushing of the spirit and body of his beloved wife with his 1949 masterwork, The Moor’s Pavane. Danced with great power and drama, this tragedy unfolds via a formal Renaissance court dance, and the characters “break out” from this into corners of the stage where the plot unfolds, and then return to center stage to continue. It would be hard to imagine a contemporary cast more perfect and mature in their artistry and understanding than Batkhurel Bold as the Moor, Olivier Wevers as Iago, Ariana Lallone as his wife, and Louise Nadeau as the fragile wife of Othello. Each danced with a power, focus, and intensity that made the telling of this ballet very moving. The Moor’s Pavane is a modern dance work made first by Limón for his own company and is one that translates well onto ballet-trained dancers and is in the repertory of several companies. A program note that gets included in all stagings of this dance firmly denies that it is intended as a choreographic version of the play. I have to disagree. After seeing this work many times over the course of at least 30 years, I’d have to somewhat blithely say, “Who needs to read the play?” A good friend told me that it was the first dance work she’d ever seen – while she was in college at Berkeley in 1969 with Limón in his original part. She reports that it blew her away and she’s been a dance fan ever since. It’s all there in the dance. Passion, envy, love, remorse, beauty, power.
Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance uses piano miniatures of disparate composers and combines and uses theatrical elements in a prominent way. For example, lighting designer Lisa Pinkham has the backdrop scrim raised and lowered throughout the ballet which changes how the dance is framed and our perception of it, becoming more intimate at times while grander at others. Many commented to me how they liked how the colors changed due to this too, particularly finding the ending red slash at the bottom of the scrim/cyc toward the conclusion of the ballet striking. Gibson is inventive and delighted the audience particularly with his “praying mantis” duet for Louise Nadeau and Christophe Maraval. Upside down and legs and arms akimbo.
Ariana Lallone as the lead female in the “Evelyn” part of Val Caniparoli’s famous 1995 work, Lambarena, was worth the price of admission and then some. While created first for Evelyn Cisneros and the San Francisco Ballet, Lallone really “owns” this part. Lambarena fuses ballet and traditional African dance to a sound score that fuses Bach and traditional African music. There’s also plenty for the men to do here too and two solos, with corps dancers are most memorable. Olivier Wevers’ “floor” solo with its arch and thrust of the back and his return to this primitive pose and Christopher Maraval’s solo that displays his beautiful line to full advantage. It’s truly a ballet “first” and is a great closing piece to a colorful program that shows just a small cross-section representative of the range of American choreographers.