There may be a rumor going around that Azlan only sleeps on aeroplanes. This past weekend I might have agreed, with seemingly the only sleep I got was on the flights between the SF Bay Area and Seattle, all four hours of it. I suppose this is a roundabout way of saying why this post is late.
As for for the program, many thoughts and ideas come to mind. And it took more than 24 hours for this one (my mind that is) to finally sort out what to say and that is this: if I had a personal policy of sending a portion of my annual profits to major ballet companies instead of funding smaller and needier arts organizations, PNB would be receiving more than a few checks from me, not because -- I repeat NOT BECAUSE -- of great programming but rather because of bold, risky and, I might add, dangerous programming that stretches not just the company but also the imagination of the public. The average American audience has just gone too soft between the ears, to paraphrase the late Gene Siskel.
I used to (and still do even if I don't do it as often) sit, walk, and read through hours and hours of really bad works at performances and events that typically fall below the radar of the press and the GP (general public). I did it because I was tired of seeing the "processed" works that have gone through the white-washing, homogenizing and dumbing-down filters of artistic directors, marketing managers, and the press.
I wanted to experience firsthand the explosion of artistry and the discovery of raw talent that can only come when the artist puts him/herself out there, with everything exposed and nothing to lose. The pain and frustration of seeing hundreds of hours of experimental (and not-so experimental) works is well worth it when you discover that one gem that sparks your imagination or that one new amazing talent.
To get there though, the artists have to be allowed to fail. Without the okay to fail, there wouldn't be any experimentation and without experimentation, there wouldn't be any innovation. And that would be the end of people -- we would just be animals living life the same everyday.
All the above of course is a roundabout way (there I go again) of saying I admire greatly Peter Boal's push to provide innovative programming that challenges the dancers and production staff to expand their palette. However, he's going to need all the help he can get because it is hard to imagine the Board of Trustees giving him enough chances to fail especially if ticket sales plummet. This is one time I feel the unique and almost unhealthy relationship between individual dancers in the company and individual members of PNB's Board may be helpful. If the dancers like what Boal is doing, that may give him the few extra chances he needs...
As for the progam itself, the talking point was of course Dominique Dumais' world premiere, "Time and Other Matter," which drew wildly different opinions across the board. I myself was put in two minds about it across both performances I saw. Initially, I had the impression that the choreography, both primal and postmodern-like at the same time, was typically European in its boldness to cross into uncharted territory. On second viewing though, I thought at times it didn't go far enough, being almost a hybrid cross between Dumais' North American roots and her new German inspiration.
It's also hard to rate a work with so much angst and a touch of longing performed by, mostly, American-trained ballet dancers. I can see Forsythe's dancers being utterly at home with this sort of ground-pounding grunge choreograpy but as performed by PNB's dancers, some of the sequences look contrived -- longing, angst, confusion and other inner feelings look more like blank stares, from further back in the hall. Yet, when viewed from a closer vantage point, the perspective changes -- the dancers actually look like they're working from the inside out. And it was a relevation and a joy to see them being stretched to project this inside out towards the audience. But then again, I might be completely wrong and that is the beauty of this work -- there is no one perspective and it keeps you thinking!
There was only one cast for this work, which makes a world of difference as they have the luxury of letting the choreography seep into their skin. Ariana Lallone performed the lead "creature" in red and is backed up by a stellar cast of a mix of principal and corps dancers. The designers, Glenn Davidson, Mark Zappone (who gets a special mention for "rescuing" my ticket) and Bonnie Beecher, were equal to Dumais' concept and made me want to see this work expanded and performed by Dumais' own company.
The sombre evening began with Val Caniparoli's "The Bridge," inspired by true events surrounding the tragedy of two lovers in war-torn Sarajevo. This work which has been misunderstood by audiences and the press alike offers no poetic arc and instead challenges the audience to witness the emotions and the loss in flowing melancholic passages. Among the five couples Saturday night, Lallone and Christophe Maraval was for me the most expressive.
Even George Balanchine did not offer comfortable refuge for ballet-goers. His "La Valse," staged by Francia Russell, may have started in style and glamour but it too had a dark ending, when the heroine is seduced by death. I managed to catch only two of the four casts: Patricia Barker offered a strikingly stark performance while Carla Korbes had a softer, more innocent charm. As death, Stanko Milov was irresistible Saturday, and Lucien Postlewaite was convincing as the young man in the matinee.
There were so many good performances in the corps, it's hard to mention them all but I will say that Lindsi Dec's artistry seems to be better than ever (she danced in both waltz trio casts).
Speaking of the corps, there is one concern I have though. The programming in general has favored the selection of young, energetic and expressive corps dancers in lead roles, which is great. But if the company wants to excel in the classical and neoclassical works, someone has to make sure the young dancers stay disciplined within the corps.