A Lot of Something for Everyone
Pacific Northwest Ballet
2 June 2007
by Dean Speer
Six memorable events happened for me at Saturday’s evening performance of their Stravinsky 125 program. Four of these were the ballets themselves and two were ancillary – the last performance of Patricia Barker on a repertory program and ditto for me seeing Christophe Maraval, even though he has one more go as the Ring Master in “Circus Polka,” one shot at “Symphony in Three Movements,” and a piece d’occasion – a pas de deux with Louise Nadeau made especially for them by Peter Boal, performed on the last evening of the run.
Mr. Balanchine is quoted as saying he liked to make up a ballet banquet – “...a little something for everyone.” This fare started out with the dessert ballet – Jerome Robbins 1972 “Circus Polka,” moved on to the Gazpacho of “Rubies,” fed us with “State of Darkness” and filled us with Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.”
Oreo Cookies and Milk
Food is what many of us had on our minds during Jonathan Porretta’s star turn in Molissa Fenley’s “State of Darkness.” I checked with my seat mates to see if I was the only one. Part way through, I got the distinct impression of Oreo Cookies and Milk. For one of the founders of this website, it was choosing between chicken and ham; others felt dehydrated. No small wonder, given not only the approximate 35 minute length but also of the demands made on the solo performer to Stravinsky’s legendary score, “The Rite of Spring.” Porretta deserves not only praise for his singularly impressive rendition but also a pool of cool spring water and a Shiatsu treatment.
This music has attracted a lot of attention, including some unintended attention via the uproar it caused at its premiere – and I wasn’t sure what to expect from Fenley’s creation. I was impressed that it had good structure. She deployed several compositional tools to her advantage. I was equally impressed with her use of “vibratory movement” – something that Martha Graham used in her work, but even at that source today, tends to be overlooked, and as far as I know, is rarely taught in the Graham School. “Vibratory movement” is the tensing of the muscles so hard and much that they start to shake of their own accord. We first saw this as Porretta vibrated his right ankle while kneeling downstage. Fenley later transfers this to other body parts, showing it in different ways.
One of my favorite movement themes for port de bras she invented is what I must call the “Betty Crocker stirring the bowl” – kind of a swinging motion in a reverse figure 8 that led with the elbow. This was repeated throughout.
A superior work that was worthy of our attention – far more than other types of solo fare. The audience leapt to its feet – heartily cheering a deserving Mr. Porretta.
Pretty in Pink
And then, there she was. Center stage framed by corps de ballet and seeming to appear out of nowhere following the opening of “Symphony in Three Movements” – Patricia Barker standing in B+. Poised. Alert. Beautiful. The principal women each have a bright pink (or similar shade) and hers flattered.
I had to tell myself I was seeing her for the last time in a regular repertory performance, yet the performance itself had only the hallmark of good cheer and smart dancing. Barker really seemed to enjoy herself (why not!?) and was totally with the ensemble, never indulging in “this is my last performance” antics or sentiment – right up and through the bows [although I was secretly hoping someone was going to bring in a big bouquet, but I’m sure they’re thinking – oh, that’s for NEXT week (her gala Farewell)]. With this kind of performance, it seems as if she could easily go another 10 years or so.
This ballet is one of Balanchine’s last “big” works and is a testament to his ability to assemble – in an architectural way. While his 1940s “Four Temperaments” seems very contemporary today, it does have an emotional wallop that this piece does not pack. It’s movement for movement’s sake. Thrusting straight arms as an opening theme, he seems to be eschewing ballet’s customary elliptical look of the arms for something else.
The music for the Pas de deux (with Casey Herd and Barker) keeps running through my head [ya, ta-dee-duh, ya, ta-dee-duh, repeated and varied], as does the opening motif of the couple coming toward each other from opposite sides of the stage with undulating arms that eventually do entwine themselves around each other as the couple meet center stage. Each phrase and pose were clear. Never did a flexed foot in supported attitude look better.
Mara Vinson and James Moore were paired well, as were Maria Chapman and Batkhurel Bold. Boal may have discovered some exciting, new partnerships here. Each couple both matched and set off each other, complementing the choreography.
The corps looked great – tight and really “into” the piece. In a hierarchical setting, it’s all too easy to focus on the center dancers – the “stars” – but really each role is equally important and it’s important to recognize the critical contribution the corps makes to the success of a ballet.
One, Hot Tomato
“Rubies” is the cool, spicy course. Long a favorite of dancers, dance companies, and audiences since its 1967 premiere as movement two of the full-length “Jewels,” “Rubies” is snappy, bouncy, exotic, and exciting – all rolled into one dish.
Kaori Nakamura and Olivier Wevers outdid themselves in the duet, getting better and better on every repeat of phrase, showing the sharp phrasing and attack for which this piece is known. Lots of details were worked out and clear: a turn of the head, an offering of a hand and response. These two artists have worked together for many years and it was an exciting performance of a singular heart and artistic mind.
Ariana Lallone delivered the goods in the role of the central “tall girl” part. This is a role that Lallone wraps herself in and where she so calmly, clearly, and cleanly punches out the choreography, there can be no mistake this ballerina is the queen of her consorts.
The very able – and hard-working – PNB Orchestra was alternately conducted by Music Director Stewart Kershaw and company pianist and conductor Allan Dameron.
PNB’s Stravinsky 125 “banquet” is a full-course meal deal and one that proves food is a great socializing mechanism and a good metaphor. We left excited, pleased, and only hungry for future diets of exciting ballets.