Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “First Look”
20 September 2008
by Dean Speer
It was a semi-dark but rainy Seattle night. Feet dripping, dolled up patrons made their way gingerly across the lobby floor of McCaw Hall to the check-in counter, and in one case, a matron got a thrill of a lifetime as she suddenly found herself having a personal relationship with the ground. I was impressed by how kind the people were around her who helped to her feet, and doubly impressed by how smoothly D. David Brown, PNB’s CEO, glided over to warmly greet us at the same time, distracting us from the drama.
Later, sitting kitty-corner across from me at the on-stage left dinner table, following Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “First Look” gala performance, Teri Hatcher’s look-alike was doing her desperate housewife best by showing off her perfect teeth, with her perfect smile, her perfect conversation, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect complexion, perfect laugh, and her perfect reactions. Her seatmate to her right, directly across from me, was doing her level best to keep up – with her weekend beach house at Ocean Shores and her kelly-green designer dress which kept threatening to disgorge her ample cleavage at any moment. As if that weren’t distracting enough, a new company member to my right shoulder was comparing notes with “Teri” on life in Kansas versus the Northwest. Then at the end of the table was the marvelous look-alike for former PNB Principal Dancer Lucinda Hughey, Emma Love, who kept making the most wonderful, animated faces and rolling her eyes at stuff. I loved it. After listening to Ocean Beach, “Teri” decided she had won, and launched into a filibuster worthy of any Senator from Ohio.
All this left me a little breathless and glowing, so I used the mirror that was hung on the black side curtain in front of me to look at who was behind and to engage in a little clandestine observations of my own. [From this tiny mirror, I could pretty much look at the entire center of the wing.] Who was talking to whom, who was seated next to whom, speculating why and about what, and trying to let the glamour and glitter of a much anticipated annual event rub off on me a little bit. I can only intuit that everyone there was excited about PNB’s upcoming season, as I certainly was.
Artistic Director Peter Boal smartly programmed a one-shot bill that was strongly bookended by two Balanchine works, each from a different genre of his work: “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and the complete “Symphony In C.” In between, we were treated to a peek at an excerpt from one of the two new Twyla Tharp works, “Opus 111,” the pas de trois from the full-length “plotless” ballet “Emeralds” also by Mr. Balanchine.
Made for the first of the string of pearls that were Mr. Balanchine’s five wives, Tamara Geva, “Slaughter” is a light parody, taking a satiric look at ‘ganstas,’ ballet, and musicals of the 1930s. It’s a great showcase for the talents of Carla Körbes and Jeffrey Stanton – by far, the best “hoofer” at PNB. Körbes got to show off her comedic as well as considerable dance talents. “Slaughter” shows the essence – the “whys” of what made Balanchine, Balanchine: Wit; an all-dancing group “tutti” finale; use of ballet technique to achieve an artistic end, and, importantly, choreography that interpreted the music but which wasn’t a slave to it. Cast against type was lanky Karel Cruz as the cold mobster-connected owner of the speakeasy. A totally fun piece that works well on the large opera house stage with full orchestra.
Idaho produces more than potatoes – artists of the first rank too. Such is the case with Benjamin Griffiths whose clean, crystal clarity of technique is a joy to watch. He is a little like a fine racing car – nice to admire when still but truly exciting when moving. He was matched nicely in the pas de trois from Balanchine’s “Emeralds” – an excerpt from his full-length ballet, “Jewels” – with Maria Chapman and Leslie Rausch. This trio harkens back to Petipa’s day – intertwined arms, tidy footwork, and movement combinations that were “academic” but full of zest and buoyancy.
Excerpts from Twyla Tharp’s new piece “Opus 111" whetted our appetite for the entire work. Clearly delighted with their new assignments were six couples: Carla Körbes with Batkhurel Bold; Ariana Lallone with Stanko Milov; Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta; Rachel Foster with Kiyon Gaines; Chalnessa Eames and James Moore; and Jodie Thomas with Lucien Postlewaite. Big, bold movement in costumes that were fun – tunic-like, suggestive of ancient times in Greece or Rome.
Christopher Wheeldon has been touted as the great white hope of contemporary ballet choreographers, yet ultimately he and his work remain more or less inscrutable to me. An exception would be his “After the Rain” pas de deux, superbly performed by Körbes and Bold. It’s about finding and losing, love and indelible pain. This couple gave it the strong visual and tender emotional reading this soft duet deserved.
As much as I enjoy many types of dance, I have to confess being among those that prefer their ballet in Fifth Position and in Pointe shoes, so the concluding and glorious “Symphony in C” really did it for me. “C” is a work that I’ve long enjoyed, ever since first viewing it done by its original interpreters, the Paris Opera Ballet. As staged by Francia Russell, PNB gives what is probably one of the best renditions on the globe. Tight, yet free, radiant in white, it’s a ballet that gives and gives of its richness. When the full corps, soloists, and principals all come charging in for the conclusion, it’s a rousing and exciting experience like none other. It’s truly thrilling and exhilarating to enjoy the kinetic fun of a sea of dancers making quick, sharp tendu in ballet’s many body positions: effacé, croisé, écarté.
And when the four principal couples pirouette and finish into their unison bent poses in passé with arms in fourth position – it’s totally a WOW! moment. Outstanding were lead couples: First Movement: Carrie Imler and Stanko Milov; Second Movement: Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers, Third Movement: Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta and Fourth Movement: Jodie Thomas and Seth Orza.
PNB’s “First Look” was a dramatic evening, full of great dancing, exciting ballets and new dances, glamour and glitter which once again shows how fortunate we are to have such a top drawer ballet company right here in our very green Northwest backyard.