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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2013 2:39 am 
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Location: New Jersey
Pacific Northwest Ballet
City Center
New York, New York

February 15, 16M, 2013
Romeo et Juliette

-- by Jerry Hochman

When I attend a ballet that I’ve never before seen, but which has been performed previously, I don’t bone up in advance on the choreography by reviewing films or uploaded performance snippets to get a handle on how the ballet is supposed to look, or by reading prior reviews to determine what a choreographer’s intentions may have been. I view it the way a member of the audience would see the ballet on first impression. So, when the curtain opened on Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette at Friday evening’s first of three New York performances by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, I had little preconceived knowledge of what to expect. What I did understand from the unavoidable advance hype – that this version of the classic Shakespeare tragedy was choreographically and stylistically idiosyncratic, ‘cinematic,’ and more sexually charged than other more familiar productions – made me wince. I expected some sort of avant garde soft core angst-infected commentary on the hopelessness of it all.

I was wrong.

While I have issues with some of Mr. Maillot’s artistic choices (particularly his elevation of the role of Friar Laurence to some sort of prescient but powerless religious force), these issues pale in comparison to the impact of the piece as a whole. I have now seen this production twice, with different casts, and Mr. Maillot’s creation impresses me as a remarkable visual (and choreographic) reimagining of the ballet as we usually see it in versions choreographed to the Serge Prokofiev score, and must not be missed. It is quirky, artistically innovative, intelligent, intellectually and visually stimulating, endlessly interesting, and takes enormous risks that more often than not work. And it is certainly sexually charged – but not inappropriately so. Indeed, in this respect it is one of the most honest versions of the ballet, on an emotional and sexual level, that this viewer has seen.

The company as a whole performs the ballet impeccably, as if it had been choreographed on them. [The piece was created on Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and premiered in December, 1996. It received its first PNB performance in January, 2008.] But one performance stands out, and like the ballet itself, must not be missed.

As I mentioned in a review of PNB's presentation of Balanchine classics two nights earlier, I recall very well Carla Korbes’s tenure with New York City Ballet, noted her quality of what I described as ‘quiet serenity,’ and wondered whether she would be able to add the necessary fire to her stage persona – or at least the stage persona I remembered – to be a convincing Juliet. I should have known better.

From the moment she appeared onstage until her suicide by self-strangulation (I did say that this production is quirky, didn’t I?), Ms. Korbes’s Juliet was gutsy, edgy, completely enchanting, and impossible to forget. To use an overused cliché, Ms. Korbes was Juliet: she was a headstrong, impetuous, dynamic bundle of energy; a vixen capable of stealing your heart and any other available organs. Hers was a performance to treasure, and one that this viewer will remember as one of the finest of Juliets.

That the performance yesterday afternoon by Kaori Nakamura did not equal that of Ms. Korbes is not a fair comment. Ms. Nakamura was merely exceptionally good, with different performance qualities. Her Juliet came across to this viewer as more cerebral, more subtle, and somewhat less sensual. But that’s merely a matter of degree – it was a very fine performance.

Ms. Korbes and Ms. Nakamura were not alone. There was not a single performance that did not ring true. I noted previously that in Wednesday’s performance of Apollo, Seth Orza lacked the quality of being a god that is a prerequisite for the role. He was too human. But this human quality served Mr. Orza well as Ms. Korbes’s Romeo. His performance was sweet and touching and galvanizing. [And he looked very convincing killing himself on the cutting edge of Juliet’s pointed bier – as a fallen cross of light cast a white shadow over the bier, under a starry night sky (I did say that this production is quirky, didn’t I?) The Romeo in Saturday afternoon’s performance was James Moore, who gave a more youthful portrayal than Mr. Orza, but in other respects was equally superb both in character and execution. The role of Lady Capulet is a major force in Mr. Maillot’s vision of the story, and Laura Gilbreath on Friday, and Maria Chapman on Saturday afternoon, delivered appropriately melodramatic and sensational portrayals. William Lin-Yee, who replaced Karel Cruz, was admirable as the tormented Friar Laurence in both performances. As Mercutio, who is clubbed to death by a marionette’s disembodied arm (I did say…), Jonathan Porretta on Friday and Ezra Thompson at Saturday’s matinee were appropriately aggressive, with Mr. Porretta appearing a bit more polished and Mr. Thompson a bit more impulsive. At both performances, Batkhurel Bold, who Romeo strangles (I did say…), was very good as Tybalt, and Rachel Foster was a deliciously randy Nurse. Although I cannot individually identify each of the other PNB dancers who performed in each program without converting an already lengthy review into a book, all were wonderful.

I am not at all familiar with Mr. Maillot’s choreographic style, and one ballet does not permit grand generalizations. As I was watching it, I thought I saw some kinship with the style of John Neumeier, and also a little of Maurice Bejart. I found later, on reading the PNB program notes, that Mr. Maillot had danced for the Hamburg Ballet, and had roles created for him by Mr. Neumeier, so some Neumeier influence would not be unusual. I don’t know of a connection to Bejart, although it would not have been surprising for Mr. Maillot to have been familiar with Bejart’s work. I also thought there were Graham influences. I did not sense any indebtedness to classical or neoclassical style (Russian; British; Balanchine). But whether Mr. Maillot’s style is in any way derivative is not significant – based on Romeo et Juliette, his style can be characterized as a synthesis of a multitude of styles that look both lyrical and balletic, and angular and contemporary, at virtually the same time. At one point, the choreography, including the non-stop body and arm and hand movement, looks like it was pasted together by someone suffering from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; at another point it looks introverted and visually depressing. Part of the performance is danced in pointe shoes or ballet slippers; part of it is danced barefoot. Just when you think you have his style pegged, he changes it. But after the initial shock of seeing something unquantifiable, it all hangs together. And while it is at all times stylistic (in terms of having an intended stylistic impact, whatever the particular style may be), it isn’t in any way ‘mannered’ (as, for example, Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version may be considered to be at times), and doesn’t look artificial – for all the quirky head, hand, and body movement, to this viewer it was surprisingly real.

It is also very intelligently conceived and choreographically executed. Nothing is superfluous. For example, although I do not like Mr. Maillot’s artistic decision to add an overriding religious emphasis to the story, and find that emphasis to be muddy and contradictory, he weaves it into the tapestry of the story skillfully.

The piece opens with Friar Laurence clearly visualized as a tormented Jesus figure in a crucified position, torn by contradictory forces over which he has no control. This concept, exemplified by this introductory image but carried over as ‘asides’ in the course of the piece [Mr. Maillot uses Friar Laurence (and two invented ‘acolytes’) as a combination god-substitute and Greek chorus], is a fundamental problem to me. This god (or representative of god) is omniscient, he knows what’s coming; but he’s also powerless to stop it. So why is he there? And if whatever happens is fated, as his tormented presence makes the action appear to be, where is the tragedy (in the classical sense)? And if god is not omnipotent, and cannot alter fate, what good is he? Further, Mr. Maillot insists on sidestepping the action to let Friar Laurence repeatedly express his tortured soul. I could have done without Friar Laurence’s constant angst, and frequently wished he’d just get out of the way.

But even with this concern (and recognizing that Mr. Maillot’s artistic choice, even though I have problems with it, spawns significant, rare, and welcome opportunities for intellectual dialogue), it cannot be denied that Mr. Maillot weaves this choice and his concept intriguingly and ingeniously into the piece. For example, Mr. Maillot’s replaces the usual Mandolin Dance with an 'impromptu' street show -- a marionette show, during which the marionettes typically punch each other around. This show rapidly descends into a foreshadowing of the action, and the deaths, to come. And then the puppeteers who pulled the marionettes' strings are revealed to have been Friar Laurence and his acolytes. The scene, to this viewer, was stunningly conceived and executed. [I believe I’ve seen the scene portrayed as a marionette show previously – I don’t recall in what production, and I may be mistaken.] More significantly, it seamlessly tracks and amplifies Mr. Maillot’s concept, and – although it may not be Shakespeare – it looks far better to me than the Mandolin Dance in the MacMillan concept, which to me has always appeared somewhat artificial. [That having been said, I must confess that MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is not only my favorite version of the ballet, but one of my favorite ballets, period. But Mr. Maillot’s version gives it serious competition.]

As stated, Mr. Maillot’s conception, and the execution of it by the PNB dancers, is sexually charged. But for all the kissing and body contact, whether ribald or passionate, it is more natural, overall, than as portrayed in any other version of the ballet that this viewer has seen.

For example (and I hate to pick on Mr. MacMillan’s version, since I love it so much), I have always felt that the concept of the three “harlots” in that version is particularly gratuitous (whether true to Shakespeare or not is not the issue). Mr. Maillot does away with the harlots – but not with the sexuality they represent. Mr. Maillot’s has three Montague girls filling the same bawdy function. So, instead of the interaction between the harlots and Romeo and his entourage being portrayed as somewhat tawdry (and looked down upon by the ‘good’ girls in town), here the interaction between Romeo and his friends, and the neighborhood Montague girls, is natural. These are teenagers, doing what teenagers do (or, sigh, what I’m told teenagers do). The street in Verona, where the teenagers in Shakespeare’s story interact, is in Mr. Maillot’s version the equivalent of local streets where teenagers cruise looking for action and/or to sexually act out. Sort of ‘Fast Times at Verona High’. It works. [This concept also carries over into the violence between the Monagues and the Capulets. Instead of fights with swords, here there are stylized fist fights: A street brawl in Verona, which might have taken place, in more contemporary time, in an empty schoolyard on the West Side of New York.] And instead of tight fitting jeans, or beach bikinis, the girls are dressed in conservative, but revealing, soft flowing dresses that outline their bodies and then easily get out of the way to reveal ‘bare’ legs. [Romeo et Juliette features a plethora of legs that have a purpose beyond executing steps – they contribute to, and are representative of, the ‘sexually charged’ atmosphere. This visual focus carries into the Capulet Ball. Instead of starched medieval haute couture, the girls are costumed in simple, alluring gowns, slit from the bottom up almost to the waist.]

Also natural is the portrayal of the physical interaction between Romeo and Juliet. While just as emotionally thrilling as it is in other versions (though perhaps a bit less cathartic), these are teenagers who not only have a visible emotional response to each other; they get physical. But under the circumstances, what’s portrayed is restrained and beautiful. I liked the way Romeo and Juliet run their hands along each other’s bodies, gently, outlining each other’s form as if trying to measure what is more than they can actually see. And I particularly loved the repeated image of each of them gently but wondrously sliding his or her hand down the other’s face; representative, to me, that their passion is for the other as a person, and that this passion includes a need to fully comprehend, and to be united with, the other. [This ‘unity’ concept is also brilliantly executed in the ‘wedding’ scene. A rectangular piece of cloth (it must have been some sort of cloth-like pliable plastic, since it maintained its various shapes) is carried through the scene as a romantic, lyrical symbol. But it also is used functionally. The cloth, held over the couples’ heads by the acolytes as Friar Laurence performs the ‘ceremony’, acts like a chuppah or similar religious/cultural enclosure under which the couple is blessed. When the ceremony ends, the cloth is twisted, once, and both ends held together. The form created is a Mobius Strip – an object that has no front, no back, no beginning, and no end; it is a unity. I don’t know whether this was Mr. Maillot’s intent, but it is a simple, beautiful, and profound image.]

Other images are equally exquisite. For example, on two occasions Romeo ‘lifts’ Juliet up from a prone position solely by the power of his kiss. The second time, it is when Juliet is (or seems to him to be) dead. He kisses her, her body rises off the bed apparently resurrected by that force, only to fall back down. Marvelous.

To touch, briefly, on other highlights of this production (I could easily spend pages reviewing this ballet in minute detail) – in this version Juliet is portrayed (again, naturally) as just as sexually motivated as Romeo. For example, in the bedroom scene following Tybalt’s death, she is more the aggressor than he – she practically pushes him into bed. Indeed, this scene, in other respects, is a prequel to the scene as portrayed in the MacMillan version. There, after the violence resulting in the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, the next scene opens with Romeo and Juliet in her bed, having already made love. Here, more naturally, the scene opens with Juliet being informed by her Nurse of her cousin’s death, and that Romeo killed him. Feeling appropriately angry, confused, and perhaps betrayed, upon seeing Romeo, she confronts him, strikes him, beats her fists against him. But the storm subsides, to be succeeded by the overwhelming love for him that the death of her cousin and Romeo’s banishment cannot alter. Again, more natural, more real, and more honest.

Aside from the alteration to the role of Friar Laurence, Mr. Maillot also made other notable, and basic, changes to the story as we usually see it. There is no Lord Capulet. Instead, Lady Capulet fills the function that her husband would in other productions. She is the matriarch. She hosts the ball. She arranges Juliet’s marriage to Paris. She orders Juliet to comply. She lashes out at her uncooperative daughter, and at terrible fate. It’s not easy being a single mom. But not being married – at least not to a body in the cast – has a different virtue: it makes her association with Tybalt, and her overwhelming grief at Tybalt’s death, more…natural. [As may be gleaned from these descriptions, this production is significantly female-oriented, as well as having what this viewer considers to be an overall ‘female’ sensibility. In that sense, it seems particularly French.]

Finally, Mr. Maillot makes significant use of symbols (beyond the 'cross' references). For example, I’ve mentioned that in this version, Romeo strangles Tybalt, and Juliet strangles herself. While the former may be considered ‘realistic’, albeit different, to this viewer it is more symbolic. Romeo strangles Tybalt using Mercutio’s bloody shirt. [But why would Mercutio have a bloody shirt – he was clubbed to the head?] More clearly, Juliet strangles herself in Romeo’s blood – drawn from his dead body. It’s virtually impossible to strangle oneself, much less with blood. In this viewer’s opinion these are symbols of the larger relationship and mutual dependence of the characters in the story (both generally and specifically), and, in Romeo and Juliet’s case, of the unity that has been severed. But whether I’m right or wrong – the point is that Mr. Maillot’s concept is endlessly intriguing.

The production also owes its success in large part to the vision of its Scenic Designer, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, its Costume Designer, Jerome Kaplan, and its Lighting Designer, Dominique Drillot. The sets – essentially, white, curved, rectangular dividers of various dimensions, and a diagonal piece (like a sliding pond, only classy) that acts as a dramatic counterpoint to the large dividers, and that serves multiple purposes – including being used as Juliet’s balcony, from which she slides to and fro, and from which she is lifted down. It is a delightful concept. Mr. Kaplan’s costumes are extraordinarily beautiful, mutedly colorful, and gloriously sensual. And the lighting adds delicacy and impact (as with the image of the 'fallen' cross projected sideways on Juliet’s deathbed). Credit must also be given to the impeccable staging, by Gaby Baars, Bernice Coppieters, and Giovanna Lorenzoni.

[An aside. Many, many (…many) years ago, I was privileged to see Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That production was a landmark of stagecraft, and one that left vivid and indelible memories. Although they are very different (certainly, at least, as different as comedy is from tragedy), Mr. Maillot’s innovative production reminds me in many ways of the artistic innovation of Mr. Brook’s celebrated production in terms of its idiosyncratic style, the purity and simplicity of its presentation (although it is not the sole color palate that Mr. Maillot uses, the ballet’s essential ‘color’ is white, which was the only color, as I recall, used in Mr. Brook’s production), and its visual and emotional impact .]

Finally, the quality of the conducting, by Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou, must also be recognized. In this production, the pacing of the musical performance, which is directed by the conductor, is dictated by Mr. Maillot’s concept. Parts of the Prokofiev score are conducted at a faster pace than we usually see (at times almost hysterically fast – but that speed matches the mood that Mr. Maillot is trying to set), and parts at a deliberately slow pace (to match parts where Mr. Maillol’s choreography is executed in slow-motion – or at times freeze-frame). Consequently, the speed and capability of the dancers executing the choreography, and the need to adjust the pace of the music for that reason, was not a factor. But the orchestra (except for a few off-notes at Friday’s performance, for which the conductor is not responsible), under Mr. de Cou’s direction, sounded fabulous.

For those balletomaniacs without the ability to travel to see productions not performed in New York, PNB’s performances of Romeo et Juliette have been a revelation. PNB deserves to be commended not only for the quality of its performances of it, but for bringing it here in the first place. Suffice it to say that although one PNB performance of the Balanchine classics, to this viewer, was sufficient, three performances of Romeo et Juliette are not nearly enough, and I would welcome the opportunity to see this company return to New York, soon, to dance Romeo et Juliette again, as well as other ballets in its repertoire.

Modified 2/18/13 to correct spelling/phrasing errors.


Last edited by balletomaniac on Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 1:18 am 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews the Saturday, February 16 matinee and evening performances of "Romeo et Juliette" for the New York Times.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:24 pm 
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Barnett Serchuk reviews the Wednesday, February 13 Balanchine performance at New York's City Center for Broadway World.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:16 pm 
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Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn and and Ellen Dobbyn-Blackmore review the matinee performance of "Romeo et Juliette" on Saturday, February 16, 2013 for Broadway World.

Broadway World


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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 8:40 pm 
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Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn discusses PNB's City Center rehearsal with choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot and interviews principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and James Moore with artistic director Peter Boal for the Huffington Post.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 8:52 pm 
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Michael van Baker apparently disagrees with New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay's assessment of PNB's City Center performances in the Sun Break.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2013 1:07 pm 
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PNB performs at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, British Columbia on Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, 2013. The program will include Balanchine's "Apollo" and "Agon," Robbins' "Afternoon of a Faun" and Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain pas de deux." Amy Smart previews the program for the Victoria Times Colonist.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:54 pm 
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Amy Smart reviews the Friday, February 22, 2013 mixed bill performance at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, B.C. for the Victoria Times Colonist.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:44 pm 
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Deborah Jowitt reviews the Wednesday, February 13 Balanchine program and the Friday, February 15 "Romeo et Juliette" at New York's City Center for Arts Journal.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:54 pm 
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Alice Kaderlan interviews PNB lighting designer Rico Chiarelli for Crosscut.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 10:37 am 
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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Men In Ballet program
Monday, 4 March 2013, PNB Studios

by Dean Speer

The joke about male dancing when I was going through my own ballet training as a youth was that male dancing consisted mostly or only of the three “L’s:” Lift, Lean, and Lunge. How wonderful and nice it is that this has completely changed and that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Men In Ballet program demonstrated that this urban myth has long been dying and, hopefully, will never be revived from the beyond.

It also proved how much men are eager to have “dancey” and meaty parts – ones that I call delicious – and that they are more than capable of doing them and that they can also be artists of great depth.

We tend to think of the rise of men in ballet as a relatively recent phenomenon, since the early ‘60s, but in fact the first dancers were almost exclusively male until the advent of the professional dancer and the hegemony of women due to the Romantic Era and its pointe shoe.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Education Programs Manager, Doug Fullington, in tandem with Artistic Director Peter Boal, put together a terrific program that both showcased and informed giving an overarching view of men in ballet using as their springboard excerpts from its large and diverse repertory plus a couple of nuggets just for the occasion – and starring of course, not a few of their fleet of superb male athletes.

With salient remarks, Fullington provided the context, beginning with a male quartet from the latest creation of Paul Gibson, literally finished just minutes before, from his new “Mozart Pieces” that will be seen on the mainstage later this month.

This was followed by another male quartet, one which opens Balanchine’s iconic 1957 “Agon” with Gibson counting out loud the complex and irregular Stravinsky phrases, accompanied by Christina Siemens with Messrs. Batkhurel Bold, Jonathan Porretta, Ezra Thomson, and Jerome Tisserand.

Two duets were given – the Bransle Simple from “Agon” with Thomson and Tisserand, followed by Benjamin Griffiths and James Moore in a sunny dance from Gibson’s new work.

Charming was the next piece – a reconstruction of a rare Petipa work, the Sarabande from “The Pupils of Dupré” that had as its theme, the pas de bourée in all of its guises – plain, turning, traveling, with a partner danced neatly by Jahna Frantziskonis, Liora Neuville, Price Suddarth, and Ezra Thomson.

Comparing and contrasting two versions of the same variation from “Coppélia” was fun – first the original – or at least near original as revised by Petipa and Cecchetti with Mr. Suddarth, followed by the Balanchine choreography from 1974 with Kyle Davis.

Seth Orza interpreted Apollo’s solo that opens the “new” version of Apollo that Balanchine made in the late ‘70s – the one where he cut the opening prologue and had it begin with the solo where Apollo holds a lute.

It was a treat to see live a solo that I’ve only seen on film and represented in photos – the “Golden Idol” solo from Petipa’s full-length “La Bayadère.” I’ve seen the Paris Opera do this ballet and perhaps I just don’t recall this segment. This particular solo was added much later [1948] and is actually made by Nikolai Zubkovksy. Lots of turns and exotic jumps – very athletic and beautifully reconstructed on himself and danced by Mr. Davis.

One of the most poetic and lyric of all male solos is the one Balanchine made for Bart Cook in 1976, adding this piece to "Square Dance" just for him. It’s an extended adage sprinkled with bursts of energy and emotion that never the less evokes the Baroque, interpreted soulfully here by Mr. Porretta.

The concluding expressive male solo was from Jerome Robbins' wonderful “Dances at a Gathering” and is the one where the “Brown Boy” enters and reflects on the past and, perhaps, is also reconciling himself to the future. Very bittersweet and lovely and danced with great depth by James Moore.

The demonstration ended with the return to the upbeat “Mozart Pieces” – its Finale with full cast of Lindsi Dec, Karel Cruz, Kaori Nakamura, Griffiths, Moore, Cardea, Davis, Hipolito, Jr., and Thomson. While it would be premature to review Gibson’s latest ballet, it would be safe to say that audiences will find it delightful and filled with interesting and classical steps, pumped up to today’s expectations.

Today’s male dancer...as always...is an athlete but is also expected to be a great artist, capable of many things – clean technique, good at partnering, exciting, and providing a deep experience of great art.

All this, and more, can be found right here in our own backyard at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 11:25 am 
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Sugar and Spice
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Hansel & Gretel”
Sunday, 17 March 2013, McCaw Hall

by Dean Speer

If his reaction was any indicator of audience delight, then my 94 year-old father’s birthday treat [the very day] of seeing PNB’s “Hansel and Gretel” was overwhelmingly positive. He kept commenting later in the evening how much he enjoyed it and how good it was. All very true.

"Hansel & Gretel" is one of Bruce Wells' self-described “Ballet 101" productions -- one hour story ballets that are very well crafted and executed. I think of the three he’s made for PNB, this one takes the cake – literally, at least for me.

Casting is everything and being able to again enjoy former Principal Dancer Ariana Lallone in anything, let alone a part created especially for her, is a special occasion, as was this – her recreation of the personas of the Evil Stepmother and of the Wicked Witch. Lallone’s depth of technique, experience, and ability to inhabit a character made her return completely fun, believable and delicious. More!

The balance of the cast was drawn from the formidable PNB School with the very talented and professionally trained students assuming all of the parts, with the exception of the Sandman/Narrator who came from Seattle’s deep actor pool – Allen Galli.

With music by Bohemian composer Oskar Nedbal, Wells created a Reader’s Digest ballet that contains all of the basic elements of craft, choreography, good composition, and theatre – rolled into one fun time. Easy to follow, aided by the narration, various levels of student training are represented through the characters they portray.

Quite outstanding were Alex Hyman as the Poor Woodcutter – excellent technique, open faced and fresh who seemed sincere in his characterization of the hapless father. Enrico Hipolito gives his older brother, PNB Company member Eric, Jr. a run for his money. Enrico has beautiful line of leg, very nice feet and has developed a strong technique with a high elevation.

Saho Kumagai, with Christian Poppe as her attentive cavalier, soared as “White Bird” – pun intended.

Very much a family outing – an audience filled with excited girls AND boys, “Hansel & Gretel” was the perfect afternoon’s entertainment. Arty, witty, clever, and with never a dull moment, these one-hour one act story ballets are just right, giving us the balance of sugar, spice and all that’s nice.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:40 am 
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Philippa Kiraly profiles ballet master Paul Gibson for the Sun Break.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 1:48 pm 
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Forty Years In The Making
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 40th Anniversary Season Encore Performance
Sunday, 9 June 2013

by Dean Speer

As I’ve been going through my father’s house, sorting, clearing, and cleaning, I came across a lovely fundraising solicitation letter personally signed by Francia Russell, stating how proud and accomplished they felt after only 12 years of work since landing in Seattle from Europe, where they had been previously, with an emphasis on how far the PNB School had come.

1977 to 1989 to 2013!

A retrospective is a chance to look back, reflect, honor, and remember milestones. Some out-of-town balletomane friends were amazed that Pacific Northwest Ballet holds, as they put it, an end of the year Gala. This has become a tradition and it’s an evening that I particularly hold dear – it’s balm for my eyes and soul, not at least for the reason that I inevitably am racing to it from having stage managed a commencement for a University of Washington department. How nice it is to be able to go to something and have someone else do all the work!

This year’s edition, while it didn’t pay tribute to any single dancer, did pay tribute to a season that had been strong, offering both some excellent choreography and dancing. It launched with the last two movements of Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” lovingly staged by Francia Russell and here performed by the tall cast of Laura Gilbreath, Lindsi Dec, and Joshua Grant.

This was followed by the concluding duet – replete with falling glitter – from Kent Stowell’s “Cinderella” with Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand.

A strong offering that shows off PNB’s male contingent, “Mozart Dances” by Paul Gibson is bright energy with a hint of Baroque courtly formality. Benjamin Griffiths and James Moore were the male partners of a brio trio where the ever amazing Kaori Nakamura continued to show us what a powerhouse she is and how readily she can adapt to the stylistic demands of PNB’s varied and vast repertory.

What is not to like about “Swan Lake?” One excerpt from Act II showed off PNB’s superb corps de ballet with Maria Chapman doing the honors as a limpid Odette with Tisserand as Prince Siegfried. Notable as the precise Cygnets were Leta Biasucci, Jenna Nelson, Liora Neuville, and Carli Samuelson.

Electrifying [this is the first time I’ve used this word in a review – so you know it’s special] were Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold presenting their considerable dance wares from the Act III Black Swan pas de deux and coda. The duet was attacked with élan – which got us all charged up and anticipating the fireworks of the coda, which they more than delivered – Imler with regular double fouettées and Bold with his ballon and strength. This audience was primed and when Imler finished, erupted with cheers and screams.

Kiyon Gaines made his first ballets through PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase and his “Sum Stravinsky” is his second to be added to PNB’s mainstage repertory season. Inspired by Stowell’s work [whose own ballet to the same score, “Dumbarton Oaks” was a mainstay of PNB’s early years], the third movement seen again featured Grant this time with Lesley Rausch and a small corps of three couples.

Andrew Bartee’s skill makes one want to rush to see him execute just about any assignment, particularly when it’s elevated subject matter and parallel choreography – this time the somber “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” by Ulysses Dove. The ‘goodbye’ duet with Tisserand is among the best and is so heartfelt as he and Dec, Kylee Kitchens, and Elizabeth Murphy comfort and send him on his ‘journey home.’ I liked it and was struck by how, in some ways, this is similar to the conclusion of the wonderful “Serenade” where a female figure is hoisted up and carried into ‘the light’ by a supporting corps.

While not perhaps exactly my own cup of tea, the work and singular vocabulary of Frenchman Jean-Christophe Maillot is encapsulated well with the Balcony pas de deux from his full-length “Roméo et Juliette” which PNB adopted to much acclaim in 2008. Here, Nakamura gets to show her emotional acting depth, supported by Moore.

What could be a better way to send us off into the night than the Scherzo and Polonaise from Balanchine’s “Diamonds?” Imler this time in a relaxed and elegant duet with another of PNB’s male powerhouses, Seth Orza. Thrilling right down to my toes.

Also thrilling was enjoying the all-too-brief sighting of 70 former PNB dancers crowding onto the stage as they were thanked and all of whom, including us, who paid tribute then to Stowell and Russell as they too came on for valedictory bows. My only suggestion would have had each one’s name stated as they came on – just as we started to figure out who was who, the curtain came thundering down. We wanted to linger longer and to continue to thank them.

The mighty PNB Orchestra opened the program with the music from “Diamonds” which accompanied a slide show – a fitting retrospective to the many who’ve worked so hard and successfully to give PNB the stature it enjoys today.

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Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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 Post subject: Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet 2012-13
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2013 10:53 am 
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Location: Seattle, WA. USA
Watch Where You Step
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Next Step
Friday, 14 June 2013, McCaw Hall

by Dean Speer

Providing the material and the means is key to developing not only current creative artists but also the next generation. Pacific Northwest Ballet has been very smart in doing this for more than a couple of decades beginning with “Summer Inventions” and continuing today with a choreographers’ showcase cleverly titled “Next Step.” This iteration matches aspiring choreographers from the Company with Professional Division students from PNB’s robust School.

This year’s edition was not, overall, quite as strong choreographically as it has been in some previous years, but did have some hidden nuggets and certainly featured outstanding dancing. I habitually find myself suggesting that every choreographer check out, read and study Doris Humphrey’s "The Art of Making Dances." It’s an excellent primer and has such great admonitions as, “All dances are too long” and “Symmetry is lifeless.” Some of what was on the bill inadvertently fell into all-too-easy compositional sandtraps, such as too much unison or trying to mimic the music, rather than using it as a springboard.

One of the strongest was the concluding work, where Ezra Thomson showed us how much he loved us in his “Ich Liebe Dich” set to Viennese composer Gustav Mahler’s ‘Adagietto’ from his Fifth Symphony. The first time I heard this glorious music was when Karen Irvin, then the chair of the ballet department at Cornish College, made a pas de deux for Kathleen Mitchell and a partner to this score, set on the tiny stage of the original Cornish Theatre on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Mitchell later became a principal with the San Francisco Ballet, so perhaps this portends great things for this cast as well – Julie Turner, Jacqueline Schiller, and Isaac Aoki, supported by an all-female corps.

Thomson knew to have the cast lineup go from short in the middle to taller at the two ends, rather than the reverse, as this better shows off the center soloist. In his “Fanfare and Waltz” from ‘Sylvia,” Kyle Davis, by contrast, made his first opening corps line the opposite, which was rather unfortunate as it often hid the tall and talented Laurel Benson. The one clear thing that Thomson could have done sooner was to have taken the corps off the stage after the setup for the pas de deux – my mind was shouting “Get the corps off! Get the corps off!” which he finally did, but then brought them back on a little too early. Trust your instincts and don’t allow yourself to think that the stage needs to be busy with lots of dancers. Let the pas de deux play itself out.

Davis had great initial success when he tackled a “Sylvia” pas de deux last year and my initial reaction to the press announcement was two fold – excitement in anticipation since his first was so good but also an “Oh, no!”as I believe he should have been pushed to do something else, to have found other material with which to be challenged. His foray this time was nice, clean, and very pleasant but bland with too much unison and not enough of a full deployment of the eager corps. The solo motifs for Benson, while showing off her extension became predictable and were neither developed nor varied enough.

Titled for someone who was sidelined by injury, Jonathan Porretta’s “Beila” reflected his own buoyant energy as a trio for soloist Saho Kumagai and the duo ‘corps’ of Benson and Therese Davis with ‘cello soloist Naomi Tran playing one of Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas. Lovely.

When you make a title using something blithe like “I don’t know what to call it,” you invite media curmudgeons such as myself to immediately chime in with “And we don’t either!” Kidding aside, you know you’re in trouble when a colleague friend leans over and asks, “Are those PDs [Professional Division students]?” Regardless of the subject matter or message that you want to get across, I strongly feel that one of the jobs of any choreographer – whether making dances for young students in a small school or on the world’s stages – is to make the dancers look good. This work had a bit of a split personality – two dances in one. Sometimes the cast appeared to be lifeless zombies, slumped back and staring out at the audience, and at others, quick and energetic as when Andrew Bartee had them do very fast, sharp arm gestures partway through. The piece became more interesting and picked up toward the end.

The most romantic work – it received a standing ovation – was a duet for Kumagai and Aoki made by Price Suddarth to music by Arnalds. The choreography impressed me as being springtime green – fresh, happy to be alive, reaching to the sun and bursting with life – and in this case, great feeling. “The Spaces Between” deserves another viewing.

“Marquise” by Sean Rollofson used its four dancers effectively – it was clear Rollofson was comfortable with his cast and his material -- to music familiar to television viewers as used for a theme by a jewelry company.

Three couples vied for air space in Eric Hipolito, Jr.s’ “Give me flowers while I can still smell them” to a Mozart quartet could easily be described as a chamber ballet to chamber music. Lovely tones and interesting lines. Pleasant with a lingering aroma.

Four of the works in Next Step were accompanied by live music – a terrific thing and made possible by partnering with the Seattle Youth Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Rogers Radcliffe.

Next Step was supported by a number of people who are committed to the vision and of the importance of providing a forum for creative talent. A workshop where this talent may be nurtured and then seen – and burnished. They and PNB are to be commended and roundly applauded for giving this gift to the world.

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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