A Conflict Resolved
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s AIR TWYLA Program
Saturday, 28 September 2013, 7:30 p.m.
by Dean Speer
The late, great University of Washington professor, Giovanni Costigan (1905-90) [and unintentional nemesis of my mother, but that’s another story], was famous for his “Classicism versus Romanticism” lecture which I heard him give in the 1970s.
Classicism can be partly defined as “...harmony, restraint, and adherence to recognized standards of form and craftsmanship,” and Romanticism as “...emphasis on the individual's expression of emotion and imagination, departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion against established social rules and conventions.” Head versus heart, technique versus feeling.
This has long been an artistic tension that so often plays out in the work of Twyla Tharp, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s first Artist-In-Residence [AIR] and could be seen on stage in PNB’s all-Tharp first program of the 2013-14 season. Truthfully, I believe that her entire work could perhaps be characterized by this single conflict – you see it in her early work and throughout her recent pieces but not in her newest creation, a world premiere entitled “Waiting At The Station.”
My sense of this new piece is of being relaxed and of the dancing speaking for itself. I was really impressed. “Waiting At The Station” is quite good and while containing much sparkling quick wit and fun with a funky, jazzy New Orléans-influence, it is mostly about lively and virtuosic dancing with a small story as its backdrop and platform. Perhaps confronting his own mortality and passing along his legacy to his son, James Moore as the Father took the ballet ball and ran with it, becoming a star in a starring part.
Price Suddarth was excellent as the son upon whom the dance mantle is placed, often shadowing his father, literally in his footsteps.
Carrie Imler and Kiyon Gaines along with Laura Tisserand and Jonathan Porreta were a dance hall riot and were both exuberant and occasionally competitive. The gold-and-glitter Three Fates of Chelsea Adomaitis, Elle Macy, and Sarah Pasch often and easily lured Moore to off- and on-stage revelry, showing that the Father could resist anything except temptation. He also appeared to be about the only character who could actually see them.
When we think the Father has passed away and gone over to the other side, a Mardi Gras funeral procession makes its way across the stage, including pallbearers with what we have to presume is Father’s coffin. But fear not, he makes a rolling comeback [from upstage and under the set], gets back up and dances, making his final “exit” as the train comes into the station -- an amazing bit of stagecraft wizardry with a life-sized engine making it way straight to the audience, with plenty of steam as the curtain rings down.
It was exciting to have the work’s composer, Allen Toussaint, playing the keyboard, with Emil de Cou conducting the mighty PNB Orchestra for the only live music the evening.
Tharp really outdid herself with this premiere.This work represents time well-spent at PNB on a ballet that will have other companies eagerly wanting to add it to their repertories.
Opening the program, “Brief Fling” might be called a dance setup – to skewer Percy Grainger’s iconic 1918 setting of an English folk tune, “Country Gardens,” and nicely does so without getting too cutesy. It’s a work that is more typical of what I’ve come to expect from Tharp and you can easily see the “intellect” versus the “feeling” in its structure and execution. It opens with some straight forward dancing and structure, including a pas de deux for a principal couple – Kaori Nakamura and guest Sascha Radetsky [from ABT] and a quartet of dancers in red plaid -- a radiant Maria Chapman, Kylee Kitchens, Benjamin Griffiths, and Eric Hipolito, Jr. Then, in comes the quirky and unexpected Tharp part – Leta Biasucci partnered by three men, Gaines, Porretta, and Ezra Thomson. While it was fun seeing Radetsky, who is terrific in his own right, seemed unnecessary given the high level of men we already have at PNB. My guess is that Tharp wanted someone already familiar with her ballet to “anchor” the cast.
“Nine Sinatra Songs” leans more toward feeling than action or an intellectual exploration of theme and development, although those elements are there, undergirding the work. It’s more an intimate work than a grand ballet. Half serious, half playful, it comes to a full ballroom conclusion with all couples “competing” on the floor.
Won’t someone please give an Oscar to Brittany Reid and her shorter-than-her [on purpose] dance partner, Ryan Cardea, whose exaggerated ballroom dance moves provided the light-hearted antics that nicely balanced the serious goings-on of the first half of this work.
All of us had a good time at the ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet proved yet again how fortunate we are to have them right here in our own backyard.