Color It Seattle
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Director’s Choice Program
Saturday, 15 March 2014, evening performance
by Dean Speer
A colleague was recently quoted to me as saying that today’s [read “young”] choreographers seem bent on making dances that are too serious, dressed drably, and – as he put – “go down from there.”
I think this may be because perhaps creative artists are feeling that unless they do make dark work, they and their work may come across as frivolous, not be taken seriously and therefore lose future commissions and perhaps risk becoming an arts pariah.
None of the choreographers on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s latest bill, Director’s Choice, are in danger of this. Well-established Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman’s “Take Five” is brightly cheerful, playful, wry, and filled with sumptuous dancing – the theme loosely based on what dancers tend to often do during their breaks – dance! Kaori Nakamura was resplendent as the “yellow girl,” beginning the ballet, bored by her ‘take five break’ who instead turns it into a balletic and jazzy riff of indulging in all of the things you’d like to do when the director isn’t looking.
I was wondering who, if anyone, could possibly take over the wonderful relaxed tap solo created in collaboration with Stroman by original cast member Jeffrey Stanton...I needn’t have feared – Kiyon Gaines gave it sharp clarity, the taps and the intent being clear, his style a bit more grounded; a deeper and earthier plié.
At the other end of the light spectrum – literally – is Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Memory Glow.” My impression was of an all-black stage [floor, curtains, costumes (which actually have color but came across as black)] with the dancers surrounded on three sides by lights placed on the floor that were sometimes used to create and define the space itself, with lighting the color of brownish grease.
It began with a female walking forward from back to center stage front, being shadowed by a man, who upon touching her finds himself supporting her under the arms while she lifts and slightly collapses her weight into his arms, shifting her knees and legs to the side giving us a kind of strong Christ-hung-on-the-cross image. This motif is a recurring theme throughout the work.
It very well showed off its male cast: Andrew Bartee; Raphaël Bouchard; James Moore; Steven Loch; Charles McCall; Matthew Renko; and Ezra Thomson with their female artist counterparts Leah Merchant; Elizabeth Murphy; and Rachel Foster.
A reprise of Susan Marshall’s aerial “Kiss” was given by Carla Körbes and James Moore with tensile phrasing and strength. This round, I found myself warming to it more than before – even though my previous viewing included Moore and the lovely Mara Vinson [now heading her own ballet school north of Seattle]. “Kiss” is about as far as you can get from both ballet and dance itself while still remaining dance. I note that another local writer suggested that it was more performance than dance. The movement itself chiefly comes from the in-air swoops and swirls, push-offs, and inter-twinings made by the dancers’s initiative. I liked and enjoyed the shapes they made, being visually impressive and often poetic.
What can be said about Jonathan Porretta in anything? Fierce, intense, and in this case – a 40 minute solo set to Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring,” feral.
This was not a civilized creature but one that was forming along with the earth and stars, becoming only fully-formed and “released” at the conclusion. The movement itself reminded me of watching how imaginary people or creatures transform in movies or on television – jerks, spasms then finding their feet or wings, a bit of a respite, and then more of same.
“State of Darkness” shows both Molissa Fenley’s strengths and weaknesses as a choreographer. Prolific in her ability to spin out long phrases, she was, in this instance, too repetitive and I found myself wanting her to take one or two of these phrases and really deeply mine and develop them, rather than rely too much upon repetition as a tool. Specifically, it cried out for its few torso contractions to be extended – there was a lot of arm and leg movement, but if you’re going to be feral, it has to begin with a shudder and build from there. I would say that it easily held everyone’s attention throughout but was at its strongest for about the first third, then fell back into reiterating phrases multiple times.
For the first three works, the mighty PNB Orchestra accompanied led respectively by Ian Eisendrath; Allan Dameron; and finally Music Director Emil de Cou.
Overall, Director’s Choice was a northern hemisphere/Seattle kind of bill – atmospheric and cloudy grey but with a chance of sunshine peering through.