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Pacific Northwest Ballet

Ballet Now! Program: 'Mercury,' 'Artifact II,' 'Palacios Dances,' 'Torque'

Review by Dean Speer

November 6-9, 2003 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle

Mixed bills may sometimes be a hard sell to some members of the general public, but not for me. I like to think of mixed bills as being the “meat and potatoes” of the ballet world. As I am known in my “day” job workplace as being part of the dance world, I get tackled all the time from folks who have questions, observations, and comments, which I heartily welcome. The latest, about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Ballet Now! Program came from a university professor who asked, “Is this real ballet?”

His question behind the question was really, “Well, this is not a full-length, narrative ballet, therefore…” I think I’d now answer this professor familiar with the typical programming for the symphony, “Well, most orchestral concerts are not made up of a single, full-length works. Ballet mixed bills are parallel to symphony bills in many ways. There is an opener (Overture), then a Concerto, followed by a Symphony or closer; and yes, this is ‘real’ ballet.”

Ballet Now! opened with Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s wonderful “Mercury” which is set to five movements from five different Haydn symphonies. It truly is mercurial with an inventive running “seek and search” opening motif that she deploys throughout the ballet. A sparkling Noelani Pantastico replaced an injured Carrie Imler in the first movement and was delightful, along with partner Karel Cruz who seemed to just LOVE what he was doing in this ballet. It really showed in his performance and through his clean, strong technique. Melanie Skinner and Paul Gibson were just right as a sunny couple, playfully dancing and interacting in the second movement duet. They also appeared right at home. I found myself smiling and being uplifted right along with them. Kylee Kitchens and Stanko Milov, were, if anything more moving and powerful then in last week’s studio run-through. Mara Vinson and Jonathan Poretta were singularly radiant in the fourth movement, showing speed and energy with wattage to spare.

The final movement reminded me of Mr. B’s “Symphony in C.” An energetic movement that brought all couples and the full company back on to the stage for a “big” and satisfactory finish. Absolutely a “WOW!”

I think that William Forsythe’s “Artifact II” occupies its own world. I think this is really why it’s such an outstanding, unique, unusual and vastly popular piece. During the post-performance discussion, Artistic Director, Kent Stowell, fielded a question from an audience member about recorded music (this ballet is done to a solo violin recording). While I agree that it may be that Forsythe was too nervous about using live music (which apparently was offered) and wanted to stick to a recording, I think that he wanted a particular effect – in this case, the music cranked up LOUD, the curtain crashing down several times during the ballet (at least five times by my feeble count), unusual and effective lighting designed by the choreographer and the use of the whole corps as a frame to the ballet.

As for a story for this ballet, if I may indulge in a Star Trek comparison: It’s the Borg assimilating two couples who struggle to stay individual but ultimately lose at the end (“Resistance is futile!”) when all goose step from the sides of the stage to the middle as the curtain comes crashing down for the final and emphatic time. The couples were Ariana Lallone with Olivier Wevers and Louise Nadeau with Paul Gibson. Each were powerhouses, knocking out big movement, and engaging in challenging partnering that really pushed the envelope of what pas de deux can be about. Lallone and Wevers filled the stage with powerful images and sweeping movement that was a delight to behold. Nadeau and Gibson had the feel for the piece very, very well and she was indeed dangerous.

I like to think that if Mr. B. were alive today, he himself might be pushing the movement limits of ballet in a similar way. “Artifact II” is special and a welcome addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s canon.

Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton were hot in Stowell’s “Palacios Dances.” It was fun seeing a different interpretation than that of Wevers and Kaori Nakamura, who had done the studio performance. It always seems that Patricia Barker can do anything and takes great pleasure in it too. She really looked like she was having fun with this work and Jeffrey Stanton’s sympathetic and expert partnering I’m sure helped both of them bring the right touch to this balletic, tango duet. I have to point out that Barker also designed the costumes. Many, many talents and all in one place.

”Torque” by Northwest native Val Caniparoli is quirky and fun with some extended sections of dancing for the men, which I find most welcome. Hurray for these kind of changes to the ballet world: more for men to actually do – to be more than a porteur. Victoria McFall’s outrageous tutus for this work are not to missed. Each of the five couples were strong, beautiful, playful when needed, and balm for my tired eyes. Kudos to Ariana Lallone, Batkhurel Bold, Louise Nadeau, Olivier Wevers, Chalnessa Eames, Jonathan Porretta, Noelani Pantastico, Nicholas Ade, Mara Vinson, and Jordan Pacitti.

The only thing I might have done differently was to have had the ballets performed in the exact reverse order. “Mercury” was made as a “closer” for New York City Ballet and while it does work as an “opener” too, I found that I would have liked “Torque” better at the top of the bill.

Yes, an evening of “REAL” ballets and one that was delightful and artistically satisfying. We and Pacific Northwest Ballet should be very proud of the continuing level of product that is done and sustained here. Sceptics should stop wasting their breath and get to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Ballet Now! program now.

Edited by Jeff.

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