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Fanfare of Feathers -- PNB Opening Night


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#1 Helene

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 01:36 PM

PNB threw an hour-long gala performance Opening Night last night at the new McCaw Hall. The company expects to hold a separate Opening Night fundraiser each year. I had heard Parsifal in August, and my initial impression of the wonderful acoustics held, but last night's performance was a great program to confirm that the ballet orchestra has entered a new world in the hall. This was the first time that I heard the violin and cello during the White Swan pas de deux as a true conversation between the instruments, reflecting the choreography.

After the congratulatory speeches, PNB performed a sampler program with a "feathers" theme, with excerpts from Swan Lake, Firebird, Bluebird pas de deux, Peacock (Arabian theme from The Nutcracker) and the Wedding Feast orchestral interlude from The Golden Cockerel, until the closing piece, the finale from Silver Lining. During one speech, Stowell told the audience that he wanted them to come all season, again and again, and the program was designed cleverly to entice the audience with morsels: since eveyone will come to see Barker perform Swan Lake -- many in the gala audience have the very pricey Opening Night series, for which she is cast -- Louise Nadeau and Christophe Maraval danced the White Swan pas de deux, and Carrie Imler/Batkhurel Bold and Kaori Nakamura/Olivier Wevers shared the Black Swan pas de deux.

After the Act III Overture to Swan Lake, performed by the orchestra, the dancing part of the program opened on one of Ming Cho Lee's new sets -- white castle pillars with a diagonal cross beam on each side. Stanko Milov and six women performed the Dance of the Princesses from Act III. The costumes were stunning -- cream colored, each a little different in style from the other, with headdresses to show the region each princess was from. The tone of this piece, though, was more like the Aurora's coming out scenes in Sleeping Beauty; Milov danced a bunch amidst the princesses, and he seemed much more enthusiastic about dancing and dancing with the princesses than the character normally is. I don't know if this was for the gala audience and will change when the stage is full of guests, and his mother is egging him on to pick someone already.

Barker was a marvel in the Firebird pas de deux, danced with Jeffrey Stanton. Stowell choreographed just about every trap in the book, and she performed the role seamlessly. Barker makes it bearable to not be able to see Kyra Nichols on a regular basis.

Stowell said that there are five casts; in the first week, Nakamura is cast twice, with Barker, Nadeau, and Pantastico once. I think Nadeau poses a lot, especially in balance, without much legato between poses, and as a result, she looked brittle to me as the White Swan. I keep trying to give Nadeau a chance, and even suffered her performance of my favorite pas de deux, Act II from Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Unfortunately I had to trade my Saturday afternoon ticket with Pantastico (whimpering noise) for Sunday afternoon with Nadeau (groaning noise), and last night's performance didn't make me any happier about the casting.

To squeeze all of the principals (except Paul Gibson) into the "feathers" pieces, the Black Swan pas de deux was shared by two couples: Imler/Bold danced the first half of the opening adagio and the solos; Nakamuri/Wevers danced the second half of the adagio and the coda. They managed a nice transition between the couples. There was a huge contrast in interpretation that was obvious even through the gala champagne, and both were quite modern. In the adagio Nakamuri ate Wevers alive with sharpness and precision; there wasn't a drop of meat on his bones when she was done with him. He played the young pup. She also had really great rhythm and form in her fouettes; it was like she had all the time in the world, even when the conductor sped up in the middle.

I've seen young(er) dancers perform roles where I thought they just didn't get it, but it's rare when I see a younger interpretation of a role is unusual, but fits like a glove. For example, most of the Sirens in Prodigal Son I have seen played the older, more experienced woman and the head of the band of robbers; the seduction was like a well-savored meal. When I first saw Darci Kistler perform the role, I was floored: to me, she was the embodiment of callous youth, who could have been the girlfriend of the ringleader, and for whom the victory was more important than the seduction; I could almost see her straightening her hair in the mirror during the pas de deux. (She would have stepped right on the Prodigal's bones on her way out.) Imler's performance impressed me in a similar way; she is a dancer who grew up in post-pill, post-feminist age of Madonna and Brittany Spears, and while there was none of the vulgarity associated with them in her performance, she put it out there in a very contemporary way. There was nothing shy or coy about her Swan's attractiveness, but she played him just as effectively through dynamic changes of speed and assertiveness. I don't know what Bold's characterization was, because, during the pas de deux I was so fixed on Imler, I didn't watch him, and he's a dancer who holds my attention almost always.

Also included was the Four Little Swans -- a huge mistake, because as soon as the music started, the audience started to giggle and was trying to suppress its laughter at the end, when the swans tilt their heads repeatedly to the side. In the Bluebird pas de deux, Jodie Thomas was the only non-principal to perform a lead in the gala; I hope this bodes well for her. Granted, the feeling of Bluebird is different than the White Swan, but when Thomas hit a perfect balance, she did not implore the audience to look at her and acknowledge it, which was much more effective. She danced with Le Yin, who danced all of the repeated steps superbly with strength and whose beats were so fast they were a blur. What a find for the Company. It was very strange and anti-climactic to see Peacock, danced by Ariana Lallone, onstage without the Sendak sets and the Pasha's court. Maybe it's just too early to hear the Nutcracker. And, luckily, Paul Gibson was given an opportunity to blaze across the stage during the Silver Lining finale.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 21 September 2003 - 01:59 PM

Thank you very much for that, Hockey Fan. The "feathers" theme seems original! I was especially interested in your comments about the young Siren -- it IS always exciting to see a young dancer reinterpret a role that suits both the ballet and her generation and I'd like to see that one. I hope you'll keep us posted on PNB's season!

Other Seattleans? (??) What did you think?

And would anyone like to volunteer to keep an eye out for newspaper links for this and other programs this year? We try to get all of them on the Links forum, but someimes we miss. Also, it would be nice to have them in the company forums, too. I'd like to do that this season.

Doug had posted these on Links Saturday, and I'm copying them here (and thank you, Doug!):

More previews of PNB's Swan Lake:

In today's The Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- cover story by freelance writer, Alice Kaderlan Halsey in "What's Happening".
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/ae/

In today's The Herald -- cover story by Mike Murray including section cover photo.
http://www.heraldnet.com/ae/story.cfm?

In today's The King County Journal -- story by Carole Beers. http://www.kingcount...ory/html/143791


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