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What's PNB's next step?article in Seattle Times today


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 14 March 2004 - 10:24 AM

Speculation on PNB after Stowell and Russell: (includes brief interviews with Nancy Reynolds, Christopher Stowell, others)

What's PNB's next step?

With the announcement last month that Kent Stowell and Francia Russell will leave Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2005 after 28 years as co-artistic directors, the company is facing twin challenges. How do you follow a class act like Stowell and Russell and how do you surmount a $1.23 million accumulated deficit?

Russell and Stowell helped put Seattle on the cultural map by transforming a fledgling, struggling little company into a major regional troupe. They did it by acquiring a treasure trove of Balanchine ballets, presenting new choreography by Stowell and many others, staging big story ballets such as "Swan Lake" and creating a major ballet school.

Will PNB continue on its current course or look for a new, venturesome artistic direction?


I don't agree wiith the last sentence in the quote -- will PNB "look for a new,, venturesome artistic direction," which implies that Stowell and Russel's direction has been less than venturesome -- but I'm sure others will.

What do you think PNB watchers? (Not just of this point, but of the several issues raised in the article, and, what do you want to see happen at PNB? What do you think will happen?

#2 sandik

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Posted 14 March 2004 - 11:05 PM

I don't think that Bargreen is implying that Kent Stowell and Francia Russell have been timid in their artistic direction of the company, but that they have been in their jobs for over 25 years, which is several generations in the life of a ballet company. They have had specific goals and specific strategies to acheive those goals -- they've accomplished a great deal during their tenure. But every choice to do something is a choice not to do something else -- there are choreographers and styles that are not represented in the current company (for various reasons) and with this change in directors the board/community needs to think about what other possibilities there might be.

#3 Helene

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Posted 14 March 2004 - 11:46 PM

During the recent post-performance Q&A's Russell and Stowell said many times that they felt that they hadn't accomplished everything they set out to do, back when they didn't feel there were limits. In other contexts they talked about wanting to do specific projects, from new productions and new choreography to replacing the $12K camera that they use to record performances for archival purposes, so money, money, money is a common theme.

It would be grand if, indeed, the increase in subscriptions plus the $500K in unexpected Nutcracker ticket sales does go a long way to eliminate the deficit the Company incurred during the two season in the Arena, thus giving the new Artistic Director(s) a clean slate. (Russell said that 70% of PNB's revenue comes from ticket sales, which made them particularly vulnerable to the audiences who didn't see much magic in the alternate venue.) Once the announcement was made, they said that the Company needed a new Artistic Director who would come in and believe that anything was possible, and having some money, or at least no or little deficit, would help a lot in that direction.

Having one Artistic Director who was a resident choreographer -- full length through one-act neoclassical -- and another who was a stager of Balanchine's works, really kept the budget for new works down. Nonetheless Stowell and Russell have hired many of the usual suspects to choreograph/re-stage works: Forsythe, Duato, Fonte, Rushton, Tudor, Caniparoli, Taylor, Baynes, Taylor-Corbett, Dumais, O'Day, Byrd, Tetley, C. Stowell, Hynes, van Manen, Limon. How many lauded contemporary classical choregraphers did they miss? Wheeldon is the only one I can think of off hand, with Julia Adam and Yuri Poussokov having had successes on the West Coast. Ashton would be a stylistic stretch that would challenge the dancers. There are modern choreographers whose works aren't in the active repertoire, but PNB is primarily a classical company, and I hope it will stay that way. Do we really want Stroman, or ABT's Harrison ballet, and a lot of what comes out of the Diamond Projects? Not from what I've seen of the early attempts at the latter or have read elsewhere on this Board.

#4 Helene

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 02:13 PM

I spoke too soon. I just read that Carolyn Carlsson choreographed a ballet performed by POB, so the beginning of my wish list for a new PNB artistic director would be:

Carlsson
Mark Morris, preferably a new work, although I wonder what the company would do with Dido
Twyla Tharp, not because I think her ballet works are her best work, but because it would be an experience for the dancers
Karole Armitage
Graham, maybe Diversion of Angels
DeMille's Rodeo, Fall River Legend
Kudelka. I kind of liked Julie Kent's section of Cruel World
Robbins

More Tudor and Forsythe

#5 sandik

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 10:37 PM

More Tudor and Forsythe

I would be happy if they performed the Tudor they have.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 10:49 PM

I'm of the school that if one does justice to Tudor one cannot do justice to Forsythe, and vice versa. Carlsson, Graham -- they're modern dance choreographers. (An old song here) The dancers aren't trained to do them. Also, when the repertory becomes mostly modern or contemporary dance, the classical repertory suffers. If PNB goes that route, it will indeed change its nature.

Why not encourage new BALLET choreographers. That's what's missing in ballet today, and if it is to continue as an art form, this needs to be done. We can't live on Swan Lake and the Balanchine repertory forever.

#7 Helene

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 11:13 PM

I don't want PNB to go mostly modern -- I think that would be tragic -- but I wouldn't mind a piece thrown in every year, if only for the dancers to work with interesting people. Some of the dancers have talked about training extensively in modern dance through their early to mid-teens, and they might do justice to some of the modern pieces. The Company does a wonderful job with Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat. (The music itself is worth going to the performance.) I think it was Julie Tobiason's best role, and that the dance world lost a great modern dancer when she turned to ballet. Maynard Stewart was superb in it, too.

I think that there are some PNB dancers who take to Forsythe like a fish to water. If PNB were to perform Tudor, I think that another niche of dancers in the Company would be cast. The Leaves Are Fading isn't my favorite Tudor, but it might work for the Company.

Paul Gibson has done a few works for the school, but I don't think PNB has been a great lab for developing choregraphers. San Francisco Ballet has developed at least three in recent years (Julia Adam, Yuri Possoukov, Christopher Stowell). Kent Stowell has been prolific, but as he said, he choregraphed the full length works because the Company need them, and having a resident stager and choreographer made it cheaper to do new works. An Artistic Director who is not as prolific will have to go outside to fill the new work "quota."

#8 Helene

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 07:00 PM

Well, from The Seattle P-I, there is the article from which Ari excerpted the following quote:

Among many in the dance world, in Seattle and elsewhere, Boal always has been considered the leading candidate from the five finalists to succeed Stowell and Russell. However, a number also were dismayed that PNB seemed unwilling to move beyond its present artistic parameters. There were a number of candidates, from the United States and Europe, with substantial reputations who would have taken PNB in other directions. None made it to the short list.

"It was very obvious," said one knowledgeable observer of PNB, "that the search committee wanted the company to stay where it is and keep the same aesthetic." Indeed, if one looks at recent changes in artistic directorship in leading American ballet companies, such as Boston and Houston, or even Oregon, run by Stowell and Russell's oldest son, Christopher, the companies' artistic profiles are undergoing quantum shifts in focus.

If I understand correctly, the "quantum shift in focus" undertaken by Christopher Stowell at OTB is from a modern-based company to a direction closer to PNB, San Francisco Ballet, and, to an extent, Arizona Ballet: a core classical/neo-classical repertoire including some Balanchine, with a few new ballets each year, some full-length (or 2/3 length) classics, and a smattering of modern ballet. I'm not sure what Boston Ballet has moved away from (apart from some mediocre-awful performances I saw in the early 80's), but looking at next season's rep, there's a Cranko story ballet, Sleeping Beauty (after Petipa), The Nutcracker (no choreographer listed on the website), La Sylphide, a Balanchine/Robbins triple-bill, and a "modern" triple bill (Kylian, Forsythe, Lucinda Childs). That actually sounds more conventional than what Russell and Stowell have programmed, with the exception of this "farewell" year. Houston Ballet looks a bit scarier, with a lot of its choreography by Stanton Welch. (Granted, I've only seen a limited sample, but I prefer Stowell's full-lengths to Welch's choreography by far.)

What other directions are we talking about? The opposite of what Christopher Stowell is doing at OBT, just for the sake of saying that there was a change? And I would hope that the new artistic director would subscribe to the same aesthetic. I don't know why that's such a big disappointment or reason for "dismay."

I don't see a problem with mixing it up a bit, as I mentioned in an earlier post on this thread, to stretch the dancers and give them interesting people to work with, but that doesn't mean a change in aesthetic, but rather substituting a Mark Morris/Agnes de Mille for a Hans van Maanen/William Forsythe once or twice a season.

#9 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 07:35 PM

Have you ever noticed that if a company commissions new crossover works, they barely commission any new ballet work? They tend to get that in-house. Obviously I'm biased, but I think it would be peachy-keen if any company apart from NYCB decided to concentrate on commissioning new ballet choreography.

#10 Helene

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 11:01 AM

Have you ever noticed that if a company commissions new crossover works, they barely commission any new ballet work?  They tend to get that in-house.  Obviously I'm biased, but I think it would be peachy-keen if any company apart from NYCB decided to concentrate on commissioning new ballet choreography.

I think that given budget constraints, the choices are: ballets created (or staged) by in-house staff or no new ballets at all. That gives companies the option of putting the money into sets and costumes and other audience-pleasing decor, and maybe even renting it out to other companies.

#11 Estelle

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 12:51 PM

Helene, do you think it would be so much more expensive to commission new ballets rather than new crossover or modern works ? Perhaps there would be some possibilities to commission a short ballet (not necessarily a full-length one) with some not too expensive sets and costumes, I don't see why it'd be more expensive than modern works...



#12 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 06:17 PM

Since they're replacing two people's salaries with one person.... wouldn't there be budget room for a choreographer in residence?

#13 Helene

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 07:00 PM

Helene, do you think it would be so much more expensive to commission new ballets rather than new crossover or modern works ? Perhaps there would be some possibilities to commission a short ballet (not necessarily a full-length one) with some not too expensive sets and costumes, I don't see why it'd be more expensive than modern works...

I think what they do is say, we've got in-house staff to do the ballet pieces, so let's spend the money on sets for their pieces, or perform their new ballets in simple costumes, and use the money for a crossover or modern piece.

For example, last year, Ballet Arizona's big new production was by Ib Andersen, because he didn't have to pay himself, and he even designed the sets and costumes (he's a painter). This year, he's choreographing one new ballet and Olga Elvreinoff is staging Paquita. As for new works, Julia Adam is choreographing for the Original Collection (which I think in Ballet Arizona terms means world premiere, not a restaging or American premiere), and a "guest choreographer" will complete the "Innovations Program." There's also a new production of a Tharp revival ("Sinatra Suite"), a staging of La Sylphide by Hubbe, and Andersen's Nutcracker and Coppelia. Without knowing who the guest choreographer is, I don't know which way the new commissions are balanced, but they are spending money on a Tharp piece. (Andersen worked with Tharp on Brahms-Handel when he danced with NYCB.)

San Francisco Ballet looks better, but because there are first SFB performances of Robbins' The Dybbuk and Ashton's Symphonic Variations. In addition, there is a SFB premiere of Lar Lubovich's "smile with my heart," and a new Stanton Welch on the one hand, and Helgi Tomasson's new Nutcracker and a new Yuri Possokhov ballet on the other. Looking at the rest of the rep, there are repeat performances of four Tomasson 1-acts, one Tomasson full-length (Romeo and Juliet), one Possokhov, and one Caniparoli. Then there are revivals of one Robbins and three Balanchine ballets and one Paul Taylor modern piece. Among contemporary choreographers, there are revivals for ballets made for the company in the last few years by Morris and Wheeldon.

#14 Helene

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 07:16 PM

Since they're replacing two people's salaries with one person.... wouldn't there be budget room for a choreographer in residence?

Oops, your post came in before I finished mine.

I have my own suspicions that in this case the salaries might be in inverse proportion to the artistic gains. I've never heard PNB do anything but cry poor, but Russell did say in a Q&A that 70% of their revenue comes from ticket sales, and the 1.66 seasons in Mercer Arena hit them especially hard. Luckily, the Company is a lot closer to eliminating the deficit (if they haven't already) from those years. I think Seattle owes Russell and Stowell a lot for sticking this out for a few years longer than they intended to work, especially having to do everything on a very tight budget.

Paul Gibson has been choregraphing a few pieces for the School and Company, and he joined the Artistic Staff as soon as he retired from dancing. The expectation is that he will choreograph for the Company. He and Christopher Stowell are doing the only two World Premieres this season, with Tetley's Firebird a Seattle premiere. I think he may be the closest thing to a resident choreographer, but there's been no input -- public at least -- from a new AD.

#15 sandik

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 12:39 AM

Currently, Francia Russell is the head of the school as well as a co-director of the company -- since the school position will have to be filled in some way I don't know that there will be any real "savings" at this point.

As hockeyfan points out, the company has always been very upfront about their fiscal situation. They are more dependent on ticket revenue than companies in other cities, and this part of the country is lagging in the recovery from the dot.com bust, which affects ticket sales as well as donated dollars. The move back into the rennovated hall has certainly been good for them, but I believe they were in a deficit situation (albeit a small one) before.

Honestly, if there is additional money to be garnered from this, they may want to consider adding to the roster of dancers. After some retirements, promotions and shuffling, they are down to 5 soloists, officially. On one hand, this is really a cosmetic distinction, since they often draw from the corps to fill solo roles (and ocassionally principals will also appear in parts that might be considered solo-level) but it is disheartening for dancers who might otherwise appreciate that kind of recognition to stay in their current 'category.'

If Boal does indeed become the Artistic Director then it seems he will have to look beyond himself for new work -- whether that means a house choreographer or a series of guests is a distinction without much difference, budget-wise.


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