Posted 12 June 2005 - 11:44 PM
The structure of tonight's intermissionless tribute program alternated between dancing and mostly taped spoken tributes, but it opened with a live spoken introduction by Susan Brotman, Board Chairman of the Company Foundation and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees. It was a short intro, in which she was joined by two young students, Emma Baker and Jeremy Blancas, who also both spoke a line or two of thanks to Russell and Stowell.
The performance began with the overture to Stowell's ballet Silver Lining, which closed the regular season last night. The first taped tribute was by Suki Shorer, well-known to NYCB fans as a teacher and author of Suki Shorer on Balanchine Technique. The first dance, the opening section of Serenade, was fitting for the founders of a school that is now feeding the Company (and how!): it was performed by students of the Professional Division.
Tributes by Jocelyn Vollmar, who danced with San Francisco Ballet, as Kent Stowell did in his early career, and who now teaches at the San Francisco Ballet school, Violette Verdy, and Deborah Hadley, former Principal Dancer for PNB, followed. Verdy was very funny and noted that people work harder in retirement. Jodie Thomas and Casey Herd danced the coda from Pas de Deux Campagnolo, set to Verdi's music from I Vespri Sicilian, which Jerome Robbins used for part of The Four Seasons. I wish they had been able to dance the entire (short) ballet, and I hope it's revived after next season. It was clear from that first performance how "on" the dancers were going to be; they sustained the energy and devotion displayed by Thomas and Herd. So did the Orchestra, which played beautifully throughout the program.
Writer, historian, and Director of Research for the Balanchine Foundation Nancy Reynolds gave the next tribute, which was followed by a performance of the First pas de Trois from Agon, with Jonathan Poretta, Maria Chapman, and Mara Vinson. The version they performed was the one that Russell learned from Balanchine -- the opening of the movement is completely different than the one performed by NYCB and staged by Richard Tanner on Ballet Arizona -- and he re-choreographed the Galliarde on her. In the commemorative booklet, Arlene Croce wrote a remembrance about her 1993 trip to Seattle to see Russell stage Agon. In it she said, "I had been watching Agon from its opening night, but not until the PNB staging did I realize how much had actually changed, accidentally or on purpose...Agon had been minimized for far too long a time."
Maurice Sendak, whose sets and costumes for Stowell's The Nutcracker were part of the first "start from scratch" major new production in Russell and Stowell's tenure, spoke next. It was fascinating to hear the different take and response of a professional whose life isn't centered around ballet. Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers then danced the "awakening" pas de deux from the first act of the ballet -- set to the music that NYCB fans will recognize as the "moving bed" music -- complete with full sets and snow -- and the corps followed with the Waltz of the Snowflakes. There's something a bit electric in the air when Nadeau and Wevers are paired.
Probably the most moving moment of the tribute was that to an orchestral introduction to Theme and Variations, photographs of Russell staging the ballet for the Kirov Ballet (as it was still known) in the late 1980's. The curtain rose on the pas de deux, danced splendidly by Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold, and the violin solo gave concermaster Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi a chance to shine. The corps and demis entered to perform the Polonaise. This performance got a huge ovation, and the applause didn't end until William Bolcom's tape tribute started.
I think I counted four times where Bolcom exclaimed how important it was to work with a choreographer who new and understood music. This was followed by Stowell's fourth ballet to Bolcom's music, Dual Lish, to the "Serpent's Kiss" section of The Garden of Eden. This was the first time I saw this ballet; I was travelling when it premiered last year. Larae Hascall designed another beautifully flattering costume for the female lead, danced by Noelani Pantastico, who was partnered by Jonathan Poretta, in a role that is a classical take on the song and dance man that Stowell had wanted to become as a boy.
The next tribute was from designed Ming Cho Lee, with whom Stowell has collaborated for most of his original major full-length productions. Liebeslieder Walzer was the next ballet, followed by tributes from Russell and Stowell's three sons, Christopher, Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, Darren, who's a teacher, and Ethan, who's co-owner and chef for the Seattle restaurant Union. Fitting was the next ballet, a Piece d'Occasion, choreographed by Christopher Stowell, to the Bartered Bride overture by Smetana. The ballet was led by Jodie Thomas/Casey Herd and Mara Vinson/Nicholas Ade, with a large corps and six young students from the school. All of the dancers were dressed in costumes from Kent Stowell ballets, with two towering figures from Silver Lining in the background, and the piece ended with one of the Nutcracker gift boxes being rolled to center stage, out of which popped Russell and Stowell's three sons, in black tie. Given how tied up many of the dancers were in rehearsals for Silver Lining -- the whole Company is in it -- and how ambitious this tribute program was, it is amazing that the dancers performed this energetic ballet with multiple entrances and exits and patterns as if they'd rehearsed it for years.
The next set of tributes was from the "backstage" members of the Company, followed by a performance of the pas de deux from Stowell's Daphnis and Chloe, danced by Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton. Dancer tributes followed, from school children, who spoke of their professional dreams, to a member of the Professional Division, to a company apprentice, to corps members, to a soloist -- at least an attempt, since Jonathan Poretta was recently promoted to Principal Dancer -- and long-time Principal Dancers Louise Nadeau, Jeffrey Stanton, Patricia Barker, and Ariana Lallone. Barker and Lallone were products of the school, and rose through the ranks to Principal status. It was only fitting that the last piece on the program was Grand Defile, to Bizet's Symphony in C.
Grand Defile began with a couple of very young students, starting upstage, doing a ballet walk downstage, and then a turn toward the closest wing, and a walk offstage with arms extended in arabesque. They were followed by increasingly older students and corps members -- who took places onstage -- until Poretta and, I think, Herd appeared. They may have been the first to step to about midstage and then run downstage, before they gave hand-on-chest bows. I thought at that point that they were bowing to Russell and Stowell, not the audience, but the after several groups of students and corps, the next male Principal received a great ovation, and the audience started to clap and cheer for the Principals, who appeared between the older students and corps. I believe the Principals entered in the order in which they became Principals with the Company. Each Principal designed his or her bow.
They were followed by the three Principal character actors, Uko Gorter, Flemming Halby, and Victoria Pulkkinen. They did a normal walk downstage, but Halby, in a well-cut suit, was as imposing and impressive as the most formal, serious Principal dancer.
The Company stood on stage for the orchestral finale from Firebird, which was almost entirely drowned out by applause. I'm not sure where Russell and Stowell entered the house with their children -- the First Tier is blocked off and is the only section that doesn't flow downwards into another, unless there's a secret, moveable gate in the barrier -- but they did come down the aisle in the section in which I was sitting (Gallery Upper Right), where they ascended to the stage via a small staircase. The crowd was clapping and yelling and whistling, glitter confetti dropped from the flies, and flowers showered the stage. The Principal dancers, Ballet Masters, and Russell and Stowell's children each gave them a flower with a big red bow, in between plenty of hugs and kisses, so that when held together, they formed enormous bouquets. The crowd went wild until the curtain came down for the final time.
About 20-30 minutes later, with a packed set of lobbies, Susan Brontman appeared with Russell and Stowell and their children. There were toasts, and Russell and Stowell each spoke. Russell thanked everyone and revealed that the "mastermind" behind the entire tribute was none other than Doug Fullington, and he had been working on it for a full year and was responsible for the commemorative program, which goes so far beyond the typical tribute program, and is an important historical document for PNB and for the history on staging Balanchine.
Like the experiment that was the United States, it's easy to assume in retrospect that the daunting task of creating and sustaining and growing a great ballet company in Seattle was going to succeed and that the existance of the Company at the current standard was inevitable. From an audience perspective, certainly in the last decade, it's easy to take this success for granted.
Of all of the spoken tributes, the most moving to me were from the ballet masters (Anne Dabrowski, Paul Gibson, and Otto Neubert), musicians (Stewart Kershaw, Allan Dameron, and Dianne Chilgren), school staff (Denise Bolstad), and technical staff (Jennifer Kimball, Sherri Thompson, Murray Johnson, and Rico Chiarelli) who spoke of Russell and Stowell as mentors, teachers, collaborators, and colleagues. Except for the musicians, who were established when they met Russell and Stowell, Russell and Stowell were intergral in the professional development of every other speaker. There was palpable love and emotion in the tributes, and a sense of thankfulness for being part of this venture. This is something I would have expected from the dancers, but to hear it from the people who are invisible to the audience and are rarely honored was a privilege for us.
The two qualities that they spoke most about were the trust and respect that Russell and Stowell gave them, which has engendered tremendous loyalty. Russell and Stowell managed to trust the people they worked with even when the Board didn't trust them, like during preparations for the Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker. Perhaps the key was Croce's description of watching Russell staging and Stowell choreographing in separate studios during that 1993 visit:
"Both Kent and Francia worked in the unhurried, unbothered, utterly secure manner of their mentor, Balanchine."