The dancers playact well, and you can't fault their somersaults, yet it's an unmoving spectacle because it feels slick and inauthentic. Indeed, "Jardí Tancat" (the name means "closed garden" in Catalonian) owes more to reductive flashes of Martha Graham and José Limón techniques -- the folded-in torso contractions, the rigidly outstretched limbs -- than to peasants padding in the dust.
However, for all its oozy, overstated sentimentality -- or perhaps because of it -- Duato's work has its fans; his strong audience appeal made him a darling of the dance world in the 1980s and '90s. This was especially true because works like "Jardí Tancat" (1983) were based on flat-footed contemporary moves, so troupes of varying abilities could put them over. But it remains a mystery why the large and well-regarded Pacific Northwest Ballet decided to announce itself with an unsophisticated work that has little to do with the ballet technique in which it specializes. Nor does the work make use of the Opera House Orchestra, or teach us much about the company except that it is years behind on a trend.
This isn't the first time Pacific Northwest Ballet has toured with "Jardi Tancat"; it was one of six ballets performed on two mixed bills at a City Center appearance in the mid-90's that opened with Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15." I think it was performed more than once alone at Bumbershoot, but that's not surprising at a rock/rock-influenced festival. Boal didn't bring the work into the Company; Francia Russell and Kent Stowell did during what Kaufman describes as Duato's "darling of the dance world" period. Kaufman brings up an important point: when presenting the Company with a single work, why modern dance?
In light of Kaufman's question and her examples of the rep that other companies brought with them, I see distinct two camps. The first brought classics and the performances were a gauge of expertise and company health: Pennsylvania Ballet danced Robbins ("In the Night") and Ballet West danced the Balanchine classic "Serenade". The second camp brought dance specific to the company's core identity: Kaufman's example of Kansas City Ballet's "The Still Point" was a tribute to its founder, Todd Bolenger, Joffrey Ballet brought "Lilac Garden", the type of ballet that has deep roots in the Company, Oregon Ballet Theatre brought Wheeldon's "Rush", which does speak to the direction that Christopher Stowell is bringing his troupe, and, for better or worse, Houston Ballet brought Artistic Director Stanton Welch's "Velocity" and Boston Ballet brought Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo's "Brake the Eyes". I don't know enough about Washington Ballet to know what kind of statement it was making with Twyla Tharp, or whether it was trying to give major roles to many dancers.
I also don't know whether the choice of "Jardi Tancat" is a statement of identity or was meant to take an audience-pleasing piece with a small cast that would mix well in a mixed bill without the complications of little rehearsal time with live music. The performances took place just a few days after a long season, with two weeks of the Robbins program and a Sunday night closer in which it seemed every healthy dancer took part. Houston Ballet's last rep of the year ("La Sylphide" and "A Doll's House") run's concurrently with these Ballet Across America performances, though.
On the other hand, "Jardi Tancat" looks more and more like the mixed bill rep that the Company is presenting here. There is no shortage of Balanchine and we are getting more Robbins, but we're also getting more specifically modern work. Boal has "prepared" the audience for Ulysses Dove's modern pieces by first presenting two works choreographed on ballet companies, "Red Angels" and "Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven". (I personally think that the works get structurally weaker as they progress.) I don't put the full-length Maillot "Romeo et Juliette" in that category, because while it wasn't ballet, in many ways it was great theater, something that all else in the modern camp but Tharp (sometimes), is not.
There are at least three up-and-coming and working choreographers in the Company -- Paul Gibson, Olivier Wevers, and Kiyon Gaines -- each of whose work for the Company is solidly in the ballet camp. Gibson's "The Piano Dance" and "Sense of Doubt" show the company in great form (although the latter piece takes more than the six that travelled for "Jardi Tancat", as does Gaines's "Schwa"). I bring these up in the context of Kaufman's criticism, as there was an opportunity to put forth a company identity as a nuturing place for in-house choreography, even if the Balanchine identity was skipped. If this choice was meant to be an identity piece at all.