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Sarah Kaufman Critiques PNB's Choice of RepIn Ballet Across America


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#1 Helene

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 07:07 PM

In today's Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman writes,

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.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 09:13 PM

Thanks for the background information, Helene. I have to say that I heard this question asked many, many times. (There are a lot of critics here for the festival, as Dance Critics Association is meeting here this weekend.) PNB brought "Jardi Tancat" here before, I believe, and it had not been adored then :clapping:

#3 Helene

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 10:47 PM

About an hour after I posted this, I read your danceviewtimes reivew in which you wrote,

Another misfire was Pacific Northwest Ballet's rendition of Nacho Duato's "Jardi Tancat," which had everyone I spoke to asking "Why did they bring that?" PNB blazed onto the Kennedy Center stage years ago with a "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" so fine it started people looking at how Balanchine was being danced in New York and finding it wanting. "Jardi Tancat" has six dancers shimmy to Catalonian folk tales expressing some political torment and competing with artfully arranged, though puzzling, pointed stakes. The work has the impact of muzak, doesn't show off the dancers well, and its modern dance vocabulary doesn't use their training. All six dancers (Ariana Lallone, Noelani Pantastico, Carrie Imler, Casey Herd, Jordan Pacitti and Kiyon Gaines) shimmied with the best of them, but this isn't the kind of work that gives an opportunity for dancers to shine.


It is disappointing to read that these dancers didn't shine, especially in a showcase festival, since they all have had fantastic performances all year. Herd and Pantastico will go on to be seen by other audiences at Dutch National Ballet (where Herd guested last year) and Ballet de Monte Carlo. I wish the others had been seen at their best.

#4 sandik

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 12:43 AM

I asked Peter Boal about that choice at a recent post-show discussion and he gave several reasons for taking Jardi. He feels that the company looks good in the work, and that it "extends the idea of what we can do." As Helene described earlier, Boal has been programming more contemporary work (though Jardi was indeed acquired by Kent Stowell and Francia Russell). It has been a significant interest of his for quite some time, and his repertory choices really reflect that.

Aside for the aesthetic issues, money is also a factor -- Jardi has a small cast, and recorded music. Russell and Stowell didn't like to tour the company unless everyone could go, and that usually included musicians (they hauled all their kid performers to London when they did that Midsummer at Sadlers Wells) Boal is more willing to compromise if it means that a portion of the company will be out and about more often.

#5 Helene

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 10:13 AM

I asked Peter Boal about that choice at a recent post-show discussion and he gave several reasons for taking Jardi. He feels that the company looks good in the work, and that it "extends the idea of what we can do."

That only works if the company is perceived as looking good in the work, and that the work is perceived as extension, not regression.

From an audience perspective, how was the company perceived?

#6 Helene

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 10:34 AM

My "What I Wished Washington Could Have Seen" meets only one of Boal's criteria*.

1. It needs more than twice as many dancers (14)
2. It needs live music
3. Who knows what the availability of many of the dancers was?
4. The dancers look great in it*.

I wished that DC could have seen the (full version of the) "Square Dance" that opened "8 Encores" last Sunday night. "Square Dance" needs dancers like Carrie Imler and Jonathan Poretta in the leads, and it lives or dies by its corps casting. The ballet needs dancers like the two leaving PNB this season, Kara Zimmerman and Rebecca Johnston, and Rachel Foster, Kylee Kitchens, Stacy Lowenberg, and Brittany Reid, just like "Concerto Barocco" and the all-corps movement of "Divertimento No. 15" need these dancers. "Square Dance" needs men like Kiyon Gaines, Barry Kerollis, James Moore, Jordan Pacitti, Sokvannara Sar, and Jerome Tisserand, or it's all a bunch of steps.

"Jardi Tancat" simply doesn't need Imler, Gaines, and Pacitti, nor Herd, Pantastico, and Lallone.

#7 kfw

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 11:47 AM

I asked Peter Boal about that choice at a recent post-show discussion and he gave several reasons for taking Jardi. He feels that the company looks good in the work, and that it "extends the idea of what we can do."

That only works if the company is perceived as looking good in the work, and that the work is perceived as extension, not regression.

What's also odd is that, as Alexandra mentioned, they've already danced that work here, and as a matter of fact did so during their last visit. Of course that was, if memory serves, 12 long years ago, but still. I found it dull back then. The first time I saw it danced -- by Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal at Wolf Trap -- it followed Agon, and I put my head down and closed my eyes.

When these program were announced it was PNB I most wanted to see again, and if they're programmed almost anything else, especially if it had been something of Balanchine's, I would have gone.

#8 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 04:39 PM

....it followed Agon.....

Had PNB somehow managed to dance both "Jardi Tancat" and "Agon" at the festival, I predict the reviewer (and anyone on this board who saw the performance) would be searching for under-abused superlatives to relate their impression of this remarkable regional company.

I don't know why Boal did what he did -- perhaps he had reasons beyond what any of us know. But if you see PNB do "Agon" (or as Helene suggests "Square Dance"), you would see that this company's roots are alive, well, and exciting; while at the same time it extends itself to Dove's "Vespers" and Forsythe's "One Flat Thing, Reproduced".......all of which we saw here in Seattle this season.

#9 kfw

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 05:28 PM

If you do see PNB do "Agon" (or as Helene suggests "Square Dance"), you would see that this company's roots are alive, well, and exciting; while at the same time it extends itself to Dove's "Vespers" and Forsythe's "One Flat Thing, Reproduced".......all of which we saw here in Seattle this season.

I don't doubt you for a second, Sandy. And their 1996 Agon here with Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton is one I treasure.

#10 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 June 2008 - 10:01 AM

I guess I'm just a little disappointed that the east coast didn't get to see both PNB and OBT at the top of their game. I read elsewhere that OBT was a big hit during the festival. Had PNB been able to strut its stuff more demonstrably, it might have created a bit of a stir about what was in the water here in the Pacific Northwest :clapping:. If one is a balletomane and would like the natural beauty the west coast has to offer, a trip from San Francisco to Seattle via Portland might be a superb itinerary (altho the 3 company seasons may not jibe well enough for that to be practical).

kfw, PNB is a very different company than what you saw in 1996. I guess that could be said for any company after 12 years. None the less, I truly believe that PNB has taken a quantum leap in the last couple of years beyond what might be considered a "normal" progression. Not only has the rep expanded into more contemporary works (while still rooted in its Balanchine traditions), but the entire company also seems newly energized with a great deal more fluidity in terms of any dancers dancing any part, more self-confidence, unleashing a here-to-fore hidden acting ability this season, all the while retaining its congenial and "just happy to be alive" atmosphere.

I think next time you do get a chance to see PNB, it will live up to, and likely surpass, your fond memories (in spite of my tendency to over-hype :clapping:).


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