Posted 26 March 2011 - 10:43 PM
Some extra thoughts about the program.
Iím never sure if Morris is making intentional references to modern dance styles and icons when he choreographs, or if they are subconscious, but I often see his heritage reflected in his work, even in the dances for ballet companies. The womenís quartet in Pacific reminds me very much of the all-female work that Martha Graham made early in her career, circa Primitive Mysteries perhaps. They pace onstage with serious intent, rather like Grahamís female corps -- these are women with a purpose. And their big lunges, combined with powerful arm gestures, mark their space and establish their authority. In the opening night cast, Ariana Lallone is first among equals in this group, ranging further into the space and continuing to explore while the others have stopped. At one point, they are all standing in 1st position on pointe, all looking to the center of their group -- Lallone has her back to the audience but she still keeps our eyes, from the etched curve of her insteps through her long, straight spine. She would be terrifying if you didnít believe that she was working for good.
One of the male trio at the beginning of the work (Lucien Postelwaite on opening night) introduces a tricky step, a leap to the side with the trailing leg kicking high to the side while the head and chest pitch forward. Itís got a great accent from the start, but it isnít until later in the work, after several people have picked up on it, that I realize itís just like the lead couple in Doris Humphreyís seminal New Dance. In the Variations and Conclusion (the only part thatís still performed anywhere) that is their signature movement as everything piles on top of itself in the finale -- itís so exciting to see it in this context, no matter how it got here. Olivier Wevers and Carla Korbes did an excellent job with it when I saw it during the first weekend. As always, these kinds of references make me wish I could see some of these dancers in the classic modern rep. Can you imagine an Appalachian Spring with Carrie Imler as the Bride and Ariana Lallone as the Pioneer Woman?
Place a Chill
I really wish Iíd been able to see this before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan -- I have a feeling I would be thinking about it quite differently. It isnít just the chair drop (though the image of them scattered across the stage while dancers have to pick their way through the mess is probably the one I will remember longest) -- the general agitation of the work just seems to feed into the disquiet weíve been getting from the international news recently. Itís interesting to see how that unease develops during the work -- the opening could easily lead into humor. As the lights come up we see these fluffy things attached to the dancers -- they resemble lichen or feathery vegetation -- and as the dancers start to move, they vibrate. But those dancers fade into the low light during an initial male duet (James Moore and Ezra Thomson on opening night, I think -- the light levels made idís hard) and although that first pairing could have a lighthearted interpretation (it had several thwarted tango moments) the unrelenting agitation makes humor unlikely. By the time we get to the chairs, we are primed for chaos.
Goecke has built his movement on ballet skills -- there is a power and clarity in the locomotion and the articulation that comes from that tradition, but I canít say that heís really extended the vocabulary in a substantial way. Heís made a complex and difficult work, but it doesnít really open a door for further exploration in the way that Jiri Kylianís cross-pollination of ballet and modern dance does, or the more straightforward explorations that James Kudelka or Christopher Wheeldon have been making (or like Alexi Ratmansky, later in this program). You need to be highly trained to accomplish what heís set here, and that experience would probably extend what youíre able to do in a more classical situation, but this still feels like a one-off.
Goecke cast extensively from the corps, and itís great to see them step up to the challenge -- Thomson and Ryan Cardea in particular really committed to the twitchy specificity. Andrew Bartee has been going from strength to strength with the opportunities heís had this year, as has Margaret Mullin. And at the end, Jonathan Poretta was a very welcome presence -- the lights go down on him standing center stage with outstretched arms, a grounding influence.
The Piano Dance
Everyone has been saying for ages that they wish Paul Gibson would make a new piece for the company, and failing that, would bring his Piano Dance back. It was a very welcome revival, and while the new cast didnít make me forget the originals, they certainly made convincing additions to the possibilities.
Gibson does good, good things with his neo-classical education here, but looking back over my notes theyíre as much about the individuals dancing as they are the steps and the structures. I remember loving the variety of music when this premiered, and itís still a treat to see and hear. Maybe itís because so many ballet dancers train with piano accompanists, but works that feature a solo piano just seem to have a direct connection between the musician and the dancers.
Seth Orza substituted for Jeff Stanton on opening night, dancing with Lesley Rausch, and while I missed Stantonís sanguine demeanor, Orza and Rausch were a good match. Their big duet was full of long simple phrases, and they filled them with attention without hamming them up. That happened as well with Chalnessa Eames and Josh Spell in their stop-and-start-again duet. When she winds up clutching his butt and then looking at the audience, the moment could easily become a burlesque. Eames lets it be funny and salacious, but doesnít make it into a bigger joke than it should be. I know Benjamin Griffiths can do dark -- he was a very effective Mopey a couple years ago, and gave a lovely, thoughtful reading of the male solo in Square Dance, but I still think that Ďsunnyí is his middle name. In his solo, with the Italian commedia gestures, he just looked like he was happy to be there, and we were happy to see him. And in the runnerís duet with Rachel Foster, they reminded me of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland -- very spunky. Jerome Tisserand looked rather small and pale next to Karel Cruz in Pacific, but in Piano Dance he really shone -- lovely attenuation in his legs and very clean execution. In my notes, Sarah Ricard Orza is SRO, which always makes her seem very special, and she was, in that stretchy solo where she manipulates herself rather like a puppet (I open my thigh here, I push out of the lunge there) You can see the Brit influence in Barry Kerolisí turns -- theyíre very musical, especially in the opening sections here. And when Cruz comes out for the big duet with Laura Gilbreath draped over his shoulder itís quite astonishing -- theyíre both so long in the leg that when they drop down to do those side-side shifts low to the ground (the image with Louise Nadeau thatís on all the ticket stock) they seem to cover half the width of the stage.
I got a chance to see this last summer in rehearsal when it was first set on the company, and I remember walking out of the building with my head full of references. There are moments that feel straight out of Petipa, maybe something that got taught in a variations class that isnít in the active rep any more, while other parts have a real Soviet dramballet vibe (the valiant corps striding off into the future). And then thereís the Ballet Russe moments, or perhaps these come from his time in Denmark, where it all looks a little like Boutique Fantasque or some other childrenís game. For someone like me, who likes to see the past in the present, it was big, big fun.
Heís got some really fascinating stuff going on with mainline vocabulary all the way through the work, but in the opening section heís made a real devilish solo for a woman. Itís fast, complex, covers ground and plays with timing -- Carrie Imler nailed it, but showed us that it was really tricky on opening night. Rachel Foster wasnít quite as on top of it the next day -- she did everything that was asked of her but her phrasing wasnít quite as articulate. Sheís really strong, and can be very fast, but doesnít really have the same sense of quickness that serves Imler so well. Bakthurel Bold and Seth Orza make a playful trio with Imler on opening night in what seems like an elaborate game of tag. The two men are just different enough in size that they have a kind of Mutt and Jeff quality -- in another cast itís Jonathan Poretta and Benjamin Griffiths as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Later in the work Orza looks like a toy general leading his troops, with his hand over his heart. The work is laced with these childlike bits Ė even the moments of flat out virtuosity have a certain playground quality, like the series of jumps and air turns for a man (Tisserand in the matinee) with flexed feet in the air. Theyíre a bear to do without the extra lift you get from pushing your foot against the floor, but the overall image is of a toy, like Buzz Lightyear at the ballet.
The central pas de deux is beautiful, but the relationship (Cruz and Korbes opening night, Wevers and Chapman on the matinee) is about very young love Ė the two of them part at the end with a few looks, each going off with a different group. Some of the gestures that Ratmansky chose for this duet look to be custom made, but not always clear if they have a specific meaning Ė at the top of one big lift, with the woman held horizontal to the ground, her arms are stretched toward her head, with her hands clasped in what could look beseeching or victorious Ė neither really makes sense at the time, but I havenít been able to puzzle out what else could be going on.
Ratmansky plays some fun games with timing, both the internal timing of specific steps and overall timing effects. Interestingly, he plays one game with timing that I also saw that week in a video at the Seattle Art Museum, in an exhibit by the visual artist and former dancer Nick Cave. In the film, a group of dancers wearing some of Caveís ďSoundsuitsĒ (full body costumes covered in various materials, including hair) are jumping on pogo sticks, and it seems that some of the footage is shown in reverse, so that the accents you see reflected in the long hair of the suit are seen backwards, with the snap of the landing happening when the dancer seems to be taking off. In Concerto, Ratmansky shifts a leg gesture in a common jumping step so that it stretches away from the landing leg when it normally would be closing in, giving the jump a more delicate feel. And toward the end of the work, he has a group of dancers repeat an entire sequence, but slows it down until it runs at about half speed, while the rest of the ensemble performs normally Ė an old filmmakers trick as well as a familiar structural device used by post-modern choreographers. Between the historical references, the contemporary structural devices and the technical developments, Ratmansky is working in the past, the present and the future. So who says ballet is dead?