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Past, Present, and Future

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The Past, Present, and Future program, Peter Boal's second for PNB, consists of Balanchine's Concerto Barocco, staged by Francia Russell, Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat, staged by Hilde Koch, Marco Goeke Mopey, originally commissioned by Peter Boal & Company and staged by Sean Suozzi, the role's originator, and Kent Stowell's 1985 Handel tribute Hail to the Conquering Hero.

Sadly, between work and traffic, I arrived late two Fridays ago, in time for last five minutes of the 3rd Movement of Concerto Barocco. I watched this on the small monitors in the lobby, but one thing that struck me from watching the work at a distance was how tight the corps was. When I saw it again last Thursday, the corps was also very disciplined. This can make the performances a little airless, and if not quite academic, and a challenge for the principals, who sometimes look like they are dancing in a slightly updated, alternate production and who sometimes are a bit contained. Thursday's cast was Carla Korbes, Mara Vinson, and Batkhurel Bold. Korbes simply embodied musicality and Vinson warmth and charm, and between Korbes' pliant, unadorned legato phrasing and completely turned out retire and Vinson's radiance, the dancers breathed life into the ballet, and it infected the corps.

Jardi Tancat is a great audience favorite, and I've never seen a less than enthusiastic response to it here. In the Friday performance, Korbes teamed with Herd, Vinson with Jordan Pacitti, and Chalnessa Eames and Kiyon Gaines danced the third couple. On Thursday, Ariana Lallone and Jeffrey Stanton, Vinson and Bold, and Carrie Imler and Olivier Wevers danced the three couples. Korbes can't miss and was a joy to watch, but Lallone really lives the role; her back alone makes the performance and her expressiveness reflects the underlying sadness of a people worked to the bone. (Korbes was a happier character; perhaps the gorgeous music by Maria del Mar Bonet, some based on traditional Baleiric music, touched her.) Eames' role was a bit of a challenge; I've seen her more expressive in other ballets, but it's nice to see this very fine dancer stretched. Watching Imler, I was reminded how much I missed her dancing. (I haven't seen her much this year.)

Vinson's two partners, Pacitti and Bold were most vivid among the men; although they have different quality of movement, both are whole dancers, using their upper bodies extremely to great effect. Herd came alive once he started to partner. Stanton, a veteran of this work, has a tendency to fade a bit once he starts to partner, but it was hard to watch anyone else when Lallone was dancing anyway.

I can understand why there might be controversy over whether Mopey is ballet and/or should be performed by a ballet company, but I'm a bit perplexed by Boal's comments that people either love or hate this work. It's a very fine, structured, evocative dance work. According to a Seattle PI phone interview with Goeke, the choreographer who became ill seven weeks before the program and who couldn't create an originally scheduled new work for the Company, after the work was completed, he determined it was about "an angry teenager in his room." Despite this description, Mopey is a remarkably disciplined piece. Jonathan Porretta, who performed the solo in both performances I saw, said in a post-performance Q&A that without knowing this, he performed it like a kid alone in his house, and only updated the age when he found out it was supposed to be about a teenager. For all of his explosive energy, Porretta, who can switch from being the embodiment of Broadway to the personification of darkness in the flick of an eye, never completely obliterates an adult stage presence, and this gave his performance depth.

To describe the piece briefly, it begins in a flood of horizontal light on black, and the dancer is dressed in black pants and shoes and a black hoodie; the only white showing is his hands, his nose, and, occasionally a sliver of his back, where hood and pants cease to meet. This first section is danced in silence. The costume set-up is comical and the energy is infectious, but not completely under control; flickering and jumpy hands appear throughout the piece. When the dancer returns, to music by CPE Bach, he's shed the hoodie, and by virtue of the lighting alone, all emphasis is on his back and hands. Watching the sudden changes of direction and the unlikely contrasts of contraction and expansion, I was reminded of Push Comes to Shove -- partly because of the music -- but without that work's self-conscious "get it?" jokiness. Goecke, in his 30's, was born 20 years too late for Baryshnikov; this role, which Porretta claims as his inheritance, would have been a supreme challenge for Baryshnikov.

The third part is an extended solo in silence, in which the dancer must hold the attention of the audience, while recovering from the last solo. Porretta used his breath as part of the piece, as his back expanded in its undulations and his hands intermittently became the focus of the dance. The silence turned into a piece by The Cramps, which was loud and a bit dissonant, and the body language reflected the music. The piece ended whimsically, with a single overhead light, that dispersed when the dancer blew it out with a little puff, like a candle.

Boal, in the post-performance Q&A, emphasized the anger and angst and being misunderstood behind the piece. As the original commissioner of the piece, he'd have seen Suozzi's performances, and his interpretation is in line with Goecke's. However, having spent many hours with fellow nerds growing up and working with many for a long time, there's a more complex set of emotions and behaviors that are depicted in the choreography: role play, self-flagellation, repetition, posing, the body getting away from itself, the mind getting ahead of the body, the retreat into childishness and innocence, and just trying to figure out who one is. Porretta embodied all of these in almost strobe light succession.

The program ended with Hail to the Conquering Hero. I think this was a mistake. It is not a closer, and it is too soft to follow Jardi Tancat and Mopey. Placed at the end of this evening, it was enervating, like asking a crowd whose team had just won the National Championship to meditate.

I don't think HTTCH is a particularly good ballet; the opening group dances never really take fire, and the dance for women, "He smote all the first born," gets tied up in start and stop phrasing. The first pas de deux, "Andante," is a nice opportunity for the dancers, but like the "Xerxees largo," the main pas de deux, which is too similar to the first pas de deux to Chaconne -- down to the loose hair and some signature moves -- to feel original, neither seem to go anywhere. The last scene, where the corps holds candles, is static. However, the ballet has an original sensibility, almost religious in nature. When the hero enters the stage to "Piangero, piangero," it's as if the first thing he does after the battle is reflect -- and not entirely happy reflection; there was plenty of low-key angst -- and pray, before taking his place in the victory celebration. I was actually disappointed when I had to leave after Mopey Friday night, whatever its flaws. In my opinion, this ballet is a self-contained opener, the type that should be performed as part one of a program with a two-act, before La Sylphide, Harlequinade, or in contrast to Stowell's own Carmina Burana.

Mara Vinson is having a great mini-season with this program, showing versatility and strength in roles as diverse as the second soloist in Concerto Barocco, second couple in Jardi Tancat, and the rambling "Andante" of HTTCH (partnered by Anton Pankevitch).

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Thank you Helene for the wonderful review of the Past, Present, and Future performances...almost like being there :) As I said before, I would love to be able to make it up to Seattle for every performance, but that just isn't possible. Thanks for sharing.


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