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Kylian + Pite

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It took me awhile to finish these thoughts -- sorry to be so slow!

Usually when you know how a trick is done, it loses some of its magic, but I’m just as thrilled with the simple magic effects in Petite Mort now as I was when I first started watching it. We’ve seen it here a few times now, so it’s easier to see specific performances or choreographic patterns since we don’t need to work as hard to get the sequence of events. The opening sequences, where the men manipulate their foils, repeats itself as they then manipulate their partners, bending them, twisting them, testing their mettle. Kylian makes good use of silence in this work, so that we hear the sound of the props as they’re used. The whistle of the foils as they slash through the air is really clear, but so is the snap and rustle of the silk cloth as the men pull it downstage, and the hum of the wheels under the women’s ballgowns.

We got several different casts over the run and it was great to see different people step up to these duets. In no particular order – Carli Samuelson and Benjamin Griffiths in second duet made the accents on the leg crosses very clear (people seem to think it’s supposed to be very crisp or very not – I didn’t see much in between). Price Suddarth and Emma Love Suddarth did the third duet – like Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz, they seem to have a headstart on the interrelated timing. Laura Tisserand is usually so steady and confident I was surprised to see her have some trouble with the turns – the foot does need to work differently on the floor when you’re not wearing shoes, and she seemed to have trouble with the friction. But she and Bakthurel Bold both get the shifting weight when they turn on their heels, so there’s that. Maria Chapman has a kind of knock-kneed beauty, as she works with Andrew Bartee – she manages to look elegant and ungainly at the same time, which is certainly a trick. Sarah Orza is back from maternity leave with her beautiful line in tendu back – I’m looking forward to seeing what else she gets this season. Jerome Tisserand and Leslie Rausch make opening and closing limbs into drama – Rausch is particularly good finessing the transition between moving with her partner and then being lifted – it’s as if she’s still making it happen. And in a strange coincidence moment, Seth Orza and Kaori Nakamura seem to echo their performance in Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs from the last rep, where he hauls her up to her feet pulling her arm hand over hand – they’ve got the same pattern in their duet here, but without the abusive overtones.

It’s interesting to see Sechs Tanze right after Petit Mort – the second piece comes off as much more silly in this context. For all that they weren’t made together, they work really well as a two-piece suite – Sechs Tanze takes the intimacy and elegance of Petite Mort and shows us a funhouse mirror version – these people fall on their butts, play silly games, show off and pout and fight. In some ways it reminds me of Twyla Tharp’s work with Milos Forman on the film version of Amadeus – not the dances so much as the general physicality – these people are willing to go for broke. The musicality here is much less nuanced than in Petite Mort – accents are right on the beat, the movement phrases follow the music in a real Mickey Mouse fashion, so that the timing of the humor takes full advantage of the score. Kylian isn’t afraid of a sight gag – from accidental nudity to pratfalls, this work is stuffed with silliness. Everyone seems to be having a fine time, but I particularly loved Ezra Thomson as the man who can’t decide if he should use his wig to cover his crotch or his bald head; Carrie Imler as a hapless third wheel, abandoned when her partners decide they’d rather play dress-up in the ball gowns; Margaret Mullin deciding that she was going to take charge; Kiyon Gaines’ diva moment when he wiggles into one of the ballgowns, and Sarah Orza’s general daffiness.

Forgotten Land is new to PNB but was the oldest work on the program – made in 1981, it’s got a more old-school modern dance look to it. At a few moments it reminded me of Graham’s Diversion of Angels, or some Limon repertory. More than the other two Kylians here, this one requires a solid modern technique to make its best impression – some of the casts are able to use their weight to create that kind of swing and momentum, while others are still struggling. For all that the company prides itself on the breadth of its performance skills, works like these really do ask them to dance in a way that is pretty much the opposite of their usual assignment. Rachel Foster is willing to do almost anything, and that riskiness serves her here as she makes it through some of the challenges on sheer grit. She’s powerful, and she’ll throw herself into something, but she’s still learning how to calibrate her use of weight to its best effect. Maria Chapman has really made headway in that department, and so has Leslie Rausch. But probably the people that came closest to the overall sense of attack were Carrie Imler and Kiyon Gaines opening night, and Meg Mullin and Jonathan Porretta in the same parts the next day. The “red” roles are propulsive, with big surging phrases that cover a lot of space, and all four of these dancers made a significant impression in them. Both Gaines and Porretta are having a great year so far – they’re at a point in their career where you might start seeing them pull back from new challenges, and continue to hone skills they’ve been developing for a time, but they both seem to be jumping into everything right now – it’s a thrill to watch.

Ever since the company announced that they would be doing Crystal Pite’s Emergence this season it seems like there’s been a competition among the dancers for the “biggest Pite fan” award, and after watching her lead some rehearsal before this series of performances I can understand why. Not only is the work physically and intellectually challenging, emotionally evocative while absolutely mysterious, but she seems to be a genuinely nice person to work with – everyone has been almost fulsome in their praise.

For all that there are a number of stunning duets and solos in this work, Emergence is really about the group, but it’s not the geometrically ordered corps of Petipa. At several moments in the work we’re reminded of the natural world outside the theater: the swarming of insects, the surge of waves on the beach, the vibration of atoms in even the most solid matter. In the other works I’ve seen by Pite, she often uses multiple theatrical devices (puppets, props, film/projections) but here almost all the ‘effects’ were made by the dancers. Their geometric clarity, and finely-tuned group sensitivity (especially with unusual spacing) was spot-on

It’s hard to think about individual performances in a work like this, but there were some standouts. Rachel Foster made an incredible impression in the opening solo. For all that Pite models insect behaviors for much of the ensemble material, this solo looks very much like the birth of a foal, or some other kind of four-legged animal, and their struggle to find coordination. I swear she practically disjointed her shoulders for some of the phrases, or else she developed additional joints – whatever the mechanism, she barely looked human, and that’s a compliment here. I was absolutely riveted. As her watcher/midwife/whatever, Joshua Grant was great – he really used his height to reinforce Foster’s creature-ness, and as he helped her find her footing it was a remarkably distinct process – it’s so easy to read boy/girl stuff into partnering, but he had a wonderful detachment here. Maggie Mullin did an excellent job with the solo as well, but she didn’t make quite the same impression. (though that’s partly the way the rest of the work is cast – when Foster danced the opening solo she was also part of a big quartet towards the end of the dance, which gives us a feeling that she’s grown or evolved over time – when Mullin did the solo, Leah Merchant danced in the quartet, which changed the vibe considerably) Andrew Bartee and Kiyon Gaines also shared a solo, a section that Pite calls the “Bee Man.” Gaines continued to power through this section, giving it a kind of thrashing quality. Bartee was totally committed to the off-center aspect of Pite’s style throughout the dance, and it really showed in this solo – he looked like he was orbiting around a totally different axis than the rest of us. Dec and Bold shared a big duet with Imler and Porretta during the first weekend – both couples were dynamic and strong (I’d say they were bold, but I don’t want to make the pun).

(I thought it was charming that, despite the contemporary nature of the choreography, Pite uses traditional ballet terms to describe many of the sections, so that she talks about the Grand Pas and the Pas de Quartre. You can take the girl out of the ballet company, but apparently you can’t take the ballet company out of the girl…)

Pite was very interesting in a pre-show interview (run by Peter Boal) She says that she usually tries to develop the technical aspects of her work (props, stage effects, etc) at the beginning of the process, rather than creating movement that has to accommodate itself to the other elements. She’s been an artistic association at Nederlands Tanz Theater for seven years – working with dancers that have “so much complexity in their bodies” has been great but it’s a big challenge to get them to move in new ways. She was very pleased with her experiences at PNB, felt that the dancers could do her material without needing too much coaching at the beginning (especially getting up and down from the floor), so that she could get further in re-working the dance.

Some miscellaneous comments from the Q/A sessions

: Question to Peter Boal about hiring new dancers (Christian Poppe and Raphael Bouchard joined the company with these performances) “I hire them when I can afford them.” Bouchard was actually coming here to audition last year when he did that emergency substitution for Ben Griffiths during Romeo and Juliette.

: The recorded “wind” sounds that are played at the beginning of Forgotten Land is actually Kylian breathing – so he’s “at” every performance of the work.

: Rachel Foster was asked about the difference between this material and classical ballet, she replied that she hadn’t worn pointe shoes for two months. Boal said “Good luck with Aurora.”

: Boal’s comment about the movement style “It’s rooted in classical ballet technique even though it’s weird.”

: Boal on the prominence of the corps in Emergence “A piece where being one of 39 isn’t a problem.”

: Jahna Franziskonis on Roslyn Anderson’s staging the Kylian – “(She) demands respect in a respectful way.”

: When Pite was working with the composer Owen Belton, she asked him for “the sound of many.”

: Franziskonis said that she’s going to be making a work for Next Step with Angelica Generosa

: I asked Boal about the overall arc of the year, how he makes programming choices. He said he tried to have a strong contemporary program in November, for people who aren’t going to see Nutcracker.

: Dec and Cruz originally saw Petite Mort on the Arts Channel and really wanted to do the work.

: Dec said she was very weak when she first came to Seattle “I was like Bambi on ice.”

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Dec also said that when Anderson came to stage Petite Mort the first time, she asked people to stand next to people with whom they might partner, and Dec grabbed her husband, a much-in-demand partner, because they had dreamed of dancing in PM together.

Thank you always for your insights, sandik!

Carli Samuelson has been having a fine couple of seasons, almost stealthily excelling in a range of roles. Amanda Clark has had fewer opportunities, but she's been taking advantage of what she's given.

I spend a lot of "Forgotten Land" casting other ballets in my head, mostly Tudor's. I want to see "Jardin aux lilas" with Rachel Foster as Caroline and Carrie Imler as The Woman From His Past in the afternoon, and then Carrie Imler as Caroline and Rachel Foster as The Woman From His Past in the evening. I want to see Maria Chapman in both roles and all three of them as Hagar. Leta Biasucci and Margaret Mullin could also be Carolines, and Gibreath as TWFHP, and Grant as the Fiance; heck, he'd be great as any of Tudor's men. As always, every time I cast Dec in my head, she could go in many ways. All of them would be great in "Dark Elegies."

A girl can dream...

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Several people have been having a great start to the season. I worry a bit about the Nutcracker run -- lots of corps people get lots of work, which is fun, but it's also grueling, and we've got the rest of the season to do!

I often cast work in my head while I'm watching something -- this time around it's Green Table (my Joffrey DVD just got here, so I'm excited) I think perhaps, considering the Christmas season, a "Dear Santa" thread is in order...

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Rachel Foster made an incredible impression in the opening solo...........I was absolutely riveted.

.....as was I. And it would be Rachel Foster to pull off something like that with such drama, power, flexibility, and lack of "classical stiffness". She is always a marvel in these more contemporary ballets. Even more amazing to me is the height to which she has also pushed her purely classical ballet dancing in the last 5 years (at least to my eyes).

I am forever missing Chalnessa Eames.........Rachel fills that contemporary+classical excellence role for me (altho no one can touch the humor that Chalnessa can deliver to the audience without fail).

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