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PNB at the Guggenheim (May 8-9, 2005)

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From the Guggenheim site:

"Balanchine Continued…at Pacific Northwest Ballet

SUN and MON, MAY 8 and 9 @ 8 PM

Since 1977, Artistic Directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell have worked to pass George Balanchine's style onto the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Principal Patricia Barker leads a cast of dancers performing seminal Balanchine works along with Stowell's choreography, which is rich in the tradition of the master choreographer."


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Sorry so late, Sandi.

Moderator: Lourdes Lopez (LL)

Guests: Kent Stowell (KS), Francia Russell (FR)

Moderator: Lourdes Lopez (LL)

Note: Some attributions may be missing or inaccurate. I was handicapped by the frantic notetaking I'd done earlier that evening at NYCB's Peter Boal event (my college days are long past), the delay in transcribing these notes and the fact that like many partners in life and work, points were made by both in tandem.

LL: Thoughts on leaving?

Leaving more than a ballet company. There is also a school through which 1900 students have passed; choregraphers, designers, orchestra, production staff, administrative staff.

LL: What is the Balanchine legacy?

KS: Structure, harmony, musicality. Intent. Living up to one's own expectations and ideals.

FR: Loves working on his ballets. They do not teach exactly as Balanchine would have. Over 28 years, they've done works of more than 120 choreographers, so the training serves a more eclectic rep. The legacy is in his work ethic and his example as an artistic director, as someone who treated everyone with respect.

As Seattle's only dance resource, PNB had to carve out an eclectic profile.

LL: How do you train someone to do Swan Lake one day, Agon the next?

FR: It's all classical. Balanchine studied Petipa. Thinks not having attended SAB has turned out to be an asset in her capacity as AD. The students study not only ballet, but also jazz, Spanish (which does wonderful things for the women's backs), Russian and Eastern European folk, and modern.

KS: Balanchine had a burst of creativity in the late '50s, creating Agon, Stars, Square Dance, Gounod Symphony ("I hated Gounod" frowned FR). In the '60s, much of Balanchine's and the company's focus was directed toward to the move to Lincoln Center, draining some of the creative energy.

FR: Was second cast in Liebeslieder.

KS In the studio, Balanchine had mastery of his craft but depended on inspiration.

After leaving NYCB, they spent two yrs as ADs in Frankfurt and decided that they next wanted a company and a school. They formed a structure and a syllabus and started out with 18 dancers, supplemented by some students.

KS: They went about building their institutions wearing "blinders," building a repertory (with "scary things"), building a relationship with the community, It's "honest work. . . . Ballet is unforgiving."

FR: Kent is very good at presenting challenges.

LL: Any aspects of the original vision left unfinished?

KS: Any artist has unfinished work. Would have liked a small theater for workshops and experimental performances. Would have liked an outdoor summer theater. Would have wanted more scholarships. There will always be a need for new dancers and new ballets.

FR: Will miss grooming the young women on the cusp of a professional career, helping them to discover who they are as dancers, developing them as athletes, but keeping them feminine. Will miss the public education aspect.

LL: What is your pride of ownership? Will it be difficult to turn the whole operation over to someone else?

KS: It's like leaving your children with foster parents. You hope you've instilled in them the fortitude to do well, and you hope the foster parents are good to them.

FR: From the conferences, it looks like the next phase of PNB is off to a good start.It's good to step down now.

KS: It's been a thrill to have his own company and the full array of dancers. The [sendak-designed] Nutcracker changed the whole organization, brought in more money, made possible the stagings of Coppelia, Swan Lake, Firebird , Cinderella and Romeo & Juliet -- all PNB's own, forming its specific identity. The season closes with Stowell's "Silver Lining," to music by Jerome Kern. It is an "energetic US company."

FR: Wonders why more women aren't drawn to choreography. Describes the experience of walking down the hall, hearing the "cacaphony" of all the different music spilling out of the various studios, knowing of all the work going on within, drawing energy from that.

KS: There are over 5 billion people on the planet, perhaps 5,000 are professional dancers. Maybe 50 can make a living as choreographers. Such people live "privileged lives".

Company members performed as follows:

Agon pdd: Patricia Barker and Jeffrey Stanton

Dual Lish (Bolcom/Stowell): Jodie Thomas and Jonathan Poretta

Midsummer Night's Dream (Mendelsohn, Balanchine), Act II pdd: Louise Nadeau and Christophe Maraval

Lambarena (JS Bach, traditional African music/Caniparoli), pdd: Carrie Imler and Batkurel Bold

Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky/Stowell) Act IV pdd: Barker and Stanton

Divertimento #15 (Mozart, Balanchine), three variations: Nadeau, Thomas, Imler

Hail to the Conquering Hero (Handel/Stowell), Andante: Thomas and Poretta

Paquita (Minkus/Petipa) variation: Bold

In the middle, somewhat elevated (Willems/Forsythe): Barker and Stanton

The Four Temperaments (Hindemuth/Balanchine), first part of Melancholic var: Poretta

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Tchaikovsky, Stowell), Bedroom pdd: Nadeau and Maraval

The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky, Petipa): Imler and Bold

Overall impressive, but especially noteworthy: Barker's regal presence, Bold's expansive joy, and Imler's gorgeous epaulement and charm.

Oh, and as if that weren't enough, there was a stack -- many stacks, in fact -- of the company's big, photo-filled annual program there for the taking. (Thank you! :innocent: )

Stowell and Russell discussed Balanchine's legacy and gave us an early taste of their own. An awesome accomplishment. Congratulations to them, and whatever their future holds (after their prolonged vacation), I hope it is as rewarding -- for them and the rest of the ballet world -- as the past 28 years have been.

Susan Reiter reviews the dancing in a little more detail in DanceViewTimes.

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Sorry so late, Sandi.

Oh heavenly days, I'm just pleased to hear about the event -- many thanks!

As is often the case when you report back on something, I wish I'd been there.


"Bold's expansive joy"

is such an interesting comment, since he's really had to work hard on his expressive qualities while he's been here. He's always been quite strong technically, but the emotive part has come slower. I'm wondering now if I'd see more of that in a smaller venue (like the Guggenheim) rather than an opera house setting (though I do sit pretty close usually)

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Another :beg::unsure::innocent: for describing this presentation so thoroughly. It is hard to transcribe when Russell and Stowell start to interact -- their delivery is very different in person, but when you look at their words afterwards, their voices blend, and if you can't then envision one of them saying it, it's hard to know who said what.

Bold has always been physically expansive, with a light, pliant, flexible jump. His early training was in Ulan Bator, where his parents were dancers, and later in Russia. In most ways he looks the most comfortable in the traditional classical repertoire of the PNB principal men. As sandik notes, though, he's been working hard on expression, most obvious in a new freedom and power in his upper body, particularly as he is cast more and more in neoclassical and modern works. He and Imler pair beautifully together, and he is one of the most physically beautiful men dancing now, in my opinion.

Imler was singled out for praise during the PNB's performances in City Center in the late 90's, and I'm glad you got to see her.

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