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Soiree -- PNB Gala Opening

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Before tonight's performance, the Chairman of the PNB board of trustees and a woman whose name I couldn't hear -- it may have been Aya Hamilton, the President of the board -- gave a joint pre-performance curtain speech, welcoming everyone and praising new Artistic Director, Peter Boal. Boal then gave a short speech, in which he announced that due to an injury he sustained during company class yesterday, Olivier Wevers would replace him in Duo Concertante, and that he'd make a cameo appearance. Because Wevers would be dancing in Red Angels, the intermission was moved to break between Red Angels and Duo Concertante, which joined Symphony in Three Movements in the second half of the program, a flashback to 1972 when both pieces debuted in the first Stravinsky Festival.

The opening piece, a taste of Jewels that will end the season in June 2006, was the Diamonds Pas de Deux, danced by Patricia Barker and Stanko Milov. One of the problems with an iconic film interpretation is that it is easy to become used to one way of phrasing, and Barker's was quite different than Farrell's in the Choreography by Balanchine excerpts. While I need more time to absorb the it, one thing about it was remarkable, which was how Barker managed to stop at the end of a phrase in a way that conveyed silence, not posing.

Ariana Lallone and Olivier Wevers were paired to strength as the first couple in Red Angels. Wevers is a vivid stage presence, and he radiates energy and spark. (If there was a ballet version of Ring of the Nibelungen, he would be typecast as Loge.) Lallone is a tall dancer with a tensile quality, and there aren't that many dancers who can stand up to the wattage of their presence. They make a very powerful pair. Jordan Pacitti and Lesley Rausch danced the second pair. They made a marked contrast: he had an earthy, pliant quality while she was a live electrical wire. Rausch's performance in Paul Gibson's Piano Dance last year was a break-through, but it was an appetizer compared to the star performance she gave in Red Angels. Kudos, too, to excellent violinist Mary Rowell, who played Richard Eichorn's Maxwell's Demon for electric violin.

Not only did Louise Nadeau lose Peter Boal as her partner in Duo Concertante, but his replacement, Olivier Wevers, is scheduled for the other cast (with Noelani Pantastico) in the regular season program that begins this Thursday. If this phased her at all, it didn't show. Matching Wevers' energy in the fast second and fourth movements, she set the pace in the beautiful third movement adagio, and when the spotlight came up on her in the last movement, and she was joined by Boal (in his "cameo"), she gave an impassioned performance. If there was any question about what kind of dancer Boal was during his career among those who had never seen him, it was answered in the two-three minutes of the finale, without a jump or a flashy step.

The diagonal of corps women in white that opens Symphony in Three Movements has lost none of its power in over thirty years, and it was a very disciplined performance by them. I can't think of a more complicated set of stage patterns, especially when they are joined by the five demi and three principal couples. Jonathan Porretta burst on the stage and was soon joined by Carrie Imler in the Tomasson/Yourth roles, with Imler matching each jump with seeming ease. The stage energy built as Kaori Nakamura and Jeff Stanton entered the picture, followed by Noelani Pantastico and Batkhurel Bold. Carla Korbes made her PNB debut as one of the five demisoloists, and she looked great paired with Lucien Postlewaite. There were many joys in the performance of this ballet; the high point of high points was the stupendous musical phrasing and plastique by Nakamura in the second movement pas de deux, by far the best and most inevitable performance I've seen in several decades of watching this work.

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Thank you Helene for describing what must have been a thrilling opening night. How did the audience respond to the new AD? Any indications re company morale?

I look forward to your reports on the fascinating casting variations planned for Symphony in Three Movements. Thanks especially for mentioning Carla Korbes's debut! She'll really be missed by us NYCB fans...

Regarding the very different (from Farrell) phrasing by Patricia Barker in Diamonds; sounds like the hand of Balanchine, maximising the effect by considering the individual qualities of a ballerina: do you know whether Ms. Farrell was involved in setting Diamonds on PNB?

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What a great ballet experience Sympony in three Movements provides. Such a difficult score -- but the choreography does seem "inevitable," Helen, just as you describe Nakamura's performance.

I go back to NYCB's performances in the 70s. It's Villella I remember best from the early days -- and the corps. Villella's Miami City Ballet did it in 2003-04, brilliantly.

I bet that PNB's is one of the best -- at least it sounds that way. I wish technology allowed me to say "Beam me out there, Scottie" so I could see.

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How did the audience respond to the new AD?  Any indications re company morale?

The response to Boal was truly enthusiastic. It was primarily a gala crowd. The stereotype of a gala crowd is one which normally drinks too much at the pre-reception, has been to way too many of them to care, and sits on its hands. Not this one. I was told that there were two reserved sections for the reception donors, one in the Dress Circle (first section up), and one in the Orchestra. Not soon before the performance started, the reception folks in the Dress Circle were seated en masse, and I watched them carefully: from their body language and chattiness, they were energized. They applauded a lot during the pre-curtain speeches, and gave Boal a rousing ovation when he appeared before the curtain. I don't know if I'm quoting Boal correctly, but I think his first words were, "That felt good." I wish I had been able to take notes, but I think it was the two Board speakers who talked about the energy and excitement among the company members backstage. One of the neat things Boal said, after he announced that he was too injured to dance except in a cameo, was to the effect that this, by which I assume he meant backstage, with his Company, was the way to start his career as Artistic Director.

The audience was a little calm after the Diamonds Pas de Deux, but on the whole, just loved, loved, loved Red Angels, and there was a lot of applause after one of Leslie Rausch's exits. When the spotlight shone on Boal in the last movement of Duo Concertante, the audience went crazy. And there was a very strong ovation after Symphony in Three Movements with all of the leads in the earlier ballets appearing on stage with Boal, all in party dress, for the final curtain calls. One thing about Seattle audiences, though, is we're very obedient. Once the curtain goes down, and the lights come up, that's it: everyone stops clapping and goes home. (Except, on occasion, for Mark Morris.)

You can never quite trust a commercial completely, but dancers aren't often trained as speakers or actors, and the enthusiasm they expressed in a new commercial aired on KING-FM, our local classical station, didn't sound in the least bit feigned. The words stressed how excited the dancers were to be working in this new era with him. Like in any other working situation, I assume there are some people who are spooked by change, at least at first, and some who will have reason to be disappointed as time goes on. When I look at the casting for the first program, though, I see many younger dancers who were first given opportunities by Russell and Stowell are being given featured roles: Chalnessa Eames, Leslie Rausch, and Maria Chapman in (Artifact II); Mara Vinson and Lucien Postlewaite in In the Night; and Brittany Reid, Kiyon Gaines, James Moore, and Rachel Foster in Symphony in Three Movements, with meaty roles for all of the Principal dancers. (And the tall, elegant Karel Cruz has been cast in Artifact II.) There are five soloists, but none are in Soloist Limbo, with the newly married Jodie Thomas and Casey Herd getting their share of roles. (In the program was a list of all of the PNB people who got married this summer, and there was a lovely photo of Thomas and Herd.)

Thanks especially for mentioning Carla Korbes's debut!  She'll really be missed by us NYCB fans...

The demi role in Symphony in Three Movements is just the start: Korbes has been cast in the Principal 1 couple for Artifact II (this Friday and Saturday matinee), in the lead (pas de deux) couple in Symphony in Three Movements (Thu, 9/29 and Fri 9/30), and in the first couple in In the Night on Sat, 10/1 (eve) and Sun, 10/2 (mat).

Regarding the very different (from Farrell) phrasing by Patricia Barker in Diamonds; sounds like the hand of Balanchine, maximising the effect by considering the individual qualities of a ballerina:  Do you know whether Ms. Farrell was involved in setting Diamonds on PNB?

Boal was quoted as saying he wanted Farrell to stage Jewels, but I don't think there's been confirmation yet. There was not attribution in the program for the staging of the Diamonds Pas de Deux. (The full-length Jewels is scheduled for next June.) (Boal staged Red Angels and Duo Concertante, and Susan Pilarre staged Symphony in Three Movements.)

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What a letdown that Boal wasn't able to perform.

Yes, especially for the young dancers. D and I sat in general seating (behind the dress-circle section), with another young dancer from the PNB 2005 SI and her mother. The girls were VERY disappointed :) not to have the opportunity to see Mr. Boal dance. His cameo appearance lessen their disappointment. On the whole the performance was spectacular especially Red Angels. We are eager to see the company perform again later this month.

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Like Helene, I was struck by the differences between Barker's performance of Diamonds and others I've seen, and it made me wonder how much of Barker's Balanchine repertory was originally choreographed for Farrell. Off the top of my head, there's Chaconne -- for the rest, I will have to do a little reading...

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I did not like the performance of Diamonds I saw, and I'm a huge Patricia Barker fan. It looked awkward, forced, and unmusical. Part of the reason I think is the miscasting of her partner, Stanko Milov, who was much larger than she was, and made her normally long lines look like she'd been shrunk a bit, especially when he was standing right behind her. I'm glad they have until June before performing Jewels so they have lots of time to work the kinks out.

For the rest of it, I thought the performance looked like the first performance back after a summer off. They could be a bit tighter everywhere, and weren't dancing at the high level at the end of last season, especially for the going-away gala for Francia and Ken. I really enjoyed Lesley Rausch's dancing in Red Angels, but found the rest of it lacking attack and edge, which made it unmusical because it didn't match the music's character. Duo Concertant was wonderful, especially the chemistry between Olivier Wevers and Louise Nadeau, and I really liked Louise's dancing. But I wish Peter hadn't done the cameo, because Olivier came out worse in the comparison. I enjoyed Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta in Symphony in 3 movements because of their energy and bright attacks, and the corps did a commendable job on their complicated patterns, but again I thought they could be a bit tighter.

Except for a couple of clams in Diamonds, the musicians and orchestra were wonderful. I think they're still the best ballet orchestra I've heard so far.


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Barker has been paired before with Milov, who's a very self-effacing partner. Unless rehearsal time was an issue, I don't know why he would have affected her more in Diamonds than in the other ballets in which they've been paired successfully. Her phrasing seemed more Rubies-esque than Diamonds-like, but I didn't think that had to do with Milov.

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Barker has been paired before with Milov, who's a very self-effacing partner.  Unless rehearsal time was an issue, I don't know why he would have affected her more in Diamonds than in the other ballets in which they've been paired successfully.  Her phrasing seemed more Rubies-esque than Diamonds-like, but I didn't think that had to do with Milov.

I've been thinking about her work last year with Milov, who did such an exuberant Apollo to her patrician Terpsichore, and wondering about the transition to this ballet. They did excellent work in that last year, but Diamonds did seem a bit forced here.

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Sandi, I think the only Farrell-originated ballets that Patricia Barker dances have been Chaconne and Mozartiana, and now Diamonds.

That makes a lot of sense, since by far the majority of Balanchine ballets in the PNB repertoire are ones that Russell experienced first hand when working with Balanchine as a dancer, ballet mistress, or stager, before Farrell joined NYCB and was cast in principal roles or during the time she danced with Bejart (Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Symphony in Three Movements, Who Cares?, Duo Concertante). The one "pre-Bejart" role created for Farrell in the PNB rep that Barker didn't dance in the last revival was Fourth Movement in Brahms/Schoenberg Quartet; Imler and Lallone were cast in Farrell's role, while Barker was cast in Kent's role.

Was Barker cast in Brahms/Schoenberg when Russell first staged it for the Company?

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