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25th Annual School Performance: Pacific Northwest Ballet School

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Yesterday was the 25th annual school performance of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Actually, it was 25a and 25b, as the younger children, levels I-IV from Seattle and Bellevue, and Dance Chance levels I-II performed at noon, followed by excerpts from Bruce Wells' Hansel and Gretel, five of Balanchine's Raymonda Variations, and the "Scherzo" from Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. At 3:30pm, it was the turn of levels VI-VII girls and levels V and VII boys in choreography by their teachers and in K-Requiem by Sonia Dawkins. Act II was a reprise of Hansel and Gretel excerpts, four Raymonda Variations, and the MSND "Scherzo," followed by retiring Seattle School Principal, Fleming Halby's, staging of the dancing lesson from Konservatoriet.

After the Introduction, which included levels I-IV, there was an announcement of the school and level before each group performed, which is a godsend to the parents and friends of the performers. I have a young friend in Seattle school, and I love to watch her perform, but somewhere before all the boys did their piece to music by Bach, her grandmother, who hasn't seen a great deal of ballet, leaned over to me and said that she thought the choreography was better for the Bellevue classes (:dunno:) The choreographers are teachers, and some span both schools, but especially the piece Meg Potter did for the Bellevue IV A kids to music by Dvorak had lots of energy and flow and made the kids look fantastic. The only time things bogged down a little was when the very few boys at Bellevue, who performed with the girls of their own level, were given the spotlight, usually a single tour, which turned on the applause. I know this isn't feasible logistically to have all the boys from both schools perform together, but it was so much more impressive when the Seattle boys performed in big groups -- it was a thrill to see so many boys -- leaving the girls their own spotlight.

I find it bittersweet to watch the younger kids, particularly those who are 13-14. I see kids with beautiful dance quality, who, unless they have a growth spurt of very specific proportions, will not have the bodies to dance classical ballet. Some of the children just "get" the music. Because we had been discussing epaulement in another thread, I was looking out for this quality among the kids. While some individual children had very lovely arms and opposition to their shoulders and neck -- there were a number of croise positions in the choreographies -- it wasn't something I was seeing consistently. I noticed a bunch of wobbly middles; the core wasn't strong enough to hold the spiral. I immediately thought of the Children of Theatre Street scene where the 11-years olds hung from bars and did uneven parallel bar-like exercises that would fell the average mortal, and how at 11, they had the strength for the spiral.

The Hansel and Gretel excerpts featured the two main characters and three sets of group dances: the Moonbeams, in diaphonous dresses; the Birds in short tulle tutus; and the cross-gender Gingerbread soldiers. The ballet was performed in ballet slippers, although these students are on pointe during classes. It is a very charming children's ballet, and received lots of applause from the kids in the audience.

The Professional Division students performed in Raymonda Variations and the "Scherzo." In the noon performance, the dancers were Erika Klein, Andrea Cooper, Brittany Petersen, Katie Critchlow, and Abby Relic; in the afternoon, Klein, Petersen, Critchlow, and Liora Reshef. OBT fans will see a lot of Klein and Cooper; according to the performance program, they will be joining the Company next season. Klein is a dead-on technician with charm; her hops on pointe were impeccable in both performances. Cooper danced very well in the second variation at noon; at 3:30, Horne's name appear in the program, but she did not dance. Petersen and Critchlow will join Ballet West next year. Petersen is a juicy dancer, my favorite type. Standing with the other dancers at the curtain call, she didn't look that much taller than the rest, but she dances tall. Critchlow had nice hang to her jumps, whether big or in petit allegro. Abby Relic is joining Cincinnati Ballet next season; she performed the fifth variation with aplomb at noon. Liora Reshef isn't listed among this year's placements; I hope this means that she's returning to the PD next year, because she is a beautiful dancer; she did the fifth variation at 3:30. (She reminds me a little of a young Mara Vinson.)

PNB has chosen two of the dancers, Sokvannara Sar, who performed Oberon in the noon "Scherzo" and Dancing Master in Konservatoriet in the later performance, and Adrienne Diaz, who performed in the corps in Jewels, but didn't dance in the school performance. Sar is a short man; in the corps of Diamonds, he unfortunately ended up dancing close to Oleg Gourboulev, who was one of the tallest men. It will be interesting to see how he's cast. He has wonderful technique and placement and a soft, pliant plie, as well as a soft-sell approach to virtuoso passages, which is really refreshing. The "Scherzo" is such a technical tour-de-force that he may have been concentrating in it; I thought his performance of Dancing Master, including his mime, had a little more heart in it.

Two reasons for sadness for Seattle crowds: Kendall Britt, who performed Oberon in the later performance, is going to Ballet Memphis, and one of the level VII boys, Sayoko Knode, is going to college. Knode, who was given multiple solos in the levels V&VII boys piece to music by Ray F. Allen with choreography by Stanko Milov -- who did a great job emphasizing each boy's strengths -- was most impressive in the way his used his upper body and arms to embody a Latin attitude. I know he wasn't PD, but I hope he continues to dance at school, because of what he can convey through movement. There was another boy in that piece (medium height, wavy hair) whom I liked very much, but I don't know which class or what name.

Britt, who received an Honorable Mention in the National Foundations for Advancement in the Arts' 2005 Arts Recognizition and Talent Search, gave the most mime-filled, dramatic Oberon I've ever seen. Usually Oberon does get his hands dirty -- he has Puck to do that for him -- but from the very beginning of the "Scherzo" he was causing those winds to blow and was animating the butterflies and the bugs. Proportionally more like Woetzel, he was also impressive technically, with an occasional break at the waist. He was superb as one of the four boys in Konservatoriat. I hope he gets a lot of growth roles in Memphis, including ones with mime.

Elayna Waxse was a very powerful lead Butterfly; in a different excerpt, she would have made a superb Hippolyta. One of the other butterflies had a fantastic jump; she looked like she could have cooked an omelet while hanging in the air, it was so effortless.

Among the level VII girls there was one who caught my eye; she was the taller of the two girls in light pink. In K-Requiem, a standout was the girl who in the group of five was either in the middle or the stage right-most of the group of three. (I couldn't tell from the angle at which I was sitting.) Liora Reshef was notable as well in this piece. I don't know if I'm ever going to like a piece by Dawkins, though. From the standpoint of the performance, I would have preferred that the class dance Taylor's Promethean Fire instead of a piece that looked like a weak derivative of that work, although working with the choreographer directly over a long period ultimately is better for the students professionally.

Konservatoriet was Flemming Halby's final gift to the students of the school in which had taught for many years and which he led since 2002. All of the dancers in the piece should be proud to have tackled a work that demands such lightness, precision, and control, as well as mime.

Peter Boal's tribute to Halby in the program said it best: "Your contribution will live on for generations."

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