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Director's Choice Casting and Reviews

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Me too.

I imagine the dancers appreciate getting the chance to perform the role, and I know I like to watch the different interpretations, but it does mean that you wind up camping at the theater. Remember the five Odette/Odiles the last time they did Swan Lake (not to mention the Aurora-thon last spring)

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Second week casting is up on the PNB website:


Each first-week couple in Theme gets a second performance next week. The scheduled cast changes for Week 2 are the debuts of Postlewaite, Moore, and Pankevitch in in the middle, somewhat elevated on Friday, 29 September (repeat on Saturday eve, 30 September).

So some of that camping out over one weekend can be distributed over both.

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No one else has bitten, so I'll give my impressions of three performances I saw last weekend. I'm not in Seattle for Weekend two; I'm watching the world fall apart in Siegfried and Die Götterdämmerung. Sadly, this means I'll miss a complete performance by Barker in Theme and Variations; when I bought advance tickets to this program I guessed wrongly that she'd dance the role in the Gala two weekends ago. (The role was split between Barker/Milov and Imler/Bold in that performance.)

Peter Boal has mentioned in Q&A's and the program that the three choreographers on this program -- Robbins, Forsythe, and Balanchine -- are the same three in his opening Director's Choice program last year. This year, though, the first two pieces on the program, Robbins' Fancy Free and Forsythe's in the middle, somewhat elevated, are linked by a common MO -- competition -- which, ironically, was clearer in less flamboyant cast of Fancy Free.

The Opening Night cast, which I saw on Saturday Night, with Jonathan Porretta in the first solo, Rasta Thomas in the second and the pas de deux, and Casey Herd in the rhumba, shot out of a canon and was high energy from beginning to end. It was a "standard" performance, one in which the All-American boys on leave are lovable, and no matter how badly they behave, they are forgiven. Rasta Thomas, in the post-performance Q&A, said that Judith Fugate, who staged the work for PNB, told them that the first sailor was a bulldog, the second was a farm boy, and the third was a guy from Chicago, who thought he knew what a city was, until he got to Manhattan. Each of the dancers embodied his role, with fireworks from Porretta, aw-shucks charm from Rasta Thomas, particularly in the pas de deux with Chalnessa Eames, and, once in the bar, Casey Herd's city boy sailor was right in his element.

The first performance I saw with the second cast -- Kiyon Gaines in the first solo, Josh Spell in the second, and Jeffrey Stanton in the rhumba and the pas de deux with Carla Körbes -- was subdued. In the post-performance Q&A, Boal noted that they had only one orchestral rehearsal, but it was the orchestra that let them down through lethargic tempi. I was reminded of the cartoons where a character would run off a cliff, and hang suspended in the air, with nothing underfoot to support him. The second performance with this cast, less than 24 hours later, had much more energy and support from the orchestra, and the mime was sharper. The first, though, did have the advantage of a more dramatically true pas de deux, as the occasional awkwardness reflected the reality of two strangers in forced intimacy.

In contrast to the first cast, the second cast, particularly in the tighter, second performance, was much more tense. After seeing the d'Amboise/LeClerq performance of Afternoon of a Faun last week, the highly sexual Robbins in the Jowitt biography came to life. (LeClerq just sizzled; by comparison, she makes Garbo look like a nun.) After seeing Gaines/Spell/Stanton dance Fancy Free, the darkness of wartime America came to life as the work of the astute observer that Jowitt also describes: take a short, intense period of shore leave, add alcohol and hormones, and stir. It's not a pretty picture, and the underlying tension and competitiveness could be cut with a knife, all done subtlely and mostly through very clear mime, and paradoxically, great humor. Jeffrey Stanton was unexpectedly great as a comic mime (not his characteristic stage persona), particularly in the scene where he steals the pocketbook, and later in the Rhumba, and Spell's comic timing was perfect. How much more tense was the dark side beneath the surface when the three men aren't the archtypical Alpha males, but three of the more elegant dancers.

Which brings me to in the middle, somewhat elevated. I had always thought that this was a big metaphor of competitiveness, but Peter Boal said in the post-performance Q&A that it was inspired by a moment in the studio that Forsythe observed when working with Paris Opera Ballet: a dancer in the corner trying to show that she was more flexible, better, and more appropriate to the role than the dancer with whom he was working. I didn't realize it had to be any deeper than an observation of Ballet World. :dry: Chalnessa Eames, in a different post-performance Q&A, explained that while the vocabulary was set, the dancers were expected to improvize within that vocabulary, which adds a extra layer of pressure and competitiveness.

Again, there were two very different casts: Lallone/Barker/Stanton, Nakamura/Maraval, Imler/Porretta, Lowenberg/Johnston in the first cast, and Körbes/Herd/Chapman, Foster/Bold, Eames/Griffiths, Dec/Zimmerman in the second. What I most like and appreciate about this work is two-fold: it gives the opportunity to shine to younger dancers, in this case Griffiths (not enough of him), Eames, Dec, Zimmerman, and Johnston -- Foster was a bit too pretty and subdued, in my opinion -- and the dancers often take the vortex of energy they produce in the work and transfer it into the classical repertoire. Bold's upper body in Theme, for example, was particularly expansive.

The breakout performance in this ballet, in my opinion, was Maria Chapman's. Who knew she could dance with such speed and explosiveness, from nowhere? I can't think of any other of her roles that demanded this of her in such quantity and intensity.

Theme and Variations has come to be one of my favorite ballets, particularly when freed from the fetters of the first three movements of Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3; these three performances cemented its place. In Friday night's performance, Noelani Pantastico and Casey Herd gave a particularly fluid performance, especially of the pas de deux through the finale. Six of the eight demis danced all three performances -- it's nice to see Kylee Kitchens back this year -- with Herd and Postlewaite sharing the last male demi spot, and Chalnessa Eames and Stacy Lowenberg sharing the woman's. Two students joined the corps, Briannna Meyer and Eric Hipolito. I think he's one of the dancers who caught my eye in Stanko Milov's piece at the student performance last year; he's certainly one to keep an eye on.

We've talked about the "crisis in epaulement" elsewhere on the board. For a respite, one dancer to watch is Lesley Rausch. After dancing the best Red Pocketbook Girl I've seen since Delia Peters' great performances, she danced one of the demis in Theme, and I couldn't take my eyes off the way she used her shoulders, neck, arms, and eyes. Paired with her was Rebecca Johnston, who is happy presence on stage, moving brightly and expansively.

Boal continues to surprise with pairings, and Saturday matinee was no exception: the leads were danced by Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite. Nakamura gave an exceptionally gratifying performance, so different in pace and emphasis than either Pantastico or Imler. With an imperial grace, and without rushing a single beat, she completed each phrase and then finished it, with an added breath and expansion. She was simply mesmerizing. Postlewaite is a beautifully proportioned young dancer of great elegance, style, polish and presence. (For NYCB fans, I'd compare him to a young Sean Lavery.) There was also a connection in this pairing that suggests that they could really push each other; this was exemplified in a little catch they did in the pas de deux. It wasn't big or flashy, but it provided that little frisson. There could be stage sparks between these two.

Imler and Bold danced the ballet in the Saturday evening performance, and the fluency and virtuosity that their gala performance anticipated came to fruition, particularly in the pas de deux. I feel like I'm in "Back in the Day" mode, but I remember seeing three or four dancers performing a role at NYCB, and loving each different approach. I think that PNB is at that point right now.

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I saw the Friday show and both Saturday shows of opening weekend. I agree that Maria Chapman was pretty spectacular in In the middle: her ending series of poses on Saturday night totally distracted me from the famous pas. I thought the first cast brought out the competitive aspect of In the middle more, too, but seeing Maria and Carla compare their feet in the beginning, both with such beautiful feet, was pretty cool! Bold was a pleasant surprise too. After seeing In the middle, my personal theory is that it's a view of the ballet world recast so that experienced/jaded ballet watchers would know what it's like for complete beginners to see ballet for the first time: all the beauty, weirdness, and other unexplainable things amplified to 11.

Nakamura and Postelwaite were also my favorite couple in T&V: they matched very nicely both physically and in style. They also had the least technical problems with the choreography.

Fancy Free needs personality instead of just technique to work, but I thought Jeffrey Stanton was the only male dancer who brought any, though Jonathan Porretta's double tours en l'air landing in splits on the floor was pretty darn impressive. The women were much better than the men in this respect. In general, it seems like the women in this company are stronger than the men, both in terms of performance quality as well as technique.


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