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PNB Contemporary Classics program

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It's not on the website yet, but casting has been announced. From the press release:

George Balanchine’s Agon ~ 50th anniversary

On Thursday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m., principal dancers Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers will perform Agon’s central pas de deux. The first pas de trois will be performed by soloists Maria Chapman and Leslie Rausch with corps de ballet dancer Benjamin Griffiths. The ballet’s second pas de trois will be performed by principal dancers Mara Vinson and Batkhurel Bold with soloist Karel Cruz.

On Friday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 2:00 p.m., principal dancers Carla Körbes and Stanko Milov perform the pas de deux. The first pas de trois will be performed by principal dancer Jonathan Porretta with soloist Chalnessa Eames and corps de ballet dancer Kylee Kitchens; and the second pas de trois by principal dancer Noelani Pantastico with soloist Lucien Postlewaite and corps de ballet dancer Seth Orza.

Susan Marshall’s Kiss

Marshall’s Kiss will be performed by principal dancer Mara Vinson and corps de ballet dancer James Moore on Thursday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Principal dancer Casey Herd and corps de ballet dancer Kari Brunson perform the work on Friday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 2:00 p.m.

David Parsons’ Caught ~ PNB Premiere!

Principal dancer Jonathan Porretta performs Parsons’ 6-minute solo, Caught, Thursday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m., principal dancer Noelani Pantastico on Friday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m., principal dancer Batkhurel Bold on Saturday, November 3 at 2:00 p.m., and principal dancer Olivier Wevers on Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room ~ PNB Premiere!

In the Upper Room, the third work from Twyla Tharp to enter the company’s repertoire, will feature thirteen PNB dancers for each performance. Principal dancers Batkhurel Bold, Casey Herd, Carrie Imler, Jonathan Porretta, Mara Vinson and Miranda Weese will perform with soloists Maria Chapman, Chalnessa Eames and Lesley Rausch, and corps de ballet dancers Kiyon Gaines, Kylee Kitchens, Jordan Pacitti and Anton Pankevitch on Thursday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Principal Dancers Batkhurel Bold, Casey Herd, Carrie Imler, Kaori Nakamura, and Mara Vinson will perform with soloists Chalnessa Eames, Lucien Postlewaite and Jodie Thomas, and corps de ballet dancers Rachel Foster, Kiyon Gaines, Benjamin Griffiths, Kylee Kitchens, and James Moore on Saturday, November 3 at 2:00 p.m.

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Many thanks, sandik!

The "PNB Fridays" program for Contemporary Classics on Friday, 26 October, is sold out, but there are still the following events before the program opens next Thursday:


Sunday, October 28, 2007 ~ 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Elliott Bay Bookstore, 101 S. Main Street, Seattle.

Join PNB Principal Dancer Jonathan Porretta for an informal discussion of PNB’s Contemporary Classics program. Grab a cup of coffee and bring your questions. All Conversations with PNB are FREE of charge.


Rep II: Contemporary Classics - Tuesday, October 30, 2007 ~ 12:00–1:00 p.m.

Microsoft Auditorium, Central Seattle Public Library, 1100 Fourth Ave, Seattle

Join PNB for a lunchtime preview lecture at the Central Seattle Public Library. Education Programs Manager Doug Fullington will offer insights about PNB’s Contemporary Classics program, complete with video excerpts. All lectures are FREE of charge.


Stacy Caddell on Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lecture 6:00–6:50 p.m., The Phelps Center

Dress Rehearsal 7:00–9:30 p.m., McCaw Hall

Join us for an engaging interview with Tharp repetiteur Stacy Caddell during the hour preceding the dress rehearsal. Attend the lecture only or stay for the dress rehearsal. Tickets are $10 for the lecture only, or $20 for the lecture and dress rehearsal. Tickets may be purchased by calling the PNB box office at (206) 441-2424, online at www.pnb.org or in person at the PNB Box Office at 301 Mercer Street.

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Casting is up for week 2:


First-timers in Agon are:

Sarah Orza-First Pas de Trois

Carla Korbes, Miranda Weese, and Kiyon Gaines-Second Pas de Trois

Ariana Lallone (with Olivier Wevers), and Lesley Rausch/Karel Cruz in the Pas de Deux

In Caught:

Casey Herd

In In the Upper Room:

Noelani Pantastico in Ballet Couples

Please attend and tell us what you think :dunno:

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This program completed yesterday afternoon. I saw this program 3 times but have been frankly just too lazy to post my comments. I will say something now mainly because my favorite young, up-and-coming, dancer inspired me yesterday: Lesley Rausch.

Lesley is from Ohio and joined PNB in 2001. She was promoted to soloist during last season. I first really noticed Lesley on April 15, 2005 when she danced in "The Piano Dance" -- a world premier by PNB ex-dancer Paul Gibson. I've been an enthusiastic fan ever since. (Unfortunately I missed her in Dove's "Red Angels" in 2006 -- others I've talked to seem to have been wow-ed by her in that role.)

Yesterday afternoon she was cast in one of those breakthrough roles ballerinas aspire to: the PdD in Agon (thanks Peter Boal for giving her this chance). Lesley was magnificent (in spite of a fall when her partner Karel Cruz mis-stepped and Leslie envitably tripped on him). It wasn't just her exquisite classical technique, or her musicality with the difficult Stravinsky score, but the presence she created. When Lesley dances I indulge myself and watch her with my binoculars. I pretty much have to miss everything else on the stage to feed my obsession. As I watched Lesley from this perspective of being 5 feet away, I was blown away by the emotion and character she gave this otherwise storyless, totally abstract ballet. I don't know quite how she did this. She was a character moving to the "feeling" of the music, not a dancer doing steps. There were times when she was bending to the floor with her head (sorry I don't know technical terms) when somehow her body and facial expression made the music, her body, her character, and the floor melt together into the whole surely Mr B had in mind. Other times it was a furtive glance at her partner Karel Cruz that spoke volumes. This is a dancer to watch. I predict a bright future. It was great to see her get this chance in a matinee performance that was clearly geared to giving promising soloists and corps members at chance at some bigger roles.

Speaking of younger members. A "dream team" of 3 male dancers, Lucien Postlewaite, Benjamin Griffiths, and James Moore were featured as boomers in Tharp's "In the Upper Room" at this matinee performance. Only Lucien is a soloist and he was promoted to that position only this year. All 3 of these dancers impress me time and time again, but I don't ever remember seeing the 3 of them together like this (as the only dancers on stage). Mon Dieu, we have terrific dancers up and down the ranks!

Now more to the ballet itself. This was a fantastic program for me. Perhaps the most exciting I've seen in years. The title "Contemporary Classics" was delivered in spades. What could be more appropriate than to start with Balanchine's timeless classic "Agon" (which celebrated its 50 birthday during this run). Neo-classical is the bread and butter of this company given the strong Balanchine influence instilled by Stowell and Russell, and now carried on by Boal. I felt blessed to witness 2 debuts in the PdD role: Korbes and Rausch. Rausch I've spoken about. Where Rausch is a possible future, Carla Korbes is a confirmed now. Carla grabbed this role with total confidence (is she ever not confident??:)). I can't think of a more exciting dancer to watch. Like Jonathan Poretta, no one breaks the 4th wall like Carla. Sometimes I feel it is just her and I in the room. The 3rd cast I saw was also a delight given the perfect ease of Louise Nadeau and a performance by Olivier Wevers that he said himself during the Q&A was the best of his career in that role.

After an intermission, next came "Kiss" and "Caught" -- both novelty items. Not much ballet, but immensely powerful works, and huge crowd pleasers. I've seen "Kiss" maybe 5 or 6 times now, and it brings tears to my eyes every time. I can't think of when I've seen a dance communicate the passion, ecstasy, and heartbreak of sexual attraction and love more powerfully than this short piece. The dancers are suspended by 40' ropes so they can just touch the floor. It changes the primary movement emphasis from vertical to horizontal. There is something about a male and a female swooping together at rather high speed as they swing half way across the stage that makes the charged atmosphere of sexual passion become visceral for the audience. I heard one older woman from the audience (just as I am a older man) express an awakening of memory of our youth when such passion dominated our lives. She and I were both grateful to be re-awakened I think.

"Caught" made everyone in the audience a kid again. You have never felt, as one does in this piece, what the reality of human unassisted flight might be. The strobe light catches the dancer at the top of some 70 jumps in the last 4 minutes of this 6 or 7 minute piece. The illusion is near perfect. When the dancer first starts to "fly" the audience loudly gasps in disbelief. Only young children normally get to be this amazed by something unexperienced in their current world. Everyone in the audience got that feeling watching this simple, but athletic, novel, exciting creation. It may not be ballet per se, but I bet it does a great job of selling tickets by word of mouth.

Last came Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room". I know many don't care for this work, but I loved, loved, loved it. The combination of the hyped but very recognizable classical ballet of the boomers, vs the loose streetwise/Broadway/jazzy/Latin movement of the stompers was magical to me. I think one has to start with the Phillip Glass music (commissioned for this ballet). If you like his sort of minimalist music, and I do, you may love this piece as I do. But if you don't care for the almost hypnotic, emotional space that this music can create, I can understand someone being bothered, maybe even bored, with this piece. My wife and I simply couldn't get enough of it (especially those times we sat close). I've always loved Tharp ever since I first saw "Push Comes to Shove" when ABT would visit San Francisco in the 70's. The excitement she creates for me has not waned in the slightest. I will give special thanks to Carrie Imler, Chalnessa Eames, and Kiyon Gaines for "getting" the essence of "stomper-hood". For me they were the engine that drove the rhythm of this piece. Carrie Imler especially -- she has a musicality in her dance, whatever the music, that is second to none. I've admired her for a long time. For me if anyone deserves to inherit Patricia Baker's role at PNB based on dance alone, it is Carrie Imler. She thrills me every time whether she be a Tharp stomper, or Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty".

One last thought.......as much as I loved "Upper Room", I will say that I feel I could watch "Agon" every week for a year and never tire of it. A piece like "Upper Room" although brillant does not raise to that level. Who but Mr B could?

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Yes, the audience was standing on its feet in a true standing ovation. Yesterday, I didn't see a single person standing only because they wanted to move to the exits to beat the traffic. This S.O. was genuine. My guess is that they loved it for primarily the same reason I loved it, to see ballet dancers move in such novel and inventive ways......perhaps I say too much, but in much the same way that Balanchine shows you creative movement you've never considered. This is why I thought Boal's choice of Agon and Upper Room were so complimentary to be the bookends of this program. Tharp and Mr B are much alike in that way. I'd give credit to Glass's music too. If it appeals at all (and it seemed to effect most of the audience), it gets into your body and even into your soul a bit. By the time that 40 minutes of driving beat and meditation (if you can get my meaning there) is over, you just want to shout with glee for how far that music propels and compels you. OTOH, if you are a purist or a traditionalist (nothing wrong with that), I can see the temptation to be a curmudgeon :).

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I've really enjoyed reading about these performances. However -- and pardon me for being such a regional chauvinist ...

[ ... ] I thought Boal's choice of Agon and Upper Room were so complimentary to be the bookends of this program. Tharp and Mr B are much alike in that way.
... Eddie Villella did this first with Miami (last January).

The same 2 ballets were on the program at Berkeley and Detroit earlier this fall, though I can't remember the order of presentation.

Nice to see PNB "borrowing" a great idea. :)

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bart, you are absolutely right of course. I should have said.......Boal made the right choice to join other directors in choosing these 2 ballets as bookends.

Just to be clear, I did not mean to imply that Boal made some sort of brilliant choice which others hadn't thought of, but only that it was a good choice (he certainly did choose to do this program even if others had done the same thing.......he could have chosen something else).

I wonder if Agon's 50th b-day had something to do with so many companies doing a similar program?

P.S. BTW, I attended 3 post-performance Q&A sessions. In 2 of these Boal was asked why he chose the ballets he did for this program. He talked briefly about his thought process but did not mention any other company having influenced him. He strikes me as a pretty straight-forward guy so maybe that wasn't a factor. (I wonder how much in advance such decisions are made......perhaps a topic for a whole other thread.....)

P.P.S. Now, if I could only find a way to see the other "hot" company......Miami! I'll talk to Boal about PNB going to Miami if you talk to Villella about coming to Seattle :).

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Since companies start planning seasons a year or so in advance, I doubt that anyone's recent performances might have inspired another's which showed only weeks later.

But as this is Agon's half century mark (hard to believe, isn't it?), and since Upper Room is such a proven hit, I am not in the least surprised by what is probably mere -- and fortuitous -- coincidence.

Lucky Miami. :)

Lucky Seattle. :)

And when the two companies cross the continent to visit each other's cities, I hope they'll stop -- one at a time -- in (not just near) New York.

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I've done a little mousing around on the Tharp website, looking to see which pieces from her repertory have been reset on other companies, and I've noticed that they seem to license works in waves -- there was a big run on the Sinatra works (both the Nine Songs and the Suite), Baker's Dozen, The Golden Section (from Catherine Wheel), and another surge in productions of Room (7 different companies since 2005, and 4 more scheduled for 2008). I don't know if this is a function of several artistic directors asking for the same thing, or if they approached Tharp and were guided to these particular works.

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I don't know if this is a function of several artistic directors asking for the same thing, or if they approached Tharp and were guided to these particular works.
Thanks for doing that research, sandik. You raises an interesting question.

Does anyone have an answer?

Looking at programs from the prospective of a single company, it does sometimes seem as though it's the company coming up with all the good (or bad) ideas on their own. Agon, for instance, was marketed by Miami as the company's 50th anniversary tribute, a fairly obvious reason for doing it. But Tharp? -- and a single Tharp work done at more or less the same time by several companies? It would be interesting to find out who is making those decisions, and why.

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There's a similar pattern in the Robbins rep: Fancy Free and In the Night being the standard "intro" works for various companies. Where there's control over the rep, and I can't imagine Tharp being loose with her rep, the companies generally need to prove they can do justice to the work.

Peter Boal has mentioned in several Q&As that stagers have influence on the casting, and he's also said, as late as this past Sunday, that he's been told by stagers in the modern/contemporary rep that they don't expect everyone who's been chosen initially to perform. In the case of "Caught," he happily told us that all five casts cleared the bar and performed.

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Perhaps Doug Fullington could look into this and give us some insight..........

My guess is that Sandik has hit close to the mark. And to piggyback on Helene's comment, there are probably lots of reasons why Tharp or the Robbins people prefer to license one piece over others: perhaps having the "right" stager figures into it for example.

I can easily imagine that various companies are always hinting, let's say to the Robbins trust (or whatever its called), to do one of his works. Maybe eventually that trust decides for the type of reasons Sandik and Helene suggest to finally allow a particular work to get more exposure.......after that it's all downhill to get to the circumstance of these waves of programs.

Very interesting indeed.

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A couple of other tidbits......

In one of the Q&As that Helene did not attend, Peter Boal said that Stacy Caddell (who staged Upper Room) selected the entire cast from the company's dancers. She then presented her choices to him and he simply tweaked the selections.

This has been said before I think, but Boal also said that when Tharp herself came out to Seattle in the initial stages, she became very enthusiastic about the dancers at PNB. They struck a deal such that Tharp will come to Seattle in 18 months or so to choreograph a new work(s) on PNB. He said her only disappointment was that she had to wait 18 months to do it -- she wanted to start ASAP!

So as Helene implies, clearly the choreographer or trust is initimately involved in the roll out of giving ballets wider exposure.

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It's interesting that Tharp wants to go to Seattle to do new work. She's just completed new work (Nightspot, to an original Elvis costello score) that will be premiered by Miami this winter.

Apparently Tharp is heading in another new direction. After the Broadway years, she may want, once more, to work with classically trained dancers. So how do you maximize your exposure? In the old days you could do something for ABT and it would probably end up on public television. No longer. Given the current decentralization of ballet in the US -- with a number of high-quality regional companies, but no real "national" showcase -- it makes sense to work with simpatico regional companies and then license the work to companies of similar size and composition from other regions.

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Given the current decentralization of ballet in the US....

IMO, this is an extremely important point, Bart. I don't know very much about the overall ballet world, but this trend does seem to be occurring. This trend seems puzzling to me frankly. NYC has always been the hub in this country of the highest standards in nearly every field of human endeavor. What would change that? What could change that?

I'll toss out a speculative idea.......priority on quality of life and the newest generation's values.

I saw a newscast last nite that explored how the 20-somethings of today put family, friends, life-style, etc ahead of career and loyality to their employer. Simply put: perhaps "where I live" is just more important to the young people who are today's dancers. I certainly see that here in Seattle. I go to lots of Q&As and other "lecture" sessions that feature interactive discussions with dancers. I am continually struck by dancer after dancer saying how happy they are to live here in Seattle, and how they plan to never leave. There just doesn't seem to be the expected desire to "be discovered" and go to NYC. I was also struck in one of these sessions when Miranda Weese had just joined PNB. She was asked Why? Her response was all about "quality of life". She didn't like the NYC pace, and she particularly loved the idea that at PNB there was lots of time btwn programs to rehearse the next program so that she could really explore the possibilities of the work she was dancing.

I also hear the dancers say all the time that PNB feels like a "family" to them that gives them all sorts of warm fuzzies. They seem to emphasize the cooperative, supportive environment this sense of family generates rather than a competitive, individualistic environment. I would think that for the "typical" dancer who is often ripped away from their natural family in early teens, a sense of family is very attractive indeed.

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Very interesting points, Sandy. New York's high cost of living is a factor as well, I would think. Especially when it comes to trying to live on dancers' salaries.

What you are describing in the ballet world seems to replicate what is occurring in the rest of the culture. New York still has a preponderence of the arts institutions, resident artists, major arts publications and reviewers. But it is no longer the place where artists feel they have to succeed in order to validate their careers. As an example, San Francisco ballet has been a great success in its own sophisticated market AND in Paris. Not bad, when you think about it.

New York ballet and opera no longer tour very much -- nor are they as visible on TV as they once were. People from Tharp's organization and from the Balanchine and Robbins trusts come to the regional companies, just like touring versions of the latest Broadway shows come to the regional audiences. (The Met's successful -- and expanding -- venture into HD theatrical release is a brilliant move that goes counter to these trends.)

In the meantime, "ballet" for most Americans means the local company (an excellent company if you live in the right place) and dvds. Ballet lovers in Seattle, San Francisco, etc., seem to be investing time, money, energy, and knowledge in their own institutions, attracting high quality artists from out of town and out of the country. Boal finds and hires them, and the educated, liberal, self-confident, aspiring arts audience in Seattle embaces them.

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I think one should also consider that there are only two ballet companies in NYC that could hire her. Working with regional companies means more work, and Tharp is determinedly practical about her bottom line.
Good point. It might be possible, though, to give them exclusivity for a few years and then move the ballet out into the larger market. At one time, exposure of one's work at NYCB and ABT would be an incredible and unique honor. Is that still the case today? Eespecially for someone who already has a monumental reputation and is a super-brand all on her own?
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Well, she hasn't worked at NYCB since Brahms/Handel (that's two decades now) and that experience didn't seem to go great for either side. She's doing her first new ABT piece in years this coming June. Her earlier commissions for them (Americans We, Everlast, Les Elements) were expensive and didn't stay in rep long. I think NYC is a finite market for her at this point and if she has a yen for ballets, she might as well make them elsewhere.

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about ownership

Much of ABT's current Tharp rep is work made for her own company.

I think you've put your finger on a major element in all this -- Upper Room was one of the last (possibly the last) work that Tharp made for her original, pre-ABT, company. She holds a clear copyright to that work. I'm not sure what her contractual relationship was with ABT and with NYCB, but I imagine that the commissioning companies had some kind of vested interested in the works she made there.

I don't want to imply any sense of manipulation on the part of Tharp and her administrators in this kind of distribution. Some of her works are more accessible than others -- Sinatra is an excellent example of her use of popular music/culture and is a great introduction to her aesthetic, as well as being a turning point work in her development. I'm just a greedy girl, and want to see as many of her works as possible in active repertories.

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Tharp collaborated with Jerome Robbins on Brahms/Handel; the big guessing game when it premiered was What Was Robbins's and What Was Tharp's? (It had a great cast: If I remember correctly, Calegari and Cook were the greens, and Ashley and Andersen were the blues.)

Besides Push Comes to Shove, and the Sinatras for Baryshnikov, she made at least one other work for ABT, For some reason I'm also remembering a major role for Martine van Hamel, maybe to some tough Bach (for solo cello or violin)? PCTS did not die out immediately when Baryshnikov stopped dancing it; I do remember excellent performances by Danilo Radojevic, but not much else besides the Sinatra works.

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In my experience, a commissioning company usually retains the right to perform the new work exclusively for a period of time (say three years) before the choreographer can license it to another company. The choreographer holds the copyright for his/her choreography.

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I recently saw Scott/Powell's modern dance work, "Geography," at On The Boards, and immediately afterwards felt a familiar reaction -- great music, great lighting, great costumes (these by Mark Zappone, just gorgeous), some wonderful dancing, and the choreography, just okay -- but since then, the image of one of the dances, a section in which the tapestry dress was a second character, like a pas de deux for Mary Queen of Scots and her demons, keeps coming back, making me re-evaluate.

I can't say that a week after seeing the final performance of "Contemporary Classics," I feel a change of heart. So here goes:

In "Director's Notebook" in the "Contemporary Classics" program notes, Peter Boal wrote, "A first time viewer might guess that "Agon" was the most contemporary, edgiest, and most recently choreographed work on the program." It is almost shocking to think that it was 50 years ago that Balanchine and Stravinsky reached into the past de- and re-constructed music and dance forms in what was, by all accounts, a fulfilling collaboration, and, in the process, drew the line in the sand: where does classical ballet go from here? Balanchine continued along his creative path for another 25 years, choreographing neoclassical masterworks in many musical styles and influences, and pretty much left that question for others to ponder.

In constructing a program with "Agon," where does an Artistic Director go? "Apollo" is a programming favorite partner, often on an "All Balanchine" program; last year Paris Opera Ballet may have tried to answer the question by programming William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" with the two Balanchine works, along with a Trisha Brown piece. It's a tricky thing to choose current ballets to stand side-by-side with one of the great 20th century masterworks of any genre. Boal chose another route and coupled "Agon" with three modern dance works that were remarkable for their smoothness -- even were they were lines, like in the Tharp, there were no edges. What is curious is that none of them is among best work of each choreographer, or at least in the case of Marshall, her best dance work. ("Kiss" in my view, is another genre.) Once I realized this, I was still left to compare the others to the masterpiece's virtues, and the one in which neither a great work nor great music is absolutely necessary is the marriage of music and movement that exemplified the great Balanchine/Stravinsky collaboration, and as we've seen from the best companies, the level of dancing and the dancers' commitment can well exceed the quality of the work.

In the last performance of the program, a mostly young cast triumphed in "Agon." In the first Pas de Trois, Lucien Postlewaite shaped the Sarabande in one logical piece, contrasting fluidity and precision in his response to the music. If I had one qualm about the casting, it was in pairing Maria Chapman and Sarah Orza in the Galliard. Chapman is a very balanced dancer, and when she moves, however softly or forcefully, it is of one piece. Orza is a very athletic dancer, very powerful in her legs and torso, but her arms seem like an afterthought: it's as if her feet need to take her there --now!-- but her arms need to catch up. While hers was a compelling performance on its own, I prefer the pairs in the pas de trois to be complementary, contest or no contest.

In the Bransle Simple, Kiyon Gaines and Jordan Pacitti were just that. Both have plush plies, are around the same height, and are muscular, and their energy and style was magnified by their similarities. Miranda Weese was lush and luscious in the Bransle Gay, teasing the rhythm out of every phrase.

Lesley Rausch and Karel Cruz danced the Pas de Deux. Rausch has many gifts, but what sets her apart from the other women in the company is the way she uses her upper body; her epaulment is shaded, proportionate, and open, and it is employed as often as her pointe shoes. Here was no exception: in one of the iconic roles of the Balanchine repertory, she used her upper body to give the role a whole-bodied fullness I had never seen before. An example of this is during the supported splits, where her torso was lifted from the waist, and spiraled up and around through her shoulders and neck. Cruz had an unfortunate stumble during these, from which he recovered quickly. Rausch and Cruz were well-suited in these roles, with long straight legs creating the clean and precise extensions and angular shapes for which the choreography calls.

Ironically, Agon, the only ballet on the program, is relatively grounded, with a few strategic lifts and a handful of high jumps, addressing gravity in ballet terms. The two middle works, Susan' Marshall's "Kiss" and David Parson's "Caught" used simple technology to defy gravity, to very different effect. "Kiss," is an aerial work, with the two dancers, in this performance Mara Vinson and James Moore, attached to ropes by harnesses at their legs and pelvis. One might guess that the airborne parts would be joyful and fulfilling, but to Arvo Part's extended, mournful phrases -- the score is "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" -- speed and flight were ambivalent and fleeting at best, and destructive at worst, as the two alternately reached for the other in vain or pushed each other away. James Moore swung suspended and broken from the waist, his feet skimming the floor, unable either to be grounded or reach Vinson. Only when the two were relatively still and earthbound, sometimes because their ropes were intertwined, were they rooted and connected.

Both the long arc of the swinging ropes and the ways in which they twisted and unfurled was a perfect visualization of Part's writing. I can think of no other physical response that has both the contrast of high and low within long, sustained brushes, in which a mere touch in passing can be a highlight. Even pairs figure skating, which has the continuous flow, is limited by gravity in the arc and timing of the highs. I suspect that because of its erotic, although not explicit, aspects that the piece either resonates and moves, or leaves the viewer cold. I'm firmly in the former camp, and Vinson and Moore were even more deeply intense than they were when they debuted this work a year and a half ago.

In "Caught" which followed, being airborne was to be free. The work opened with a bit of generic under-the-influence-of-Paul-Taylor movement under a shifting white spot. To me, it was neither recognizable as the same movement repeated in the second half, nor a compelling contrast to what followed. While the frozen images of a dancer in flight, aided by the hand-held strobe control that demanded split-second timing to be effective, were pulse-quickening, the piece was a one-trick pony, and it could have been performed to any number of pieces or silence; the music by Robert Fripp wasn't integral. Nonetheless, it was fun and expertly performed by Casey Herd. The reaction of the woman next to me the second the lights went up was a delighted, "Yummy candy!"

The program closed with Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room," with its striking decor: a curtain of upstage fog from which the dancers emerged and into which they faded, lit with a wedge of light cutting through the fog (original lighting design was by Jennifer Tipton), and costumes by Norma Kamali, whose white-with-black-striped jumpsuits for the sneaker-clad "Stompers", highlighted with red socks, in what looked like designer prison garb. Set to a nine-movement score by Philip Glass, the Stompers, in row of twos and threes took the stage and performed attractive but relatively static movement phrases, occasionally punctuated, mostly by the fuschia-toe-shoe clad Kaori Nakamura, the lead "Boomer," who was superb in the role. The "Boomers" mostly followed suit; the patterns were so straight that a diagonal line was a feature and a simple circle with three dancers was a highlight. For movement after movement of medium-slow, medium-fast, medium-medium music, I waited and waited for some booming and maybe a little stomping, but from where I was sitting -- the back of Gallery Upper -- it was to no avail. The dancers kept swapping out pieces of clothing, wearing more and more red, but changing clothes did not change the character of the steps and phrases, which remained intricate and steady, and like many Glass scores, the development taking place in tiny increments. According to Peter Boal, the commissioned score was not completed in time, and Tharp choreographed the work to music by Mahalia Jackson, which gave the work its name. That is odd, because the choreography fit the Glass perfectly, and is nothing like what I would expect to Jackson, and this was its weakness: watching Tharp's response to the score it was a bit like watching knitting from a long distance.

What Tharp did not do, to her credit, was to set the modern people against the ballet people. The dancers embraced the work and were superb, and they looked like they enjoyed performing it. Jodie Thomas has a great affinity for Tharp's work and came alive as a "Boomer." It's an embarassment of riches to look on stage and see the young trio of Lucien Postlewaite, Benjamin Griffiths, and James Moore as "Boomers." Any opportunity to see what Carrie Imler will do with a role is one I'll take. When we're lucky, we see a dancer who so absorbs the style that he or she dances like a native speaker; in this work, it was Chalnessa Eames. If the past is any indication, the dancers will transform what they've done with this piece, particularly the loose upper body work, into the neo-classical works throughout the upcoming season.

It's a great time to be a ballet lover living out West.

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