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All Tharp program

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Tonight Twyla Tharp spoke at a lecture/demonstration of the two new works that will premiere next Thursday. Both works were performed with basic lighting and in practice clothes, with the exception of a prop train for Ariana Lallone in "Afternoon Ball", the work to Vladimir Martynov's "Autumn Ball of the Elves".

I was struck by the second part of the third movement of "Opus 111", set to the Brahms String Quartet No. 2 in G major. In it, Tharp has created a role for Ariana Lallone, sensitively partnered by Stanko Milov, that only could have been made for her, a character-inflected one that sets off her strengths and in which she dances radiantly. Tharp's assistant, a student and teacher at the University of Washington, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges danced the central role in "Afternoon Ball". I was riveted by his continual morphing between classical and modern dance movement. Every contrast Baryshnikov made in "Push Comes to Shove" was second nature and seamless for N-H. He'll perform with PNB at least for three performances in the first week of the program; James Moore dances the Saturday matinee (27 Sep). I'm hoping to see the Moore cast in week two; I'm looking forward to seeing how this role translates to a classical dancer.

Some fleeting thoughts: it was GREAT to see Carla Korbes on stage again!!!!! In one movement of "Opus 111" Carrie Imler and Jodie Thomas danced side-by-side, bringing back memories of their graduating school performance in 1995. After dancing rather languidly in the first three movements of the piece, Imler did one of her astonishing invisible accelerations into warp drive in the fourth, always amazing to see. I'm thrilled to see that Jodie Thomas and Josh Spell will reprise "Forget Domani", for me one of the highlights of the original production.

In "Nine Sinatra Songs" William Lin-Yee makes his company debut partnering Rachel Foster in "Strangers in the Night".

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it was GREAT to see Carla Korbes on stage again!!!!!

I second that!

Carla seemed in full form and took a major role in Opus 111. Not only that but she is dancing in 3 out of the 5 pieces being presented tomorrow night at the "First Looks" presentation (the Gala which is kicking off PNB's 2008-2009 season -- see sandik's post of yesterday for details).

Helene is being her normal positive self by sticking to what she liked in last night's preview of the new Tharp works (premiering at the season opener next Thursday). I don't disagree with her observations, but I'll stick my neck out and say that overall I was disappointed. I am a huge fan of Twyla Tharp's work. I don't pretend to know enough to say whether her work is great ballet (or even great ballet/modern) but her work does thrill me, inspire me, and completely entertain me. I particularly like her ability to have me see movements I have never thought of before (as does Forsythe).

However, I found Opus 111 less than inspiring. It could just be the Brahams music (I've admitted on BT before that I am luke warm on Brahams -- my problem, not his). Maybe it was the lack of costumes and lighting -- on which perhaps I depend too much for that entertained feel. Somehow, through all 4 movements, I felt I was seeing basically the same moves over and over again. I agree with Helene that my favorite part was the section with Arianna Lallone (the minor use of costume for Arianna probably didn't hurt my reaction there).

Afternoon Ball I liked much better; however, it is far from what most folks will be expecting when they go to an evening at PNB. Even Forsythe's One Flat Thing Reproduced (done last season) is more likely to be recognized as ballet by the Seattle audience than this new Tharp. I'll say one thing: it was wild! I liked that wildness, that freedom. I felt as if I were seeing every move possible by a human body, and with a new twist for me, every move possible for a human body at all ages (from 2 years old to 82 years). I don't even know what to make of the piece. One thing for sure (in my judgment).....it requires virtuoso dancers. My hats is off to these pros.....and like Helene, a extra kudo to guest Charlie Neshyba-Hodges who swims in this strange water like a fish.

I'm anxious to see these 2 works on a regular performance night (which I will do on its 2nd night 9/26). Perhaps I will love them as I do most other Tharp pieces. But so far, I repeat, I was disappointed since I was so excited to see new works by such a brilliant choreographer on our PNB dancers. Unfortunately, that excitment did not last past the 1st movement of Opus 111.

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PNB concluded it's two extended weekend run of "All Tharp" this afternoon with splendid performances across the board. I was able to see the full program once, and two of the three ballets twice in addition to the stage rehearsal of the lecture demo, and I think the performances grew stronger and stronger over the two weeks, although this could have been simply the subset of the ones I'd seen.

My impression of "Opus 111" as a work didn't change much over the run. The work opened before the music, with Carla Korbes and Batkhurel Bold, as one of two central couples, performing some twitching movements, soon to be joined by five other couples, each group representing, according to Tharp, the different voices of the string quintet. Like "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet", the first movement gets a bit bogged down in the center during the development section. While Tharp's choreography may have been fascinating for dancers to untangle -- as Boal described it, the dancers would perform a dance phrase forwards, backwards, inverse, and inverse backwards -- I didn't find it interesting kinetically.

The beautiful, plaintive second movement began with a lovely entrance for Korbes and Bold, who crossed each other in a serpentine walk, and danced most of their roles in mirror imagery. This should have been the place for Korbes to become a heart of the work, but her role was the most disappointing part of it: there was little about the role or quality of movement that revealed anything about her. The choreography looked more than better on Bold; he was electrifying in it.

Things picked up in the third movement, which illuminated Lallone's stature and Milov's elegant upper body and arms, and the fourth movement is one of the most joyous expressions of community that I've seen in years.

In the first Friday performance, the standouts among the second couples were Jodie Thomas, who dance with crystalline brilliance, and Rachel Foster and Kiyon Gaines, for whom Tharp created spirited mini-solos. By the second weekend, Sarah Orza had assumed Thomas' role and was excellent in it with softer dynamics, and the entire cast was dead on. Lindsi Dec danced Lallone's role and was as impressive in her own way as Lallone; Dec can light up a stage, and she was well partnered by Karel Cruz. The stronger the dancers got, the more differentiated their roles looked.

Despite my reservations about the first movement in particular, this is a fine company work. I much preferred watching the dancers in this than in "In the Upper Room", for example. In fact, I kept casting the dancers from Ballet Arizona in it as I watched. In Q&A's, Boal said that at least one artistic director was in the audience, and another has expressed interest.

Charlie Hodges, Tharp's rehearsal assistant and UW student architecture and dance teacher, was riveting in the lecture/demo of "Afternoon Ball", but nothing in that setting prepared me for Kaori Nakamura's performance in rep, nor her ability to equal him in this kind of work. (Hodges seems to have a singular kind of energy, and that is ON.) Watching a different cast today, I realized that what is unusual about the way Hodges moves is his ability to isolate body parts and gesture, keeping the rest of his body still, but live. This is not Nakamura's typical style, but that is exactly the way in which she matched him. Watching the triangle between Hodges, Nakamura, and Wevers, I was reminded of the movie "Local Hero", in which the punk girl explains to the jealous punk boy why she is enamored with the straight-laced guy in the suit, and she replies, "because he's different". Although Hodges was hardly a suit, Wevers seemed as flummoxed about why he was the odd man out.

Until he wasn't. The second part is a solo of reverie by the Hodges character, as he finds inspiration from the couple-from-the-past, after which he loses Nakamura to Wevers. In somewhat similar roles to the ones they had in "Opus 111", I found Lallone's and Milov's in "Afternoon Ball" to be flat and generic. Putting Lallone in toe shoes and waltzing the pair across the stage, did not an ideal make. It looked like Robbins choreography from one of his Chopin ballets, but out of context, and it made them look musty, like old photographs that needed to be dusted off. I found the final lift and exit by Nakamura and Wevers, after Nakamura chooses between the men, to be more moving than anything that Lallone and Milov did. I must be even more of a curmudgeon than I thought, because I was not moved by the ending, in which Lallone, in a long white dress and stage-length veil, delivers Hodges to his death. My conclusion was that this was an unbalanced work.

Then I saw this afternoon's performance. Jonathan Porretta danced Hodges role, Chalnessa Eames Nakamura's, and Lucien Postlewaite Wevers'. In this cast in the first part, I thought Eames was the dominant character, which shifted the focus of the work. Both she and Porretta danced full-bodied, Eames sometimes jello-like, the opposite of the equally powerful detached, alienated articulation of Hodges and Nakamura, and they brought more humor to the characters. When Porretta danced the solo in part 2, it was as if he had absorbed the classicism of the second couple, and if he lost Eames to Postlewaite, it was because he had broken a rule of the street by doing so, the rules of the pack of rebellion being as rigid as those of conformity.

A more radical change, done with great beauty and subtlety, was Maria Chapman and Jerome Tisserand's performance of the couple from the past. Here were two dancers who were the youthful counterparts of the modern punk characters, and they were truly an ideal, which Chapman embodied through the soft movement of her head on her neck and her shoulders and Tisserand through elegance and ardency. The entire balance of the work shifted and righted itself.

I think this is a great, great work, as sound in theater as in dance terms, and the main reason, is that Tharp did it straight, without the knowing, detached wink that would have ruined it. The costume (Mark Zappone) and set/lighting designer (Randall Chiarelli) were integral parts of the success of it.

The music in both pieces, the Brahms string quintet and the Martynov, is as beautiful as it gets, and the playing by the string quartet (Pilskog, Frederckson, Ligocki, Agent, and Smith) and the PNB orchestra was superb.

I love "Nine Sinatra Songs" unabashedly, mostly because I find all of those beautiful dancers in those beautiful dresses and formal wear irresistible, but also because almost every dancer makes a meal of his or her role. Highlights of the highlights were Lindsi Dec and Jerome ("Bond. James Bond.") Tisserand in "Strangers in the Night"; Dec projecting great warmth, and Tisserand sizzling elegantly from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. Rachel Foster was terrific as the woman in another cast, but William Lin-Yee, new to the company, looked preoccupied with the mechanics of partnering. Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta in "Somethin' Stupid" were The Husband and The Wife from "The Concert" reprised; Brittany Reid and Jordan Pacitti were bumbling, but acting in good faith.

In "One for My Baby" Maria Chapman did a star turn, as the drunken partner. Dressed in the black, flowing Oscar de la Renta, with the delicacy of an Audrey Hepburn but the stronger beauty of a young Maria Tallchief, she was boneless, yielding, and irresistible. I'm reminded of the tenet that a great actor portrays a drunk by trying not to be drunk, and there wasn't a false note in her masterful performance.

The reprise of "My Way", when all of the couples danced harmoniously, showed the strengths of the men in company; Anton Pankevitch was particularly elegant. PNB certainly has at least three casts of "Liebeslieder Walzer" in its ranks.

What was especially gratifying was watching Jodie Thomas and Maria Chapman, among the most classical stylists in the company, take to Tharp's challenges and triumph through their classical technique, and to see Jerome Tisserand dancing as well as anyone in the company.

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I too saw the last performance on Sunday afternoon of this "All Tharp" program........bottom line: I'm no longer disappointed; in fact, I am excited.

I learned a new wrinkle on an old lesson: previews are just like dress rehearsals in that the electricity of a "real" performance is missing, except worse, since in a preview (at least at this one where I saw Opus 111 and Afternoon Ball for the 1st time on 9/18), one doesn't even have lights and costumes to complete the work. I'm chalking up my initial disappointment to simply that (and my unfortunate handicap of not being a Brahms fan). I saw my first "real" performance on 9/26 and the second about a week later on 10/5.

I can't yet say whether I love these new works, or am just "in like" with them, but what I can say 100% about last Sunday's matinee performance is that I am in love with how the PNB dancers dance these works. They were good on 9/26, but they were great on 10/5 (in spite of the fact that the 10/5 matinee performance was essentially a second cast). Giving myself the latitude to speculate, I'd say the difference was that the PNB dancers got the "kinks out" over the 8 performances, feeling more and more comfortable to "let it go" as they accumulated positive audience feedback with each performance (not to mention to be free of Tharp's watchful eye for the 2 months she was in Seattle mounting these works). This was especially evident to me in Opus 111. The 10/26 performance was the night after opening night and the 1st performance without Tharp in town. Somehow a week or so later it seemed to me that the dancers were truly dancing Tharp-wise, with confidence and even abandon, whereas on 10/26 it seemed to me that they were a bit cautious and stiff (except for Charlie Hodges). Stiff is the last way you want to be for this piece (any Tharp piece).

Helene called Opus 111 a "company piece" and I think that is a great description. Opus 111 didn't open new doors except perhaps a door for me personally to Brahms -- wasn't it said of Balanchine that he could have you see the music and hear the dance?.....well, I owe Twyla Tharp a big thanks for helping me to "see Brahms". Opus 111 is a lovely piece "to see" with its musicality and innovative Tharp gyrations. If I were an Artist Director looking to introduce my audience to a more sophisticated and subtle Tharp, I might well choose Opus 111 for the program. Stand out dancers for me were the recently promoted (to soloist) Rachel Foster who always shines with the loose, fluid moves of more modern choreography (who can ever forget her in "State of Darkness") perfectly partnered with Kiyon Gaines -- what a great couple for more contemporary dance :) ; and Lesley Rausch paired with the tremendously talented Jerome Tisserand (new to PNB last year). As I've mentioned on this board before, I must be Lesley's number one fan because she mesmerizes me time and time again. Some dancers leave doing steps behind and become one with the music: Lesley is one of those dancers. She has a very bright future IMHO. I won't say anything about Carla Korbes + Batkhurel Bold, or Postlewaite, or Imler, I expect them to be brilliant and they were. In fact, as I said above, the entire company danced this piece in joyous abandon that was exciting to watch.

Afternoon Ball is a different kettle of fish altogether. This piece would not be my choice for an audience's first Tharp. It was dark and brooding but with a sense of redemption at the end. This is a piece that sticks with you; a piece that is not easily liked, but one that has a depth that makes you think about life and dance. I'd be happy if I had a chance to see Opus 111 again, but I would go well out of my way to get a chance to see Afternoon Ball again (while still not knowing ahead of time how I feel about this piece). Helene calls it "a great, great work" and she is probably right. It opens up a whole new world I've never seen on a ballet stage: a world of street youth, alienation, loss of connection -- a world unfortunately that may be far too common in today's American urban centers. I'm not smart enough to know what Tharp is saying with this piece, but it feels like she has something powerful to say, and with a tweak here and a tweak there, this piece might speak to a whole new audience for ballet. I find myself haunted by Afternoon Ball, and I will be very interested to see whether or not it has a life beyond its world premiere during the last 2 weeks here in Seattle.

Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction as Helene to the main female role in Afternnon Ball. For me Kaori Nakamura captured the frenetic intensity of the role better than Chalnessa Eames. Quite honestly I had expected the exact opposite. Chalnessa did a superb job, but Kaori electrified me (perhaps simply because I wouldn't have thought of her doing this role.....obviously Tharp's vision isn't as limited as mine :)). Whether you liked this piece or not, you would have to be impressed by ALL the dancers cast in these complex roles. Special kudos to Olivier Wevers and Lucien Postlewaite in the somewhat thankless role of "the outsider".

Nine Sinatra Songs is after all Nine Sinatra Songs. Like Helene, I find it "irresistible". Not being a huge Sinatra fan (but appreciating his talent), I am sometimes moved by his music, and sometimes not; but the choreography is just so indescribably infectious. Each couple has its story to tell: some with elegance, some with humor, some with clowning. Not a great ballet perhaps, but a perennial audience favorite surely. I could say much about how well the PNB dancers grab these roles and make them their own, but I will only echo Helene comments on Maria Chapman. I've always appreciated Maria's dancing, but somehow in the semi-drunken "One For My Baby, (and One More For the Road)" number she made me sit up in my seat and say "WOW" (both times I saw her). She and Anton Pankevitch worked together like a well oiled, drunken (sic) machine. Bravo to both of you.

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I just want to add a couple observations I've not seen mentioned specifically, mostly about the Afternoon Ball piece. We saw the lecture/demo with Twyla Tharp, and the dress rehearsal. Unfortunately I had to be out of town for the performances :thumbsup:

Kaori Nakamura was especially stunning in her ability to project such a different character - I'm impressed that Tharp was able to see that in her, and bring it out, so successfully. (During the lecture, Tharp referred to her once as "Kitty", a nickname I've never heard before and do not expect to hear again!) Only a few days later we saw the studio lecture/demo contrasting Balanchine choreography with Petipa, and Nakamura was dancing the most elegant classical Petipa with equal aplomb. I make no claim to being an astute critic, but her range and ability to project specific personality and emotion seems to be growing every season. I am reminded of Patricia Barker, in that I found both of them initially impressive for technical and physical prowess and only after a few years as principals did I start to see more artistic emotional expression.

The second thing that struck me was Ariana Lallone dancing with Stanko Milov. She so rarely gets to dance such classical partnering roles. I understand that; her strength and commanding physical presence make her especially well suited for roles like Lambarena and Carmen. But the joy and beauty inherent in classical partnering just seemed to flow from her. Well, both of them actually. And of course both of them are very long people, impressive enough - but they were to my eye really dancing beyond their "sphere of action". It just struck me as some of the most simply beautiful dancing I've seen in a long long time - a few of those all-too-rare magical moments. I actually liked the demo in rehearsal clothes better than the dress rehearsal; somehow the costumes diminished the purity of their lines.

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(During the lecture, Tharp referred to her once as "Kitty", a nickname I've never heard before and do not expect to hear again!)

I could be wrong about this, but I'm fairly sure Kitty is the nickname the company often uses for Kaori. The way one pronounces her actual name ("Kaori") is completely different to how it is spelled (it sounds more like "Kelly" to my ears). My guess is that the spelling and sound disconnect causes enough confusion that "Kitty" became the easy way out.

Nakamura...........initially impressive for technical and physical prowess and only after a few years as principals did I start to see more artistic emotional expression.

I couldn't agree more. Frankly, a few years ago it was only Kaori's faultless "technical and physical prowess" that attracted me. She just wasn't one of my favorite dancers....principal or not. In the last 2 or 3 years that's totally turned around for me for exactly the reason you mention. (Incidentally a similar thing is happening inside me regarding Batkhurel Bold last season and this.)

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...I could be wrong about this, but I'm fairly sure Kitty is the nickname the company often uses for Kaori. ...

Thanks for that, I'll keep my ears open. But if I run into her on the street, it will be Ms Nakamura!

... In the last 2 or 3 years that's totally turned around for me for exactly the reason you mention. (Incidentally a similar thing is happening inside me regarding Batkhurel Bold last season and this.)

Have to agree on Bold as well! He was always impressive to watch, but now engaging as well. Can't ask for more from anyone!!

Not to shift the subject, but it sure seems to my eye that the company has had an injection of enthusiasm with Boal in charge now. Just an example, Ms. Nakamura (along with many other principals!) was an enthusiastic (and fabulous!) participant in the Balanchine/Petipa lecture/demonstration as well. That's - as far as I know - an entirely volunteer gig, to learn a bunch of difficult choreography that will be seen only in the studio by a few dance-geek subscribers. Can't think of a better example of enthusiasm about dance for its own sake. :wink:

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Not to shift the subject, but it sure seems to my eye that the company has had an injection of enthusiasm with Boal in charge now.

I think there is no question about it. Not that Kent and Francia lacked anything: they built the company to an amazing level where it could participate as a first class company. Boal has seized that opportunity, taken the company in a bold new direction, and in the process taken everyone (including us: the audience) to new heights. If nothing else look at the flow of new dancers into PNB, and look at the flow of new choreography into the PNB repertory. I think the most amazing vignette along these lines is Kyle Davis deciding to apprentice at PNB after having won one of the seven Grand Prix at the 2008 Prix de Lausanne competition (one of the most prestigious competitions in the world). Kyle could have gone anywhere after he turned down the initial apprenticeship with the Royal Ballet due to the high cost of living in London. I have little doubt he chose PNB primarily because of Boal being here. (BTW, Kaori Nakamura won this same prize back in 1986.)

....the Balanchine/Petipa lecture/demonstration as well. That's - as far as I know - an entirely volunteer gig

Yes, Doug Fullington made it very clear in his remarks after the session how grateful he was to all the PNB dancers for volunteering their time to make that wonderful demonstration possible. Learning those re-constructed "turn of the century" dances was in addition to all the other duties these dancers have.

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