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Director's Choice: Kisses/Rassamblement/Before After/Debonair

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Here is the press release:

SEATTLE, WA— For DIRECTOR’S CHOICE, the second program of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2014-2015 season, Artistic Director Peter Boal selects two PNB premieres paired with stunning repertory works in this absorbing mixed-bill. Opening the program, David Dawson’s breath-taking, hyper-extended A Million Kisses to my Skin references the intoxicating bliss dancers experience while performing. Rassemblement, Nacho Duato’s poignant work set to slave songs by Haitian artist Toto Bissainthe, voices communal yearning and resistance in a climate of oppression. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s (Cylindrical Shadows) critically-acclaimed signature piece, Before After, a PNB premiere, unmasks the turmoil just before a relationship ends. The performance closes with Debonair, a world premiere by New York City Ballet’s rising star Justin Peck, praised for “electrifying classical dance with [his] fresh vision” (Wall Street Journal). The program also includes a musical prelude to shine the spotlight on the nationally renowned PNB Orchestra, currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary season. DIRECTOR’S CHOICE runs for seven performances only, November 7-16, 2014 at Seattle Center’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Tickets start at just $28 and may be purchased by calling the PNB Box Office at 206.441.2424, online at PNB.org, or in person at the PNB Box Office, 301 Mercer Street.

The line-up for DIRECTOR’S CHOICE will include:

Orchestra Prelude
Music: Edvard Grieg (“Praeludium” from Holberg Suite, Op. 40, 1884)
Running Time: Three minutes

Pacific Northwest Ballet salutes the mighty PNB Orchestra as it celebrates its 25th Anniversary season. Each of the mixed reps during PNB’s 2014-15 season will include an orchestral selection to spotlight our acclaimed musicians in the pit. Look for future Orchestra Preludes during THE VERTIGINOUS THRILL OF FORSYTHE, and Carmina Burana.

A Million Kisses to my Skin
Johann Sebastian Bach
Choreography: David Dawson
Staging: Tim Couchman
Costume Design: Yumiko Takeshima
Lighting Design: Bert Dalhuysen
Premiere: June 15, 2000, Dutch National Ballet (Amsterdam)
PNB Premiere: March 16, 2012
Running Time: 25 minutes
The 2012 PNB premiere of David Dawson's A Million Kisses to My Skin was generously underwritten by Jeffrey & Susan Brotman.

"A dazzling work that succeeds in making Bach's Concerto No 1 in D minor sing...the sheer joy of movement" (Dominion Post), British choreographer David Dawson's A Million Kisses to My Skin was originally created in 2000, as he was preparing to leave Dutch National Ballet. Dawson set out to pay tribute to what he had learned as a classical dancer and to evoke the feeling of complete bliss a dancer sometimes experiences in their work. “I had it a couple of times on stage, and it feels just like that—a million simultaneous kisses to your skin. It was also a kind of goodbye to my classical career. It was important for me to create this piece using classical steps, but also to create a ballet that was about individuality and freedom.”

Toto Bissainthe (from the recording Chante, 1977)
Choreography: Nacho Duato
Staging: Hilde Koch
Scenic Design: Walter Nobbe
Costume Design: Nacho Duato
Lighting Design: Nicolas Fischtel
Premiere: February 27, 1990, Cullberg Ballet (Örebro, Sweden)
PNB Premiere: April 7, 1998
Running Time: 29 minutes

Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement (which means “gathering”) is inspired by and set to the songs of Haitian artist Toto Bissainthe, who offered this commentary: "These songs are mostly slaves’ songs from the Voodoo cult. They express the daily life of the slaves, their longing for Africa, not as a geographical reality, but as a mythical land of freedom…Rassemblement is a creation which gradually, through the liberating powers of music and dance, proves to be an impressive, thrilling, and audience-affecting human rights appeal.”

Before After ]PNB Premiere
Music: Marc Van Roon
Choreography: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Costume and Lighting Design: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Premiere: June, 2002, Dutch National Ballet (Amsterdam)
PNB Premiere: August 6, 2014 (Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival)
Running Time: Eight minutes
The PNB premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Before After is generously underwritten by Glenn Kawasaki.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s (Cylindrical Shadows) critically-acclaimed signature piece, Before After unmasks the turmoil just before a relationship ends in this short and simple duet. The New York Times described the work as “the most moving, the most mysterious, the most heartily cheered.”

Debonair World Premiere
Music: George Antheil (Serenade for String Orchestra No. 1, 1948)
Choreography: Justin Peck
Costume Design: Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli
Running Time: 18 minutes
Justin Peck's world premiere is generously underwritten in part by Michele & Steve Pesner and Gilla Kaplan.

In July of this year, New York City Ballet’s rising star Justin Peck was appointed by ballet master in chief Peter Martins as the company’s second resident choreographer (after Christopher Wheeldon, resident choreographer from 2001 to 2008.). Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic at The New York Times, described Mr. Peck in a review as “the third important choreographer to have emerged in classical ballet this century” after Mr. Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. Since his debut as a choreographer in 2009, Mr. Peck has created works for the New York City Ballet, the New York Choreographic Institute, the School of American Ballet, Miami City Ballet, L.A. Dance Project, New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival, Skidmore College, and more.

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Here's a video featuring Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in the studio rehearsing "Before/After":

I recognized James Moore (bandana) and Angelica Generosa (purple leotard), Lindsi Dec (blue t-shirt) and Jerome Tisserand, and, I think Elizabeth Murphy (lavendar t-shirt) and Raphael Bouchard. The camera work is unusually skittish in this video.

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First weekend casting was posted to the website this afternoon:


As always, casting is subject to change. The pattern for first weekend is Friday Opening Night cast dances "Before After," "Rassemblement," and "Debonair" at the Saturday matinee, and "A Million Kisses to My Skin" on Saturday night. A new cast dances the first three on Saturday night and "A Million Kisses..." at the Saturday matinee. The only overlap I see is that Raphael Bouchard partners both Elizabeth Murphy and Angelic Generosa in "Before After."

PNB performed "A Million Kisses to My Skin," "Before After," and "Rassemblement" at Jacob's Pillow this summer, which is why dancers we haven't seen in these roles in Seattle aren't listed as debuts.

Here's the spreadsheet:

Director's Choice 30 Oct.xlsx

(You don't have to be logged in to download it.)

  • Back after missing "Jewels": Benjamin Griffiths, Sarah Ricard Orza.
  • Had children starting this summer and not back, at least first weekend: Maria Chapman (July), Kylee Kitchens (August), Rachel Foster (September).
  • Not cast first weekend: Karel Cruz, James Moore (was Generosa's partner in Before After in Jacob's Pillow), Seth Orza, Laura Tisserand, Leta Biasucci, Kiyon Gaines, Jessika Anspach, Christian Poppe, Brittany Reid, Dylan Wald.
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Week two casting is up:


There are a number of debuts in "Rassemblement":

  • Leah Merchant and Elle Macy on Thursday, November 13,
  • Laura Tisserand, Sarah Pasch, and Jessika Anspach (with Merchant) on Friday, November 14

Leta Biasucci makes her debuts in "A Million Kisses to My Skin" and "Debonair" on Friday, November 14

Lindsi Dec makes her debut in "Before/After" (with Jerome Tisserand) on Friday, November 14.

Joshua Grant makes his debut in "Debonair" (with Lindsi Dec) on Friday, November 14.

Director's Choice 5 Nov.xlsx

(You don't have to be logged in to download.)

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I went to the lecture/dress rehearsal on Thursday night, and they announced a discount for tickets to the rest of the run. You need to log into pnb.org/promo/pnbfriend for a 50% discount on most ticket categories. The discount expires on Saturday night (11/8).

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I went to the interview with Justin Peck before the dress rehearsal, but only now had a chance to transcribe my notes. I'm sorry for the delay, but I thought I'd post anyway since Peck said some interesting things.

(If I get the chance, I'll try to post some extra thoughts about the program, but didn't want to wait with this, just in case things get crazy)

Justin Peck, interviewed by Peter Boal November 6

He seemed like a very nice, 20-something guy -- quite articulate, fairly kind, thoughtful about his chosen field and grateful for the opportunities he’s had.

He said that he was taking a dance history class at Columbia when his instructor (dance critic Mindy Aloff) suggested that he seemed to think like a choreographer, and might want to pursue that. (in connection to the discussion elsewhere on BA about skills that can be taught) One of his big learning experiences was the New York Choreographic Institute "like a lab setting without the pressure to present work" He considers ballet a "high-maintenance art form" (on reflection, not exactly sure what he meant by that). The Institute "wasn’t a school -- they don’t teach." It’s just an opportunity to make material and learn by doing. It was disconcerting that there was no actual feedback in the process – he knew they liked what he was making because they kept offering him additional sessions, including a year-long residency at one point.

He made six works for NYCB in two years (the seventh was earlier this autumn, and the eighth will be this spring)

Boal asked about time, how he balances his time between choreography and performance (he’s still a soloist with the company) Peck said that he’s "not on every single night" with his current rep.

Boal asked if there were other choreographers whose work was inspirational or influential. Peck's answer was more about the process of making dances and less about the actual content of work -- said he's tried to observe everyone he’s worked with, and was very interested in people who seemed to create a “team environment” so that the artists in the room, choreographer and dancers, were “creating together.” But when he was poked about the content element, he said he felt Wheeldon and Ratmansky had “genuine vision.” (I’m not sure, since this didn’t get asked, but it sounds like he’s thinking primarily of people whose process he’s been involved with, rather than artists who he knows through their final product, like Balanchine)

Boal asked about choreographic strategies – preparation outside of studio or blank slate. Peck said he likes to start with a theme, but doesn’t seem to come into the studio with details mapped out. When he was asked about music, he said that he’s interested in keeping the art form relevant, and that seemed to be related to using contemporary composers, or working collaboratively. Mentioned Sufian Stevens, Boal asked about his choice of Antheil, Peck said he felt it was “danceable” (didn’t expand on what that actually meant to him – it’s a term Balanchine used to like as well) He said he’d listened to it for several years, that he thought it was a challenging piece and had been waiting for an opportunity to work with it.

Boal asked if he read critics (especially since he’s had good response from the NYT) and he said yes, he reads pretty much everything. “It gets desolate out there with very little feedback.” Boal remarked that several critics had talked about his use of the corps, asked if that was a deliberate focus. Peck said yes, was glad for opportunities to work with larger cast on structural things. “How to move a group around.” Used to sit in upper tier and watch the architectural aspect of big works.

Boal asked about his experiences at PNB. Peck said he was “a huge fan” of Carla Korbes, “I’m glad I didn’t know she was retiring when I made the piece” last summer, felt there would have been pressure to make a big thing. Boal said that the ballet seemed to address that anyway, the central duet has a kind of sadness and leave-taking in it. Asked about the challenge of making a work that would be performed in McCaw Hall and the Joyce Theater (big difference in stage size) Peck said it was like “putting a fat guy in a little suit.” Thought hard about cast size, felt 12 was a “magic number.” Said that sometimes that sort of limitation can push for creative solutions.

Boal mentioned costumes, using designers he’s worked with before. Peck discussed the responsibility the choreographer has when they bring a whole team together (composer, designers, etc) – it’s a collaboration but the choreographer is the final arbiter. Boal mentioned that NYCB has been working with high fashion designers recently and Peck said it has a “Ballet Russe feeling”

This summer Peck is making a new work for San Francisco, and then a work for Paris Opera next year, alongside his work for NYCB. Boal asked if story ballets had any appeal for him, and Peck said yes, but that he would want to be involved in “developing new narratives” and the need to find the “right stories” He mentioned his concern about relevancy again.

More discussion about his experience with the Choreographic Institute – “Julliard teaches people how to write music, and everything sounds the same" (“in the style of” one composer or another, as part of an assignment) He appreciated the fact that Stevens was self-taught – felt that the music was more distinctive, with a “personal point of view.”

Questions from audience

Q Do you get feedback from your dancers?
A “Sometimes they vote… “ When he works at NYCB, he knows the dancers very well, and the feedback is always there.

Q Is there room in contemporary ballet for classical aesthetics?
A Wants to maintain respect for the classical basis of the art form, but also to keep it moving forward. Classical forms evolve, with many small steps in a direction.

Q (from Boal) Does choreographing affect your dancing?
A "I dance better when I’m also choreographing." (less self-consciousness)

Q Are you making things you’d like to dance?
A "I make things that I could never do."

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I know we're practically on top of Nutcracker, but I wanted to think through my notes from this program, and writing is the easiest way to do it, so here they are...

I was only able to get to a couple performances over the opening weekend, so I didn’t get a chance at as many cast changes as I would have liked. Even though, I saw more than I might have otherwise – Elizabeth Murphy hurt her neck the morning of the opening and so cast changes dominoed through the program.

Million Kisses knocked almost everyone in the house flat when the company first danced it a couple years ago, and it still has that same affect today. It was a treat to see Sarah Orza swagger downstage in the opening moment of the work, after having missed the last rep, but before I could really take that in we were off like a rocket. Everyone was dancing with incredible attack and focus – which is pretty much par for someone like Carrie Imler, but even Leslie Rausch, who generally has a softer affect, was very sharp. The shapes are extreme, the travelling is very full, the energy in general is very intense. Grand battement looked like the clapper of a bell, or like a punch. Lindsi Dec just flew through the cadenza, Sarah Orza’s extensions all had a little accent or pop at the apex, Margaret Mullin had the same bat out of hell attack on a big diagonal manege that I remember from the last time they performed the work. Jonathan Porretta had an incredible combination of fluidity and strength in his spine – he could ripple in these complex waves and then everything swivels at once to attack a new direction. He and Imler really linked up in their duet – it reminded me of their work in Symphony in Three Movements and made me wish that were coming back soon. Bakthurel Bold was really sharp in his doubles work with Leslie Rausch – sometimes he’s so solicitous of his ballerina he doesn’t really make as indelible an impression as he might otherwise, but that wasn’t the case here.

On another viewing the next day, the whole affect seemed a bit softer, less punchy and more stretchy. This also worked really well – some ballets are flexible enough to support multiple approaches, and I think that Million Kisses might be one of them. This time around I was seeing more references to other work and other choreographers, especially Balanchine and Forsythe (no surprise there). Some people in the company have been rehearsing for the upcoming Forsythe rep after Nut, so I have a feeling that may have bled into these performances. There’s one moment toward the beginning of the work where two men (Joshua Grant and Charles McCall on Saturday matinee) are working in canon and I thought “Concerto Barocco,” and then I really started thinking about all the works to Bach, so I was primed when, later in the work, a male trio comes downstage opening their right arms to the side – it was the ending moment of Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade,” times three!

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Before After” is new to us, but is identified as her “signature piece” – I haven’t seen enough of her work to say if that’s the case, but it is very similar to the work I’ve seen of hers with PNB and with Oliver Wevers’ Whim W’him company. You have to be ballet trained to pull it off – there’s enough complexity in the partnering and articulated strength in the locomotion that you’d be hard-pressed to manage it without those skills. But it’s most certainly not about ballet – the primary impulses are emotional, the presentation is much more contemporary, the relationship to gravity is as a conspirator, not a competitor. The movement is full of isolated sharpness and phrases that end without linking to anything else kinetically. This particular duet is “about” the moment when a relationship fails, and there are multiple images of failed connections. Interestingly, it’s not tempestuous – they don’t ‘fight’ so much as they are increasingly indifferent to each other. Even at the end, the woman (Angelica Generosa when I saw it) seems hurt for a moment when the man (Raphael Bouchard) leaves the stage, but she straightens up and walks away herself in just a moment.

Rassemblement is more of an example of an older modern dance style cross-bred with some ballet technique – I could easily see the Limon Company doing an excellent job with this work. I keep trying to find a narrative throughline with this dance, but I think it actually works better when I don’t push. There are certainly characters, and dramatic sections that tell a story, but that’s not its strongest point. There are moments of community, of worship, of violence and of rebellion, but they don’t always seem to follow one from the other. Bold really seemed to relish the kinetic and expressive challenges here – he’s not always the most emotional of dancers, but this really seemed to bring that out in him – it was a real pleasure to see him have that experience. At one point the ensemble came downstage and looked out into the audience – a friend of mine calls that kind of group challenge an Anna Sokolow moment, and I’m afraid the name has stuck with me whether it’s appropriate or not.

With all the cast changes to cover Murphy, they wound up actually changing the program order as well, so that the orchestral prelude became an interlude. This time out they played an excerpt from Grieg’s Holberg Suite. Arthur Mitchell used it years ago for Dance Theater of Harlem – I remember it from a Dance in America program that included footage of him coaching Lydia Abarca in a solo – to this day I hear him saying “bring it around” in rhythm with the score whenever I hear this music.

Justin Peck’s “Debonair” was getting the lion’s share of pre-show attention locally, and I think that really inflamed some expectations. It’s got a pair of charming ensemble dances flanking a more thoughtful duet to a score by George Antheil – it’s not the savior of ballet, but it’s a lovely introduction to his style. Right now, most of the attention goes to the central duet – I saw Carla Korbes both times, with Jerome Tisserand, and since she announced her retirement, we’re primed to read farewell into everything she does. I have a feeling that when I see it with another couple in the central roles it will seem a bit more balanced. Which is not a dig – the middle duet is beautiful, and a great look at how Peck moves two people around each other.

The curtain goes up on a mixed group that seems to be waiting for something or someone. A single woman enters tentatively and the rest of them look up to see if she’s what they were waiting for. Apparently she’s not, since they all look away, but when another man enters briskly and sweeps the lone woman into a kind of waltz it seems that’s the cue – they all start up and it’s a rush of duets and small groups until everyone finds themselves in the middle of the stage. Everyone pairs up and rushes off, leaving one couple in the center. That’s the cue for the big duet, which is actually longer than either of the surrounding ensemble sections.

The duet is full of moments where the woman seems to be in balance, but falls off her leg, so that her partner has to catch her. It’s not dangerous so much as it is unexpected – the interesting thing is that, even though we see this more than once, we’re still surprised – Peck manages to pull the rug out for these. He dances for her, she dances for him. There’s not really a big narrative going on, but we still see the development of their relationship – at the beginning of the duet we don’t really know if they’ll finish it still together, but we watch those changes occur.

After the duet, the last section feels a bit more conventional structurally – three women dance one at a time for a trio of men (Fancy Free!), thematic material reappears, everyone reassembles and rushes out again, leaving the main couple in a long spiral to a finale pose that looked a bit like the second movement of Symphony in C. But you could much further and not find any better a model – I’m not complaining.

Price Suddarth and Emma Love Suddarth were the Q/A guests opening night, and seemed very comfortable talking to the audience. They were asked how they first met – apparently she accidentally slapped him in the face during a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliette which led to “six months of sarcastic banter” (PS)

Carla Korbes was the guest for the Saturday matinee Q/A and of course there were a lot of questions about her decision to retire. It boils down to personal timing – she said that when she was 15 she knew she had to leave Brazil and train somewhere else, when she was 23 or 24 she knew it was time to leave NYCB, and now she knows it’s time to leave the company here. She mentioned that she’s getting married in April, and that it was likely they would settle somewhere other than Seattle. She was asked about other choreographers she’s worked with – her replied that she worked with Christopher Wheeldon “before he was Christopher Wheeldon” Hadn’t worked with Peck when she was still at NYCB, but had very nice things to say about him, and about Ratmansky – everyone seems to say that he’s extremely thoughtful, and insightful in the studio.

I asked about program order – in general Boal doesn’t like to give choreographers too many requirements when he commissions new work, but in this case he’d told Peck to make a closer. Boal said that now, if he was looking at this program, he’d likely open with the Peck and close with the Dawson.

On a more general news level, it looks like Boal is going to do some special programming for the Robbins centennial in 2018, so we may see more new-to-us Robbins as well as some returning work. And someone asked if there as a chance we’d see more work by Justin Peck and Peter Boal implied that there may be something else coming next year.

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