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Director's Choice, March 17-18, 23-26

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I know the run is over (sniff, sniff) but I went to the Sunday matinee and it was a terrific ending for the rep. I thought you might enjoy some tidbits.


Empire Noir: all the opening night cast was back and Miles Pertl seamlessly debuted in Bold's role.  Everyone seemed to pull out the stops for the last show, especially Elle Macy in her solo.  I swear she was like a storm!


New Suite:  It was so nice to see some dancers in their original roles - Lindi Dec in Berio 3, Steven Loch in Berio 2, Sara Ricard Orza and Karel Cruz in Bach, and a delightful surprise in that Carrie Imler and Jonathon Poretta danced Handel 4.  Most of these were not listed online so it was really fun.


Her Door to the Sky:  Sara Ricard Orza was so perfect in the leading lady role.  Leta, Miles and Jerome all danced in EN and this ballet, what troopers!


Post- performance Q&A:  It was so nice for Lindsi Dec to stay for this talk even though she didn't dance in the Lang and  had a Pagliacci pizza waiting for her (and her son at home).  This session was one of the funnier ones.  Someone asked how the little EN leotards stay in place and Lindsi said they often use a product called "Butt Glue" but it wasn't actually needed for EN.  Someone asked why this glue is needed and Lindsi said there's a lot of partnering and sometimes body parts come out.  Another funny comment was a lady who said she was taken by Karel's performance and his "sexual energy".  We all had a good laugh at that one.  Goes right up there with the guy who said Bold and Carla's Don Q kiss looked too real, and Carla's then fiancé was in the audience!  Toward the end a lady commented that right after the Cendrillon run she saw NYCB on PBS and she thinks PNB is a lot better and that NYC has nothing on us!  

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I was warned that casting changes can go straight to the website and bypass the company's spreadsheets, so that when I noticed that the spreadsheets sent to the mailing list a few days before the performance were out-of-sync with the website, and the website wasn't updated soon after, I kind-of-assumed the website was correct, but then forgot to follow-up, or I would have learned the spreadsheet was correct, and I would have changed my Sunday plans around to see the Sunday matinee. :angry2:


But I'm glad you got to see it, seattle_dancer!

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Some thoughts, in program order.  And some thoughts about program order.


Sometimes the order of a program is a fully organic affair, organized around thematic developments or other aesthetic issues.  And sometimes it’s a matter of logistics. 


Like David Dawson’s chocks-away “A Million Kisses to My Skin,” which PNB has done a couple of times, “Empire Noir” is all about the adrenaline.  The cast of 10 go and go and go – they must just be a wreck at the end of the work.  The ballet has “closer” written all over it, except that it’s got a big set piece (fabric stretched over a frame that looks like a parabola tipping over), and it takes an hour to set up.  No way can you put this ballet at the end of the evening – it has to open the show.


Apparently Dawson thinks of this work as a mate to “Kisses,” in a kind of light-and-dark pairing.  And they are very closely matched – both with a relentless motor, an easy combination of high-intensity technique and casual chic, and a dependence on the music for the structure of the work.  The Bach score that he uses for “Kisses” gives that work a very clear spine – Greg Haines commissioned score for “Empire” doesn’t reveal its structure as elegantly, but it does fuel the action from the opening through to the very end.


We got the same cast throughout the opening weekend, and they gave a trio of excellent performances.  Very clean, very daring (several astonishing lifts, things that start conventionally and then shift directions until they finish far from where you thought they might). Benjamin Griffiths starts the whole thing rolling, with a solo that would look like a finale in any other work, but here it was just about clearing the throat before things really get complex.  Everyone had great moments, but I particularly remember Joshua Grant, running like the best marathoner with arms pumping easily, making a huge circle around the space only to get to his partner at just the right time.  Leta Biasucci let the dancing speak for her, which is when I like her best, rather than adding a personality to the work.  Conversely, Noelani Pantastico makes her dancing make meaning – she’s all about the phrasing lately.  And Lesley Rausch brought the same poise to this ballet that she had last autumn in Stravinsky Violin Concerto – it’s a kind of factual style (“these are the steps, and I am doing them.”) In a late duet with Karel Cruz there was plenty of drama, but it was all about the physics – what the mechanics of the movement required of the two of them. Elle Macy, Jerome Tisserand and Bakthurel Bold had great moments as well (Macy seem to have to duck at one point when she got close to the set – gave the whole thing a really menacing feel). 


I saw more with each performance, and I’m sure there’s even more in there, but the ballet doesn’t give it all away on first viewing.

Several people (including my colleague Moira Macdonald) thought that it might make more sense for the Empire Noir to close the program, and it did have a big effect on how I watched the next ballet. I really loved William Forsythe’s New Suite when the company first danced in it 2015, but coming after the relentless nature of the Dawson, it really felt like a refined and exclusive collection. 


I understand that this is a kind of customized project – the idea being that each company would get a set of duets that were chosen specifically for them – and when they were first staging it here, things did get moved around, but I don’t know the larger Forsythe repertory well enough to have a feeling about why these works (and not others).  Nonetheless, this is a fascinating slice of his work, and a very illuminating view of the dancers involved.  


He’s bookended the work with dances to Handel, and they really do respond to the composer’s baroque version of equilibrium – lots of elaborations on giving and receiving, finding virtue in virtuosity.  There’s a “Sleeping Beauty” moment in the first duet, as she changes supporting hands while she balances in attitude.  I don’t know that it’s a deliberate reference from Forsythe, but it’s congruous with the sense that he values classical skills here.  And there’s another moment in that same duet, towards the end, where the man is kneeling in front of the woman, supporting her with one hand as she’s pencheed towards him in an arabesque that seems to extend upstage to the horizon line.  It looks just like a moment in Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante,” and has the same effect of highlighting the ballerina’s independence even as she’s being partnered.  Both Biasucci and Rachel Foster had great performances in here.  In the third duet, also to Handel, the ballerina starts the section alone, altogether independent.  Her role is full of shifts in timing, moments of suspension and action that give the dancer a wonderful chance to create the phrasing with the music. Sarah Ricard Orza really shone in this role, as she continues to refine her sense of timing.  (She’s wearing a blue dress here, which may be a lucky thing for her – she manages to make sense of the Stroman “Take 5” in a blue dress, and I think she might have been wearing blue in “Dances at a Gathering” several years ago…)


The partnering gets more convoluted in the sections to Luciano Berio, sometimes making the couples seem more interconnected, and sometimes adding more friction.  Emma Love Suddarth and Grant look like they’re embroiled in a post-modern apache, full of loose limbs and spasms, while Biasucci and Jonathan Porretta adjusted and re-adjusted themselves with almost clinical precision. When he offers his hand at the top of the duet, she takes the extra-long way around to brush him off – like the woman’s circuitous port de bras in Balanchine’s “Rubies” pas de deux, only with a different ending.  The third Berio duet was my favorite – it starts out so quietly as they seem to be following a single path downstage.  The score has a little tune in the middle that feels tender and a bit sad, and in the end, he lifts her up from underneath, turning her in arabesque over his head as the lights fade out.  It’s just sweet all the way through.


The work shifts back to the baroque for the end, with some Bach and then some more Handel, as we come back to a more formal and mannerly place.   Imler and Porretta were utterly at home in this world on opening night – Porretta’s timing was especially deft.  And Kyle Davis had a wonderful go at it with Angelica Generosa on the first Saturday night, he was so clear and snappy.

Just as the Dawson felt more like a closer, Jessica Lang’s new “Her Door to the Sky” is more of an opening ballet – there’s a softer and more yielding feel to the vocabulary.  Lang comes from Julliard, where ballet and modern dance are both taught as core parts of the curriculum, and then she performed for Twyla Tharp, where that combination is fundamental – she’s working in that vein here.  Women are on pointe, but the main kinetic impetus comes more from the pelvis and uses a kind of momentum phrasing that reminded me of Limon technique.  That and the scenic quotations from the Southwest gave this a real connection to early American modern dance.


Still, though, I didn’t feel that this work gels as well as the other two on the program.  For me, the Benjamin Brittan score (the Simple Symphony) was not a good choice – it feels too fussy for a work that is supposed to be influenced by Georgia O’Keefe’s painting.  Lang’s response to the score matches its busy rhythms note for note at the beginning of the ballet – the whole thing was more agitated than austere – not what I think about when I look at O’Keefe’s imaginary landscapes.  Lang herself designed a simple and versatile set (a ¾ high drop with several windows cut into it, hanging in front of a scrim) that took light extremely well – the front drop shifted from white to ochre, depending on the moment, while the upstage scrim went through a kind of color wheel full of deep and vivid hues. There were moments in the performance where I just wanted to watch the colors change on the set. 

For me, the work was more decorative than powerful – indeed, the visual artist that it reminded me of most clearly was Maxfield Parrish, whose idyllic scenes often glowed with the same kind of light, but whose figures were more pretty than profound.

Despite this, the dancers did a wonderful job with their material – the entire cast was ready to launch into the weighted nature of the movement, but Sarah Ricard Orza was especially compelling as the central woman in the first two performances.  She had a sense of gravitas in her gestures that seemed to get closest to what Lang had been working towards – she reminded me of Doris Humphrey, and made me hope that she’ll get a chance at one of the women’s roles if the company revives Moor’s Pavane.


From misc Q/A sessions:

Peter Boal said he had thought about doing an all-Dawson program, but realized that everyone would be absolutely flat exhausted at the end.  (Joshua Grant said that at one point the Trocks were talking about doing a satire on Dawson -- when the choreographer asked how they would make it funny, the director said that they would “just keep dancing and dancing.”)

PB hopes that Matthew Renko will be back by the end of the season


Instead of giving individual gifts to performers, Jessica Lang makes a donation to some charitable organization in their names – this time around it went to an arts education group.


Grant was the guest on Saturday night, and spoke a bit about his experiences working with the Trocks.  He said that on pointe he is 7’1”, and that he wears a size 17 W point shoe.  When asked about his training regime he said “I pick up women, I don’t pick up weights.”  And he remarked that his husband always laughs at that joke.


Sorry this is so long!

Edited by sandik
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