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Her Story: November 3-4, 9-12

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Just a few notes from Opening Night:


Extraordinary portrayals by Benjamin Griffiths and Lucien Postlewaite in "Afternoon Ball."  With "Plot Point," I think it's the best I've ever seen Postlewaite dance.


Laura Tisserand is back, dancing with Miles Pertl as the Biedermeier couple.


Between the exploration of the contrast of the movement quality between the characters and their replicas and its visceral effect and the way it plays with narrative and engages the mind, "Plot Point" is a knockout.  It's a physical, emotional, and mental challenge to navigate between the linear and going along for the ride.


Doug Fullington said in the pre-performance Ballet Talk that Lang originally wanted to use Copland, but then learned that Georgia O'Keefe, whose specific series of paintings inspired the work, hated Copland, so she switched.  Copland reminds me often of the outdoors -- even without the beef commercial -- and big vistas.  I love Britten's "Simple Symphony," but it reminds me of nurseries, water colors, and the indoors, and I don't get the impression that that was what Lang was going for choreographically.


Edited to add:  our posts crossed, @seattle_dancer!

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Karel Cruz is such a great partner that the company's ballerinas rely upon him being cast this way.  "Plot Point" showed an underrated and underused dimension to him, the ability to convey complex emotional resonance.  Mr. Jones in "Plot Point" was a perfect role for him in this regard.  From my point of view as an audience member, there wasn't enough of him in it -- it was a perfect amount for Pite's aims with the work -- but his performance in it lingers.

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40 minutes ago, Helene said:

Just a few notes from Opening Night:


Extraordinary portrayals by Benjamin Griffiths and Lucien Postlewaite in "Afternoon Ball."  With "Plot Point," I think it's the best I've ever seen Postlewaite dance.


Laura Tisserand is back, dancing with Miles Pertl as the Biedermeier couple.


Between the exploration of the contrast of the movement quality between the characters and their replicas and its visceral effect and the way it plays with narrative and engages the mind, "Plot Point" is a knockout.  It's a physical, emotional, and mental challenge to navigate between the linear and going along for the ride.


Doug Fullington said in the pre-performance Ballet Talk that Lang originally wanted to use Copland, but then learned that Georgia O'Keefe, whose specific series of paintings inspired the work, hated Copland, so she switched.  Copland reminds me often of the outdoors -- even without the beef commercial -- and big vistas.  I love Britten's "Simple Symphony," but it reminds me of nurseries, water colors, and the indoors, and I don't get the impression that that was what Lang was going for choreographically.


Edited to add:  our posts crossed, @seattle_dancer!

Thank you Helene!  I was especially curious how Plot Point came together.  I can't wait to see it Thursday!

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If casting for Weekend 2 holds -- we're all on a Rachel Foster for second weekend watch -- there is one more opportunity, on Thursday, November 9, to see the cast that danced the PNB premiere of "Plot Point" and the stupendous cast that debuted in "Afternoon Ball" last night.


In it, Leta Biasucci, Ezra Thomson (same role as Benjamin Griffiths), and Ryan Cardea (same role as Lucien Postlewaite) danced the street kids, while Cecilia Iliesiu -- who did the Second Stage speech before the show without notes! -- and Dylan Wald danced the Biedermeier couple.  While there have always been glimpses of this intense, angry, wild Biasucci -- in the middle, Cendrillon for example -- she put it all out there with laser-like physical focus and articulation and a remarkable dynamic understanding of the changing relationships between her and each of the men.  Ryan Cardea, a long-time member of the company, has been more and more eye-catching over the last couple of years in the corps, but, recently, he's been given the occasional major role, and not always an obvious one, and each time, like here, he has taken the opportunity and infused it with individuality, thoughtfulness, and narrative and emotional detail, and while making it entirely his own, has danced/performed it as well as anyone.


Ezra Thomson's is simply among the top most versatile dancers I've ever seen, bring physical and mental intelligence to everything he does.  This is the rare role where he can show the gamut of his range in the course of 20 minutes, from the angry mess of a young man to the sublime elegance in the dream scenes in the second part -- reminiscent of his beautiful Bluebird -- to the slow collapse of that dream, piece by piece.  


Iliesiu and Wald brought great energy and light to their roles in the Biedermeier couple.  They'll also perform on Friday night, with Generosa, Poppe, and Loch, the latter two making their debuts.


I've been thinking a lot about the endings of "Afternoon Ball" and "Plot Point," and I've been thinking that there's an intersection there.  I'll continue to muse on it until I see it again next weekend.


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First weekend "Meet the Artist" post-performance Q&A guests were:

  • Friday:  Leah Merchant
  • Saturday matinee:  Lucien Postlewaite.  This performance is part of KUOW's "Front Row Center" program, which offers discounts on tickets and a live broadcast interview by Marcie Sillman (with Peter Boal) of that performance's "Meet the Artist."
  • Saturday evening:  James Moore.


More to read and listen to:


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I don't care what you have to do to insure you see Plot Point more than once.....just do it!


This is a ballet of pure genius.  Such things only come around a very few times in a lifetime. The first viewing will almost certainly overwhelm you. Pite creates (....and that's the operative word when it comes to Crystal Pite....CREATES) so much new, so much detail in drama, movement, scenery, lighting, intellectual understanding, deep physiological resonances within you, and story, always story, that your brain just can't absorb it all. On first viewing, I found myself in a race with my brain attempting to "figure it out", or as I suspect Crystal might say "compelled to make story", of what my eyes were seeing and my ears were hearing, that I was left basically confused (but exhilarated). On my second viewing the next day, I could leave all that "making sense" behind; I already knew what was happening; now the sheer power of the piece could occupy my being. It was an experience I will never forget. I saw it a third time later that day, this was probably the most satisfying viewing of all three.


In any case, just take my word....see this piece, but if you don't see it twice, you may not have seen it at all.

Edited by SandyMcKean
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I've been stalking the website, and I just saw the cast changes:

  • Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan replaced Noelani Pantastico in "Plot Point" last night, and she replaces Rachel Foster tonight, tomorrow night, and Sunday.
  • Madison Abeo replaced Pantastico in "Her Door to the Sky" last night and will dance tomorrow night as well.
  • Rachel Foster isn't dancing second weekend, and Angelica Generosa dances in her place in the street kid trio along with Benjamin Griffiths and Lucien Postlewaite.


The link to the downloadable spreadsheet is here:

Her Story 17_11_09.xlsx

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There is usually some kind of open discussion before the dress rehearsal for rep programs, and a lot of stalwarts are in the audience, but attendance for this discussion was really full.  I scribbled as fast as I could – here are a few of the things they talked about.

Boal said that originally he got a heads-up from Noelani Pantastico about Crystal Pite – that she was someone he would want to follow.  We’ve been fortunate in Seattle to see her company Kidd Pivot several times, so that when PNB first presented Emergence her work was already a bit familiar here.  Nonetheless, it knocked out collective socks off, so that when it was announced that Pite would be setting another work on the company, people got very excited.

Boal mentioned that Pite has said that even though she was trained in ballet, she felt like an imposter.  He asked her what felt “right” – she said that her studio taught something they called “interpretive dance” (would be called modern dance today)  “bare feet and dragging props around.”  They participated in competitions early on, which included “young choreographer” sessions, which was where she felt most at home.  She continued making work as she became a performer with Ballet BC, and then with Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, and then eventually came back to Canada with the idea of becoming a full-fledged choreographer.  “My dream was to dance in my own work – my final destination as a dancer.”  Originally her work was mostly solo and duet sized – it took much longer to gather together a company.  She’s worked with the same core group of people for the last 10 years. 

It takes about two years to develop a new work for her company Kidd Pivot, and then they’ll tour it for a couple of years.  Making a work for an outside company is a much shorter process – usually four to five weeks.  Right now she has a choreographic mentorship program at Arts Umbrella in Vancouver BC, where she will workshop material with a group of students, and then take that with her to an assignment.  Boal asked about the differences between working with her own company and on outside commissions – size is one of the elements.  Emergence, which she made originally for the National Ballet of Canada, has a cast of 38 – since then she’s worked with groups of 54 and 66 dancers.  When the audience gasped, she said that “dancers are very good at being together in a space and paying attention.”

Boal talked about her reputation in the studio, and the sense that she “empowers” the people who work with her – “every dancer feels you are invested in their success and their collective success.” She said it’s a mutual relationship -- “I just reflect back what I get.”  She did say, though, that she’s very detail-oriented, and appreciated it when people really committed to the work.

“We need conflict in the work – we need tension in the work.”

Boal asked about her process making Flight Patterns with the Royal Ballet.  The music came first – she mentioned several times that when she has the opportunity to work with an orchestra, the music choice comes first.  She’d been listening to all kinds of things, and alternated them with Gorecki’s Symphony #3 as an aural “palate cleanser.”  She was hesitant to use the music – it seems she didn’t feel worthy, but it became the right choice “despite its fame.”

Plot Point (for Nederlands Dans Theater) was also an opportunity to work with an orchestra, and when she went looking for music she thought about a film score, which is already built to support action.  She is a fan of Bernard Herman, and so chose the score for Psycho (even though she’s never watched the film all the way through).  She was determined not to make “Psycho, the Ballet” but she did look at the structure of filmmaking and classic storylines.  The essay in the program is on the PNB website and is well worth reading.  She made a storyboard and realized that the still images had emotional and dramatic resonance.  Apparently she’d seen a window display at one time with a group of mannequins with blank faces, and she incorporated a shadow cast in the performance who were dressed all in white with white masks (like fencers masks).  Their movements are more restrained and limited – almost like marionettes or stop-motion animation – and act in contrast to the fuller, more dynamic movement of their “human” counterparts. 

Boal asked her about the role of violence in the work, and how the ballet has changed from the original version for NDT.  Pite thinks of this as a study of a genre.  “I don’t like the slasher films that were inspired by Psycho.”  She’s tinkered pretty thoroughly with this staging (she’s been in residence for four weeks, and has used every scrap of that time).  The work has multiple plot lines happening simultaneously – she took one thread out, and tightened up the connections between the “replicas” and the humans. She had all kinds of kudos for the dancers.  (I got to watch a couple of rehearsals and was so impressed with their willingness to try almost anything.  I think if she’d asked them to jump off a bridge they would have gone right out and done it)  Someone in the audience asked if she still performed and she said no – “I hurl myself around still (in rehearsal) – I can show anything once.” 

Boal asked her what was next for her – she’s going to Chicago where Hubbard Street is staging an evening of her works.  Two that she made for Kidd Pivot, and one that she made for Cedar Lake.  She’s starting to develop a new work for her company (even though they are still touring Betroffenheit, which we get here in Seattle again later this season!).  She’s working with Jonathan Young again, on something with multiple plot lines, including a political farce (she’s reading the Inspector General).  When someone asked her about inspiration, she said that she likes to tackle big questions.  “I know I’m going to make a better show if I don’t feel smart enough.”

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I attended the Q&A's after second Friday and the Sunday matinee, and I'll try to decipher my notes:

The Friday guests were Elle Macy (EM) and Christian Poppe (CP), moderated by Peter Boal [PB].   

Q: Who did the casting?

  • PB: Crystal Pite cast "Plot Point" after a two-day workshop.

Q: Were the replicas matched to the humans or chosen as a set?

  • PB: Usually Pite doesn't care about heights, but in this case, it was important to match humans and replicas.  She also took movement quality into consideration.  One example was pairing James Moore (Fernando) with Benjamin Griffiths (Fernando Replica): they have danced together and have shared roles for a long time and know each others' movements very, very well.

Q: About working with Pite:

  • EM: [As second cast] the 1.5 hrs./day were gold.  She "didn't want to be the reason the story wasn't told."  The workshop was really helpful, because Pite's dancers "go there immediately."
  • CP: So much incredible insight. 

Q:  Compare working with Forsythe and Pite:

  • EM:  Forsythe requires ballet technique to do it: he stretches ballet.
  • CP: Similarities: a great aura, give great explanations, are very encouraging.  Their styles are not really alike.

One of the dancers mentioned that daily class wasn't helpful to prepare for "Plot Point" (but was useful for the other things the dancers are getting ready for).

Q: On how to deal with the differences when the rep is so diverse.

  • EM: It's rough on the body to go from "Jewels" to "Plot Point" and cited differences in posture and weight changes.
  • CP: You have a different relationship with the floor.  He talked about how the way you move your back, especially, is different, and that for the first week, everyone had back pain.

Q: What did Pite say about the replicas?  [That was *the* question of the Q&A's: people wanted to know what they were seeing.]

  • EM: Less interaction with her replica, but the shadow was most important.  [I can't read my handwriting here: she said she was trying to shove? store? it away].  Sarah Ryan's [Celia's] replica was making her do evil.  Pite came up with the Replica walks for work with her own company, Kidd Pivot, and added it to this version of "Plot Point."  There's a lot of isolation, leading with the arm or foot.

Peter Boal mentioned several times in different Q&A's that one of the great moments in "Plot Point" was when Celia does something even her Replica can't accept, and Celia's Replica throws her hands up and abandons her.

Q: How to prepare for demanding debuts/rep? [Macy danced in second cast of "Plot Point" and Poppe made his debut as the main street kid in "Afternoon Ball" and Thug 1 in "Plot Point."]

  • CP:  Take deep breaths.  Keeping anxiety at bay is difficult.
  • EM: This changes by debut, based on the psychological vs. physical challenges of the role(s).  Laughter can take the pressure off. 

Macy gave kudos to Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, who learned the role of Celia the day before and who replaced Noelani Pantastico that night (Thursday).

Poppe said that they don't often get to watch each other as much, but because the alternate casts danced on the same night, they were able to watch their fellow dancers perform.  Poppe's favorite section is center of Dress Circle. Macy said that for rehearsals, she likes to sit in the middle [I think of the orchestra] to see faces and structure, but higher for Balanchine.

Q: How did rehearsing for "Afternoon Ball" work?

  • CP:  All [three] casts rehearsed together in the beginning, but for the last two weeks, they rehearsed separately.  Stager John Selya wanted them to have their own interpretations.  Ballet Master Anne Dabrowski prepared the dancers before Selya arrived.  There was structured improvisation in the work.  They were given outlines and got to fill in some sections.  Selya let them try different things and then would "umpire" by saying X didn't work, but Y did.  He would say something worked, but then tell the dancers to do it differently, so that it wasn't the same every time.  

Q: About Poppe's character?

  • Street kid down on his luck, has descended into chaos and mood swings.  The three street kids are not really friends.  His character hasn't had a great life.

Q:  What does the Biedermeier couple represent?

  • They were explained to him as representing his character's ideal work.  He's on the verge of dying, and they are his idea of heaven.

Assorted comments:

  • EM: Inspired by coworkers, seeing artists surface.  Hopes she can see "Betroffenheit" when Kidd Pivot visits [runs concurrently with PNB's "Director's Choice" second weekend Friday and Saturday].
  • CP:  From Lake Stevens [45-60 minutes north of Seattle].  He trained locally, then at Cornish before becoming a PD student. He listens to Classic Rock. 

This rep was the fundraiser for Second Stage, the program that supports education and business opportunities for the dancers, so that they are prepared after retirement.  Each year they donate their salaries from the opening night of one rep to fund the program, and they ask the audience for help.  Before each performance a dancer goes before the curtain and describes the program.  This rep I remember Carli Samuelson, Madison Taylor, and Cecilia Iliesiu (who spoke without notes!)  

I didn't note who said this, but there are three leotard lines by dancers already launched [Elizabeth Murphy's] or in the works.





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The Sunday matinee guest was Benjamin Griffiths [BG], who danced the same role as Christian Poppe in "Afternoon Ball" and Fernando's Replica in "Plot Point."  It was moderated by Peter Boal [PB].

Q:  Why "Plot Point"?

  • PB:  Pite had originally suggested "Grace Engine," which Hubbard Street Dance will do instead as part of it's early December program, for PNB.  Boal's request was that she use the orchestra.  Pite sent Boal a video of "Plot Point," which uses an orchestral score for the movie "Psycho," with a big list of caveats:  she wasn't satisfied with the work as it was made for Dutch National Ballet and wanted to redo it.  She cut one of three plots and 12 minutes off the work for PNB and added and changed the choreography and details, working directly with PNB dancers.  (For example, there was no black briefcase in the Netherlands.)

Q:  Working with Pite:

  • BG: She's unique:  you'd would think that because she knows exactly what she wants that she'd be demanding and that she'd want to see what she wants right away.  [Instead] she's casual, conversation, it morphs until it becomes specific, you don't even know it's happening, and as it gets closer to the show, she focuses on details, asking for more and for changes in the hands and head for the Replicas.
  • BG: It's a process, and she even sent notes to make changes for the second weekend, after she had gone.

Q: On being a Replica:

  • BG: Anonymity of being a Replica is a different feeling.  They wear hoods, white makeup, and masks, and adding them impairs hearing and vision.  Pite asked them to do all facial expressions under the masks, saying that although their faces wouldn't be seen, the emotions would come through in their bodies, which was unlike "Emergence," where they also wear masks, so many were used to them, but aren't asked to express beneath them.  
  • BG: Pite wanted replicas to look more real-world: wearing shoes, holding "real" guns, handling props.
  • PB: She wanted a contrasting qualify, like the lushness of Elle [Macy] vs. the quality of Emma [Love Suddarth, her Replica], but she still wanted the audience to understand the connection between the two.

Q:  What happened in "Plot Point"?

  • BF: His character is an alter ego [of Fernando].  He causes Fernando to do bad things he was conflicted about [as a human].
  • PB: Replicas do what people wouldn't do.  [About Celia]: You know you're bad when you do worse than your replica would.

Q: Relationship of "Plot Point" to ballet?

  • Doesn't rely on ballet technique.  It was difficult to learn, and it seemed random in comparison to ballet phrases, and it didn't rely on ballet technique.  He did a ballet barre to warm up, but it didn't reflect the movement in the work.  

Q: How do you prepare for the "slog of Nutcrackers" and the intense rep.  [Yes, the person asking the question said "slog."]

  • BG: He compartmentalizes.  On Tuesday [this past Tuesday], Nutcracker rehearsals begin in earnest, and he will switch gears after working with extra diligence in class.

Q: How many hours a day do you work?

  • BG: It depends:  for some programs, he might have a couple of hours of rehearsal, for others five-six hours, plus company class, plus offstage training.

Peter Boal noted that Griffiths is still doing strength training with the PD men to strengthen their core and do weight training, to develop their upper bodies for lifts.

Q:  Who is the Biedermeier couple in "Afternoon Ball"?

  • Parents he wishes he had, or people he wishes he could have been.  His Utopian Ideal.  For example, they're polite, perfect, and never interrupt each other.  He comes in, trying to be that way as he is dying, trying to get that feeling back.  

Q;  About the "Afternoon Ball" improv:

  • It was improvisational in parts, and all of the improv had to be created from 17 "NC" eight-count phrases that they were taught.  The tempo for the last performance were a lot faster, so the improve parts were shorter.  For one of the sections, he had three options and decided before the show which one he'd use. 

Q: Thoughts about "Afternoon Ball":

  • BG: He first danced it seven years ago.  Coming back to it, it was hard to put together.  There is only one repeat, and new phrases one after the other.  
  • BG:  Acting on top of dancing makes it look like less of a technical piece.
  • BG: [Stager] John Selya wanted his weight down.  [I think my note says he watched videos of Tharp letting her weight drop.]

Peter Boal asked Griffiths about his experience with Second Stage:

  • He's one quarter away from being a senior, having taken one class at a time for a long time..  He's in the Arts Leadership program. There was a cohort who had taken all of the core requisites [as part of the on-site program], and they had to make a choice to end it, or to have everyone go on together, which they did.  

To Peter Boal:

Q; When will "Plot Point" come back?

  • PB: Soon, hoping for two years.  Typically PNB tries to negotiate for two performances in a five-year period to have the most flexibility.  He wasn't sure how the audience would react to "Plot Point."

Q: How far in advance is casting done?

  • PB:  It depends on the rep, and can be all over the place, since rehearsals can start in the summer or months before the piece goes on, or it can be the period right before the performances.  He does most of it, but allows choreographers to choose people.  Often he makes suggestions, especially if the choreographer doesn't know the dancers.  [It may have been "Afternoon Ball" where he said he sent a video of company class, and there was only one change from his suggestions. Only Griffiths and Postlewaite were in the ballet before.] He's meeting with Francia Russell and Kent Stowell soon to cast "Swan Lake."  

He mentioned that the Ballet Masters are responsible for some casting, but didn't say whether this was corps, corps and demis, etc.

Q.  When are you bringing back Wendy Whelan?

  • He'd definitely bring her back, but she's busy, and she's dancing.  As soon as she builds up rep -- "Pictures at an Exhibition" was her first staging -- it will be easier.


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