Barry Kerollis (left) rehearsing PNB Professional Division students (photo by Bill Mohn)who’s on & why go? • pix • pnb’s youtube video • review
by Rosie Gaynor
This year’s PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase—the seventh production of this annual event that costs about $30,000 and takes in about $12,000—was another winner.
It differed a bit from past years, in that it presented only four works. Absent from the list this year were regulars Olivier Wevers, Kiyon Gaines, and Stacy Lowenberg.
To fill in a bit, PNB added short videos before each piece. This was a bit risky: we’ve all sat through show videos whose pacing brought down the energy of the house, where nothing really got said. These short interviews with the choreographers, however, were interesting and short and personable. They were a delightful addition. Since some of the dancers were in multiple works, the videos also solved the costume-change-timing problem
Some years, the PNB dancers choreograph on PNB company dancers. These, usually, are the better years. The choreographers know the professional dancers’ strengths so well, the professional dancers have significant stage experience, and there seems to be less wide a gap between what the dancers can do and what the choreographers want them to do. For some reason, none of those factors came into play this year. There was no tension between the choreography and the dancers, no sense that the dancers couldn’t manage the movement, no wish at the end of the night that you’d seen the work on other dancers.
The night opened with Jonathan Porretta’s Spring Waltz. It was actually two waltzes. One was to music by Jeannette Alexander (“Choose” from Walk in the Sun, 2005) who, as Porretta charmingly explained in the video, approached him at the end of last year’s Choreographers’ Showcase and asked if he’d choreograph something to a work of hers. He listened to her music and did. The other piece of music was by Shigeru Umebayashi (George’s Waltz” from A Single Man, 2009). Dancers: Emma Appel, Casey Taylor, Eli Barnes, Adam Bloodgood, and Michael Burfield.
Porretta said in his interview that his goal was to have fun making simple, pretty ballets. His seven-minute piece (my timing isn’t super accurate on any of these, by the way, sorry!) was certainly pretty. And it did start simply: One young woman (Emma Appel, I think, darned programs have no pictures!) onstage in a knee-length, soft-pink dress, does a port de bras. Very pretty. She is joined by a man in poet shirt and blue vest and tights; their pas de deux is light and charming. Two things I loved about this part: their dance was like a little current of flowing water underneath the music, and the woman showed a beautiful grace—superior to what I’ve seen from her in the few classes I’ve watched. Superior, too, to what we saw from her later in the evening (in a piece whose style, I grant you, was different). My guess is that this success has come through her hard work and Porretta’s coaching…which leads me to wonder if Porretta’s greater strength might be coaching?
The second waltz was a pas de trois. The woman’s arms were swoopier and her head was on continual tilt, but she had nice control of her legs and there was a beautiful lift for the exit that she and the two young men “carried off” beautifully. Both waltzes provided ample opportunities for partnering: all five dancers handled this aspect very well.
Fashion—because it’s always been a part of the evening’s fun: Porretta bowed in a grey jacket, grey bowtie, rolled-up jeans, and boots.
Barry Kerollis’ piece came next on the program: The Anxiety Variations. (In several parts: Opening, Entrance of the Anxieties, Anxious, Respiration, Panic.) Music was by Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, excerpts, 2000) and Michael Andrews (Donnie Darko, excerpts, 2001). Dancers: Ellie Blanchat, Alice Cao, Alyssa Daly, Jenna Nelson, Miriam Ernest, Michael Burfield, Price Suddarth. Costumes: Red and black for the women; black for the men.
Porretta’s piece hearkened back to classical ballet; Kerollis’ brought us into contemporary ballet territory. It has been fun to watch Kerollis grow by leaps and bounds as a choreographer during the past three years. Like his first piece, in The Anxiety Variations he uses bourrées to great effect. Like his second piece, there is the dramatic tension of an abstract story…but this time there was more dramatic energy in the movement itself. Wonderful! His use of space, always interesting, continues to improve. The pacing in this 14-minute piece was excellent: nothing lagged.
The curtain opens on a red background to a pas de trois for Jenna Nelson, Michael Burfield, and Price Suddarth. Actually, it’s more a dance for the two men that Nelson breaks into and disrupts. (She fully embodies that “character,” stepping between them with the stage presence of one of PNB’s principal dancers.) Nelson puts a hand on their chests and pushes them away, establishing an aggressive mood that the other women’s movements maintain throughout the ballet. The surround the men or push them away or impede their progress. I’ve got to believe that these women are the anxieties and the men are the subject of those anxieties.
There’s a thrilling entrance for the next section: a couple enters, does a quick lift & swing, and then runs off stage. A second couple enters, and you think you know exactly what’s going to happen. But it doesn’t.
At one point, the two young men in the foreground leap and turn and roll through their backs. Alice Cao—in silhouette against the red-lit backdrop—bourrées across the stage. Then another woman passes behind them, then another and another…inexorable, unstoppable, unending. It reminded me of an EKG or some kind of visual record/commentary of what was happening with the men.
Other stand-out moments in this stand-out piece? A blond woman (who!?!) is breathing hard (asthma, we are told in the video). Price Suddarth steps in and hugs her and her breathing gets easier. A simple moment, but well done and poignant. There was also a series of movements where the woman would repeatedly put her hands on the man’s shoulders and he would repeatedly knock them off; also simple, but somehow architectural looking and momentum-building. It fun to see Cao throw off some sharp, aggressive fouettées. And toward the end, when the women again encircle the men, you see the same energy direct the dip of their hands before they reach up over their heads: that kind of unity of mood and motion is so powerful.
The piece ends (almost? completely?) in reverse of how it began: a clever gimmick that worked.
Fashion: Kerrollis bowed in black—black pants, black shirt rolled to his elbows, and a silver belt buckle.
Seth Orza’s first choreographic attempt came next on the program. It was called Fragment, and he mentioned in the Q&A after the show that it was conceived as part of a bigger ballet. Music by Philip Glass (Pruit Igoe from Koyaanisqatsi, 1982). Dancers: Julia Cinquemani, Alyssa Daly, Emma Appel, Jenna Nelson, Price Suddarth, Eli Barnes, Michael Burfield, Steven Loch.
Orza described the work as neoclassical, the kind of stuff he likes to dance. He’ll find a willing audience for that at PNB: neoclassical is one of the kinds of stuff we like to watch!
You know there’s going to be jumping (based on Orza’s own strengths and based on what you could see in the video rehearsal footage), but this eight-minute piece starts out with a beautiful calm. The initial image is pretty–even striking: a purple background, with two couples in silhouette. Then we see two couples in the foreground, lit.
The work has a lot of partnering (another of Orza’s strengths as dancers, so lucky students to be getting this experience with him), and it’s more or less in unison: four couples doing the same thing. There was lots of work around the edges of the stage, which makes sense for a jumper who wants to stretch, to really move. I would be interested to see, though, how the pacing and trajectories would change if Orza were to ditch the partnering and do a work just for the men next time.
The men had a fun entrance at one point, each leaping from the wings onto the stage. After Suddarth and Loch jumped, I wanted to go backstage to see if there was a springboard, they gave it that much power.
Julia Cinquemani had an exceptionally beautiful moment toward the end of her pas de deux, her leg swinging straight, pendulum-like à la Balanchine, fully extended.
Orza’s piece ended with an interesting calm tension (sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s accurate) that was heard in the music (a slight dissonance in the final note of the music) and colored the final pose.
Orza’s commentary in the video made the audience chuckle: he admitted to being nervous about the outcome—and the judgement—of this first work of his, and we got a sense of just how crazy hard it is to choreograph…how you can have these great movements but you still have to figure out how to create something with them, something that is not a combination but a work. He should be proud of this first effort.
Fashion: Brown slacks, gray v-neck sweater, light blue button-down shirt.
Andrew Bartee and Margaret Mullin’s Shatter ended the evening. Music by Marc Mellits (Tight Sweater, 2006). Dancers: Jennifer Christie, Ariel Derby, Miriam Ernest, Kathryn Harden, Ashley Hartigan, Steven Loch, Hanna McDonald, Sarah Pasch, Casey Taylor.
Young as these two choreographers are, this is not their first collaboration. As Bartee put it, it’s their second “choreographic love child.” They collaborated on a pas de deux for themselves at Mullin’s home company. This is their first work on other dancers. There’ll be more to come.
This piece gave us a fourth style for the evening: classical ballet, contemporary ballet, neoclassical ballet, and now ballet showing the influence of contemporary modern dance. It’s a sock ballet: no pointe shoes here. (Costumes were simple but very effective: tanks and tight shorts, in purples, browns, tans, and mulberry.)
Five things stood out for me in particular with this fun, energetic piece. (With apologies, though, I’m shorting this end of the review as I want to post this today and I need to scootch off to work.) One, there were a lot of arms, thrown across the body or sliding through center. Two, it’s as though the stage managers flipped the gravity switch: these light dancers seemed suddenly weighted and it looked like fun. Three, their loose long legs and undulating torsos reminded me so much of Andrew Bartee’s dancing…but of his dancing a year ago. We’ve seen in his onstage dancing a steady improvement with control this year. It’s as though that original energy is finding an expression elsewhere. I’m a mega-fan of dancers who have the strength to control and direct their own movement, and I’m the first to comment when someone flops around, but I do like the idea that Bartee is not giving up his own style completely. Four, given the down-to-earth nature of this piece, it was a treat to see a tinge of elegance: the women’s French twist hair-dos. Nice touch. And last, the women in this piece are blessedly not shy, but confident and full of spirit. It’s easy to assume this is Mullin’s stamp, as you can see it in her own dancing.
Fashion: For Mullin, a mustard-colored dress, Empire-waisted, with black pumps. For Bartee, jeans and a white shirt.
Thanks to Glenn Kawasaki for sponsoring the Choreographers’ Showcase yet another year!!! (Support, too, from Boeing.) What a fun evening. See you there next year!
- Because it’s fun. Because it only costs $10 (or $20 or $30).
- Because a lot of the people in the audience are dance fanatics or dance families or dance donors, so the discussions you overhear are pretty impassioned.
- Because it’s usually a tiny audience.
- Because it’s crazy to see someone’s choreography develop over the years. (Hello? Olivier Wevers! Kiyon Gaines!)
- Because every year there’s at least one work that you adore.
- And one that surprises you.
- And because the ensuing conversation of whose choreography was “original” and whose was derivative (that’s from Agon, that’s from R&J, that’s from Quijada…oh, God, the year when everyone had Liang’s head-in-hand pose!) is a soggy, boggy mess of a conundrum that never fails to delight (me, at least). At some point, isn’t all choreography derivative?
-And…from the napper on the couch next to me who just woke up: To see the ideas that dancers have that they don’t get to express when they’re dancing other people’s choreography. (Wish I’d said that!)
- And…well…I got a chance to see a video of Barry Kerollis’ new work, start to finish. If that were all that were on the program, it would be worth your time and money!—Rosie
And Jonathan Porretta’s piece? No photo, no word. It’ll be a surprise. I’m guessing something classical… We’ll see! – Rosie