PNB’s ‘Love Stories’—Too Much and Not Enough

Written by Steve Ha
Pacific Northwest Ballet unveiled the depth of its talent in the opening performance of the diverse, but oddly programmed ‘Love Stories.’ Consisting of five short ballets revolving around a rather generic and much too broad theme of love, the mixed bill treated audience members to exceptional dancing but ultimately robbed them of an artistically fulfilling experience. With three of the five pieces having been gleaned from full-length narrative ballets, ‘Love Stories’ ironically failed to establish an emotional investment into the extracted works, depriving the audience of a context to place each work in (a detriment to each of the choreographic artists’ intentions). While many were, of course, dazzled by the flair and virtuosity of the company, the patchwork repertory hindered the dancers by disallowing character development through the art of storytelling via movement.
(Photo: Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer
Brittany Reid (in yellow, front) and company dancers in
Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée,” choreography by
George Balanchine © the George Balanchine Trust. 
Photo © Angela Sterling)

(Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancers
Jerome Tisserand and Kylee Kitchens in Jerome Robbins’
Afternoon of a Faun
. Photo © Angela Sterling)

George Balanchine’s Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée” and Jerome Robbins’s iconic Afternoon of a Faun were the only ballets to be presented in full, with principals Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta dancing the lead roles in Divertimento, displaying superb technique and appropriate aplomb. Divertimentocontained some of Balanchine’s most wicked choreography, arranging the classical steps in the most extraordinarily difficult sequences imaginable, and yet Nakamura and Porretta wove through them effortlessly in delight. Though Divertimento contained no narrative, there were moments of intimacy in the central pas de deux and of loss in the final moments, with Nakamura and Porretta drifting away from each other in deep backbends as a poignant final image. Robbins’s Faun, however, was something of a stretch to fit the theme of “love,” as it is clearly an odyssey into narcissism rather than any sort of romance. Kylee Kitchens and Jerome Tisserand danced the gossamer pas de deux in spectral fashion, eyes locked not on each other but on the imaginary fourth wall serving as a dance studio mirror. The couple was breathtakingly haunting, mesmerized by their visages and enamored with vanity.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers
Lucien Postlewaite and Carrie Imler in the
Black Swan pas de deux from Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake
Photo © Angela Sterling

The extracted works included the ‘Balcony Pas de Deux’ from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette, ‘Aurora’s Wedding’ from The Sleeping Beauty, and the ubiquitous ‘Black Swan Pas de Deux’ from Swan Lake. The dancing in Roméo et Juliette and Swan Lake was sublime but also problematic—the chemistry between Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers verged on tangibility, with Maillot’s choreography as a daring, genuine portrayal of young teenagers, but without the full story and the tragedy at the end, the audience was reduced to chuckles at the cuter moments in a duet that could easily move one to tears with its innocence and beauty. In contrast, the ‘Black Swan Pas de Deux’ was the complete opposite—bold, lustful, and oddly having little to do with love. Postlewaite pulled double duty in another princely role, dancing with regality and elegance, but Carrie Imler’s commanding presence dominated the stage (as is customary for Odile). Imler was the initiator in the game of cat-and-mouse, so sinister at times one believed that she was the mastermind sorcerer behind the plot to deceive Prince Siegfried, and not Von Rothbart. Powering through the pas de deux with an attack exclusively hers, she showed impeccable balance and control throughout. The only tragedy here was that Imler could not dance Odette as well, because underscoring the contrast between the White and Black Swans is what ballerinas’ dreams are made of and what makes Swan Lake so spectacular. Regardless, Imler and Postlewaite received the only and (well deserved) standing ovation of the night.

Sleeping Beautyfeatured Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold as Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund, along with a honeyed cast of animal and fairy tale characters dancing a number of variations and divertissements. Rausch’s Aurora was pleasant to watch, though Bold, while secure as ever as a partner, seemed to lack vigor as her prince. A superb highlight came from Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand in the ‘Bluebird Pas de Deux’, where both showed sharp technique and a glittering élan. Tisserand in particular, has the most classical line and carriage of the entire company, and having trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School has certainly given him the foundation for precise batterie, on full display in the Bluebird’s signature diagonal of brisé volé (among many other beaten jumps). Especially for the classical balletomane, Tisserand’s Bluebird (and Imler’s Odile too) is an absolute must-see.

Although ‘Love Stories’ struggled to find continuity in taking the audience on an emotional journey, the silver lining with this gala style program is the number of opportunities to preview corps de ballet members and soloists in some of the principal roles. Casting details for future performances reveal a number of such examples, and will hopefully be instrumental in the promotion of some of PNB’s dancers. For those cast in the fragments of the longer ballets, one can only hope that those dancers will get the opportunity to develop the roles fully someday.
‘Love Stories’ continues November 5, and 10-12. For more information and to purchase tickets please see http://www.pnb.org/