A man in white falls backward into a mass of red-clad dancers. Corpse-like, he folds his hands across his chest while numerous hands bear him up and away from his mourning counterpart.
Opening the evening, Ezra Thomson’s The Perpetual State juxtaposed cross-sections carved from two relationships: one couple burdened with mourning and loss, and the other enjoying the first throes of a new love. The initial death scene gave way to a romantic duet driven by the fiery Leta Biasucci, who led the corps de ballet in an unsophisticated call-and-response section that closely mirrored the music’s melody. Francis Poulenc’s sparse piano concerto made audible every squeak of the dancers’ pointe shoes; the off-putting noise seemed to inhibit full movement and abandon for many of the corps members. Biasucci’s performance was clearly the focal point of this work, her commitment to the emotional side of the character showcasing her range of strength and fragility. Costumes designed by Thompson clearly delineated the soloists, clad in matching pairs of white and grey, from the corps de ballet, who wore red and black. Cleaving to ballet’s classical hierarchical structure, the corps largely functioned as scenery while occasionally echoing the soloists’ emotional states for re-emphasis. Continually revisiting the Christlike death scene, Thomson’s unexpected weaving together of two dissimilar duets provided a new entry point into this otherwise quite traditional ballet, Thomson’s premiere on PNB’s mainstage. As Thomson continues his promising choreographic career, perhaps his work will aid in suffusing some much-needed new energy into twenty-first century ballet.
In William Forsythe’s Slingerland Duet, Laura Tisserand displayed a technical acumen as stunning as the work was exacting. The duet’s richly complex, multifaceted movement vocabulary flaunted Tisserand’s long lines in the thematically reoccuring penché, an extreme arabesque in which the dancer achieves an 180-degree splits in the air. Leaning off-balance, the two dancers pulled against each other to create tense, acute angles and lines with their limbs. Although relegated to the male partner’s historically prescribed role as the lifting force who exists to show off the ballerina, Karel Cruz performed his role exquisitely. Even appearing as an excerpt of a longer work demonstrates that Slingerland Duet needs no setting or context–the dancers’ purity of technique carries the work. As fresh and as riveting as the it was when Forsythe originally created the work, it is astonishing to realize that this pas de deux debuted nearly two decades ago.
A sea of tables represented the dangerous ice floes that Robert Scott navigated with his team of explorers in the original inspiration for Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, Reproduced. The only piece of the evening to be performed in socks instead of pointe shoes for the women, this time the audience had another shot at watching the dancers slip, veer, and slide like mechanical penguins over the numerous white tables. Seattle audiences have come a long way since 2008, when the PNB premiere of One Flat Thing resulted a mass exodus in protest of its shockingly contemporary aesthetic. Amusingly recalled in the program notes as having “cause[d] a stir,” Peter Boal’s tireless education of his Pacific Northwest audience base has now clearly paid off in the reception of this non-classical work. PNB’s male dancers seemed to fully understand how to perform a more contemporary piece than usual for this historically Balanchine-leaning company. The men were unafraid to strongly smack the tables to produce audible percussion and danced expansively whether over, under, or in between the tables’ sharp edges. Disappointingly, the female dancers showed much more restraint. Accompanied by a minimalist sound design that takes its cues from the performers’ decisions and timing, the work intrinsically contains an element of risk that the dancers came tantalizingly close to embracing.
Finally embodying the abandon missing from the rest of the works, Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels was the evening’s standout production. Containing sexy rib and hip isolations, four dancers wearing revealing scarlet unitards sauntered through the work, their chins tilted down in a show of attitude. Dove’s ode to Balanchine, the four dancers excelled in the sharp precise movements, playing off Mary Rowell’s devilish fiddling on her electric violin. Alternately tearing into the instrument with her bow and striking the violin to create a percussive pulse, the dancers and musician faced off onstage, each challenging and urging on one another. Lighting design by Mark Stanley featured a series of solos in a spotlight, furthering the theme of flamboyant posturing. When the black curtain opened, revealing a glowing red color emanating from upstage, each dancer strutted out as if down a runway, straight from the fires of hell. The dancers’ impeccable technique and commitment to their characters, along with Rowell’s awe-inspiring rendition of Richard Einhorn’s violin solo, combined to make Red Angels the most vivid and memorable piece of the evening.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual Director’s Choice opened March 16 at McCaw Hall and runs through March 25. For more information on Pacific Northwest Ballet, please visit HERE.