Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Premiere presented two new additions to the PNB repertoire, Chicago-based Alejandro Cerrudo’s whimsically abstract Silent Ghost, and Alexander Ekman’s satirical Cacti. It also featured a world premiere from corps member Kyle Davis, an exciting home-grown, new take on the story ballet.
The night opens with Kyle Davis’ A Dark and Lonely Space with the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union shining individual lights on their scores in the upper balcony. Accompanied by a live orchestrated version of the Jupiter Ascending film score by Michael Giacchino, the work has an eerily ritualistic mood. A single light from the stage reveals a person seemingly suspended off the ground, soprano Christina Siemens. Slowly and methodically, she begins a simple melody that quiets the room. Like a siren calling a sailor to the edge of a dangerous cliff, the audience is called to the front of their seats. Newly announced principle Leta Biasucci appears in a draping, flesh-toned dress, limp on the ground and surrounded by four hooded figures. Almost like a sacrificial lamb, they guide her through a simplified movement language, knees buckling and arms reaching forward as she stumbles into a spin. Like a new-born babe she navigates her own body and the world one stumble at a time. Abruptly, dancers trickle in from stage left, the women in pointe shoes and leotards, the men in black unitards. The ensemble performs duets and group dances that show impressive geometric and spatial configurations that allude to a power they hold over the space. Biasucci sometimes ends up in the middle of the group as they shift and migrate; her simple attire and stance contrasts starkly with the ensemble – en pointe and performing classical ballet motifs. In the program, Davis writes about the work as “the anthropomorphization of the birth of a planetary system [which] could shed light on human behavior.” He creates two stubborn systems that engage with one another but do not yield. It’s impressive to see a conclusion that’s not wistful or romantic but instead rather stationary; Biasucci finishes the work with her counterpart (a skillfully introduced Rachel Foster who is every bit delicate yet stubborn) as she is, without becoming or adopting the look of the ensemble.
After the first intermission, we’re immediately dropped into a much more abstract world. Dylan Wald slides on stage into a sliver of light. Joined by another male dancer they begin a duet of slick and effortless headstands, spirals and spins. Each performer is magnetically attracted to each other by just a few points on their bodies: elbows touch to initiate spins, simple touches of the hands sends a transfer of purpose from one to another. Alejandro Cerrudo’s Silent Ghost is an abstract use of space, an investment in design and architecture. In one stunning moment Noelani Pantastico inches forward on her stomach; starting with her pelvis in the air and echos a ripple through the rest of her body. She is joined in perfect synchrony by another dancer who continues the wave without a hiccup. Wald and Elizabeth Murphy conclude the work with a push-pull duet that defies gravity. The two weave in and out of one another like nurturing hydraulic parts. Dreamlike, subtle and sweeping, Cerrudo’s work tells no tale but instead indulges in a sensation. Silent Ghost designs and creates a structure for which the electricity between us lives – the pull towards understanding where we’re going and who’s coming with us.
If it wasn’t already clear that the program is set-up to display an extravagant play on narrative, meaning, and contradiction, Alexander Ekman’s Cacti sure nails it home. The final work of the evening is a masterfully crafted satire of a ballet. The design elements are quite a spectacle: moving light structures, performers costumed to have identical flesh toned torsos, tied-at-the-waist black jumpsuits, and black caps with white powder that create a magical ambiance when hit. Standing on elevated white platforms of different heights, the back row is as visible as the front. A male voice comments on the work as it’s performed, “The dancer moving from one stage to another symbolizes…” and, “the live violinist is…” describing and prescribing meanings to the elements on stage. After categorizing each of the elements it concludes, “we are all part of the human orchestra.” According to the voice, the illuminated ivory pedestals are also holding them hostage. “…But the real meaning of this work, the real and lasting element of importance is so subtle I’m not sure the audience has noticed it yet… is the cacti.” Then the ballet form is really broken open. Dancers perform percussive movements while vocalizing at the same time. While vignettes pop up on the ivory pedestals, a single man in the corner does a simple club-dancing move. He mumbles, “oh, yeah” in tempo with the movement. The ensemble follows doing the same moves, speaking the same script. The dancers are aware of each other and the performance they’re part of. They see the humor in what they’re doing but they nevertheless persist with an earnestness. This contradiction is emphasized in a duet with Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Christian Poppe as they casually chat about what they’re doing. “Let me just rest my head here,” and, “oh be careful,” before he’s dropped onto the ground. The duet reacts to itself as it’s being performed with a pre-recorded narration, questioning who’s narrating who? The duet concludes with a simple, “But what about the cat?” A white powdered covered fluff drops to the ground with a cat’s screech overhead.
I have never been told what to think or feel about the work as it’s happening. Especially in a setting as formal as McCaw Hall’s proscenium theater, with men in tuxedos next to me and myself wearing a fabulous (but rented) $600 jumpsuit. Alexander Ekman pokes fun at subtle theater elements that hold a deeper meaning, painting them as both obsolete and everything. Curating a show like All Premiere seems like a well-oiled machine; start with something fantastical, dramatic and unique, followed by something new, simple and awe-inspiring. Finish with a social commentary that breaks the audience out of their rigidity. All Premiere asks the audience to dig deep into minute details to create meaning, then pulls ‘em out with some existential hilarity. It also asks us to analyze our purpose as viewers and rediscover what makes us laugh. Ekman challenges delightfully with cacti, ivory pedestals, and dropping cats alongside beautifully innovative lighting, music, and dance. Overall, this is a night worth indulging in for, if anything, the irony of it all.
All Premiere performed McCaw Hall November 2-11, 2018.