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bumbershoot: pnb & a preview of whim w’him

By Terra Leigh Bell

James Moore in Mopey, 2005 (Angela Sterling photo)
Maybe it was because I was expecting the Balcony Scene from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” to be first, but PNB’s Bumbershoot performance ended up shocking me— in a very welcome way—with a robustness and even a masculinity that one does not always encounter in the world of dance.

The performance was book-ended by three of the strongest male dancers I’ve ever seen. The first piece was Marco Goecke’s “Mopey,” performed by James Moore. I have been hearing people croon over Moore’s 2005 performance of this piece ever since I started seeing PNB regularly in 2006. I can only say that I now understand why.

What is “Mopey,” you ask? Well, you know that strange creature called a teenage boy who insists on belching loudly in public? Who seems incapable of speaking to women’s faces? And whose every waking moment is characterized by equal parts rage and helplessness? Ah, yes, well here he is. Only, of course, Moore is so beautiful and sympathetic—he brings the piece such an animal-like grace—that you end up feeling sorry for the jerk. Goecke’s piece is a 15-minute long overflow of internal urges that don’t appear to be welcome to the person experiencing them. It is an extremely muscular piece, and the dancer moves with a shaking and frantic energy that he does not seem to have control of. The feelings themselves, like that awful adolescence, seem to alienate the…man?…boy?…from the very world that his drives are telling him he must join. The piece is obsessive and frankly a little bit frightening if taken seriously. Goecke’s choreography explodes with the emotions we do not have mastery over—the urges that may or may not respond to the cries of respectable society to behave.

This bit of simultaneously hyper- and anti-sexual movement stood starkly against the second piece, Maillot’s Balcony Scene, and the contrast between the two pieces was fascinating in itself. Dancers Carla Körbes and Lucien Postlewaite danced Juliette and Roméo. It seemed particularly funny to have this piece directly after Goecke’s because I have seen Moore dance Roméo, so I wondered if maybe our “Mopey” teenager had undergone a sudden growth spurt and become somehow decent. Or maybe Roméo and the “Mopey” persona are exactly the same; he just knows when to show off for the girl.

The entire scene—the whole ballet for that matter, which is coming up shortly at McCall Hall—sustains a pitch-perfect mixture of the dreamy and the shock of innocence as it encounters erotic love. The dancers moved with the same liquidity and ferocity that characterizes the Prokofiev music. The only detraction from the pleasure of this piece was that the Bagley Wright Theatre floor seemed not meant for dance. Both Postlewaite and Körbes slipped a couple of times, and Körbes did actually fall once. Otherwise, though, the piece was perfect and gives a very good idea of what audiences are in store for if they come to the full-length ballet.

PNB’s 2008 Vespers (Angela Sterling photo)

This was followed by Ulysses Dove’s “Vespers.” I am not as a great a lover of Dove’s work as some, but this performance was compelling. Rachel Foster in particular was riveting. Like fellow PNB dancer Ariana Lallone, Foster is clearly either a reincarnated witch-doctor, or a medieval Inquisitor. Or possibly—delicious thought!—even both?

Dove created “Vespers” in memory of his grandmother and the women she worshipped with. And here is another piece that argues against the—ahem—airy-fairiness I sometimes find in ballet. “Vespers” shows a clear-eyed vision of a feminine religiosity that is at once welcoming and frightening. Welcoming, in the sense that the dancers repeatedly break apart and go off to engage in their own private worship solos and one feels that somehow you could be a part of it. But it is still unsettling in its insistent return to the community worship and the energy conjured up by women moving, breathing, and praying in unison. Praying to something you can’t see. The dancers gaze off at this something, and you know that if you were to stand in their line of sight they would either look through you, or shove you out of the way.

Olivier Wevers
(Angela Sterling photo)

The final piece was entirely new to me. “Ultimatum,” choreographed by PNB principal dancer Olivier Wevers, premiered just last year at the Men in Dance performance here in Seattle. The dancers this time were Jonathan Porretta and Lucien Postlewaite, and here again is dance pushing towards something beyond what might be expected of it. Here are two men, dancing together, at once lovely and muscular.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the optimism and heterosexual ardor of ballet—I love both qualities, in fact—but it was a pleasure to get to see Porretta and Postlewaite given license to show off their abilities without the necessary grin or look of longing directed at a ballerina they are rushing to get to in time for the next lift.

This one was a particular treat since it’s not on the line-up for PNB this next season. Like everything I have seen by Wevers, the piece is distinctly playful, although he did bring a reflectiveness to it that I haven’t seen in his work before. Wevers premieres his new dance company Whim W’Him, this coming January at On the Boards. Which means that Seattle has several thrilling things to look forward to in the next year.