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Risks and Rewards at PNB’s All Premiere

Written by Kristen Legg
(l-r) Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Kaori Nakamura and corps de ballet dancers
Sarah Pasch and Leah O’Connor in Andrew Bartee’s 
arms that work,
presented as part of ALL PREMIERE, November 2 – 11, 2012. 
Photo © Angela Sterling.
On November 2, 2012, Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its All Premiere Program at McCaw Hall. Featuring new works by Mark Morris and three current company members-turned-choreographers, this program was risky in scope. Some of Artistic Director Peter Boal’s risks succeeded, others did not.
The performance began with Andrew Bartee’s arms that work. The set design (woefully uncredited in the program) was beautiful. A black, barred contraption divided the downstage quarter of the stage, the upstage visible through the slats. The dancers, dressed in matching Saks Fifth Avenue-esque garb, moved behind the set with hunched and contorted motions. A beautiful duet between Kaori Nakamura and James Moore took place downstage of the set, ending with Nakamura pushing one of the bars aside and stepping into the upper portion of the stage. The dancers used the set now and then, pulling the elastic bars, leaning against them, and entwining their limbs around them, but there was rarely a reason for the stage division, and it sometimes obstructed the view of Bartee’s creative movement. One moment that did work was Caririe Imler’s solo upstage. Whether it was her strong abilities as a performer, or something Bartee intended to have stand out, this solo actually seemed to need the set; the obstructed view worked in a way it did not earlier in the piece. It was nice to see that Bartee has his own choreographic voice. While there were some movements that seemed a bit similar to those of Olivier Wevers’ (whom Bartee also performs for in Whim W’Him), nothing looked stolen or unauthentic.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Margaret Mullin’s Lost in Light,
presented as part of ALL PREMIERE, November 2 – 11, 2012. 
Photo © Angela Sterling.
Margaret Mullin’s Lost in Light was, indeed, lost. The lighting was stark, almost industrial; the costumes were an interesting but ineffective mix of classical tutus and modern bike shorts, with the bodices shortening each dancer’s neckline immensely; and the simple, classical choreography was disconnected with the already dissonant music. Mullin created some lovely floor patterns, using symmetry to highlight the lines of her dancers. However, many times these shapes were achieved by the dancers simply running to their places and the structure of the work quickly became predictable. Happily, there were a few surprises in Mullin’s work. In one partnering section, the female dancer was pressed overhead, where she beat her legs together, ending the beat in 2nd position instead of a tight 5th, which is standard. Kiyon Gaines was also exquisite in Lost in Light, his strength and onstage presence engaging the eye each time he entered. Overall, while Mullin has some beautifully sculpted images, the work lacked connectivity.

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancers Brittany Reid and Ezra Thomson
in Mark Morris’s 
Kammermusik No. 3, presented as part of ALL PREMIERE
Photo © Angela Sterling.
Morris’s Kammermusic No. 3 followed the first intermission. The twelve dancers entered and exited in trios, duos, and quartets, returning to their trios regularly, only to break apart again. Here, the dancers running about the stage to their places worked, where it did not in Mullin’s. James Moore shined in a solo performed in silence. His perfect balance of flippant humor, sinuousness, and power worked brilliantly with Morris’s choreography. At the end, in an exciting break from the consistency of the small group work, the entire cast entered and danced about maniacally—the stage looking like the famous broom scene in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” All but a handful of dancers exit; two remain far upstage left, two at the curtain downstage right. Each audience member must choose whom to watch, as it is difficult for the gaze to stretch that far. The downstage man tosses his partner offstage, where assumedly she is caught, and the curtain lowers. The audience is, finally, left wanting more.

Sum Stravinsky, choreographed by Gaines, was the only piece of the evening that could follow Kammermusic No. 3. While not of the same caliber as Morris, Gaines’s work did show a great deal of promise. Sum Stravinskystarted out perfectly with a solo by Imler, developing into a duet with Jonathan Porretta. Neo-classical lines, arms and legs extended to the fullest, were intermixed wonderfully with moments of softness and retraction. The work continued to please with two more sections, each based off of the one before. Maria Chapman performed an exquisite solo, her envy-inducing feet the stars of the show. Karel Cruz joined her for a playful and elegant duet. In the third section, Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold danced a duet that was flirtation perfected, quite a fun role to see Bold in.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz in
Kiyon Gaines’s 
Sum Stravinsky, presented as part of ALL PREMIERE,
Photo © Angela Sterling.
A theme that did not work for the evening was the music. Each piece was modern classical in style, some edging on atonal. In arms that work, the music, commissioned by Barret Anspach, deterred from the piece as a whole. A series of unconnected sounds and unrepeated melodies, it never offered a theme to come back to, nothing to tie the listener down. Mullin’s Lost in Light used music by Dan Coleman, and was a bit more palatable, but was too mismatched with the choreography to benefit the work. Paul Hindemith’s “Kammermusic No. 3” was beautifully played by Cellist Page Smith. Morris is a master when it comes to musicality, in part because of his ability to choreograph with the music, without having the dancers move on the beat. Though the Hindemith work is stunning, after two similar, somewhat ineffective works, some of the music’s grandeur (and Morris’s) was lost. Sum Stravinsky, of course, used the music of Igor Stravinsky. In this work, more than any other of the evening, the dancers seemed to be moving with the music.

One last thing of note was Ezra Thomson. Cast in three of the four pieces, Thomson shined in each work. Each time he stepped through the set piece in arms that work, there was meaning in a way shown by none other. In Morris’s Kammermusic No. 3, Thomson displayed his extreme flexibility and agility. Even though he is a tighter looking dancer, he moves with surprising speed and extension. In Sum Stravinsky, though not highlighted, he stood out in the first section, partnering with ease. Thomson has only been in the corps de ballet since 2010, but hopefully he will continue to be used and featured this season.

PNB’s All Premiere continues November 9–11, 2012. Tickets are available at