“Pacific”, “Place a Chill”, “The Piano Dance”, “Concerto DSCH”
Pacific Northwest Ballet
18 March 2011
19 March 2011, matinee and evening
copyright 2011 by Helene Kaplan
When Peter Boal was asked how he chose the works for the “Contemporary 4” program, he replied that he wanted to present Alexei Ratmansky’s “Concerto DSCH” as soon as New York City Ballet’s exclusivity rights expired, and the rest he picked up from the cutting room floor, refusing to postpone them any longer. It turned out to be serendipity, a feast for the eyes and ears, and with two ballets that could take pride of place in any classical company’s repertoire.
Of the two casts, the male trio first with Benjamin Griffiths, Lucien Postlewaite, and Josh Spell was seamless, with similar fluidity and style among the men than the matinee cast with Karel Cruz, Jeff Stanton, and Jerome Tisserand, who are very different physical types who move with greater stylistic differences. “Pacific” is the best argument for men in skirts, with their powerful grace contrasting with and complementing the silky billows of Martin Packledinaz’s belted costumes.
In the quartet, Morris didn’t choreograph a lead role, but the senior ballerinas, Ariana Lallone (evenings) and Carrie Imler (matinee) each made it their ballet. Lallone danced like a high priestess; having refined the role to the essential core of the movement, her power was palpable. Doing the same choreography as the other women, Imler ruled by example. Laura Gilbreath danced with a twitchy pulse, with her energy just below the surface, and Kylee Kitchens’ phrasing, especially in her upper body, was especially responsive musically. In the central pas de deux, Olivier Wevers, dancing with Carla Korbes in the first two performances, was mesmerizing,: his arms expansive and strong, his hands expressive, the tilt of his head and its relation to his shoulders and arms sculptural, his upper body alternately melting/folding and angular, but most importantly, the way he emphasized the gesture and ritual baked into the work, without which it would be simply nice.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Carla Körbes and Olivier Wevers in Mark Morris’s Pacific, presented as part of CONTEMPORARY 4, March 18–27, 2011. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Marco’s Goecke’s world premiere of “Place a Chill” followed. Set to Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1, according to the program notes, Goecke’s inspiration was Jacqueline du Pre’s recording of the work, the last she recorded before being too disabled by multiple sclerosis to continue playing. That and a fight between good and evil that I failed to see materialize.
The work for ten dancers in designer Mark Zappone’s gray pants split in front from mid-thigh to mid-shin and lit in various degrees murkiness by Randall Chiarelli, is comprised mainly of repetitive, isolated movements primarily for the upper body. I found the movement, for the most part, reductionist -- a much broader metaphor than the program notes would suggest -- and more indicative of autism than a degenerative disease, with the dancers reduced to shaking hands or repetitive arms swings and twitches. It fit into the meter of the music quite nicely, but aside from a Coppelia-like section to the Haydnesque opening of the second movement, it neither reflected the grand, sweeping, Romantic music, nor seemed to comment on it in any way. The two least-repetitive and most-developed solo sections were for James Moore and Jonathan Porretta, both “Mopey” alumni, and their dancing was full-bodied, especially Porretta, who seemed to be trying to break through the imposed limitations of the final solo.
In roles like the corps in “Square Dance” and here in “The Piano Dance” and “Concerto DSCH”, Margaret Mullin has the kind of energy and expanse that it make it seem like she has a shadow that continues the movement, even after she’s changed directions. In “Place a Chill”, she had a completely different challenge to isolate movement and to go from complete stillness to full throttle and back to complete stillness, and she nailed it every time over three performances. Ezra Thomson met the challenge equally well, while at the same time looking like he was about to pop out of his skin. A highlight of the work was the opening of the second movement in which Mullin extended one leg to the side with bent knee, her arm outstretched and head tilted, while Thomson swayed her back and forth on her standing leg in a simple movement of breathtaking beauty. Here, breaking the ballet standard three-of-these-and-then-something-else, he continued to sway her, which was wonderfully satisfying.
The choreographic conceit tired quickly, but the dancers rose brilliantly to the challenge to use their upper bodies in new and unusual ways, to work at frighteningly difficult speeds and with great precision and clarity. If past new contemporary works are any indication, this will bear fruit in the classical repertory, as it already has for these dancers in the neo-classical rest of the program.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancers Ezra Thomson and Margaret Mullin in Marco Goecke’s Place a Chill, presented as part of CONTEMPORARY 4, March 18–27, 2011. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Ballet Master Paul Gibson created “The Piano Dance” in 2005, and for this revival he created a new, sharper ending. While it is in the Balanchine style, and parts look as if he, like Siegfried, ground up shards of “Four Temperaments”, “Agon”, and “Episodes”, melted them down, and forged them into a new work, the sensibility is Gibson’s, particularly in its musicality, humor, and set of moving images, a photographer’s dream. The score, too is forged from a range of piano pieces with a rhythmic quality that makes them part of an organic whole. Even the Chopin Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4 – used by Robbins in the “Umbrellas” section of “The Concert” -- which contrasted in style to the excerpts from Cage (“Opening Dance for Sue Laub”), Ligeti (“Musica Ricercata”), Bartok (“Mikrokosmos”), and Ginastera (“Suite de Danzas Criollas”), has an underlying pulse that makes it a musical cousin.
The work opens and ends with the ensemble of four couples, and in between are solos and pas de deux of great range, invention, and musicality, which allowed the dancers a wide range of interpretation. The central woman’s role put alternate cast member Lesley Rausch on the map in 2005, with her tensile, legato stretch from and return to the center. Like in many roles before and since, she brought a coolness and independence to it. This year she learned to yield, just a little, and she stole the show. Laura Gilbreath danced the role in the matinee, and she propelled those long legs forward, using momentum to structure phrases, and it was a compelling performance.
Gilbreath led the “leggy” cast in the matinee. Chelsea Adomaitis made a wonderful debut with her flying leaps and sunny presence, while Sarah Ricard Orza, who has been giving one rich performance after another, created a frisson just by slowly turning out her leg to the side in her languid solo. In the evenings, Margaret Mullin danced huge, and Chalnessa Eames was delightfully droll, using shape and accent to create perfect comic timing with her straight man, Josh Spell, one of the most generous stage presences in the company.
“The Piano Dance” is a beautifully crafted and musically astute work for eight dancers, and it gives the dancers a wide range of opportunity after opportunity to make themselves look great. It looks better every time I see it. Artistic Directors should be beating down Peter Boal’s door for it.
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Chalnessa Eames and corps de ballet dancer Josh Spell in Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance, presented as part of CONTEMPORARY 4, March 18–27, 2011. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Luckily for the PNB audience, Peter Boal beat down Alexei Ratmansky’s door and landed “Concerto DSCH”. On the surface, the ballet looks like a big, raucous Bolshoi-style extravaganza set at a big Soviet sports club, but it has the socio-psychological insight that took Jerome Robbins decades to achieve, and from all accounts of Robbins’ and Ratmansky’s working styles, at a very small fraction of the cost to the dancers. There is so much to look at, with rich patterns interlacing and swirling – no lines upon lines of slaves and soldiers for Ratmansky -- and so much that is going on at the same time, that it only looked richer upon repeated viewings from different parts of the house. There are very few choreographers with the confidence and mastery to have corps couples come and go and indicate their own stories while the main pas de deux is being danced and to draw the eye to register it all.
Those stories are full of insight into the fragility and elasticity of relationships, and they are told in the most economical way. In the beginning of the second movement, a man offends a woman, and she pushes him to the floor; after registering shock, he dusts himself off, and one of his buddies puts his arm over his shoulders and starts to lead him away. “Who needs ‘em anyway?” At the end of the movement, after a long, romantic pas de deux for the central couple, the woman pushes him away again, but this time, he is embraced by one of the other women, as the woman who pushed invites the leading man to join the group. The lead couple does join, but the man pays attention to the woman who pushed. It’s not just the intimacy of the lead couple that is interrupted, but their connection as well.
The ballet allows a wide range of approaches within its framework: Karel Cruz, in the evening cast, appeared to be gallantly acknowledging Chalnessa Eames, while his partner, Carla Korbes seemed to be miffed and threatened by this, and she made him pay in the third movement. Olivier Wevers, in the matinee cast, gave Eames a shiver-inducing, deep look directly into her eyes, but Maria Chapman readily and easily forgave him in the next movement.
But even before the romantic drama come the sportspeople, led in the first movement by a trio. In the evening casts, Carrie Imler, Seth Orza, and Batkhurel Bold were a blast as the super-athletes in a virtuoso tour de force: big, enthusiastic, heroic, and with a camaraderie that could not be broken, unlike the romantic interludes. Originally created for NYCB powerhouse Ashley Bouder, the woman in the pas de trois is a role in which even Carrie Imler, for the first minute or so, looked like she had to break a sweat. (But only for about a minute. ) Imler owned the ballet from the moment she stepped on stage, and it really took a big-moving dancer like Seth Orza to match her projection.
Carla Korbes and Karel Cruz danced the central couple in the evening casts; Olivier Wevers partnered Maria Chapman in the matinee. In the swirling lifts, and whirling entrances of the first and third movements,, Chapman and Wevers made a greater impression, because Chapman was vibrantly present and seemed more a member of the community. Korbes was more passive, and was presented by Cruz. In the central pas de deux, Korbes’ line was more romantic and her phrasing more sweeping, and Cruz was a prince of a partner, completely focused on her in a heart-aching way until the spell was broken.
Rachel Foster, Benjamin Griffiths, and Jonathan Porretta danced the pas de trois in the matinee performance. I find casting Foster in technical powerhouse roles like “Square Dance” and “Concerto DSCH” pas de trois perplexing, because in both roles she was out-danced on all sides. This rich role looked diminished, and so did her partners, two of the strongest dancers in the company. She doesn’t have the technique or power to do it justice. Foster has done contemporary roles exceedingly well, but in classical and neoclassical she dances pretty, and this role needs much, much more.
“Concerto DSCH” is a masterful work, but in the energy, technique, and dramatic intent and timing it requires, it is more fragile than, for example, “Pacific”. It is a great testament to the Company that they performed it overall at such remarkably high level, since Mr. Ratmansky and his wife set it in only three intense days last summer, and it was maintained and rehearsed by the PNB staff until the week of the premiere, when Mr. Ratmansky returned for a day for final polishing.
The musicians for these performances were exceptionally fine, and were equally responsible for the success of the program: Michale Jinsoo Lim (violin), Page Smith (cello), and Allan Dameron (piano) were the trio for Lou Harrison’s Piano Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, 3rd & 4th movements (“Pacific”). After a brief pause, cellist Page Smith played the Saint-Saëns concerto (“Place a Chill”) at the same break-neck speed as du Pre's recording. Christina Siemens caught every nuance in each piece in “The Piano Dance”, and Duane Hulbert gave a brilliant rendition of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102 (“Concerto DSCH”). Interim Music Director Allan Dameron and guest conductor Alastair Willis led the excellent Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Karel Cruz and Carla Körbes in Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, presented as part of CONTEMPORARY 4, March 18–27, 2011. Photo © Angela Sterling.