"Concerto Barocco," "Apollo," "Agon"
Pacific Northwest Ballet
New York, NY
February 13, 2013
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2013 by Carol Pardo
Want to build buzz for a New York season? Do as the Pacific Northwest Ballet did. Announce and promote the season, but provide a sneak peek—live—too. New Yorkers were given exactly that last September, when a clutch of PNB dancers appeared in a lecture/demonstration at the Guggenheim Museum’s "Works and Process" series. They performed excerpts from "Apollo," "Agon" and "The Four Temperaments" comparing differing versions of each.
The topic was that fraught issue, the text of a ballet, particularly fraught where Balanchine is concerned, nowhere more so in the city that Balanchine made his own. Our guide was Peter Boal, beloved former principal with the New York City Ballet, now director of PNB—smart, self-deprecating, with a well-developed sense of history, and very much in charge. The dancers, performing on a stage the size of half a postage stamp, were personable, unmannered, musical and assured. After ninety minutes one left the auditorium, not confused by a haze of images but really considering the nature of a choreographic text and the relationship of steps to style. If a string of excerpts provided such nourishment, what a banquet the complete works would be.
And so anticipation accelerated as one filed in to the auditorium. "Apollo" and "Agon" were on the bill. The music was live, an almost unheard of treat for touring companies and their audiences, under the batons of Emil de Cou, once of American Ballet Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet, and Allan Dameron. "Agon" and "Concerto Barocco" were presented as staged by Francia Russell, former co-director of the company. Here was our chance to compare her versions of these ballets, taken from her dancing days in the 1950’s and ‘60’s with those, more familiar, performed today in New York. The staging of "Apollo" Boal’s own, and less than a year old, is the truncated version from 1979, shorn of its narrative, a chance to compare performances of the same text. There we were ready for liftoff, but the evening remained stubbornly earthbound. Each work had its aha moment, but none shown with the compelling immediacy on view at the last September.
Lindsi Dec, the second violin in "Concerto Barocco" came on too strong. She can kick her hand with her extended leg, but that’s not what "Barocco" is about. The repeated lifts of the pas de deux, each more quietly ecstatic as they draw closer to the moon, were executed with rigorous equality by Laura Gilbreath. Only in the final movement did the ballet come together, courtesy of the corps de ballet. A simple rapid shift of the arms from up to down had all the wonder of a strobe light revealing heaven.
"Apollo" only took flight when Carla Körbes was on stage; the tone of the ballet changed immediately. Körbes, whose talent has always been obvious, had her problems during her tenure at the New York City Ballet. Nor did she look entirely comfortable during PNB’s contemporary mixed bill at the Joyce Theater in 2010. But she now takes her place as the company’s leading ballerina with serene assurance. Her Terpsichore was secure in her beauty, her primacy and something of a tease. Her Apollo was Seth Orza, dancing the role for only the third time, physically right for the part, but tense.
It’s not surprising that the "Agon" looked its best during the first pas de trois which Peter Boal performed often. In their timing and form, certain moments brought images of Todd Bolender, who originated the role, immediately to mind. But where Bolender was all chewing gum and string, Jonathan Porretta has the tensile strength of steel cable and springs. At the end of their duet, Kylee Kitchens and Elizabeth Murphy fall to one knee then bow. Later versions fill that time with shrugs and hand gestures out of the New Look (or Balanchine’s "La Valse"). The former is surprising, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s unfamiliar. In either case, Balanchine being Balanchine, both are equally musical and valid.
But overall, the company seemed to have lost its confidence somewhere over the Great Divide. The virtues which made this season so keenly anticipated are still there but didn’t shine brightly enough. A substitution in "Barocco" didn’t help. Perhaps the problem was opening night jitters, with only one chance to put over the company’s take on Balanchine. Come back, stay a while, settle in, so we can all relax.
Photographs by Lindsay Thomas.
Apollo: Seth Orza, Carla Körbes, Maria Chapman, Lesley Rausch (front to back)
Agon: Kylee Kitchens, Jonathan Porretta, Elizabeth Murphy (l-r)