"40th Anniversary Season Encore Performance"
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Sunday, June 9, 2013
"32nd Annual School Performances"
Saturday, June 15, 2013 (evening)
by Helene Kaplan
copyright © 2013 by Helene Kaplan
Early in his tenure as Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Peter Boal introduced a special season-ending retrospective of excerpts from the season's rep in which each of the Principals and Soloists reprises at least one featured role. A weekend later, the School is celebrated with the "Next Step" program, in which the Professional Division students dance works by company choreographers, giving them valuable experience of working directly in the creation process, and the following day with the two-part school performance, in which the Student Divisions in the Francia Russell Center and Seattle Schools perform works by the faculty and the Professional Division students dance works by prominent choreographers. For most of the second-year PD's, it's a farewell to Seattle as they take their places in companies around the US and in Europe.
There's often one complete work in the program. This year's was to be "Concerto Barocco," but due to an injury to one of the corp members, the company danced the second and third movements. Opening with the adagio is difficult: the audience is a-buzz with expectation and dinner, while the mood of the adagio is otherworldly grace, and there's no jolt when a man enters the sisterhood of white-clad women. Laura Gilbreath, partnered by Joshua Grant, and Lindsi Dec reprised the roles that opened the NY tour. It wasn't the smoothest performance of the adagio I've seen -- the arcs and phrasing looked careful -- but the performance blossomed in the final movement.
The season opened with "Cinderella," and Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand danced the final, intimate music box pas de deux with energy and style. The pas ends with glitter fluttering down from the flies, and in a nod to the crew, the curtain was raised as several stagehands swept up the glitter with big wide mops. An excerpt from one of the highlights of the season, Paul Gibson's "Mozart Pieces" followed, with Ryan Cardea, Kyle Davis, Sean Rollofson, and Ezra Thomson in the male quartet, and the splendid Kaori Nakamura, Benjamin Griffiths, and James Moore in one of the trio sections. Even pulled from its context, the dances shone, and Nakamura sailed elegantly throughout the intricate patterns with her partners.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Kaori Nakamura in Paul Gibson’s Mozart Pieces,. Photo © Angela Sterling.
During curtain calls for "Mozart Pieces", his three colleagues in the male quartet pushed Rollofson forward to take a solo bow in his final performance with the company. He had come up through the School and once said in a post-performance Q&A that he had danced every male role in "The Nutcracker" except Drosselmeier and Prince. I was lucky to see him do many of them. He was an eye-catcher, and he gave depth to the male corps. Rollofson is not retiring, which is great news for the audience wherever he dances next.
The program's first half ended with excerpts from "Swan Lake." From the second act, there was Odette's variation, the dance of the cygnets, and the end of the act. While it's almost a cliche to do the "White Swan pas de deux in a gala," without it, Odette's variation was missing its context, unlike Odile's variation, which can stand alone, and we saw that much less of Maria Chapman, who was a standout in the role in April. Still, she and Jerome Tisserand invoked the drama in the act's end, and by the time the curtain fell on Tisserand's Prince trying to understand what had just hit him, it felt like a story, not a disembodied excerpt. It was followed immediately by the complete "Black Swan Pas de Deux," and for both Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold it was a triumph: a beautifully constructed sensual game of cat-and-mouse ending in Odile's victory, which, out-of-context, is a lot more fun, and they brought the audience to its feet.
In part two, Bold returned to partner Lesley Rausch in the last movement of Kiyon Gaines' "Sum Stravinsky," from November's "All Premiere program; they were joined by three corps couples. This is a less successful excerpt than Gibson's piece, which is set to a series of related musical excerpts, although Bold and Rausch were a responsive partnership and got both the sweep and the accents, and it was a pleasure to hear part of "Dumbarton Oaks" played by the PNB Orchestra. The third piece from March's heavily represented "Modern Masterpieces" program was the male Pas de Deux from "Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven," an audience favorite and the most interesting except from the work. It was danced movingly and with conviction by Bartee and Tisserand, joined by Dec, Kylee Kitchens, and Elizabeth Murphy.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Andrew Bartee (front) and soloist Jerome Tisserand in Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven. Photo © Angela Sterling
Nakamura and Moore reprised their roles in Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette" in the Balcony Pas de Deux. They've been marvelous in this work since the second PNB production and, especially in this scene, conveyed youthful enthusiasm and exploration and to which they brought a sympathetic chemistry. Carla Korbes was scheduled to dance in the program closer, the third and last movements of "Diamonds," but an injury forced her out of the last weekend's performances. Carrie Imler, with whom Nakamura shared the role during the last rep of the season, danced with a new partner, Seth Orza for this single performance. Imler was unstoppable in the virtuoso sections, and there were no signs that they hadn't been long-term partners. Sadly there was no time for the Pas de Deux, but the work closed with almost the entire company on stage. They were joined by the rest of the company, and after a huge flower basket was delivered, over 70 alumni -- more than 20% of all PNB alumni - and, finally Peter Boal, Francia Russell, and Kent Stowell, before the curtain fell and closed the milestone season.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and James Moore in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling.
The 32nd Annual School Performance was performed in two parts. Earlier in the day, the younger girls, all of the boys/men, and the Dance Chance classes danced, with the Professional Division students giving their first performances of the Third Movement from Balanchine's "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" and Twyla Tharp's "Sweet Fields." In the evening, it was the chance for the advanced girls and women in the Student Division to shine and for the Professional Division to give a second performance of the Balanchine and Tharp.
Levels V-VII were given challenging choreography by the PNB School faculty. Marissa Albee's piece for the Level V's started at the barre, but it wasn't a standard "Etudes"-lite approach: as the piece progressed the groups flitted in and out of unison in fast-paced, tricky patterns that required the precision and sharpness that the students brought. Bruce Wells is a master of sophisticated and complex work for students at the difficult phase of being more accomplished in soft shoes than en pointe. As in his full-length family ballets like "Hansel & Gretel" and "Snow White," he stretched the Level VI's technically and challenged their awareness of stage dynamics and how to manage big group movement. What is most remarkable is that the Level V's and Level VI's come from both schools, the Francia Russell Center in Bellevue and PNBS in Seattle. The choreography conceded nothing to the logistics, and there was no indication that there were two distinct groups merging for one performance.
Level VII was the first group en pointe, and the first group where the differences in physical and technical development among the students were most vivid. Some of the dancers have specific skills and loads of potential, but are still getting control of their limbs and making series of steps rather than phrases. Others are dancing in a very strong and centered way from the torso and have a natural sense of phrasing, but are working on the more difficult turns or greater loft. There is a full spectrum of how the dancers use their feet. For the first time in the program, there were featured dancers central to the structure, in this case, a lead dancer flanked by two others and a separate pair. Le Yin set the work like a scherzo, with the five dancers performing short solos, duets, and trios and leading the ensemble, which, too, had fast-paced and sweeping entrances and exits. One moment in the ensemble was particularly striking: half the corps entered turning from each side, but the back line was turning in the non-habitual direction. While some of the solo work wasn't always smooth and trouble-free, the difficult ensemble work was very strong.
In the second half of the evening program, the Level VIII's, the graduating level of the Student Division, performed most of the first movement of George Balanchine's "Serenade" staged by Dana Hanson. While Balanchine's original group in 1934 included some grown women who had performed onstage and had a mature presence, there's something poignant about the work when danced by young students, particularly the moonlit opening. Unlike nearly every time I've seen this movement excerpted, instead of ending halfway through with the women rushing off on the diagonal, the women performed it until right before the Waltz Girl's partner would have made his entrance, and the Russian Girl and Dark Angel soloists were able to perform all of their first movement choreography. It was a challenge, but they looked as strong as the women in the Professional Division.
Three of the Level VIII women, Grace Haskins, Angeli Mamon, and Brianna Moriarty, will join the PNB Professional Division next year, and Carlin Kramer will become a trainee at Lines Ballet. Elena Carter, Annie O'Neill, and Emilee Strong will attend the University of Arizona, and Natalie Westgor will go to Vassar, the latest of a long line of accomplished Student Division graduates. Congratulations and best wishes to them all.
Next Therese Davis and Enrico Hipolito, a first-year Professional Division student, lead the 3rd Movement of "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet," the roles created for Allegra Kent and Edward Villella, a daunting challenge, which both tackled with aplomb. In his solo Hipolito danced elegantly through the big jumps, then turned cautious for the turns. They both performed this Spring with the Company, but the partnering here was more of a challenge than in those ballets, and, for the most part, it appeared smooth. Saho Kumagai, Towa Shinagawa, and Julie Turner were the three strong demi-soloists.
The final work was Twyla Tharp's "Sweet Fields"; it not only gave the Professional Division students the chance to dance a modern work -- Tharp is represented by "Nine Sinatra Songs," "The Golden Section," and "In the Upper Room" in many of the country's ballet companies' reps -- it also gave them the opportunity to work with a major choreographer's stagers, here Alexander Brady and Rika Okamoto. Set for six men and six women, the vocabulary and movement style was alien to most of these classically trained dancers, but they gave a committed performance. Hippolito was again a standout, convincingly resolving into the ground at the end of a recurring phrase and very strong through the torso.
The musical highlight of the program came in the Tharp, with the Tudor Choir, conducted by Doug Fullington, performing the score of 18th and 19th century American hymns and Shaker songs. The Seattle Youth Symphony played the Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg orchestration of the Brahms, and it was a win/win: the students got to perform to live music and work with a conductor's cues, and the audience got to hear superb playing. Conductor Stephen Radcliffe received a rock star ovation when he first entered the pit, and another bonus was the mutual-audience building that the partnership brings.
For most of the company, and for Professional Division student Christian Poppe, who will join PNB as an apprentice, the end of the season means a well-earned vacation until summer rehearsals begin. The other second-year Professional Division students will go far and wide: Isaac Aoki, Keely Lytton, and Demi Trezona to Grand Rapids Ballet, whose Artistic Director is former PNB star Patricia Barker and for which Olivier Wevers and Andrew Bartee have created works, Kelsey and Perry Bevington to Cincinnati Ballet, Kimberly Nobriga and Jacqueline Schiller to Oregon Ballet Theatre, Sarah Chin to Ballet Austin II, Therese Davis to Dutch National Ballet, Alex Hyman to Pennsylvania Ballet II, Shannon Romeo to Los Angeles Ballet, and Kaylee Skelton to Nevada Ballet Theatre, with whom PNB and Ballet West collaborated on a joint performance of "Jewels" in October 2012. Given the depth of their training and the talent they showed not only in the School performance, but also in the corps of multiple ballets this season, they should make their teachers proud.