"KYLIAN + PITE"
"Petite Mort," "Sechs Taenze," "Forgotten Land," "Emergence"
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Saturday, November 9 (matinee and evening)
by Helene Kaplan
copyright ©2013 Helene Kaplan
Peter Boal has said that he's chosen to develop Pacific Northwest Ballet's rep by selecting multiple pieces by a smaller number of choreographers. During his tenure as Artistic Director, he has acquired works by Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, and Jiri Kylian that have been performed by other ballet companies, first integrating them into mixed rep programs, and then, after further acquisitions or commissions, featuring them in dedicated or close-to-dedicated programs. Coming right off PNB's second all-Tharp program is "KYLIAN + PITE," which features revivals of "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Taenze" and the new-to-PNB "Forgotten Land." Interestingly, Boal did not choose to pair the Kylian works with another work in PNB's rep, Nacho Duato's "Jardi Tancat," where Kylian's influence on Duato, who joined Kylian's Netherlands Dance Theatre in 1981, is so clearly seen in the gestures, vocabulary, and momentum of "Forgotten Land" made that same year. Instead, the last work in the program is Crystal Pite's "Emergence," originally choreographed for National Ballet of Canada in 2009, which shows the influence of the other important post-Balanchine choreographer, William Forsythe, for whom Pite danced, especially in Pite's use of flank and group movement.
Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Crystal Pite’s Emergence. Photo © Angela Sterling.
The first two reps of the season have been unusually female-focused: first Tharp, who culminated a year's residency with a revival of "Brief Fling," and a new work, "Waiting for the Station;" it was the second prolonged time she has spent with the company. Roslyn Anderson, who had staged earlier PNB productions of "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Taenze," returned to stage "Forgotten Land. Crystal Pite began her work with PNB in the summer, after which Ballet Master Anne Dabrowski assumed work on the piece, followed by stager Hope Muir, and, finally, Pite returned before the premiere. Particularly telling were the dancers' descriptions of working with Pite and with Kylian's long-time muse Roslyn Anderson: according to them, Pite and Anderson knew what they wanted and were able to give direction and corrections in a positive way that the dancers appreciated and made them want to give what was asked, not always a given.
The company performed the Kylian works in the order of acquisition and experience, which is also reverse chronological order of creation: "Petite Mort," (1991), "Sechs Taenze" (1986), and "Forgotten Land" (1981). "Petite Mort" starts out in silence with six men in balancing foils on the tip of one finger and walking backwards slowly, a combination of precariousness and mastery in one of the rare uses of extended unison that builds suspense. There is nothing coy about the way its subject, sex, is presented starting with the title. With minimalist costumes and beautiful bodies, the work has also become a way for a company to proclaim, "We're sexy! We're cutting edge! We're not your grandfather's ballet!" and to target the highly sought, elusive younger audiences, which were somewhere between in utero and elementary school when the work was created. While it has plenty of humor overlaying the two beautiful Mozart piano concerto adagios -- the headless dresses on wheels from "Sechs Taenze" make extended re-appearances -- when it's danced directly without archness, like it was here, it is a sophisticated take on intimate dynamics, with a bittersweet realization that when women enter the scene, it becomes a lot more complicated for the men than mastering inanimate objects, however metaphoric. As "Petite Mort" transitions into sequential pas de deux, the movement becomes smaller in scale, a rare opportunity to see the small and subtle differences in interpretation and timing between the couples and the casts performing the same roles. Particularly striking were Chelsea Adomaitis, with her long, taut lines, and Josh Grant in last pas de deux at the matinee, where their surprising phrasing made it look invented on the spot.
"Sechs Taenze" is structured as a humorous romp sandwiched between the anxiety-ridden opening and closing slow-moving tableaus set to Mozart's upbeat "Six German Dances." Individual snippets of duels, vanity, and a beheading intersect with the Cherubinos, the Petras and Frids from "Smiles of a Summer Night," and the aristocratic players in "Dangerous Liaisons" in britches and powered wigs for the men and petticoats for the women. The work, equally sexy as "Petite Mort" in a very different way, requires expert comic timing, clear physical humor, and exceptional core strength (particularly in an early pas de trois) and both casts were spot on: the young kids in the audience around me guffawed and were having a spectacular time, like kids playing in the rubble of war. (A third cast is in the wings for second weekend.)
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carrie Imler, with corps de ballet dancers William Lin-Yee and Andrew Bartee in Jiri Kylian’s Sechs Tänze (Six Dances). Photo © Angela Sterling.
"Forgotten Land" is set to Benjamin Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem" from 1940. Less well-known than the composer's "War Requiem," it is a sober work befitting to Kylian's theme of loss and his use of sweeping, dramatic movement in the six pas de deux. (Like many of Kylian's ballets set to large, symphony and choral scores like Martinu's "Field Mass," Haydn's "Symphony in D," Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," and Janacek's "Sinfonietta," the music for "Forgotten Land" was worth the ticket.) The work opens with the six couples facing and moving slowly upstage towards a washed out landscape, with signature break-out groups shifting places, and wide, bent-elbowed, bird-like arms. The group disperses to start the sequential pas de deux, and with the emphasis on lifts and great swooping movement, the focus is on the women.
While the final pas (in white) was choreographed for Kylian muse Anderson, the most striking choreography was for the first couple in black, in the matinee Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand and in the evening Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold, and fourth couple in red, danced in the matinee by Margaret Mullin and Jonathan Porretta and in the evening by Carrie Imler and Kiyon Gaines. Rausch was more funereal in the opening pas, while Foster gave it an emotional bite. Watching Imler and Foster in this work made me long for the great Tudor rep in which both of them would shine, especially together.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Rachel Foster with soloist Jerome Tisserand in Jiri Kylian’s Forgotten Land. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Thom Willems' loud, electronic, noise-filled music for William Forsythe's works have not been broadly accepted by Seattle audiences, even when the ballets themselves -- "in the middle, somewhat elevated" and "Artifact Suite", introduced by Francia Russell and Kent Stowell -- have been audience favorites, but for the second time in three programs, starting with Christopher Wheeldon's "Tide Mercuric" last June, a ballet with a similar score has been an immediate hit: Crystal Pite's "Emergence" to Owen Belton's music brought opening weekend audiences to their feet and was received with sustained ovations. Like in "Tide Mercuric" the movement palate was otherworldly to match the musical discord, in "Emergence" an insect-like world. It opens with what looks like the birth of an insect during a pas de deux, but as the work goes on, the members of the group -- all 38 of them -- resemble what movie-going audiences would recognize as the sleek, insect-like fighting machines in an intergalactic battle scene. It is a hit with the dancers, too, as nearly every healthy dancer was onstage, with most Principals in the corps, and, according to Boal, they all wanted in, a rare opportunity for the entire company to be in the studio on equal ground.
Over half of "Emergence" consists of corps ensembles with a lot of repeated movement phrases, the DNA of the work, but the most fascinating choreography for the corps occurs when they break into subgroups and by bumping or intersecting they impact the movement of another other group, using feedback to transform. There is a tension between the group and the individual, but it isn't a morality play on the superiority of one or the other. In one striking scene, with an "Artifact"-like flank of women crossing the stage to block several males from what appears like an mating attempt. They are successful until the end, when one male stretches the entire line backwards; he has a rare break-out solo. In another, six men peel off the main group of men. One woman, clad in a flesh-colored leotard and pants, breaks the gender code by eschewing the short, sleek black tutus and creates a quartet with three men, and they have another function within the group. The quartet was one of the sections Pite revised or re-choreographed for the PNB dancers.
In the matinee performance, two different dancers performed the opening birth (or indoctrination?) scene (a twitchy, stinging Margaret Mullin) and the woman in the quartet (the warrior-like Leah Merchant), but in the evening performance, Rachel Foster danced both roles. In the afternoon, Mullin's character became part of the women's pack; in the evening, Foster's emerged as part of specialized sub-group, which, in retrospect, gave different emphasis and possible meaning to the birth scene: was she special or chosen to begin with, or was this like any other birth/intro to the group, but with a different outcome? The ballet ended with a single man exiting through a backlit tunnel: a reconnaissance mission? A sacrifice of the individual for the good of the whole? Whatever the ultimate meaning, it was done without ceremony.
National Ballet of Canada brought program closer "Emergence" to Vancouver for its 2011 Western Tour, and in it the company came alive, as if they were suddenly dancing behind a magnifying glass after performing mixed rep by Forsythe, Robbins, and Kudelka. The power of "Emergence" could have submerged any of the Kylian pieces had only one been part of a mixed rep with another choreographer. However, presenting a cross-section of the choreographer's work to build over the first two parts of the program, and pairing companion pieces "Petite Mort" and "Sechs Taenze" together, gave great balance and coherence to the program on the whole. While Pite addressed ballet hierarchy directly in her ballet, the structure of Kylian's works and the demands of putting them on in the same program gave nearly every healthy member of the company at least one and most many featured roles, another lovely benefit. Still, individual dancers shone; this program especially showed Foster's strengths at two far ends of the spectrum: dramatic lyricism and stark, contemporary movement at the human or quasi-human edge.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Rachel Foster and corps de ballet dancer Joshua Grant in Crystal Pite’s Emergence. Photo © Angela Sterling.
"KYLIAN + PITE" will be presented again Thursday-Sunday, November 14-17th. It is worth a first or repeat visit.
From the second weekend (added November 20, 2013):
Frequently when there's a cast change, a new pairing will clarify some aspect of a work. In the Saturday, November 16 performance of "Forgotten Land" Margaret Mullin and Jonathan Porretta reprised their roles as the couple in Red, and Leta Biasucci and Benjamin Griffiths followed immediately in the Pink couple Pas de Deux. Biasucci's and Griffiths' distinct phrasing and dynamic articulation made their pas a continuation and a response to the one that preceded it. In the same performance, Leah Merchant, partnered by Josh Grant, gave the central White Pas de Deux an underlying urgency.
In the Sunday, November 17 matinee, a new second-weekend cast did its second performance of "Sechs Taenze." Secondary cast members, who perform most of the tableaus and do not get a curtain call, were featured in these performances, backed by the featured performers from the the other casts. Their experience in rehearsal and performance gave them a strong starting point and a chance to put their own spin on the work.
For many years Batkhurel Bold has been featured as the lead in the classical full-lengths, and, more recently, in reps last Spring, he was an exceptionally focused partner for Lesley Rausch, supporting her for her debut as Odette/Odile and in the "Agon" Pas de Deux. With that focus he receded into the background; in Act III of "Swan Lake," he almost seemed uninterested in his solos, as if he wanted to get back to the business of partnering.
Virtuosity and partnering together take their toll over the years, and for the last couple, Bold's variations have shown intermittent signs of wear. Last Spring he did show that he was up for a challenge, though: in Carrie Imler's lone performance in "Swan Lake," her partner, former PNB Principal and Guest Artist Casey Herd, was too injured to dance Act III, and Bold stepped in, pulling out all of the stops as partner and soloist, and jumping straight into character. In "Kylian + Pite" he was a dancer reborn, infusing vitality into his partnership with Laura Tisserand in "Petite Mort" and matching the dynamic Lindsi Dec in the mid-ballet Pas de Deux in "Emergence."
Even had the dancers not expressed how much they appreciated this rep and working with Anderson and Pite in post-performance Q&A's and interviews, their loud, spontaneous ovation for Pite after the curtain fell after the final first weekend performance told the story. Second weekend, the performances were driven, and the couples in "Petite Mort" were especially vivid.