I was happy to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current offering "All Premiere," because, while I enjoy traditional ballets, new work is more exciting to me. On offer this season were four new pieces by four different choreographers: "arms that work," choreographed by Andrew Bartee with original music by Barret Anspach, "Lost in Light," choreographed by Margaret Mullin with original music by Dan Coleman, "Kammermusik No. 3," choreographed by Mark Morris to music by Paul Hindemith of the same name, and "Sum Stravinsky," choreographed by Kiyon Gaines to music by Igor Stravinsky. All of the pieces were quite different and made for an interesting and entertaining afternoon.
In "arms that work," young choreographer Andrew Bartee has created an evocative piece. Moving around a central sinuous framework of an arch support spanning the stage with vertical lines to the floor, the dancing alternates between foreground and background. There is a driving lilting pulse in the original music by Barret Anspach, and the piece begins with a group of dancers pulsing behind the set as another pair dances together in front. Costumes designed by Mark Zappone are loose woven tunic-like tops over unitards in a neutral color.
The main focus of the piece trades between front and back until the dancers begin to interact with the vertical lines which turn out to be long elastic bands, weaving through them, pulling them into designs: one dancer even becomes tangled in the lines like a butterfly in a web.
Judging from the conversations around me during the pause, many in PNB’s audience struggled with this piece because it bore more resemblance to a modern dance work, but I loved it. Bartee’s movement vocabulary is fresh and interesting, and his use of space and tension created interest. I hope to see more of him and his work in years to come.
It was quite a contrast to the second piece, "Lost in Light" choreographed by Margaret Mullin. Afterwards, the lady behind me remarked, "Now, I liked that one! It was pretty." And pretty it was, but I thought it lacked in emotional context, especially as it was created in response to the death of a friend. Costumed in black, white and gray (design by Alexis Mondragon), five male/female couples danced together in a more traditional ballet format. The dancing was lovely, and the choreographer accomplished her desire "to create something full of grace and beauty," but I found it surprisingly flat.
Mark Morris is the big name headliner choreographer in the program and he doesn’t disappoint in this newest creation, "Kammermusik No. 3," built around the cello concerto by the same name by Paul Hindemith and featuring solo cellist, Page Smith, conducted by Emil de Cou.
The choreography is deceptively simple, with clean lines and swooping upper body movement. The background is shaded pink, and the dancers’ costumes (designed by Mark Zappone) match it, shading down the overtunics to a darker burgundy for the pants.
During one section, the dancers were all in trios, dancing in beautiful, easy arcs and spins, repeating and overlapping each other. I realized that the music was also in waltz time, with the trios of dancers echoing the time signature of the music.
Once I began thinking of them as visual representations of the music, I kept seeing the groups of dancers as separated into the measures of the music, bringing it to life for us.
The final piece of the afternoon was "Sum Stravinsky," a brightly sparkling piece to end with, choreographed by Kiyon Gaines. According to Gaines, he was inspired by Balanchine and chose to dress his dancers in "Balanchine Blue." The costumes, designed by Pauline Smith, were a delight to the eyes.
In the first movement, "Tempo Giusto," the blue was almost translucent, like beach glass. Soloists Sarah Ricard Orza and James Moore were effervescent with joy, and the dance of the company as a whole was like a breath of sea air.
The coloring faded and darkened almost to turquoise for the "Allegretto" with soloists Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz, whose movements were much more sinuous, with an occasional moment of playfulness.
The third movement "Con Moto" shaded to a periwinkle, this time with a particular briskness, almost a sharp, then melting movement vocabulary for soloists Laura Gilbreath and Seth Orza.
Overall a marvelous afternoon spent with a talented group of dancers who have obviously worked hard to learn four new and very different works in a short amount of time.
"All Premiere" runs through Nov. 11 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For info or tickets, call 206-441-2424 or visit pnb.org.