PNB’s Director’s Choice
Pacific Northwest Ballet is wrapping up its 40th Anniversary season with "Director’s Choice," a sampling of three ballets: two well known works from choreographer George Balanchine and one world premiere piece choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon sandwiched in between. Despite a last minute change of cast for the evening I attended, the three ballets make for a rousing end to the season, and a performance I’d highly recommend.
First on the program is "Agon" with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. "Agon" is Balanchine choreography at its best with sleek lines, clean technique and an abstract mathematical form. The night before I attended Karel Cruz had suffered an injury and was replaced by Batkhurel Bold.
The ballet begins simply and effectively with four men in white shirts and black tights against a blue cyc who create a steady pulse against the music. Eight women replace them in ballet standard black leotards and pink tights, and then all twelve come together, creating precise lines and lovely shapes against the blue background.
Balanchine’s use of unison alternating with canon requires that precision. Without a clear distinction the sense of the ballet would be muddied. All of the dancers have a good sense of the Balanchine esthetic and work well with it.
Following Part I are two Pas de Trois groups, first Jonathan Porretta with Kylee Kitchens and Elizabeth Murphy, then Maria Chapman with Andrew Bartee and Jerome Tisserand. Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold perform the Pas de Deux which includes marvelous variations of leg extension and unusual partnering, for example with Rausch’s leg wrapped in attitude around Bold’s body.
"Tide Harmonic" is the second piece of the program and it steals the show. Tide harmonics are one way in which tides are computed and predicted and this piece choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon for this world premiere transports us to a watery world with dance and color.
"Tide Harmonic" is nothing short of stunning from beginning to end, and the way in which the music by Joby Talbot, the choreography, the costume design by Holly Hynes and lighting design by Randall G. Chiarelli integrate is nothing short of -- I have to say it -- harmonic.
Dance always offers a perfect palette for costume and lighting design and in "Tide Harmonic" that simple combination of light falling on pigment creates a whole world. We begin with shadowy figures against a gray background, which quickly shades to blue, revealing bright blue costumes on the eight dancers. But what looked like a clear blue sky becomes stormy, shifting the color of the costumes almost to a murky purple.
Dancing in this piece are Lindsi Dec, Rachel Foster, Laura Gilbreath, Carla Korbes, Jerome Tisserand, James Moore, Batkhurel Bold and Joshua Grant. The lines of this ballet are just as clean as in "Agon" but with the floaty drift and pull of an undersea world. The dancers occasionally seem to become sea creatures themselves. At one point the four men in the background look submerged in a cloud bank as the women dance in the foreground and finally the scrim flies out leaving the bright blue cyc with the men low in the foreground rocking like waves on the ocean while the women drift away from us.
"Tide Harmonic" brought the audience to a standing ovation, which seemed almost to surprise the dancers with its heartfelt enthusiasm.
That made "Diamonds" the last piece on the program rather a letdown, despite the fact that it was well done. This time George Balanchine’s choreography felt a little stale and old-fashioned. With music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the piece opens on a stage framed with white curtains with a single chandelier at the center and twelve ballerinas in sparkling white tutus and tiaras.
This ballet is about spectacle, and the spectacular patterns created by a large corps of dancers all in perfect unison. Kaori Nakamura and Seth Orza replaced Carla Korbes and Karel Cruz for the evening’s performance, which disappointed many in the audience as evidenced by the collective groan that met the announcement. However, Orza in particular was astounding, as if he took it as a challenge to replace a well-loved favorite.
Truly though it is in the large ensemble numbers where "Diamonds" really shines.
"Director’s Choice" is a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable evening. I met a man just two nights ago who had never been to a ballet and asked what I would recommend. I would wholeheartedly recommend PNB’s "Director’s Choice."
"Director’s Choice" runs through June 9 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For info or tickets, call 206-441-2424 or visit pnb.org.