BWW Review: PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET Offered a Forsythe-Infused Triple Bill at New York City Center
Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet under the artistic direction of Peter Boal returned to New York City Center in February 2016 with an "All Balanchine" program on the 24th and 25th followed by a triple bill, "Contemporary Innovations", on the 26th and 27th. The latter, which I saw on the 26th, featured works by two choreographers who had at one time worked with William Forsythe as members of Ballett Frankfurt and a third piece by Forsythe himself. Forsythe's protégées created pieces that harked back to his own reinvention of classical ballet, yet went further in that direction with strikingly individual styles. The PNB dancers, superbly trained and impeccably rehearsed, gave world-class performances in all three of the evening's offerings. In particular, Angelica Generosa was a shining presence with superb technique. She is currently a member of the corps de ballet, but I see a promotion in her future.
The opener was the New York premiere of David Dawson's "A Million Kisses to my Skin" to Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, ably played by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra conducted by Allan Dameron. He also did a fine job as the pianist. The simple costumes by Yumiko Takeshima in varying shades of blue -- leotards for the ladies and tights with or without skin-tight shirts for the gentlemen -- had the same effect that Balanchine's "leotard ballets" have in that we could clearly see the clean lines of the dancers as well as the complex post-classical patterns of movement. A program note reprinted from dawsonarts.net explains that Dawson, who created the ballet in 2000 as he was preparing to leave Dutch National Ballet, wanted to "evoke the feeling of complete bliss a dancer sometimes experiences." He is quoted as saying, "I had it a couple of times on stage, and it feels just like that -- a million simultaneous kisses to your skin." To his credit, he conveyed that same sense of bliss to the audience with his joyously fluid and inventive departure from strictly classroom steps.
Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" was next. As a wordsmith, I want to remind you that "vertiginous" means "causing vertigo", while "exactitude" means "the quality of being accurate and correct". I assume the title means that Forsythe finds the precision of classical ballet to be nothing less than a dizzying delight. In fact this is one of his least innovative works. The steps and lifts, to the music of Franz Schubert under the baton of Emil de Cou, are pretty much pure classicism. The dancers seemed to be having a marvelous time from start to finish, perhaps because they were right in their comfort zone. The ladies' costumes, however, were an unfortunate distraction. Designer Stephen Galloway's classical length tutus were not made of tulle, but rather were fashioned from a single layer of fabric stretched on a circle of wire. Every movement made them bounce and flap in an almost comical manner. This pas de cinc has been performed ever since its premiere in 1996, so I suppose Forsythe disagrees with me and is pleased with those odd tutus.
The best was definitely saved for last. Crystal Pite's spellbinding "Emergence", another New York premiere, held the audience rapt for close to half an hour as the large cast brought to life her vision "of parallels between the social organization of bees and the hierarchical nature of classical ballet companies". The commissioned score by Owen Belton employs acoustic and electronic instruments along with computer processing techniques that eerily mimic the buzzing of bees and also evoke the sounds of marching that are meant to signify "the power and ominous presence of the body politic", according to Pite. No wonder this work that premiered with the National Ballet of Canada in 2009 is a four-time award winner. As a closer, it was an unusual choice because of the dark, even frightening, tone of the underground world on display. Yet the work is so extraordinary that nothing could follow it with any success.
On a personal note, I was proud to see a former student of mine as one of the male dancers on stage in Pite's ballet. Ryan Cardea was in my class at the School at Steps on Broadway starting when he was an incredibly talented seven-year-old. I took great pleasure in watching him perform with PNB as the professional dancer I was certain he would become.
If you missed the February 2016 run of Pacific Northwest Ballet at New York City Center, make a point of going to see this remarkable company the next time they visit the Big Apple. I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed!
Photo by Angela Sterling