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The Second of Six Repertory Programs


From November 12th to November 16th 2020, Pacific Northwest Ballet offers Rep 2 of the company's first ever digital season. I reviewed Rep 1, my own first ever experience as a dance critic after COVID-19 forced a pivot from "two on the aisle" to viewing from home. The experience was surprisingly positive, and I eagerly anticipated Rep 2, which I viewed on November 12th. I was not disappointed. The program, produced in its entirety during the pandemic, is replete with two laudable world premieres as well as a PNB premiere and a Twyla Tharp excerpt. Not only that, but a stirring rendition by cellists from the PNB orchestra of composer Astor Piazzolla's "La Muerte de Angel" is performed outdoors near a body of water rather than on a stage.

Also notable, a digital ticket to Rep 2 affords dancegoers with some extras including Ballet Talk with Doug Ellington, a Meet the Artist segment with Twyla Tharp, an informative speech by choreographer Jessica Lang about the creation of "Ghost Variations", a performance by Noelani Pantastico of Penny Saunders surrealistic "Alice" (also available on PNB's social media channels), and Amanda Morgan discussing her work entitled "This Space Left Intentionally Blank". If you do decide to watch Rep 2, be sure to keep scrolling down so you don't miss any of these wonderful bonuses. Also, the beginning of Rep 2 treats us to "5 Minute Call" by Dylan Wald, a fun peak at the performers doing last minute hair and makeup, putting on costumes, warming up, and removing masks in anticipation of taking their places on stage. This tidbit is yet another way that PNB has found to make the digital season an experience that is not "better than nothing" but rather is a brand new and welcome artistic undertaking in a class by itself.

The opener of Rep 2 is "Wonderland", a world premiere by choreographer Penny Saunders to original music and adaptations by Michael Wall as well as additional music by Jean-Philippe Goude, Hugues Le Bars, Erik Satie, and Camille Saint-Saëns. Program notes tell us that the work "pays homage to the marvel and magic of live theater - a love letter to the immense power and delight one finds within those walls - and the shared experience so many of us are profoundly missing at the moment". I found that message poignant, almost tear-inducing, as I watched the action unfold in a theater with no audience. Eventually, though, the skill of the dancers as they performed this contemporary piece banished my downcast mood and brought me once again to the realization that although we as viewers have lost the thrill of being in a theater to see live performances while surrounded by other balletomanes, we have gained a new perspective thanks to the determination and ingenuity of artists of the dance world.

Next up is an engaging excerpt from "Waterbaby Bagatelles" by the inimitable Twyla Tharp. As I mentioned earlier, your digital ticket gives you the chance to hear Twyla herself discuss the piece in her own quirky way. Don't miss it!

After the cellists perform Piazzolla's piece as a musical interlude, we're back inside for "Arms", a PNB premiere by Susan Marshall. Hailed as "a small masterpiece" by The Village Voice when the piece premiered in 1984 in New York City, the work is credited with being an important turning point in the "downtown dance" scene of that era. As you might surmise, the dancers continually move their arms in intriguing and intertwining patterns.

The performance closer is "Ghost Variations", a world premiere by Jessica Lang to the music of Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann. The cast includes both men and women, with the ballerinas on pointe, but the work is decidedly contemporary. According to the choreographer, "Ghost Variations was composed by Robert Schumann in 1854 just prior to his being committed to an asylum for insanity. Schumann believed that he was being haunted by composers from the grave who were dictating the theme to him - forgetting that he had already written it himself." Kudos to Lighting Designer Reed Nakayama for creating eerie shadow figures behind an upstage scrim so that the dancers did indeed appear to be haunted. Applause as well to pianist Christina Siemens, who took her well-deserved bow while still wearing a mask. (As I mentioned when I reviewed Rep 1, the applause is canned yet effective in the absence of a live audience.)

After the performance, we hear a short but touching speech by Artistic Director Peter Boal. Then Associate Concertmaster Jennifer Caine Provine plays Bach on her violin as we see her beside the credits while they run on the screen, continuing the innovative approach that began with Rep 1 when Concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim played under the credits - yet another way to enhance the digital experience.

I'm already looking forward to Rep 3!

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From This Author Sondra Forsyth