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posted Friday, November 13, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 46

PNB stages 'Director's Choice,' Rep opens Opus
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Local and world premieres and revivals - all in various combinations - dominate the arts news this week. Read on:

PNB OFFERS NEW 'DIRECTOR'S CHOICE' OF NEW AND OLD

Peter Boal, Pacific Northwest Ballet's artistic director now in his fifth year, loves his annual "Director's Choice," now in its fourth year. The current four-part program, continuing though November 15, is a mixture of revivals and premieres. Cutting-edge modern works balance nicely with audience favorites, creating another winning "Choice" program with the proverbial "something for everyone."

All four of the works could be considered "gimmicks" of one kind or another. Petite Mort, a PNB premiere of a 1991 work by Jiri Kylian of the Nederlands Das Theatre, is full of visual gimmicks and dance surprises. Six corseted men walk backwards toward the audience as the lights go up. They balance fencing foils horizontally on their fingertips as the music from two of Mozart's most famous piano concertos fills McCaw Hall's auditorium. Six corseted women appear at the back of the stage. The men, the foils, the women interact - sometimes with tongue-in-cheek pairings, sometimes in all seriousness.

The women disappear at one point, only to return wearing what seem like stiff, hoopskirted elaborate strapless ball gowns, all in black. It turns out the laugh is on us, and the audience cheers as the women step aside from the dresses and we find that the dresses are really free-standing (and, mysteriously, free-moving) sculptures of ball gowns. The music is sublime, and the dancing, as usual for PNB, is outstanding. The choreography raises a lot of questions - of the "what's it all about, Alfie?" variety. No matter; the majority of the audience loved the visual punning and the incredible skill of the PNB dancers. A new-to-PNB choreographer, Mozart, a classical ballet feeling, humorous variations - in short, a great new work that season subscribers will undoubtedly love seeing again next year.

Mopey, a short 2004 work by Marco Goecke that Boal commissioned for his then-New York company, was next on the program. First seen at PNB in 2005, the one-character dance is a showcase for PNB's James Moore, who plays a young man, perhaps a teenager, who literally mopes around. The music is a strange blending of classical by Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach and The Cramps. Much of the dance is street inspired and much of it is presented with Moore's back to the audience. Audiences loved it - or hated it - in 2005. It seems tamer now, perhaps because the novelty is gone for returning patrons. Still, it's the most controversial work in Boal's choices.

The world premiere of Val Caniparoli's The Seasons followed after the first intermission. The Renton native, with five works now in PNB's repertoire, seems to be a favorite with local and national audiences (and critics). The new work is actually an inspired recreation of a now-lost work from 1900 by the Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg, Russia.

From that lost work, we have only the music (now well-known as a concert piece) by Alexander Glazunov, the original program with the names of the characters, and a handful of photographs.

The new work, commissioned by PNB and Louisville Ballet, follows the same structure as the Russian original. We begin with winter, with snowflakes dancing (and falling from the flies above the stage). We have dancing ice, snow, hail and frost, plus Zephyr, who is one of the few continuing characters. The extended winter sequence is followed, of course, by spring, with swallows and dancing roses. The "seasons" design on the background changes from the white of winter to the green of spring. Ditto the costume colors. Then comes summer, a strange mixture of white (again) and pink. Fall arrives as a splash of red with autumn leaves in the headdresses of the corps. "A glorious autumn bacchanale" is how the scene is described in the program.

An extended "Apotheosis" provided the fifth sequence (and sent many in the audience running for Mr. Webster's dictionary when they got home). The work - delightful in many ways on first viewing - is lengthy, with complex dancing. It cries out for a second viewing, which, as is traditional with PNB, might come as early as next year.

After another intermission, West Side Story Suite ended the evening. Drawn from the Broadway musical by its original choreographer Jerome Robbins in 1995 for New York City Ballet, the work premiered just last spring at PNB. Most of the audience was delighted with the suite's quick return (although the older couple next to Bits&Bytes left at the second intermission with a cryptic, "We saw it just last year" comment).

The seven-section work combines on-stage singing, off-stage singing (which, to be honest, is a bit of a confusing distraction) with brilliant PNB dancing. It's an audience-pleaser if there ever was one.

Special mention must be made of conductor Allan Dameron, who not only conducted all four musical works, but also served as pianist in the opening two Mozart excerpts. Dameron is acting music director after the sudden resignation of Stewart Kershaw, an invaluable asset to PNB who retired without any fanfare in early October after his 25th anniversary with the company, leaving happily with the ovations from Prokofiev's Roméo et Juliette as his swan song.

"Director's Choice" continues through Sunday. Ticket information is available at (206) 441-2424.

SEATTLE REP OPENS OPUS IN BRISK SEATTLE PREMIERE

An intriguing new play in an outstanding new production at the Seattle Repertory Theatre - what a great way to open the Leo K. season at the Rep. The small, intimate theater hosts Michael Hollinger's 2006 work, Opus, which continues through December 6.

As the title indicates, Opus is a play about music. It tells the welcome tale of the goings-on behind the scenes in the fictional Lazara String Quartet as it prepares for a special concert at the White House. Hollinger is a former violist who left classical music to become a playwright and a theatre professor. Hollinger, who joined the opening night audience at the Rep, returned to music after an 18-year break - but only as a hobby, not a profession. His joy at playing again led him to contemplate a play about a string quartet, and Opus was born.

Running a brisk 90 minutes, the play goes back and forth in time, with one major character - played solidly by Seattle's Todd Jefferson Moore - appearing only briefly before leaving the storyline until a flashback provides the needed narrative and a logical reason for the character's return to center stage.

For loyal SGN readers, there is a surprise: a GLBT relationship at the core of the story. Well-disguised and well-developed, Bits&Bytes will offer no hint at the nature of the complication, but does highly recommend the play for many reasons, the Gay relationship being only one of them.

For the record, all five players do outstanding work. All are Rep veterans and several are Seattle-based actors. Braden Abraham, another Rep veteran, directs with polish. Opus is a play to see, and receives my highest recommendation. Details at (206) 443-2222.

SILENT MOVIE SERIES ENDS MONDAY WITH 1925'S LOST WORLD

The three-film "Silent Movie Monday" series for the fall, the "Adventure Series," ends Monday night, November 16, with Henry O. Hoyt's 1925 classic, The Lost World. Wallace Berry, Bessie Love and Lewis Stone headline this beloved silent classic.

Jim Riggs is the new organist for the series. Tickets will be readily available at the box office of the Paramount Theatre before the 7 p.m. start. Check it out.



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