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PNB offers three-part All Balanchine program
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PNB offers three-part All Balanchine program

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

All Balanchine
April 23-25
Pacific Northwest Ballet


Last month, Pacific Northwest Ballet turned into a modern dance troupe with its 3 by Dove, a four-work mixed repertoire program. This month, PNB salutes George Balanchine, considered by many the greatest choreographer of the past century. All Balanchine - the three-part salute - continues with three more performances on April 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and April 25 as a 1 p.m. matinee.

PNB and the history of George Balanchine have been closely associated ever since PNB's long time artistic directors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, arrived in Seattle in the early years of PNB. Since their retirement five years ago, Peter Boal, the new and current artistic director, has kept that legacy alive and has frequently asked Russell - an internationally acclaimed authority in staging Balanchine's major works - to oversee their revival in the Emerald City. She danced for Balanchine early in her career and brings a direct lineage to Seattle's troupe. For this program, Russell staged Serenade and The Four Temperaments. Boal supervised the staging of Square Dance.

Balanchine, a founder of New York City Ballet, had an amazing career, first in his native Russia and then in his adopted home of New York. In his lifetime, he created more than 400 works for ballet, opera, film, Broadway, and even the circus. Records of 200 of those works still exist, and even minor dances are revived with frequency. New York City Ballet alone still performs nearly 80 of those dances. PNB has performed 34 of those 80 and will add its 35th - Coppelia - in June.

For this month's All Balanchine program, PNB offers three major works: Serenade, Square Dance, and The Four Temperaments. Serenade opened last Friday evening's program. Considered to be Balanchine's first work in the United States, it was first seen in 1934 in an all-student performance at the School of American Ballet in White Plains, New York, and then nine months later in a New York City performance by the American Ballet. PNB introduced it to Seattle audiences in 1978, who have loved it in repeated revivals.

A classic, abstract work, the large company piece is danced to music by Tchaikovsky. The curtain rises on 16 women moving as one. They wear white - classic leotards and ankle-length chiffon skirts. They dance as four units, but all four move as seamlessly as one. The fabled Balanchine precision is on full display, especially in this current revival. Sixteen right arms lift at one time. Sixteen left legs extend in the same classic position. Soloists appear and disappear. Men in powder-blue tights and tunics partner with some, then disappear, then reappear. Beautiful music, beautiful dancers, and beautiful dancing all combine into a magical moment.

Alastair Willis, one of three conductors on the podium for this three-work program, leads the orchestra with obvious skill. (Extended notes by Peter Boal in the program detail the history of Serenade. Balanchine incorporated various "accidents" or rehearsal incidents during the original student creation, rehearsals and performances - a tardy dancer, a raised arm to block a bright light in rehearsal - and the tales all make fascinating reading and are well worth the time.)

Square Dance was the second work on the evening's program. A 1957 work that was originally staged with a square dance caller and musicians on stage, the current form is a 1976 revision by Balanchine. Now, the musicians are in the orchestra pit, the "caller" is gone, and the work seems to be another abstract Balanchine ballet with a strange (perhaps "confusing" is a better word) title. Dance patterns combine classical ballet, 17th century European court dances and American country dancing. The "square dance" influence is especially evident in the high-kicking final section. It entered PNB's repertoire in 1981 and has had frequent, popular revivals since then.

Although the leading dancers change several times during PNB's two-week run, special mention should be made of the sensational work of Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta in last Friday's Square Dance. Both exhibited megawatt exuberance as they led the large company.

Conductor Allan Dameron and four violin soloists were terrific in the score adapted from works by Vivaldi and Corelli. "Spirited" might be the best word for both the music and the dancing.

The most challenging work in the three-part All Balanchine is obviously The Four Temperaments, Friday's final work. Originally conceived in 1946 to be danced to a commissioned score by Paul Hindermith, the dance is as stark as the score. With dancers in black and white, four variations are set to music. All four subtitles sent serious dance fans scurrying to their dictionaries after the performance. "Melancholic" is the first temperament, "Sanguinic" the second, "Phlegmatic" the third, and "Choleric" the fourth. While PNB did a beautiful revival of the demanding work, The Four Temperaments divided the faithful PNB audience; many found it to be the most rewarding work of the evening, others found it too stark, too demanding. Judith Yan, a rare female conductor on a Seattle podium, led the orchestra beautifully. The work has been part of PNB's rep since 1978.

Ticket information on all remaining performances is available at (206) 441-2424 or at www.pnb.org.

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