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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 16
PNB scores with double bill of Apollo & Carmina Burana
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PNB scores with double bill of Apollo & Carmina Burana

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN Contributing Writer

Apollo and Carmina Burana
McCaw Hall
Through April 22


Pacific Northwest Ballet scores a double hit with its double bill of Balanchine's classic Apollo and Kent Stowell's contemporary extravaganza, Carmina Burana. The program - featuring two audience favorites in four-star performances - continues with four more performances through Sunday. Good seating is available for all performances and various discounts apply - ask and ye shall receive.

George Balanchine's Apollo first premiered in Paris in 1928 in a much different form than it currently displays. Over the years, The Master (as Balanchine was often called) reworked and revised his original creation. The elaborate scenery disappeared, the gilded chariot of the title character went into storage. As Apollo has been known in modern years - in New York under Balanchine's direction and in Seattle since 1993 - it is a sleek, sophisticated, almost formless tale. Danced to an original score by Igor Stravinsky, a frequent Balanchine collaborator, and staged this year by Peter Boal, PNB's current artistic director, the four-character work is classic ballet at its best.

Apollo and three Greek muses - Terpsichore (dance), Calliope (poetry), and Polyhymnia (mime) - explore various relationships. The muses are dressed in classic white tunics, while Apollo wears a one-shouldered white leotard and tights, giving the single male actor a barechested look. A sky-blue background scrim and a single chair provided the only scenery. On opening night last Friday, Batkhurel Bold was a splendid Apollo. Sarah Ricard Orza, Maria Chapman, and Lesley Rausch were equally fine as the three goddesses. The closing moments, when the three women seem to melt into Apollo - their legs creating a peacock-like tail - were simply spellbinding. It's a famous scenic moment from classical ballet - and it never fails to mesmerize the audience as the lights dim.

Apollo is a special ballet in the life and career of Peter Boal. He first danced the title role at the age of 20 - with only four days' preparation. Later he danced the role at New York City Ballet - it was the last work he danced at his 2005 retirement performance. All in all, Boal estimates he has performed Apollo 'well over 100 times in 20 years.' Now, as PNB's artistic director, he gets to stage the work for his 'own' company. The torch has clearly been passed.

Carl Orff's modern orchestra and choral work Carmina Burana has been an audience favorite since its first performance. Using 'found' 11th and 12th-century poems set to a modern score, Orff's work is one of the most famous classical music compositions of the 20th century. Kent Stowell, PNB's founding artistic director, decided to stage it as an original ballet in 1993. The combination of the incredible score - for full orchestra with a huge chorus of male and female singers and three soloists - and 40 dancers creates a monumental work that never fails to thrill. A wise collaboration with Broadway's famous set designer Ming Cho Lee, Carmina Burana also scores in the visual department. Lee's famous Wheel of Life (also called the Wheel of Fortune) dominates the set in its first, vertical appearance. Then, through the magic of stagecraft, the wheel rises and turns into a horizontal contraption hanging over the company of dancers. It's a stunning moment, a wonderful combination of theatricality, design, and choreography.

The chorale of 72 singers hangs suspended in space at the rear of the stage. (Like Apollo, PNB's Carmina Burina has had various design reworkings since its 1993 premiere. The chorus has been placed firmly on the stage in two side choir lofts in one revival; in the premiere, the chorus was divided into two suspended lofts at each side of the stage.) Dressed as hooded medieval monks, the chorus is a vital part of the success of PNB's production.

Orff's classical work remains a symphony favorite with classical music fans. At PNB, patrons get a full symphonic production, a wide-ranging interpretation in dance and exciting visuals, all rolled into one. It's one of the best triple-threat outings this reviewer can imagine.

The PNB orchestra, beautifully conducted by Emil de Cou, the lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli, and the costumes by Larae Theige Hascall and Theoni V. Aldredge all work together to make every Carmina Burana performance truly memorable. The costumes range from monk's habits to sensual excesses - including extended sequences of suggested nudity.

Opening night's performance was a fine illustration of PNB's strength - it is one of the top 10 ballet companies in the United States. As the lights dimmed, the off-stage announcer announced that Jonathan Porretta would not perform opening night - James Moore would replace the injured Porretta. Then another dancer would take Moore's roles and yet another dancer would take the substitute's minor roles. Everyone looked assured and confident - yet three replacements were performing on short notice. Of course, PNB, like all major dance companies, rotates all major and supporting roles throughout its two-week run - as many as three or four soloists take stage center in each major role during the show's performance calendar. Seattle is lucky to have such a talented company as PNB where last-minute replacements take center stage with such skill.

Good seating is available for all four of the final performances through the Sunday matinee. Various discounts - student, senior, rush - apply. Be sure to ask. Ticket details are available at (206) 441-2424 or at www.pnb.org. Highest recommendation.

Next at PNB is Balanchine's Coppelia, June 1-10. It's a wonderful work, appealing to the whole family. It's also a perfect 'first ballet' for PNB newcomers. Check it out.

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