by Sharon Cumberland -
SGN A&E Writer
PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
'SEE THE MUSIC'
Through October 4
Pacific Northwest Ballet's season is off to a tremendous start with three wonderful dances performed to the kind of music you want to hear, by a company that can do anything - as these very diverse ballets illustrate. Artistic Director Peter Boal and his PNB teams have created a deeply satisfying evening of broad visual, musical, and emotional range. If 'See the Music' were a single work in three acts, it could not be a more complex, moving, funny, and yet harmonious work. To the artists who brought this terrific program together: Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! To Seattle dance and music lovers, get to McCaw Hall ASAP - you don't want to miss this one!
'Tide Harmonic' (2013)
Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Music: Joby Talbot
When this ballet concluded my companion turned to me with a face that fairly glowed in the dark and said 'Wow! I feel like a better person for having seen that!' - and I couldn't agree more. Talbot's lush, percussive music together with Wheeldon's strange variations on familiar moves evoked a mysterious, tidal world without being overly literal. It makes you feel privileged just to visit this other universe of creatures - sometimes beautiful, sometimes weird - as the couples organize and re-organize themselves into duets, trios, quartets and various other configurations that merge and melt away. Wheeldon creates the unfamiliar through the devices of the familiar - moves we love to see in conventional ballet, but which are cleverly and subtly transformed. One of my favorite passages was performed by a male duo, arms entwined, whose legs moved together but whose torsos created variations that conjured a symbiotic mirror-creature that must surely exist somewhere in the water-world. Another favorite moment, occurring at the opening and the closing of this brilliant work, involved all four couples in a move (almost impossible to describe) in which the man holds his partner horizontally as she twists her outer leg into the space between them, resting it, bent, on a single toe as her partner rocks her body back and forth. Four couples doing this - the women peering out with wide eyes and puckered lips - summons an alien, intriguing, and gorgeous world in a single gesture. When you see this ballet you realize that it's something you always wanted to see, but had no idea it could possibly exist.
'Prodigal Son' (1929)
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
We all know this story, about the bad boy who takes his inheritance and squanders it on wine, women and bad company, only to crawl home, broke and broken, to a forgiving father. George Balanchine was only twenty-five when he created this work so the character of a Son who runs off to cavort with a Siren, False Friends, and a troop of goofy Drunkards might not have been far from his own youthful experience. Benjamin Griffiths, as the Son, embodied the frustration and longing of a young man who is pent-up with his family when all he wants is to see the big world. Lesley Rausch as the Siren, whose long body and billowing cape are erotica incarnate, made a spectacular seductress. And while the loving sisters and God-like Father are the whole point of the story, the stomping core of hilarious Drunkards are more fun to watch. 'Prodigal' is a terrific work by a young man who went on to become one of the greatest choreographers of modern time. Peter Boal, who danced the role of the Son himself in the New York City Ballet, is giving us a great opportunity to compare the young Balanchine of 'Prodigal' with the seasoned Balanchine of 'Nutcracker' later in the season - and to see the humor and depth of feeling Balanchine was able to develop in all stages of his career.
'The Concert, or The Perils of Everybody' (1956)
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Music: Frederic Chopin
It's not often you can laugh out loud at a ballet, but during Jerome Robbins' witty dance the audience was delighted from one scene to the next. At first, as virtuoso Allan Dameron sits onstage at the Steinway playing a romantic prelude, one 'audience member' after another enters with a folding chair to portray every kind of concert-goer you've ever seen - the man who sits in deep contemplation, the girls who persist in chatting, the bored man who rattles a newspaper (today he would be texting), the officious wife, the dreamy romantic who wraps her arms around the piano. We laugh out loud because at one time or another we have been these very people, annoying those around us, being evicted from our seats by the usher. As Chopin's delightful music merges with the orchestra, and as the dancers show us an entire buffet of buffoonery, we recognize that ballet - and all the ways a dancer can trip up - is fundamentally hilarious.
My favorite sequence was a corps of eight girls, carried on stage like mannequins in positions of increasing awkwardness, who perform the classic airy ballet we associate with Swan Lake or Giselle, floating like dryads in graceful patterns with wand-like arms - yet one girl or another floats off in the wrong direction, or collides with her sister, or messes up the effects by bending left when the troupe is bending right. Robbins' genius is to do this in small doses, so that the audience remembers how it loves these gorgeous ensembles, while seeing how easy it is to get stuck on the wrong foot.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2015-2016 season opening program 'See the Music' is performed at McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.) through October 4, so hasten over to Seattle Center and start your dance season with a trio of wonderful, wonderfully performed, ballets. For more information and tickets, call 206-441-2424; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.pnb.org.
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