McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; November 9, 2013

Dean Speer

Rachel Foster and Joshua Grant in "Emergence" Photo © Angela Sterling

Rachel Foster and Joshua Grant in “Emergence”
Photo © Angela Sterling

Many choreographers seem to feel compelled to make a bug piece. From those on a grand scale perhaps tackling cosmic issues to those that examine what’s under a Petri dish. One of the most well-known and iconic is Jerome Robbins’ “The Cage” which Pacific Northwest Ballet has performed in more than one repertory program over the years.

Crystal Pite brings a Canadian sensibility to her large ensemble work, “Emergence,” in its PNB premiere and originally commissioned by Artistic Director Karen Kain for the National Ballet of Canada, based in Toronto.

Raised in Victoria, British Columbia and first trained and performed as a dancer in classical ballet before changing to the modern dance idiom, Pite revisits her ballet roots but redefines them and creates her own insect movement vocabulary – of shoulder twitches and Graham-like torso contractions and releases, particularly for the men. Women stab and bourée to the floor and air with their pointes – used more as weapons than as dainty ethereal instruments.

Dances of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in "Emergence" Photo © Angela Sterling

Dances of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in “Emergence”
Photo © Angela Sterling

The great visual artist Georgia O’Keefe frequently used the insides of flowers as her subjects, and here we get the inside of what suggests itself to be a wasp nest. Swarming indeed, dancer bugs enter and exit through the upstage nest hole, interact in small groups or drones [a real nest would most likely have only one female] and “buzz” by the dancers counting under their collective breath but, as a whole, aurally making a humming hive.

I was impressed by the entire ensemble and the featured artists: Joshua Grant and Rachel Foster in the Prologue; Lindsi Dec and Batkhurel Bold’s pas de deux, and the ever-amazing Andrew Bartee as the “Bee Man.” This is clearly a work that the company enjoyed doing and to which the audience responded accordingly.

I was first smitten with Jiri Kylián’s work in the early ‘80s when we dropped in at the last minute to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. to check out Nederlands Dans Theater and when the curtain went up on his “Symphony of Psalms,” I was hooked. As much as I do like Kyliáns’ work, I found that the three pieces, particularly the one to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20, 1940 to be of their time [1981 for this one] – dated not in the bad way of being past their shelf-life, but looking at them through the telescope of time and experience. As serious as “Forgotten Land” is, there is the innocence of an era about it, that if he – or anyone – were to make this dance today, I doubt if it would have the same outcome. The piece, perhaps intentionally, made me feel lonely and as if I were viewing something from the past.

Seth Orza and Kaori Nakamura in "Petite Mort" Photo © Angela Sterling

Seth Orza and Kaori Nakamura in “Petite Mort”
Photo © Angela Sterling

The set makes the dance appear as if it’s transpiring on a remote, northerly, windswept beach [programs notes say Kylián observed that Britten’s own British Isle homeland area was being consumed by the sea], it’s interesting to note that all three Kylián dances each began with what sounded like the same sound score of wind.

Beginning with the dancers facing upstage in a walking motif, Carrie Imler’s turn of her head to look back over her left shoulder set the tone for the melancholy of the ballet.

Jonathan Porretta, Kylee Kitchens, James Moore and Leah Merchant in "Sechs Tänze (SIx Dances)" Photo © Angela Sterling

Jonathan Porretta, Kylee Kitchens, James Moore and Leah Merchant in “Sechs Tänze (SIx Dances)”
Photo © Angela Sterling

Completely at the other end of the emotional tone spectrum were the first two Kylián works, appearing as a successive pair, “Petite Mort [1991]” and “Sechs Tänze (Six Dances)[1986]” where each uses a riot of a prop – rolling formal dress dummies, with the latter exaggerating Mozartian dress [powered wigs mostly] and moves with hilarious results. I commented in one of my previous reviews that we should give an Oscar to Brittany Reid and in this case, I think one to Imler for her zaniness, comedic talent and timing.
The Kylián works were accompanied by the mighty PNB Orchestra alternately under the baton of maestros Emil de Cou and Allan Dameron.