McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA
June 12, 2015
Of the dances on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Next Step annual program of new works choreographed by company members on students of the PNB School, two stood out on their choreographic merits while the rest were fairly good but more along the lines of works in progress.
All provided a kind of choreographic primer – what worked, what worked well, what less well, what could be better, and of what to steer clear – a lesson in composition in less than two hours.
“All dances are too long,” said Doris Humphrey. They can seem too long particularly if they drift off into tedium or the development of the initial idea isn’t sustained through careful craftsmanship and progression. Dances need to have an “arc” or a thread that is carried throughout. Sometimes we run out of steam and need to know when to quit or re-direct and not feel like we have to keep going because that’s how long the music is or how to recharge our creative juices and have sufficient tools in our pocket to get us through – and to trust them.
Music can be hazardous and is sometimes a landmine to be avoided, detonated, or defused. We tend to think of music as our choreographic or creative springboard or ally when, in fact, it often needs to be “countered.”
Stephen Loch was seduced by the music of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and unfortunately drowned in it. His duet had the makings of a great pas de deux but ended up being far too repetitious and difficult for the dancers to sustain and build. It should and could be re-worked into the classic pas de deux formula: entrance; adagio; solo for man; solo for woman; coda. I think he was trying to parallel this, yet it somehow struck me as wrong that he began with Daena Bortnick upstage left all by herself, as it felt like the man was missing in action and when Joshua Shutkind did appear it gave the unintentional impression he was late or had missed his cue and ended up being an awkward start.
A couple of times, Loch gave us a big build up for what we were to presume would be some spectacular catch or toss, but with underwhelming results. The audience was just eager and ready to cheer and clap when we finally got a medium good one – up onto his shoulder – the audience was able to release its pent-up enthusiasm.
film muet (Silent Film) by Chelsea Adomaitis, set to Edith Piaf songs, was a nod to the post-World War II era. My only choreographic fuss was having the women look toward and up into the corners of the stage too often. This came across – perhaps intentionally — as some sort of motif of looking for something or someone that was not there. If they do look, this sets us up for someone to appear from that corner, which did not always happen.
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach seems seductively easy but proves to be a big choreographic challenge. For his first choreographic essay, Descendant Inklings, Charles McCall chose the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. This is another case where you have to “counter” the music, otherwise the dance ends up being merely pleasant and not as energized by the music as we think should happen. Descendant Inklings, was good but did not really go much of anywhere, when it could and should have.
Duet? was, overall, one of the most successful works on the program. Price Suddarth took a single idea and built and developed it very well – the humorous concept of having someone (Kyle L. Davis) do a virtuosic solo only to realize that he was not alone, but had a very small partner – a green tennis ball “hiding” on stage in the downstage left corner. It partnered him all right – he couldn’t get rid of it, tossing it away into the wings only to have it come rolling back, sometimes from the other side of the stage. At the end, a big pile of balls came tumbling and raining down on him from the rafters – very amusing and well crafted.
Notwithstanding its excessively long title, A Hundred Ways to Paint the Portion of a Plane Bounded by Such a Curve, Part Two was an excellent duet choreographed by Kyle Davis and danced by Angeli Mamon and Jesse Newman. Costumed in lavender, their duet was the right amount of conceptual material, development and a return to its upstage/downstage opening walking theme.
Ezra Thomson’s There are no rules fairly demands the jocular response, well yes there are! I’m not a big fan of the conceit of dancers adjusting costumes and clothes after the curtain goes up, thereby attempting to give us a faux casualness to the affair. Let it just start at the beginning of the actual dance. The entire middle section of this work was a solo for a female dancer that was far too long and, even more importantly, did not make her look good. It came across as sloppy and we know that all of the PNB students have impeccable technique. Regardless of content or mood, with or without a story, choreographers must make their dancers look good. I have been impressed with and have very much enjoyed Thomson’s earlier works but, disappointingly, this one did not hit the mark.
The Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Rodgers Radcliffe, provided music for Scheherazade, Descendant Inklings and A Hundred Ways…
Next Step provides an important outlet for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s potential future choreographic talent, giving them a voice and lending them time, talent, tools, and a place to give their creative wings a try. Bravo to
this program and all others like it.