Lesley Rausch, Batkhurel Bold, and Carla Körbes in Serenade Photo Angela Sterling

Lesley Rausch, Batkhurel Bold, and Carla Körbes in
George Balanchine’s Serenade
Photo Angela Sterling

McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA
June 7, 2015

Dean Speer

We all build, particularly in the arts, on the shoulders of those who came before us and often these pioneers enthusiastically and lovingly pass along the craft with joy. Dancers cycle in and out and Pacific Northwest’s Encore Performance has become something that not only encapsulates the concluding season but also an important mechanism for the audience and the performers to say “thank you and best wishes,” providing a closure of sorts.

As expected, the company was in tip-top shape, at the peak of its game and the program contained many thrilling and lovely moments. One of the highlights was concluding with Balanchine’s Serenade, requested by retiring principal dancer Carla Körbes. What a showcase this still-astounding ballet is today; from its intricate, yet simple patterns and shapes to the technical challenges and the heightened sense of poetry it infuses into its Tchaikovsky score. For some of us, this is religion, the dancers its acolytes.

The performance was a great gift from Körbes. When she was carried up and out into the light at the end, it was a perfect metaphor for what might be coming next in her life and career – and the hope that it promises for us, bittersweet as it may be.

The rest of the PNB dancers looked terrific too: Carrie Imler dazzled with brilliant allegro and turns, and there were especially assured performances by Leslie Rausch, Karel Cruz, and Batkhurel Bold.

Pacific Northwest Ballet in Andrew Bartee’s Dirty Goods Photo Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet in
Andrew Bartee’s Dirty Goods
Photo Angela Sterling

Dirty Goods is the outcome of a commission for Andrew Bartee from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts to create a site-specific dance using the true natural and national treasure, the Olympic National Park. A film makes use of what can be thought of as its climate zones – the snow pack up at what appeared to be Hurricane Ridge, a piece of the Hoh Rain Forest, and a road that might have been at Lake Crescent, Lake Crescent itself (you have to see it to believe how gorgeous and special it is), and a beach on the Pacific Ocean. This was accompanied by many of its dancers live on stage in moves that seemed to reflect, echo, and express the environment and feel of what was on screen.

The only difficulty was having the attention bifurcated and drawn away from the dancers to the film and vice-versa, it being much more than a mere backdrop. I am not sure that Bartee would want them performed separately, but they could be. I also wish this super work had a different title. Dirty Goods is misleading and, as near as I could tell, has nothing to do with the dance. It might have more accurately been given the moniker of Sublime Goods.

Carla Körbes in Jessica Lang’s The Callling Photo Angela Sterling

Carla Körbes in Jessica Lang’s The Callling
Photo Angela Sterling

Cheers went up as the curtain rose to show up Körbes, whose back was to the audience, in a Lana Turner/Marilyn Monroe type white dress that surrounded her by several feet, creating a sense of a glossy high-fashion model. Choreographed by Jessica Lang, the solo piece, The Calling, is all about mood and atmosphere, created primarily by gesture, small torso contractions, asymmetrical shapes and reaching out into space. Set to a late 12th century French Vespers hymn, O Maria, stella maris, performed live by Sarra Sharif with Orrin Doyle, Margaret Obenza, Markdavin Obenza, and Christina Siemens, it’s quite lovely and just the right length. Lang says what she had to say and then wraps it up, literally.

William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was enjoyable when performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre earlier in the season, and it was a thrill to see PNB’s rendition of this exciting and superb ballet. From Raphaël Bouchard and Price Suddarth’s taking the stage in 5th position to the entry of the three ballerinas in their lime-green dinner platter tutus (designed by Stephen Galloway), the piece is a showcase of technical accomplishment.

Kiyon Gaines is another one of the dancers leaving the PNB stage and one whom will also be greatly missed. A duet excerpt from Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement highlighted his great stage presence and his depth of artistry. His bows were particularly telling – here is someone who has tooled himself into the very picture of refinement and elegance. With his outstretched arms, his gestures were telling, minimal, controlled and beautiful, as was his dancing with Elizabeth Murphy.

Carla Körbes takes her final bows

Carla Körbes takes her final bows
Photo Angela Sterling

The 2014-15 season began with the evening length Balanchine Jewels which here was well represented by excerpts from each of its three acts. The Emeralds pas de trois was performed by Amanda Clark, Margaret Mullin and Eric Hipolito, Jr., the latter of whom is leaving for Ballet Arizona. Hipolito Jr. enjoys the distinction of being PNB’s first Dance Chance participant to graduate all the way from the Dance Chance program to the Company. The ‘Walking pas de deux was performed by Laura Tisserand and departing corps dancer Charles McCall, while the Rubies pas de deux was performed by Jahna Frantziskonis (leaving for San Francisco Ballet) and the impeccable Benjamin Griffiths. Körbes and Karel Cruz were utterly riveting in the pas de deux from Diamonds.

The mighty PNB Orchestra was conducted by Emil de Cou; Allan Dameron was the piano soloist in Rubies.

Past, present, and future came together for this performance, briefly converged and then split apart once again, leaving us all changed.