Pacific Northwest Ballet: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, New Suite,
In the Middle Somewhat Elevated
McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; March 14, 2015
As referenced in Peter Boal’s Director’s Notebook article, my own introduction to William Forsythe’s choreographic work was also viewing his “Love Songs”. This was a most memorable experience. We had gone to Vancouver, BC to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to enjoy an evening of ballet.
Persons affiliated with the Commonwealth tend to be openly vocal about their tastes and it proved to be true in this case. Part way through “Love Songs”, a woman just a few rows in front of us stood up and exclaimed in a strong, clear voice, “I do NOT come to the ballet to see violence against women!” and promptly sat right back down. I thought, “Good for her!” It is a disturbing piece. “Love Songs” turns out not to be about love at all. Perhaps a more accurate title would be “Love Laments”.
Back in Seattle, I asked Francia Russell, co-Artistic Director of Ballet Frankfurt from 1975 and thus one of Forsythe’s predecessors at the company, and she replied, “Oh, yes, his ballets tend to be very controversial.”
Forsythe was asked recently about “Love Songs” at a question and answer discussion prior to a dress rehearsal, and he indicated that it is no longer done, describing it as a piece of its time – and its time has now passed.
His 1987 work made for the Paris Opera Ballet, “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” (which became Act II of “Impressing the Czar” the following year), is also a work of its time with its post-industrial sound score; barest of stages – there is no decor except for lighting and a floor, simple costumes (green leotards and tights for both the men and women), two cherries hanging from the middle stage flies (hence, in the middle, somewhat elevated); and exciting dancing that uses traditional ballet steps and extends their boundaries, sometimes turning them on their heads. It was first performed by PNB in 2000 and, given the huge ovation, the audience welcomes its return. One of my kaffee-klatch co-subscribers sagely observed upon her first viewing of a Forsythe work – I think this one – “…that if Balanchine were alive today, this is what he’d be doing.”
My cousin and his wife were visiting Santa Cruz, California. Neither of them had seen PNB before but they immediately apprehended this piece, saying – with no prompting – that it was about texture and rhythm. Another guest – an opera singer who used to work with Pina Bausch, commented that this was her favorite on the program. Everyone was excited.
The program opened with a piece that’s a great, soft introduction to Forsythe’s work, the athletic and robust allegro, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” set to the last movement of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, superbly played by the PNB Orchestra. The program note describes it well: “…displays all the traditional accoutrements of classical dance: tutus, pointe shoes, virtuosity, lyricism, and a friendly display of formal manners between the sexes.”
The work is the easiest in which to see the progression of the lineage from Balanchine to and through Forsythe with its speed and take-no-prisoners approach. No wasted steps or time, but the thrill of the audience watching five dancers do what they like doing – allegro steps and combinations of all kinds; petite, big, turns and these in confluence, not to mention the wonderful and zany space-age flat green tutus for the women.
More than one person commented at intermission that they almost enjoyed watching the men in his piece more than the women – and indeed Benjamin Griffiths and Jonathan Porretta were spectacular,. Their precision and, yes, exactitude, coupled with their musicality were infectious. Right behind them, matching them dollar-for-dollar, pointe shoes to steps were Leta Biasucci, Carrie Imler, and Margaret Mullin.
“New Suite” is a series of short pas de deux: four to the music of Handel (originally created for “Invisible Film” in 1995); three from “workwithinwork,” (1998) set to Luciano Berio’s “Duetti per due violini”; one to Bach’s Chaconne from “Partita in D minor”; and one to Gavin Bryars’ “String Quartet No. 1” (the last was not performed on this evening). They presented a showcase for partnering, deploying this skill and tempered with various moods.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the PNB Orchestra, each of the mixed repertoire programs includes an overture or an orchestral interlude. This evening’s choice was the Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.” Its program placement between “Vertiginous” and “New Suite” proved infelicitous, because the audience was eager to discuss the previous ballet, which set up a high noise level of chatter during the orchestra’s moment in the spotlight.
This program gave us lots of great dancing, excellent choreography and one, swell time at the ballet.