A Million Kisses and More

A Million Kisses to my Skin, Before After, Rassemblement, Debonair

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; November 8, 2014

Dean Speer

Lindsi Dec (foreground) and Lesley Rausch in David Dawson’s 'A Million Kisses to my Skin'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Lindsi Dec (foreground) and Lesley Rausch in David Dawson’s ‘A Million Kisses to my Skin’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Bookending Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual “Director’s Choice” were two solid and exciting ballets: David Dawson’s “A Million Kisses to my Skin” and the world premiere of Justin Peck’s “Debonair”.

I was reflecting on Artistic Director Peter Boal’s Director’s Notebook piece in the program where he turns on its head the concept of out-of-town tryouts (the typical New Haven to New York route) by suggesting how appropriate it is now to try out a new ballet in New York and have it actually premiere elsewhere, as was the case with Peck’s new work. I believe we’ve come a long way since the days of artistic ratification and the blessing by hands by New Yorkers, telling us what’s good and what’s not – and leaving us looking to them for these crumbs from the master’s table – there being the unwritten belief that they are somehow intrinsically more sophisticated, or that what comes out of New York is somehow better.

These urban myths are shattered when experiencing pieces like Peck’s or Dawson’s, or for that matter the middle two works of the program: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Before After” and “Rassemblement” by Nacho Duato.

Perhaps it’s hometown pride, but many of us have long felt that New York is no longer the dance center of the universe. We should be supporting and aware that Pacific Northwest Ballet has, for many years, been one of the best ballet companies globally.

While in many ways an ensemble piece, Lesley Rausch was clearly the star of “Kisses”, followed closely by Lindsi Dec and Carrie Imler. The choreography calls for extraordinarily strong technique, attack, and control and they carried out the assignment with aplomb. Ditto Sarah Ricard Orza, Emma Love Suddarth, and Margaret Mullin. Then there were the men – Batkhurel Bold, William Lin-Yee, and Jonathan Porretta – who easily showed the high standard that’s become the expectation of male ballet dancing, each getting their own brief solo to show off and who also complemented their partner’s strengths. Men, as we know, not only dance but partner and have to be in sync with their ballerina – and all have to dance as an ensemble – almost literally breathing as one.

My only fuss is the actual title of the piece. A really, really good work, this is not reflected in its title – while perhaps meaningful to the choreographer, I think it could be more poetic and better. When I first heard the title, it suggested to me a modern dance mood work and not a quick, bright, allegro showcase work to Bach.

In a darker mood is Ochoa’s “Before After” which, through exploring the technique of partnering, looks at the sad conclusion of a relationship. It was vividly danced with great depth and fluidity of resonating shapes by Angelica Generosa and Raphaël Bouchard.

“Rassemblement” is Duato’s Haitian voodoo piece with a small story line, suggesting soldiers that ‘disappear’ local men, leaving bereft and grieving females. While an ensemble piece, its star was clearly Carrie Imler, whose deep second position strides and torment unearthed and underscored this story.

Greatly anticipating Justin Peck’s new ballet (his oeuvre entirely new to me), we were not disappointed but rather pleased – he seems to be living up to the hype on social media and elsewhere. His “Debonair” has a sweep to it that is one part intellect and one part feeling and mood. He had come into the creative process with a plan but smartly allowed his interactions with the dancers inform and redirect the product. With the dancers dressed in brushed-nickel toned costumes, I found the production values rather more bleak than Autumnal and would have liked some kind of backdrop and/or color changes to the grim black back and wing curtains and legs. The work is not at all dark, although it is serious. Suggesting perhaps a ballerina’s career journey – the central pas de deux was made for the retiring principal dancer Carla Körbes, though danced in this performance by Lindsi Dec – a dozen dancers appear at what I presume to be a ball. Dec was attentively partnered by Lin-Yee.

Three corps men – Kyle Davis, Ryan Cardea, and Matthew Renko – got to show their stuff, beginning with a held relevé in effacé devant that was both elegant and impressive. Unusually, the work concludes with the duet couple upstage with the curtain ringing down.

Warming us up prior to “Debonair” the mighty PNB Orchestra, which is celebrating their 25th year, played the wonderful “Praeludium” from Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40.”