Pacific Northwest Ballet
March 16, 2019
Director’s Choice Program: Bacchus; The Trees The Trees, In the Countenance of Kings
Pacific Northwest Ballet has commissioned a cornucopia of new ballets over the years, including more than 100 during the tenure of its Founding Directors and many more during its current Artistic Director’s nearly 15 years at the helm. That’s a lot of dances. Yet this is necessary as new works are the incubator of moving the arts forward…and, importantly, can be and often are a reflection of their times.
Director’s Choice presented three works, two world premieres and one PNB premiere. To me they all shared some common elements — strong openings and visuals, and a clear artistic voice. My only choreographic fuss would be that I would have liked each to have had a stronger ending.
First on the program was Matthew Neenan’s large group work, Bacchus, set to music by Oliver Davis. Bacchus is light in tone and showcases the dancers’ technique and artistry. I would have liked the concluding pas de deux — Elizabeth Murphy and Seth Orza — to have stood by itself and allowed to develop. Having some other cast members scurrying behind it and across the stage toward the end I found unnecessary. The duet was lovely unto itself and didn’t need any encouragement. Costumed in grape-colored unitard designed costumes, the dancers came charging onstage at the beginning at full tilt. I enjoyed the humor of section IV with Kyle Davis and Price Suddarth alternately catching each other.
The Trees The Trees, inspired by a book of poems of the same name, was choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams and develops through a series of five vignettes. These seemed unrelated to each other, yet had the common thread of vocalist Alicia Walter declaiming the words of the poems either by singing or speak-singing them, in something of a cabaret style. Walter was sometimes deployed as a stand-alone and sometimes mixed in with the dancers. I didn’t see an arc to the work, and it pretty much ended as it began. Williams’ piece seemed to be an outcome of her contemporary experience with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance and was the most “serious” of the evening’s unveilings. It was fun seeing the amazing PNB dancers adapt to a non-balletic style and how well they brought across Williams’ vision.
Justin Peck’s In the Countenance of Kings was first done at San Francisco Ballet and staged here by Felipe Diaz. Like Neenan’s piece, it’s a large work for large cast and is also light in tone with playful visual formations. It begins with the dancers positioned, kneeling together in a clump and as the music begins, they peel off right and left and the dance begins. I enjoyed the unexpected poses, such as when the entire cast lay down on the stage at the edge of proscenium, teasing us that perhaps this was the conclusion but then lifting up their torsos to peek at us, with their respective arms and hands lifted up to ear-level. It was a playful and a cute visual. Kudos to leads Elle Macy, Margaret Mullin, Laura Tisserand, Jerome Tisserand, Lucien Postlewaite and Joshua Grant. These leads were each given character names by Peck (Quantus; Electress; Botanica; The Protagonist; The Foil; and The Hero), as was the corps de ballet — The School of Thought.
I hope all three works will be brought back for future viewings. Ballet companies need large group works such as the two that bookended the program and for the satisfaction of the inner soul, works like The Trees The Trees.
The mighty PNB Orchestra was led by two maestros — Doug Fullington who conducted Bacchus and Emil de Cou for the second two.