Pacific Northwest Ballet
June 2, 2018
Love & Ballet Program: Tide Harmonic, After the Rain pas de deux, Appassionata, Year of the Rabbit
I was within earshot of the former head of the University of Washington Professional Actor Training Program’s exclamation, “I’ve been saying for years that the best theatre in town is the ballet!” We both agreed that we were enthralled by Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Spring program, Love & Ballet, which showed off this amazing company at its best during the course of four contemporary ballets. Each of the works had been seen before but it was so good to enjoy them again. Dances need to be “seasoned” and repeating works is not only good for the performers but also for audiences.
The program opened with two ballets by English choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon. The first was his small group work, Tide Harmonic, which begins with the company men scuttling fast across from stage right to left in biting second position, with the women charging onto the stage not far behind. Tide Harmonic packs a wallop and is exciting, energetic, and great fun to watch. Dancers included the ever-radiant Leta Biasucci, Elle Macy, Sarah Pasch, Sarah Ricard Orza, and gentlemen — Price Suddarth, Miles Pertl, William Lin-Yee, and Joshua Grant.
In stark contrast was Wheeldon’s next offering, his popular After the Rain pas de deux. Quiet, simple, elegant and with an arc that unexpectedly builds to an embrace at its conclusion. (We expect the dance to conclude as it began, a couple side-by-side in second position, but instead Wheeldon uses his motif of the man picking up the woman, while she’s in a bridge backbend on the floor, turns her while she maintains this shape and then goes under her, pushes her down on top of him into a sweet embrace.) One of the shapes that’s associated with this duet is an overhead lift where the woman is horizontally holding essentially the opening pose (legs in a small second) with her arms thrust over her head. It’s at once elegant, visually interesting and clearly not easy to do, although executed with seeming ease. The cast I saw featured Elizabeth Murphy and Seth Orza, both strong and confident dancers.
The choreographer of the third offering, Frenchman Benjamin Millepied, has a reputation for being an iconoclast, for trying to modernize the historic Paris Opera Ballet and bring it into the 21st Century during his brief tenure there as its director, but his Appassionata ballet was no contrarian effort. Set to Beethoven’s sonata of the same name, I loved the setup of dancers initially seeking and looking, finding each other and building nicely to three couples each with their own mini-story. The work begins with the dancers formally dressed — pointe shoes for the ladies, jumpsuits for the men, and partway through they have changed, as does the ballet’s character, into outfits suggesting sleeping attire. The audience is allowed glimpses into private conversations and moments.
This is a compliment: It’s possible to tell when a performance settles into itself, coalesces, and becomes that third thing when dance and music merge into great art. The exact moment this happened for me was when the three women (Leah Merchant, Elizabeth Murphy, and Noelani Pantastico) had a short trio together, making attitude on pointe. It seemed as though the audience and the performers were breathing as one. It was a wonderful moment, and this level of engagement kept itself up right up to and through the last work of the bill.
Of the three men, Jerome Tisserand, Karel Cruz, and Steven Loch, I have to pay a special tribute to Cruz who I cannot believe is hanging it up this summer, following the company’s tour to Paris. Cruz has been a perpetual and steady male presence for so many years, with his lanky line, technique, and sunny disposition. It’s hard to imagine the stage without him. They all were ably accompanied by Allan Dameron at the piano.
Well, the winner for creativity has to go the Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, a ballet inspired by the Chinese Zodiac. Inventive shapes, formations, and patterns infused with fast fast allegro, sometimes very daring partnering (oh, my!), and a means to showcase not only the corps but its soloists, this ballet is one to be enjoyed and seen again and again. Angelica Generosa, who opens the ballet, facing toward the large, posing group, thereby giving the ballet visual and desired “tension,” promptly launches off into a series of some of the most astonishing allegro work previously unknown to mankind. Her sense of joy and of ease draws the audience in immediately and also allows us to think, we could do that too, enjoying it in a visceral way.
Kyle Davis has got to be one of the area’s best male dancers (he was showcased at last winter’s ChopShop contemporary dance festival) and what Peck has him do here ought be to illegal. He was fast, bright, bursting with energy; a comet come to earth. Both Year of the Tiger and Year of the Rooster were showcase duets for Lindsi Dec and Lin-Yee. A strong and superb technician, being surrounded by not just Lin-Yee, Dec, who is a tall dancer, seemed almost dainty is this work. How nice it must be to have partners who are well-matched.
Speaking of well-matched, it would seem that Pantastico and Tisserand have become the “it” couple on stage, and deservedly so. In “Year of our Lord,” with both of their strong technique, attentiveness, and sense of fun, they are a delight. If Generosa gets the award for being assigned a demanding allegro part, Pantastico gets the award for courage in the face of being tossed around in some of the most daring ballet partnering. Yet Peck keeps a rein on it, not going too far by avoiding making it mere spectacle.
Dameron pulled double duty, this time conducting the mighty PNB Orchestra in a score by Sufjan Stevens. Tide Harmonic was conducted by Leif Bjaland.