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Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera House, 1997-1998(Seattle, Washington)


Never again can Pacific Northwest Ballet be charged with playing it safe, being too cautious, not taking risks.

Seattle audiences are used to a repertory of evening-length story ballets, a good deal of the Balanchine canon, and short ballets by co-artistic director Kent Stowell and a roster of choreographers from past and present. But for the company's twenty-fifth anniversary, Stowell and codirector Francia Russell took the audacious step of presenting a season of no fewer than fifteen new works, four of them company premieres, eleven commissioned for the occasion.

Not every piece was great; a few were mediocre; some were quite marvelous. But the season belonged to the dancers, who carried off the grueling repertory with energy, artistry, versatility, musicality, and technical skill, taking maximum advantage of the opportunities offered by outside choreographers to be liberated from typecasting--this was especially true of Ariana Lallone--and to move in new ways. The company's men have never been stronger, their confidence and stage presence greatly bolstered by the choreography of Rudi Van Dantzig, Mark Dendy, and William Forsythe.

The major challenge of the season, both for the dancers and for the audience, was Forsythe's hard-driving Artifact 11, given its first performance by a North American company in the February concert series that also included Stowell's charming Palacios Dances, Val Caniparoli's political love story, The Bridge, and the only new Balanchine of the season, the 1941 Ballet Imperial, performed with precise elegance by dancers newly costumed by Martin Pakledinaz.

Artifact II, a four-section work created for Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet in 1984, is considered by many to be a masterpiece. Only the second movement of the work was performed in Seattle. Set to Bach's Chaconne from his Partita No. 2 for solo violin [electronically manipulated), the ballet is intellectually impressive for the extraordinary embellishment of the movement for the large corps and two pas de deux couples. But Artifact II is so cold and manipulative, the dancers in their flesh-colored unitards so depersonalized, that it is difficult to enjoy. Meant to shock, with the curtain coming down at intervals with a bang, it does just that, but at the same time seems strangely dated. Patricia Barker was especially fine in it, dancing with new softness, and Lallone, partnered by Olivier Wevers in a tortured and torturing pas de deux, was incredibly angled and stretched.

If Artifact II seemed inhuman and alienating, The Bridge, an abstract telling of the story of a young Bosnian couple (one Muslim, one Serbian) killed trying to escape from Sarajevo, was at once poignant and gut-wrenching. Set to Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8, eloquently performed by full string orchestra under the baton of Stewart Kershaw, the piece is crafted for five couples who dance the tragic tale with suppleness and pathos, the movement alternately lyrical and frantic. Partnered by Astrit Zejnati, Anne Derieux, who may be this company's most sophisticated ballerina, was superb. Linnette Hitchin and Manard Stewart were also marvelous in that rare phenomenon, a political ballet that works aesthetically.

Cliche-ridden as it was--there is a chair dance in it as well as an angel of some kind--Mark Dendy's Auguries one, two, and three, set to music by Philip Glass, provided some very strong choreography for the company's men, which they performed with athleticism, virtuosity, and elan. Miriam Mahdaviani's pleasant but unmemorable And Then Again ... was the curtain-raiser for the April concerts that included Nacho Duato's crowd-pleasing Rassemblement and Donald Byrd's loving send-up of Balanchine, Capricious Night. In Duato's statement about Haitian politics, Julie Tobiason inhabited a movement vocabulary in which Martha Graham seemed to meet Katherine Dunham as if she had been born to it. Byrd, whose deconstructions of traditional ballet have had a bitter edge, used these neoclassically trained dancers to acknowledge with wit and affection what Balanchine has given to ballet in general and this company in particular.

Most disappointing in the season were Kevin O' Day's Aract, a slick, facile, and brilliantly danced piece to the music of Graham Fitkin, performed in November, and Ruby, My Dear, Lynn Dally's unfelicitous marriage of jazz dance and pointe technique. Excepting The Nutcracker, with its witty sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak, the sole evening-length work was the season-closing Silver Lining, Stowell's elaborately produced and joyously choreographed homage to Jerome Kern. The affectionate vaudeville and nightclub treatment of, count 'em, thirty-two Kern songs, was, like many of the programs this season, too long, but there were some brilliant segments, particularly Barker and Jeffrey Stanton's pas de deux for "The Wishing Well," Derieux's bluesy dancing of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and Kaori Nakamura and Vladislav Bourakov's rendering of the equally jazzy choreography for "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

The superb sets for Silver Lining were by Ming Cho Lee and the costumes, in which stage projection and danceability were too often sacrificed to period fidelity, were designed by David Murin. Randall G. Chiarelli created the lights for the season, innovatively and well.
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Author:West, Martha Ullman
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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