January 5th, 2017
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Jessika Anspach took her final bow on the Seattle Opera House stage last June. The longtime PNB dancer enjoyed 12 years in the Company, and 14 years in the School before then.
I first encountered Jessika during the writing of the second edition of Finding Balance. The book features images of a teenage Jessika participating in conditioning exercises of various sorts. What struck me at the time was her commitment, her dedication to the project. Since then, I have seen her perform, maybe a dozen times a year. I have seen her grow into a mature, confident dancer, with a mesmerizing persona and personality. Entries in PNB’s blog, as well as posts in her just-jessika.blogspot.com, reveal a passionate advocate for dance and lifelong learner. This gracious and skilled ballerina will have more noteworthy exploits, documented in her writing. We eagerly await news of them.
https://www.google.com/search?q=PNB+Jessika+Anspach+photos&espv=2&biw=1307&bih=659&tbm=isch&imgil=d1T8y_UZNfRKcM%253A%253BalIT1Ofh9IBr5M%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fpnbunleashed.wordpress.com%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=d1T8y_UZNfRKcM%253A%252CalIT1Ofh9IBr5M%252C_&usg=__W2QEO71QIxq20-zpc4_Y1HLe7uw%3D&ved=0ahUKEwjXgIms-azRAhUFMGMKHRzoA58QyjcIOQ&ei=u0BvWJe3M4XgjAOc0I_4CQ#imgdii=UxLKFjIgX_v13M%3A%3BUxLKFjIgX_v13M%3A%3BCSE5VEAQ8H6BGM%3A&imgrc=UxLKFjIgX_v13M%3AA hard worker, writing as well as dancing
December 20th, 2016
Seattle audiences soon will be treated to another Jean-Christophe Maillot story ballet — Cendrillon/Cinderella February 3-12. Maillot’s remarkably cohesive yet unpredictable choreography most certainly will be entertaining, as well as provocative. In his rendition of the tale, Cinderella’s mother (in the role of her fairy godmother) and father take center stage. Glitter covers Cinderella’s otherwise exposed feet, and secondary characters surprise with completely unexpected moves and attitudes. The quirky costumes and bare sets enhance this morality play-cum-drama. Expect emotional dancing at its finest.
A scene from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Cendrillon. Pacific Northwest Ballet will present this Cinderella story from the creators of Roméo et Juliette February 3 – 12, 2017. Photo © Marie-Laure Briane, courtesy of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.
February 15th, 2016
Whim W’Him/IN-spired/January, 2016/Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center
There’s much about Whim W’Him’s winter program, besides the name, that is In-spired. The choreographers, the choreography, the dancers’ intriguing ensemble of five men (Kyle Johnson, Jim Kent, Patrick Kilbane, Thomas Phelan, Justin Reiter) and two women (Mia Monteabaro and Tory Peil), the artistic director, the performing space, the music (most certainly the music), the costumes, the lighting – and the ubiquitous socks.
Wevers’ Brahms and Tights was first up – a burst of vibrant production color (costumes, lights) and bold movement. Wevers “designed” this piece – giving his dancers different phrases to chew on in the creation process. The end result was a full commitment to Wevers’ movement and music of a Brahms Violin Concerto (D Major, Op 77, its first movement).
- Inspired dancers Tory Peil and Mia Monteabaro in Brahms and Tights Photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Kudos for use of weight. In ensemble pile-ups, the dancers seemed to be draped over or dripping off each other, skillfully balanced. Tony Peil was in top form – she attacked each arabesque, forcing an exaggerated half-toe. Of the men, Justin Reiter and Patrick Kilbane commanded the stage.
This is a piece of gerunds – falling, dropping, flying, leaping, spinning, lengthening (of arms, especially), spinning. Whether in unison or in a contact improv-like ensemble, the dancers were steadfast in strong motive and movement taking us all on a splendid journey.
Overflow, choreographed by Mark Haim featured Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. This was a provocative piece – made more so by the creative genius of designer Corrie Befort. Haim’s movement motifs include hyperextended wrists, odd gestures (an index finger held threatenly), arched backs, and retracted shoulders – serving as both conversation and self-reflection. All the dancers are frantically busy, sometimes overwhelmed by the powerful crescendos of the music.
The dancers fed off each other in this piece, and yet danced with a forceful opinion of their own with Jim Kent as one of the most eloquent; his culminating solo was fully memorable. Certainly, Peil and Johnson, and Monteabaro and Phelan, gave Kent some competition. This intimate piece reveals each dancer’s persona. Rarely has Tony Peil been so vulnerable and agile.
Dominic Walsh’s The Ghost Behind Me was a perfect storm of eerie music (live, by Two Star Symphony) and powerful narrative. What’s not to like in this piece? It was one of the most beautifully haunting pieces I’ve seen in a long time.
Reiter was the puppet master of the show. He and the music ensemble sported black hooded sweatshirts, with long shiny blue goatees. Reiter plays a manipulative creature in this piece, half Quasimodo and half omniscient puppeteer. He activates the other dancers by his touch, and the dancers respond with remarkable fluidity. Kilbane is a central figure, perhaps the most tormented of them all as evidenced by his clawing and grabbing motions. In a sense, all are entrapped.
Patrick Kilbane and dancers in The Ghost Behind Me/Photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Two Star Symphony is a master of setting up a chord progression and playing it incessantly. The bass was particularly good, which was especially important in this Fade-gypsy-jazz minimalist music melee. For me, the music was crying out for some virtuosic improvisations. Walsh clearly left this up to the dancers.
February 12th, 2016
Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette offers roles that challenge even the most brilliant of dancers. In PNB’s winter program, featured dancers Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand, Laura Tisserand, Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta, Margeret Mullin, others – met that challenge. Could they be transcendent? (Yes, is the short answer. Read on.)
So powerful in its inventiveness, and in its simplicity, Maillot’s work is strong even against the famed and formidable Prokofiev score. How so? Maillot’s choreography is – at the same time – lush and tender (even in just the caress of a foot), clever (think: major fight scenes), clean and witty (as with the Act 1 Nurse-Juliet-Lady Capulet pas de deux/trois), and witty (almost all small ensemble scenes). Whereas the music tends to overwhelm the dance of other Romeo and Juliet choreographers, Maillot’s work proves an equal match.
In the three performances I saw, the Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra, under conductors Alastair Willis and Emil de Cou, rose to the occasion. At each show, the opening notes of the sweet strings, the first full-orchestra crescendo is chilling. Every crescendo thereafter becomes a thrill.
So, Music and Choreography, #1. Lights, set design (abstract, simple, understated), costumes (earth-tone gowns, simple tunics, glimmering shifts) – a close second. And the dance, what about the dance? For dance we need another rubric – I’ll use adjectives.
Transcendent: Seth Orza, Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch, Laura Tisserand, Jerome Tisserand.
Transformed: Leta Biasucci, Kyle Davis, Dylan Wald.
Gorgeously reliable and terrific chemistry: (the opening night “bad boys” of Verona) Jonathan Porretta (A+ for batterie and passion, turns and falls), James Moore (A+ for joyfulness and charm), Benjamin Griffiths (A+ for all-things-technique)
Honorable mention: Miles Pertl
Last, first. Kudos to Pirtle for his strong soliloquys. His character is the great empath of the ballet – to the point of seeming sacrificial. As Friar Laurence, he is an interplay between Gumby-like stretching and steel-like elongation. Of the performances I saw (he was cast in the same role for the entire run), he played each night a little differently, growing as a soloist throughout.
Soloists Leta Biasucci, Kyle Davis, Kylee Kitchens, Sarah Ricard Orza, and not-a-corps-dancer Dylan Wald. These dancers have a fresh, dance-is-like-breathing quality to their movement.
Seth Orza. Seth Orza almost stole the show – so strong, engaging, nimble, and focused was his Tybalt. He had great chemistry with everyone.
Noelani Pantastico. Literally radiant in all she does, her sense of timing and play with weight is masterful. She is the embodiment of sheer abandon. No wonder, after nine performances in the first run at PNB, Maillot grabbed her for his own company (thankfully, she’s back). Pantastico is not just transcendent, she is in an altered consciousness throughout the ballet.
Jerome Tisserand. Tisserand was a fully sentient being throughout this ballet. Each step was utterly natural. Tisserand’s Romeo was exuberant, goofy, careless, innocent. He was a partner, courageous and gracious, a noble equal to Rausch’s moving performance.
Laura Tisserand. Tisserand’s fierce and passionate Lady Capulet proved to be one of the most memorable performances of the program. Tisserand is captivating in her display of emotions, and in her strong core strength.
Lesley Rausch. This was a breakout role for Rausch. Every choice she made was the right one. And, almost always, it was the risky one. Brava – for giving us such a sympathetic and unforgettable portrayal, while not losing one technical beat. This is Rausch unleashed. She is unmatched in her gorgeous line, her ultra-flexible feet, each nuance, each accent of movement.
Margaret Mullin. Mullin offered one of the most delicious interpretations of The Nurse, which is saying quite a lot given the delightful renderings by Carrie Imler, Rachel Foster, Chalnessa Eames.
Clearly, this ballet, with this orchestra and these dancers, is a PNB triumph.
Images: Jonathan Porretta, Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand/Photo credits: Angela Sterling
January 16th, 2016
At the start of the New Year, I take a few minutes to reflect on how robust the dance scene is in Seattle, as well as north of the border in Canada. I have indeed been fortunate to have academic jobs that allow me to busy myself with both dance classes and dance writing. Western Washington (or, “The Pacific Coast” in Canada) is no exception.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Emergence” program in November was most certainly a highlight of the year. Angelica Generosa and Benjamin Griffiths sparkled in their Tempo Giusto in Kiyon Gaine’s Sum Stravinsky. It is clear that Balanchine’s style affects Gaines — “one of my biggest influences,” Gaines is quoted in the program notes. The “Balanchine blue” of Pauline Smith’s gorgeous costumes is utterly tasteful. Patterns, affectations, detail – Sum Stravinsky is a well-organized flurry of groups and individuals moving in unpredictable formations and with amazing speed. Below, Maria Chapman — with her highly articulate point. Not just a pretty foot, her arabesque turns were especially memorable, as were Lesley Rausch’s strength (in her upper body and her core), and Steven Loch’s and Chelsea Adomaitis’s soaring leaps.
- Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Maria Chapman in Kiyon Gaines’ Sum Stravinsky, presented as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling
Also of note is Jessica Lang’s transcendent The Calling featuring James Moore and Dylan Wald in the casts I saw. Integral to Lang’s work is her focus on elongated posture and etched-like positions. Not a single movement is gratuitous — the choreography is that deliberate. The medieval, romantic music added to the setting of noble gesture and honest emotion. Below, the magnificent Dylan Wald.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps dancer Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s The Calling, presented as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling
This November program featured premiered a notable premiere.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Laura Tisserand and Karel Cruz in Price Suddarth’s Signature, presented as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling
Price Suddarth’s Signature is a significant work, though almost overshadowed by Barret Anspach’s mesmerizing music (what a talent!). Beautifully integrated, coherent phrases for both men and women — this piece is worth seeing and hearing again and again.
Crystal Pite’s Emergence — much has been written about this eerie piece. Frankly, I use it as a reference point in my writing. There’s nothing quite like it, with all the individual elements somewhat familiar, but the whole a complete shock each time I see it. It’s impossible to single out individuals in this piece, which I think is the point. Apparently, the inspiration for the work came from Pite’s read of Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software by Steven Johnson. Pite’s creature-dancers are chilling, visceral, almost militaristic, and thus overpowering. This is a piece that with all its hyper-extensions and hyper-flexions propels the audience into surreal adventure that grabs you by the neck, the core, one’s entire being.
With this program, PNB raised an almost-impossible bar — it, obviously, had to follow up with even more inventive performances. What better way to do this than to offer an entirely new (and delightful) Nutcracker creation — a George Balanchine version, but with Ian Falconer scenic and costume design — and another program of Jean-Christophe Maillot striking Romeo et Juliette? 2016 is off to a good start.
- Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers in Crystal Pite’s Emergence, presented as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling
January 12th, 2016
The So You Think You Can Dance 2015 Tour made it to the very wintery Pacific Northwest, heating up the city of Abbotsford, BC. On a frigid January 9, the 14 dancers of the tour played to a packed house – Abbotsford’s Entertainment and Sports Centre. As attendees were downing beer, pretzels, popcorn, hot dogs – a handful of some of the U.S.’s most exciting dancers performed.
It is a pity, then, that it was virtually impossible to see them perform – the onstage lights, that projected directly at the audience (and, it seemed, to me in particular) were blinding. I had to watch with my hoodie up and around my face (to block out the most powerful, glaring lights), and through opera glasses, which tended to diffuse the light. I can’t help but think that the lights were distracting for the dancers, too.
Whining aside, these dancers can dance – last year’s touring group may have been a bit stronger, but the lasting impression is pretty much the same. Dancers can get stronger (certainly, the ensemble did throughout last summer’s season), and can deliver their personal best week after week – without serious injury (it helps that they are all young). Touring takes its toll, for sure, especially given their exhausting on-the-move tour schedule, variability in floor construction (providing both support and spring), and very busy daily schedules. There is one female dancer who managed beautifully all three challenges – Hailee Payne.
JaJa (Jana “JaJa” Vankova) had been my personal favorite (a hip hop dancer who could pirouette, arabesque, and waltz with the best of them), as well as Gaby Diaz – who actually won the competition. Throughout the season, I had been drawn to Jim Nowakowski (who was honored in Dance Magazine as a 25-to-watch) and to Derek Piquette. I guess America wants to see faces as well as bodies, and both of these men seemed to wear the same flat expression irrespective of the routine, not even making it to the top-four. That said, Nowakowski and Piquette are stunning dancers, and this showed in the Tour performances. Virgil Gadson, of course, continued to shine 1000 megawatts through the season and in the Tour.
What makes a truly great dancer? For me, it’s about a connection that grabs you and won’t let go. Being spot-on, consistently, helps. Flexibility at 110% helps, too. But dancers also need to use their eyes – their senses overall – to communicate with and to touch the audience. Hailee achieved just that, in every piece she danced. The audience seemed also to zero in on Hailee. Even when she’s dancing with her back to the audience, it’s as if we could see her entire being. She, together with Virgil, Jim, and Derek, were sparks of energy that kept the show alive. Brava. Bravo, Bravi.
Hailee Payne – Fox.com
April 17th, 2015
…as well as the stunning Lesley Rausch and Laura Tisserand (who debuts in the role this season), April 18-19, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
…and Michael Jinsoo Lim’s almost unbearably-sweet violin
Carla Korbes has been ever-present throughout the repertory this season, beginning with Balanchine’s Jewels in the fall, in which she danced major roles in both Emeralds and Diamonds, to Ratmansky’s Don Quixote in winter and Swan Lake this spring. The 33-year old ballerina retires from PNB this year. This is not the only retirement – Brittany Reid retires with this season’s Swan Lake run, and there may be more – but Korbes is one of the more unexpected (see “The Great Ballerina Exit of 2015,” Dance Magazine, 2015).
To be sure, this season so far (Stowell’s Carmina Burana remains to be presented), has had many, many memorable performances.
Angelica Generosa (ebullient in the jazzy Rubies, dramatic in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s haunting Before After) and Jahna Frantziskonis (stunning in two pas de deux in Forsythe’s New Suite) have been featured this season, as well as newly-promoted soloists Leta Biasucci, Margaret Mullin, and Elizabeth Murphy. In recent years, I’ve written about Chelsea Adomaitis (rightfully featured, too), Jahna Frantziskonis, Leta Biasucci. Others have written about Angelica Generosa and Elizabeth Murphy. All of this coverage is well deserved, as affirmed by critical reviews. These dancers are utterly reliable. They each have performance qualities that invite in the audience.
Lindsi Dec was glorious this season. She was delightful in Jewels and elegant in Justin Peck’s Debonair and David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin. In Don Q, she was a feisty Mercedes. In all that she danced, she brought a strong theatricality.
Lesley Rausch, was perfectly placed in all her moves this season – from Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated to Swan Lake. This graceful dancer exuded vulnerability, purpose. Carrie Imler, was indomitable in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, but needed to be seen more (a partner injury prevented her from dancing Swan Lake). Laura Tisserand was indeed a shining star, from her wondrous rhythmic sense in Rubies to her delicate-but-technical Odette/Odille in Swan Lake. She is the one to beat in balances, easily commanding her center of mass. For all, Whether in Forsythe or Ratmansky, these ballerinas danced with their hearts and minds.
The men also danced with aplomb, Jonathan Porretta (although the great Leta Biasucci even matched his energy in daring displays in Rubies). As Gamache in Don Q, he is an unparalleled comic; in Forsythe’s Vertiginous Thrill, he is a thrilling dancer, with extreme yet classical moves). Batkhurel Bold was a flawless partner for Korbes in Diamonds and in Don Q – attentive, steadfast, and able to show bravura moves with little fanfare. Laura Tisserand, in Swan Lake, also enjoyed his partnering.
Other men performed just as bravely. Karel Cruz, was a striking Espada in Don Q. Jerome Tisserand was a strong partner for Dec in Forsythe’s New Suite, and utterly flexible in his own right. Seth Orza, delivered beautifully-nuanced performances in all he did, especially obvious in In the Middle. For Benjamin Griffiths, there are just three words – technical, techincal, technical. He bursts with energy, yet moderates it with control – whether it be in Forsythe, or as the jester in Swan Lake.
Still, every now and then, a dancer comes along who turns heads. Korbes blurs lines between ballet character and her own persona. Is Korbes convincing? Yes. Technical? Yes. But she also is intense. And passionate. With each performance this season coming closer to her planned retirement, she duly earned all the accolades she received in the press. Hailed as “one of the country’s finest Balanchine stylists” (Alastair Macaulay, New York Times, 2009), she also is the audience’s darling, in part, because she has a strikingly intimate manner with said audience. I’m not quite sure how it is going to let her go. With the Encore program in June in Seattle, we will see.
(c) Angela Sterling/Carla Korbes in Diamonds
April 6th, 2014
Program: Director’s Choice
March 14-23, 2014
Seattle’s McCaw Hall
Susan Marshall’s Kiss is part meditation, part circus, part soliloquy (the dancers spend almost more time apart than together), and (when together) intimate duet.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Carla Körbes and James Moore in Susan Marshall’s Kiss
Arvo Part provides the mesmerizing yet minimalist music. What a thrill it was to see Carla Korbes return to the stage (post-injury), as captivating and focused as ever. More on principal dancers: In State of Darkness, Jonathan Porretta (in the opening night cast) was a mass of focus, sweat, and sheer determination.
- Corps dancers Leah Merchant and Andrew Bartee in the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Memory Glow
Corps dancers rocked this program, none better than Andrew Bartee (dancing like a principal) and Leah Merchant. But the evening’s top star was Kaori Nakamura, who will retire from the stage in June, 2014. Here, in Take 5, she was striking — spritely but powerful, wickedly clear yet playful with tempo, accessible but not — Nakamura’s performance aura and style will be deeply missed.
Kaori Nakamura (in yellow) with company dancers in Susan Stroman’s TAKE FIVE…More or Less
November 28th, 2013
Stunning, breathtakingly beautiful, and unparalleled in programing and performance, PNB’s November program, Kylian + Pite, was one not to be missed. It is easily the most memorable (non-full-length ballet) program in the almost 20 years that I have been viewing and reviewing the company.
Huge kudos to Peter Boal, ballet masters all, and the generous supporters that made the PNB premieres possible – Forgotten Land (Kylian) and Emergence (Pite). Both ballets were utterly unforgettable, not to mention the gorgeous music of the PNB Orchestra.
In terms of performance, here are just a few highlights –
Foster and Mullin as the insect creatures emerging from the depths in Crystal Pite’s Emergence
- Orza, Porretta, Bold, Gaines, and Bartee, as well as every single principal female — in anything
- Samuelson breaking out and through in everything
- Actually, all the petite mort dancers, who lived and breathed the ballet’s roles
- In Sechs Tänze, the Imler, Merchant, Foster, Kitchens crew – mesmerizing
- Forgotten Land – every single dancer made that piece come alive – haunting with a capital “H,” the dancers were aided in their other-worldliness by the literal and exquisite East Anglia backdrop
- Week 2, virtually all the corps dancers (there were a few that needed a bit more confidence, if not rehearsal) in first-time roles – Bravo, Brava, Bravi, Brave!!!!!
This program, quite simply, will live in PNB’s history as one of its finest. Of course, there’s always 2014-2015.
image: courtesy PNB
November 28th, 2013
See also, my longer piece at 4dancers.org
The week before the SYTYCD 2013 Seattle performance, I had the opportunity to interview the competition’s winners, but most exciting for me was an interview with the stunning Tucker Knox.
Tucker Knox was virtually a professional dancer before auditioning for SYTYCD. His auditions seemed effortless, and the accolades for his performances, predictably enthusiastic.
Once Mr. Knox made the SYTYCD top ten, he continued to dazzle, and perform his best – until he contracted Mercer in his knee, and was temporarily eliminated. He came back, at the bottom of the pack, to perform and beat elimination at least until the following week.
Adds Knox, “To be in the top ten is indescribable, it’s been such a crazy ride. There’s only 13 shows left now [on tour] and we’ve all grown together so much, becoming a family. The tour has been much more special than what we had on show. “
For stress relief, he cooks. At one time he thought about attending a culinary school.
Mr. Knox also is virtually injury free. How does he manage? “I always start with my core when I condition and train – not with my legs — if you build up strength from your core, you’ll avoid injuries. So, lots of Pilates – and lots of water – I’m drinking water all the time!”
Mr. Knox aspires to become a member of a contemporary ballet company, such as the Nederlands Dans Theater – and that’s where my vote rests.
As I wrote in the 4dancers blogpost,
Mr. Knox excels in the contemporary pieces, more than any other single dancer on the show (“I just create and feel the story with my partner, and then we live it on stage”), yet finds the dance forms a little foreign to him some of the most fun. Says Knox, “Hip hop is maybe not my best style, but it is the most fun — I just crank it out and it’s fun up there whatever we do. Also, ballroom for me feels surprisingly natural. Even though I may not perform it that well, it comes more easily than I thought it would.”
The modest Knox needs only look at a video or two to see how impressive his command of any style is.