Pacific Northwest Ballet, again

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, being presente

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 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

Kaori Nakamura (in yellow) with company dancers in Susan Stroman’s TAKE FIVE…More or Less

A Program to Remember (Pacific Northwest Ballet)

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

PNBkp_overview

A Closer Look at Tucker Knox of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD)

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.

Courtesy: SYTYCD

Courtesy: SYTYCD

Art and Science of Food

October 25th, 2013

Many would argue , there is no one right way to eat. If there was, there wouldn’t be a billion-dollar industry of fad diets or our own constant tinkering with experiments in eating. Finding Balance is certainly an attempt to find a healthy, commonsensical approach to selecting, preparing, and eating nutritious foods.

More recently, however, I’ve written that shopping and cooking is every bit as important as eating. In the words of Ann Vileisis,

Not to know at large of things remote from use, obscure and subtle, but to know that which before us lies in daily life, is the prime wisdom.
- Milton, as quoted by Ann Vileisis in Kitchen Literacy

What is Kitchen literacy? It’s knowing what food to prepare and how, when it’s in season, and when it’s most ripe. It speaks to an intimate knowledge of your spice rack, your cooking equipment, and the ability to read a recipe. Kitchen literacy also means having some connection to the sources of the fruits and vegetables and other foods in our diet. Gaining that literacy, especially with family and friends, should be pleasurable — part of the cool-down for a day of any vigorous mental or physical activity.

Julie cooking with us in Italy

So You Think You Can Dance?

September 15th, 2013

Older dancers? Rock the world. See Huffington Post-syndicated column:

http://www.4dancers.org/2013/05/older-dancers/

At a MBYS concert (2012) in Bellingham

At a MBYS concert (2012) in Bellingham

But so do the younger dancers. For example…

I am a huge fan of SYTYCD, I admit it. I am a fan of dancers who, outside their training and comfort zone, can conform to whatever dance style is demanded of them — with both grace and conviction. And – the top ten dancers in this reality show (Season 10) certainly did that. Marketing aside (and that’s a big, big aside), I thoroughly enjoyed the new choreography each week – some of which was fresh, moving, inventive. I actually voted once (at the end of the season) – for the two dancers that “America” voted for as well. Fortunately in this case, America’s #1 favorite dancers happened to be the most versatile and talented, skill-wise as well (in my opinion). Practically teenagers, but with a maturity, intensity, and commitment that should push professional dance to be and have much the same.

Reality Dance, Theatrical Dance

September 15th, 2013

I freely admit I have very wide-ranging tastes in dance. To me, spring and summer dance has been beguiling.

So You Think You Can Dance? I was hooked – from the auditions in Vegas to the theatrical finales. I’m still outraged about the elimination of Malice early on – not an America’s favorite, but arguably one of the most technical. In this competition, there were classically trained ballerinas and guys, performing anything that was thrown at them. I would love to see the same on my own turf – Seattle. And, by and large, I did this past season.

I’m starting with PNB. Memorable moments: Lindsi Dec’s gorgeous line and mighty control of it, Jerome Tisserand’s soft, soft landings in fifth, a frisky, high-jumping Elizabeth Murphy,  the humble, dynamic corps dancer Leta Biasucci, and fragile-looking but resilient principals – a bold Rachel Foster was spectacular. I have “fabulous” written in my notes for:  Brittany Reid (quick), Jonathan Porretta (demonic), Maria Chapman (strong), Bold (relaxed but deliberate), Carla Korbes (enchanting).

PNB dancers in rehearsal, available at http://www.pnb.org/AboutPNB/dancers.jpg

PNB dancers in rehearsal, available at http://www.pnb.org/AboutPNB/dancers.jpg

And, of course, there were great, great choreographers, too – Christopher Wheeldon for one. His Carousel was gorgeous. Jean Christophe Maillot ‘s Romeo And Juliet, for two.  Lucien Postlewaite and Noelani Pantastico – PNB alums that are now in Monaco – were crazy good. Much has changed since they danced the choreography for the first time in Seattle. Now, caught in Maillot’s coaching web, their accented moves, the feeling in their stretches, make them crazy good.

Olivier Wevers and Whim W’him

September 15th, 2013
Olivier Wevers at https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQp3By-Q0ZSR5FdTtEauqQuIsxJ_26qgLcsNpu7SeQML7cotOle

Olivier Wevers at https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQp3By-Q0ZSR5FdTtEauqQuIsxJ_26qgLcsNpu7SeQML7cotOle

In May, Whim W’him presented new works by artistic director Olivier Wevers and PNB’s Andrew Bartee, the Seattle premiere of L’Effleure by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and a showing of Wevers’ Fragments, originally created for Spectrum Dance.

Bartee’s flair for choreography is easily seen in his This is Real. Set in a recording studio, the dance features frenzied movement, then snakelike phrases, then resolution among the three dancers: Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil, and Sergey Kheylik. Likewise, Wever’s award-winning Fragments was a huge success – melodrama, parody, social critique, energetic, rhythmic (with the same highs and lows of the background arias themselves). It’s funny, it’s demanding — Lara Seefeldt and Jesse Sani  were striking.

Choreographer-dancer Bartee performed a luscious solo, Lopez Ochoa’s, L’Effleuré. Just standing in da Vinci’s anatomical pose, hands bloodied with red roses, was as powerful as his compact dancing – head bowed, body erect.

However, it’s in Wevers’ premiere of I Don’t Remember A Spark, that the dancers show their skill and credibility as an ensemble. Dancing to voice-overs on the choreographic process provided by Wevers himself, the group almost breathes the movement. Says Wevers: Choreography is a “discipline, a point of view, a language” and  “you want to embrace what [the dancers’] limitations are” to spark something in both creator and those dancing. Clear and smooth and articulate –the dancers bear witness to Wever’s prose – “creating is like breathing, it just happens.”

Li Chiao Ping in Vancouver

September 15th, 2013

Last month, Dance Critics Association/World Dance Alliance-America combined to offer conference meetings and performances at the beautiful Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver. I participated as a panel moderator, with PNB’s Doug Fullington, looking at what gets produced and presented, and why. What goes into decisions about company programming? Considerations that are perhaps not so obvious to us critics and viewers?

One of the highlights of the meetings was Li Chiao-Ping’s “Riot of Spring.” The piece embodied the WDA theme “Evolve + Involve,” while also celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Stravinsky’s idiosyncratic score.

In rehearsal in Vancouver

In rehearsal in Vancouver

I caught the group in rehearsal August 2. The movement was strong and focused, as the music demands. The narrative, striking. Predictably, Li’s work is a complicated study in rhythm, power, and grace. “Riot of Spring” is but one of many memorable pieces choreographed since she emerged as a Dance Magazine “25 to Watch” barely a decade ago.

Making History: Approaching Ecstasy, concert wonder

May 25th, 2012

In May, Seattle experienced a major dance event with 53 performers on stage and Olivier Wevers producing his best work ever – Whim W’him’s Approaching Ecstasy. The 86-minutes of music was composed by Eric Banks in a Paris attic, and the poems sung a capella (again, for 86 minutes, in English and in Greek) by his 40+ member Esoterics, some of whom danced on stage as well. Banks wrote the music to 18 sensuous poems by the 19th century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (the audience is treated to just 18 of the hundreds of superb poems Cavafy wrote). It took the composer, choreographer, and other members of the production team four years to get all those artists on stage – well worth the wait for such a memorable performance.

The astounding concert featured the haunting music of Banks and vocal performance by his Esoterics, Seattle masters of contemporary a cappella. The choral setting that Banks provided for Cavafy’s erotic poems was, quite literally, a masterpiece – 18 vignettes, with Wevers’ 18 pieces of choreography – a rightful homage to the closeted gay poet. Every detail of the performance paid tribute to this 19th century quiet man-hero, who lived his life in an office, in a business suit (similar to the one the 53 performers wear on stage). The eerie scenic design, the underplayed overhead lighting, the gut wrenching music expertly played by the St Helens String Quartet (led by the magnificent Michael Jinsoo Lim) – all were utterly remarkable At the premiere, the music and chorus were beautifully amped and the dance was understated, striking.

Wonder how this will play in Europe.

For dancer Lucien Postlewaite, this was his last performance for Whim W’him (and husband Olivier Wevers) as a Seattleite (he joins Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in August). Their professional and love relationship is so strong, it is clear it will thrive, even as a multicontinental one (see my articles in February (http://dancemagazine.com/issues/February-2012/Putting-a-ring-on-it) and July (forthcoming) issues of Dance Magazine. For now, Wevers focuses on his major upcoming gig at the Joyce, and commissions worldwide – while young Lucien is Europe-bound.

Ecstasy. It was indeed provided by dancers Jim Kent, Tory Peil, Shane Ohmer, Lucien Postlewaite, Andrew Bartee, Chalnessa Eames, and Kaori Nakamura (who, herself, plays the ephemeral ecstatic state). Kudos to these daring dancers and their inspired choreographer. Anastasia Armes costumed the huge stage ensemble, Jeff Forbes created the 19th-century feel and singular ambience, and Casey Curran set the stage for a shocking piece that deserves a five-year run in some theater, in some lucky city, in some welcoming country.

For more on Seattle dance, see http://www.dancemagazine.com/reviews/January-2011/Whim-WHim and http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/January-2011/Seattle-Takes-Off).

A shorter version of this review appears at http://www.4dancers.org/
olivier

Seattle’s PNB: Where dance science and dance aesthetics meet

April 10th, 2012

Don Quixote represents the impossible dream in a number of ways — in classical ballet, it carries the most demanding of roles for the endless tricks and the merciless stamina demands (especially with big jumps, hopping on pointe, and the wickedly fast speed requirements). Buried in the pyrotechnics, though, is the most lovely of moves. See bold below (excerpts from Don Quixote review and feature, Dance International, forthcoming).

The technical proficiency of the casts made the entire performance very easy to watch each time – the acting made it positively enjoyable. The returning Kitris (Imler and Nakamura had performed the role 11 years ago in an earlier production at PNB) indeed made a big splash. Carrie Imler appeared absolutely vital on stage, smoothly accomplishing the signature Kitri move – a grand jeté with back leg bending to reach the head. Put a tutu on Imler (as in Act III) and she channels 19th century classical ballet with ease…….

Leads Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite offered a partnership of impeccable timing and skill. Nakamura performed something rare to see in ballet, the “floating illusion — a grand jeté with the dancer appearing to move in a horizontal direction, due to the timely positioning of her arms. For Nakamura and Postlewaite, their overhead one-arm lifts together looked effortless, Nakamura daringly removed both hands, suspending precariously in mid air on the arm of Postlewaite – Nakamura then waved her fan as if to taunt the astonished audience.

See Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, Ch. 3, for more.