Archive for January, 2016

My favorite dance program of 2015 (Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet)

Saturday, 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

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Maria Chapman in Kiyon Gaines’ Sum Stravinsky, which PNB will present as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterlinge

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
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s The Calling, which PNB will be presenting as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.
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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
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
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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.
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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.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Crystal Pite’s Emergence, which PNB will present as part of a mixed rep with three other works, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers in Crystal Pite’s Emergence, presented as part of EMERGENCE, November 6 – 15, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling

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.

So You Think You Can Dance?

Tuesday, 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