PNB Opens Mixed Bill Thursday Night at McCaw

PNB's Petit Mort Photo Courtesy Angela Sterling

PNB's Petite Mort Photo Courtesy Angela Sterling

Between two full -length ballets — “Romeo et Juliette” and “The Nutcracker” — Pacific Northwest Ballet is offering a a set of 20h-century works, two dating from the latter half of the 20th century and another two from the past couple of years.

The company has committed itself to new works, adding one piece after another in rapid succession. All the works on this mixed bill, which opened Thursday night at McCaw Hall, were introduced to PNB in the past four years. Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort” and  Val Caniparoli”s “The Seasons” were making their bows on Thursday.

Kylian, the Czech-born choreographer but made his career in The Netherlands, is not as admired in the United States as he is in Europe, which is our loss. PNB is not much different in coming to the table late. “Petite Mort” is the first Kylian work to become part of the company’s repertory. The piece for six couples is a superb introduction. It is a little forbidding, a touch exotic and wholly compelling, not only in terms of the choreography per se but in relationship to music — the slow movements from two Mozart piano concertos — lighting design, costumes and set design. Nothing is off or off-putting. It possesses stateliness coupled with modernity. Kylian’s idea is to present a series of duets, but not duets entirely in the conventional sense of the world. The opening scene, for instance, are men whose partners are rapiers. They dance with the long, slender sword, sometimes even on the floor, sometimes swinging them around,  I suppose, a version of whirling the girl around. Later women appear in long, back dresses that are described in the program as baroque dresses, except the dressed are stand-alones with which  the women can do their own duet. Words do not adequately convey the originality of Kilian’s ideas in this piece or their visual and aural impact. The use of the two slow movements of Mozart is a stroke of genius.

When Marco Goecke’s “Mopey” for a single dancer was first seen in Seattle, it was a sensation, particularly as a vehicle for James Moore. He was not well-known at the time, but he became so immediately. The choreographer is a young, German talent with an ear to the ground for contemporary sensibilities. He also has a sense of wit, combining a cello concerto of C.P.E. Bach with the 80’s rock band The Cramps. The work is edgy, sometimes poignant, both fierce and lyrical. It is also just a little mad. Nothing works unless the dancer makes it work. Moore does. He has range and physical vigor, taking over the entire stage. He never seems small or overwhelmed. But he doesn’t overplay his hand. One sees the innate shyness as well as the boldness. His performances was a tour de force.

When PNB first performed Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story Suite” in March, the dancers were outside the piece. They got most of the steps didn’t possess them. They did Thursday night. The performance seemed to rock the place, if one can use the term. Led by Seth Orza, as Riff, the leader of the Jets, and Karel Cruz, Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, the opposing gangs and their girls gave life and meaning to Robbins’ choreography and Bernstein’s music. The dancers’ versatility is rarely tested to this degree, but they got the mood and substance of the work. Bravo to all.

Caniparoli’s “The Seasons’ was the premiere of the night. It was a vast disappointment. There was a of movement in every direction seemingly to no end. The score, by Alexander Glazunov, is equally dreary.  I can’t image whey anyone would want to do a piece set to this music because it offers so little of interest to the choreographer. Caniparoli, who has contributed much to PNB’s repertory, fell into routine in ways I had not seen. He had good dancers at his disposal, although they did not always seems at full attention. Dancers in leading role included such luminaries as Lucien Postlewaite, Kaori Nakamura, Ariana Lallone and Karel Cruz, who rose above the material and gave splendid performances.

The performance marked the beginning of the post-Stewart Kershaw era. After the close of “Romeo” earlier in the fall, he announced his retirement as music director of the company. Founding the PNB Orchestra, he has been a steady hand for 25 years. In a note in the program, he said he had been a professional ballet conductor for the past 43 years. The orchestra has never sounded better and must be one of the best in the country. That is all due to Kershaw. In another note, PNB artistic director Peter Boal said Kershaw would return to the pit in June for a proper goodbye. That is good news. He deserves no less. Alan Dameron, now acting music director, was on the podium Thursday night. He conducted, as usual, well.

Performances continue through Nov. 15.

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