Pacific Northwest Ballet opens new season

By R.M. Campbell

Despite the gloom of the economy and its effect on American culture from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its current season Friday night at McCall Hall with splendid dancing and splendid choreography.

This is the first year after the company decided, as a means of reducing expenses, to combine opening night, usually on Thursday, with the subsequent Friday night. According to officials, Thursday night was the least attended and the most popular night for trading. Undoubtedly many people complained: No one likes to move involuntarily. Yet, the task was completed and the house looked good. Certainly it was enthusiastic, clapping and laughing at every possible moment.

There were two local premieres on the program. Since Peter Boal’s arrival, he has brought seemingly dozens of new works and new choreographers to PNB., including some of the leading lights of the ballet world. This season there will be four, plus a new staging of “Giselle,” which has never been performed by PNB. Marco Goecke, the author of “Mopey,” returns for a world premiere, and the leading Russian choreographer and former artistic director of the Boshoi, Alexei Ratmansky, much in demand, makes his local debut with “Concerto DSCH.” PNB audiences, like most audiences, like the splendor of full-length ballets, and they have made their wishes known. So, in addition to “Giselle” and the usual “Nutcracker,” Kent Stowell’s “Cinderella” returns as does George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The other program is devoted entirely to Twyla Tharp. Two works were premiered by PNB a couple seasons ago — “Opus III” and “Afternoon Ball.” The third, “Waterbaby Bagatelles,” was given its local premiere four years ago.

Jiri Kylian is now getting the kind of recognition at PNB that he deserves. “Petite Mort” was first seen in Seattle last season to considerable acclaim. “Sechs Tanze” (“Six Dances”), a PNB premiere, was paired with “Petite Mort” Friday night. Each was premiered by Kylian’s company, Nederlands Dans Theater. Both come from Mozart — “Petite Mort,” the slow movements of two of the composer’s most celebrated piano concertos (K. 488 and K. 467), and “Sechs Tanze,” “Six German Dances” (K. 571) — not only for the music itself but also its sensibility.

Each has moments of humor and each has a tie to the world of opera. However, “Petite Mort” couples wit with mystery and relies on being inexplicable. It is novel: men dancing with fencing foils and women engaged with huge black ball gowns. The whole affair is one of shadows, of light and dark playing off each other. “Sechs Tanze” lives in another world. It is white and light and very funny, really an opera buffo played out in dance. As one dance quickly follows another, so too the scenes. They are all connected but quite separate. Each phrase is delicious and to be savored.

Both works were danced with charm and polish.

Nacho Duato’s “Jardi Tancat” (“Closed Garden”) was also given is world premiere by Nederlands Dans Theate, where Duato was a member of the company, in 1983. It came to Seattle 13 years later and has been a favorite part of the repertory ever since with several revivals. The company took the work to New York, where it was not appreciated. Alas. Always PNB dancers have taken to the intensity and expressiveness of the piece. It is as abstract as any Balanchine ballet, and tells its collective tale through a series of songs sung by Maria del Mar Bonet. This is not court dancing but dancing in and about the earth. It is warm and oozes the air of the Mediterranean. It was given a powerful and theatrical reading by PNB dancers.

One of the hallmarks of the Boal regime is the addition of ballets by Jerome Robbins. A major Robbins was added to the repertory Friday night: “Glass Pieces,” premiered in 1983 by New York City Ballet. Many choreographers have been attracted to Minimalist composers such as Philip Glass. PNB did a couple of pieces by Lucinda Childs probably 20 years ago. I liked them a lot but no one else did, or so it appeared, and they were dropped. “Glass PIeces,” is based on excerpts from “Glassworks” and “Akhnaten.” They are Glass in the full bloom of Minimalism, and how Robbins takes to that in “Glass Pieces” with its clean, clear spaces, the seemingly endless repetition of the same austere ideas and rigid tonality. Although Minimalism was a revolution during its heyday, the choreography to that music was not. It seemed to flower in that spare world.

“Glass Pieces” is in three parts, all carefully woven together. The music is some of Glass’ best. The first part is rather frenetic but in an amusing way, with two dancers dropping in and out of the action. The middle section, the slow movement, is lyrical and full of strange movement, with a central couple dancing against a backdrop of figures moving in a single line upstage. There is beauty here, soft and lush and ethereal. The last movement is the least successful. The dancing through out was first-class.

Comings and Goings: Three dancers were brought on stage to be congratulated on their promotions: Seth Orza, principal: Sarah Ricard Orza and Laura Gilbreath, soloist. PNB does these sorts of things so well, with nice words of praise from Boal and opulent presentation bouquets.

Dianne Chilgren, veteran company pianist and frequent soloist, it was announced has retired. A member of PNB for 25 years, she has done superb work and will be missed.

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