Pacific Northwest Ballet Rep 1 Review: Carmina Burana
October 6, 2022 | Digital
2022 marks Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 50th anniversary season. Fifty years of upholding technical standards, driving innovation with new works, and delivering quality in their homage to the classics. The virtuosic company captures the hearts of Seattleites every year. I’ve mentioned this before but the Seattle audience seems to buzz with pride when they watch their company and that feeling translates to the screen.
Artistic Director Peter Boal shared three principal promotions with the audience. The dancers were brought in front of the curtain, Boal gave a small speech on each of their accomplishments and unique qualities, before giving them flowers and letting them bow to the crowd.
I like the idea of sharing promotions live with the audience, inviting them in, expanding the company family beyond the curtain.
A triple bill of three works, the Rep 1 program is anchored by an hour-long Carmina Burana. But opening the show was George Balanchine’s bright Allegro Brillante which PNB looks fantastic in. The dancers are at home in the spritely, dynamic, musical work imitating the notes on a music sheet, precise and exact. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score is pulsing with emotion and stamina, a stellar opener.
In traditional Balanchine fashion, the short work is non-traditional in format. The curtain goes up on an already dancing group of eight dancers and what follows is a hurried flow of ensemble dance, solos, and pas de deux in no particular order.
Balanchine said that Allegro “contains everything I know about classical ballet – in thirteen minutes”.
Any Balanchine bunhead will recognize a few steps from his other ballets, but they’ve been expertly sewn in amongst playful canons and mellifluous adagio.
Leading the group were the exceptional Angelica Generosa and Jonathan Batista. Generosa is flirtatious with her balances, in the best way, seemingly stealing time from the score and Batista is fastidious yet does not give up performance quality for precision. The pair bounce beaming smiles between one another and their partnering is secure, trustworthy. Allegro encompasses so much of what PNB is good at and with Balanchine using everything he knew about classical ballet, it’s the strong companies that shine in this demanding piece.
Alexei Ratmansky grew up in Ukraine and has been an outspoken opponent of the war Russia is waging – he regularly brings a small Ukrainian flag on stage for his bows, gloriously holding it in the air, a stalwart supporter of peace. We’ve seen the effects of the war ripple through the dance community through stories of young dancers fleeing Ukraine, Russian dancers leaving their companies in protest, and dancers becoming soldiers to defend their country.
Ratmansky’s new work "Wartime Elegy", his first creation since the war broke out, gets right to the heart of the Ukrainian people. It is not a shy metaphor; it is a message laden in truth.
Opening on three couples laying on the floor, a sketched human form on the backdrop, and the wistful piano and strings from Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, the tone is somber. The female dancers don floor length black mesh dresses and the male dancers are in long-sleeve black leotards designed by Moritz Junge.
Arabesque is the repeated theme step, a one-legged balance requiring strength and concentration to hold. The dancers lean out of their square arabesques into precarious penchés, the body leans forward, the leg points upward, making it more and more difficult to hold onto. Perhaps a metaphor of tenacity in war.
In contrast to the darkness of the opening, the dancers re-enter the stage for the second section in Ukrainian folk wear – blousy shirts, bright flower crowns. Ukrainian folk music reverberates loud and proud. Scenic designs by Wendall K. Harrington included backdrop artwork by Maria Prymachenko which was bright and floral, sometimes featuring the caricature of a man with a balalaika instrument, and sometimes abstract human forms by Matvei Vaisberg.
The four male dancers (Lucien Postlewaite, Luther DeMyer, Kuu Sakuragi, James Kirby Rogers) fly around the stage. A display of bravura, character dance, and humor, Ratmansky showcases the beautiful, rich culture of the Ukrainian people.
The women have a sweet dance with bounding jetés, hops on pointe, and friendly skipping. But the gloomy Silvestrov score interrupts the festivities and the men return in their black leotards. Like a flame put out on a candle, it’s clear we’ve seen Ukraine the way it was and the way it is now. Ratmansky returns to the arabesque, using it tie the piece together. The dancers lay on the floor as they did when the piece began, but this time one dancer remains in arabesque. A beacon of hope.
Carmina Burana, the title of the triple bill and the bulk of the evening coming in at about an hour, is a primal, sacred number to a score of the same quality. A cantata, or vocal composition, composed by Carl Orff and based off 24 medieval poems, it follows no distinct story but rather encompasses several themes from fortune to the return of Spring to the perils of lust and gluttony.
Despite lacking a clear story, the score is well-known, especially for its opening and closing number “O, Fortuna” (go look it up, you have definitely heard it). The music is the star of the piece; the tenor, baritone, and soprano solo singers are stupendous and the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union chorus sounds beautifully haunting.
Scenic design by Ming Cho Lee features a gargantuan wheel hovering above the stage which rotates and raises and lowers for different numbers.
Kent Stowell’s choreography is nothing too creative nor offensive, it accompanies the music but does not overshadow the glorious score.
The highpoint is a pas de deux between Lesley Rausch and Postlewaite to a beautiful aria by the soprano singer, Maria Mannisto. The dancers are seemingly bare, in nude unitards designed by Theoni V. Aldredge, and Rausch with her long hair flowing down her back, it evokes an Adam and Eve primality. Sometimes the most delightful moments are those of simplicity: an airy stage and sublime music.
Rep 1 was a wonderful mixture of styles all capably performed by the versatile dancers – a great opener for their 50th season. I can’t wait to see what PNB does next.
Featured Photo for this Pacific Northwest Ballet Rep 1 review of principal dancers Elizabeth Murphy and Lucien Postlewaite in the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Wartime Elegy. Photo © Angela Sterling.
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