Pacific Northwest Ballet Review: Rep 4
April 1, 2021 | Digital
Over a year after most companies shut down, we find ourselves in a new norm of streaming. Where once we would interpret live performances as reflections of our own lives, we now literally see our reflections looking back at us in the dark screens we stream on.
But digital performances have their positives. They have proved to not only be vital for the survival of ballet companies but also opened new connections and explorations. East Coast and West Coast can see the same show and choreographers across the globe have dipped their toes into cinematography.
Pacific Northwest Ballet has been dishing out solid performances this entire season and April 1, 2021 marked the first night of PNB’s Rep 4 program. Running through April 5th, the program is a triple bill with works by Donald Byrd, Alejandro Cerrudo, and Alexei Ratmansky.
Introducing the evening is a segment named Five Minute Call which includes a “peek backstage at the artists, musicians, and crew preparing the performance”. Set to the recognizable score from the movie The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly it shows the journey from studio to stage. It leads us straight into the first piece choreographed by Byrd with music by John Adams, And the sky is not cloudy all day.
The scene opens on an empty stage except for a square screen depicting a flat prairie. Men in jeans, boots, and cowboy hats (costumes by Doris Black) emerge one by one in a tense silence. The music begins and thigh slaps just short of a verbal “yeehaw” abound.
Typical Western caricatures are interjected between difficult steps made even more difficult by the heeled boots. Props to the dancers for doing double tours and en dehor fouettés in those. At one point a dancer breaks the fourth wall by removing his hat and dropping an eye glistening cowboy smirk – one could almost hear a deep-bellied “howdy” echo across the theater.
Although lacking intricacies at times and perhaps too much simple symmetry, it remains a romance of the Old West; a childhood myth revisited.
As an interlude between pieces, we are shown a beautiful trumpet solo by Libby Larsen and performed by Sarah Viens, Fanfare for the Women. Filmed in February 2021, Sarah is a lone musician in a high vaulted made-for-acoustics room, perhaps the orchestra’s rehearsal area.
Dancers are nothing without the music and focusing on the talented musicians often hidden in the orchestra pit is always a good idea.
Next up is Future Memory by Cerrudo, PNB’s Resident Choreographer.
A faint audio recording of a man talking to his psychiatrist opens the scene, a grey square hovers overhead. Two dancers stand face to face in soft, pewter-toned velvet costumes from designer Mark Zappone. The speaking fades into a mix of several almost recognizable melodies from Bach to motion picture tracks.
Fluid, reciprocal, and gymnastic, the movements are transfixing. Dancers Elle Macy and Dylan Wald display grounded pliés and licorice string spines which they ripple and curl with ease. Their solos each begin with superhuman balances, Wald in a headstand and Macy balancing on the arch of her foot.
Eventually Macy and Wald disappear into darkness and are replaced with another couple, Leah Terada and Miles Pertl. They also showcase their strength and willowy-ness in a similar pas de deux.
Cerrudo choreographs with an exquisite vocabulary and admirable vulnerability. Breathy and synchronized, one move becomes the next and one person becomes the other. He builds a beautiful reciprocating movement not in the way contact improv is sometimes too forceful but more like two drops of water continuously spilling over each other, never quite dissolving.
Last is Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Named after the music, Modest Mussorgsky’s incredibly popular and recognizable suite of ten pieces, the dance achieves a charm matching the score.
Inspired by a walk through an art gallery, the choreography, sets, and costumes all echo the music perfectly. Mussorgsky originally composed the score in response to his friend Viktor Hartmann’s artwork although the set does not include any of his works. Projected across the backdrop is Wassily Kandinsky’s whimsical painting Color Study Squares with Concentric Circles, designed by Wendall K. Harrington. Costumes by Adeline André reflect the whimsy with bright colors and sheer overlays.
This piece was recorded live in 2017 and as always, it is refreshing to hear the audience and see the stage as one might from a creaky velvet-covered auditorium seat. To dance Pictures (and really any Ratmansky work) one must be ready to dance wide with a horizontal strength and the dancers deliver by moving with daring gusto and making bold choices.
The women’s quartet and the men’s quintet were most interesting. The tribe of women danced like exclamation marks and the men a group of kids in a tree house. Ratmansky is a master of canons and the asymmetry in this piece is just so pleasing although he tends to rely on “peasant dancing” commonly found in the older classical story ballets. Sometimes they work in his abstract pieces, sometimes not. This one works and makes for a playful experience.
Throughout, Ratmansky matches the movements to the music beginning with a startling brightness, reaching a deep low, and then a strong, fervent push to end it. If it is possible to build momentum atop momentum, Ratmansky does.
PNB’s Rep 4 triple bill is nostalgic, sublime, and flirtatious. A true mixed program, it has a bit of everything and maybe when you see a glimmer of your reflection on the screen, a bit of you.
Featured Photo for this Pacific Northwest Ballet review of company dancers Noah Martzall and Christopher D’Ariano in Donald Byrd’s And the sky is not cloudy all day ©AngelaSterlingPhoto
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