Pacific Northwest Ballet Review: Program 2
November 12, 2020 | Digital
I had very high expectations for this evening’s performance after my experience watching PNB’s first program of the season. Unfortunately, my engagement waned with each subsequent piece of the company’s Rep 2 showing, but that isn’t a reflection of the dancers at all as they fall nothing short of top notch. For me it comes down to perhaps a few factors, listed in no particular order of significance: the selection of works, the flow of the program, and personal preference.
My instinct in defense of the latter point is to say that if a dance is not mostly ballet-based, it isn’t for me. Yet my enthusiasm for Tulsa Ballet’s Creations Reimagined and Ballet Arizona’s Inspire offerings, as well as Marco Goecke’s Mopey and Albert Evan’s One Body that appeared on PNB’s opener would defy that argument.
Which leads me to the first two options which go hand in hand. Over the last few years it has become commonplace that ballet companies curate programs in which female choreographers are the protagonists. One in which the roster lists Penny Saunders, Twyla Tharp, Susan Marshall, and Jessica Lang would seem a sure winner, but something about the selection of pieces for Rep 2 just doesn’t work for me.
Organizing a dance production is no easy feat and there is no direct science applied to the process; it’s more so that creative instinct and knowledge along with resolution of logistical challenges are required. And this time, the result doesn’t feel like a cohesive package.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Digital Season: Rep 2 Trailer
Penny Saunders’ Wonderland is a world premiere made-for-film piece that in the choreographer’s own words “pays homage to the marvel and magic of live theater”. She successfully achieves the sense of… wonder… with a montage of surrealistic scenes throughout the theatre employing viewpoints and locations not typically occupied by dancers.
The cast of eight appear not only on the stage but in the orchestra pit and audience with visual transitions achieved by panning of the empty house. One movement is even filmed from the rafters showing three women dancing such that the stage floor is the support for their torsos. Saunders’ creative vision is at once beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing no doubt in part due to incredible cinematography and videography teams.
The two middle works are excerpts from Waterbaby Bagatelles by Twyla Tharp and Susan Marshall’s Arms. The former is a quick five-minute romp of successive male solos being observed and admired by three bathing capped ladies. It is fun and entertaining although the excessive amount of different cuts needed in order to adhere to safety regulations is a little dizzying.
Arms – as the title implies – features brachial choreography conveying the sometimes loving at times discordant emotions of a couple donned in dark pants and sleeveless light colored shirts. It is set to Luis Resto’s rapid electronic pulsing music (think “Stranger Things”) and the result of both the visual and audio repetitiveness causes this reviewer to simply tune out.
Regrettably, Jessica Lang’s world premiere of Ghost Variations does not draw me back in. Robert Schumann’s piano composition which inspires the title and storyline of the ballet, complemented by a couple of his wife’s works, produces a monotonous effect that not even the dynamic energy of the dancers nor the special lighting effects can break. The choreography, too, feels a bit mundane, but perhaps that is due to its musical pairing?
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Rep 2 streams through November 16. For more information about that program and the others in their 20/21 Digital Season, check out the calendar below.
Featured Photo for Pacific Northwest Ballet Review: Lost Outside of Wonderland of Elizabeth Murphy in Penny Saunders’ Wonderland © Lindsay Thomas
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