Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Plot Points Review
April 1, 2022 | Digital
Think of a graph, undulating up and down through the progression of time. Points along the path will spur change or adjustment but always in a forward direction.
Pacific Northwest Ballet takes on the challenge of abstract storytelling through their program Plot Points, presenting three contemporary works. While it is unclear if they are meant to represent three points in one story, two are connected by images of the past and the last stands out as a beacon of the future, each section brings its own synopsis to the table.
A world premiere by Robyn Mineko Williams, Before I Was feels both atemporal and engulfed in the theme of time. Although the period may be unknown, it is very clearly an exploration of the past, particularly the time of childhood.
Two children start huddled on the floor playing Slapsies, (one individual tries to sneakily slap the back of their opponent’s hands), also carrying flashlights, they wave their torches to the audience, signifying a transition. A pair of adult dancers take their place in the same outfits (boxy garments in solid colors designed by Hogan McLaughlin) and the frame of a house materializes. Andrew Boyce and Mineko Williams’ set design is clean and minimal, a door frame, a roof, a large square for the garage.
One of the most interesting aspects was the music, at first giving off Aaron Copland vibes but then morphing into vocal accompaniment. The dancers were joined on stage by Macie Stewart & Sima Cunningham (formerly known as OHMME), who provided poetic vocalizations. Donning safari-like outfits, the singers often acted like they were on a safari, hiding safely in the house while tiger cubs tousled in the dry grass.
Much of the dancing took place on or around a chair. The steps clunkily rolled into one another, each a new variation of how two dancers could incorporate a chair into their physicality. The result is a bit flat but the sweet nostalgia of the piece brought optimism to the space and Williams’ use of contact is intriguing.
The namesake for the program, Crystal Pite’s Plot Point could be mistaken for a David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock crossover.
In fact, the piece is set to Bernard Hermann’s hair-raising score from the movie Psycho, although it does not take on the same story. Set designs by Jay Gower Taylor were elegant and domineering, standing out especially so when a grove of large, barren trees lowered from the ceiling. The lighting was also fabulously done by Alan Brodie, noticeable in the same moment, the trees casting eerie shadows that crept up the stage like long fingers.
Each dancer had a duplicate, danced by a person in head-to-toe white costumes (designed by Nancy Bryant) including faces concealed behind white masks. These “other” figures moved in static gestures, stiff and robotic, as if attempting to act human.
The piece featured chase scenes, violence, weapons, briefcases full of money, and other plot devices synonymous with film noir and old Hollywood.
Although recognizable as a story in some parts, the numerous characters made it difficult to follow the narrative which is perhaps the purpose. Heavy in theatrics, the dancing became subdued, almost a background element. The most successful dance sequence was achieved in a kitchen scene between a housewife and her “other” counterpart, where the tension bounced across the dancers like reflected light between two mirrors.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Plot Points Trailer
Capping off the evening was Justin Peck’s emphatic The Times are Racing. The urgent score from Dan Deacon’s “USA I–IV” from the album America, is a character all on its own, egging the dancers forward.
A “sneaker ballet”, there is a level of familiarity to the group of twenty dancers, clad in slouchy streetwear by Humberto Leon. The tone is revelatory, as if the dancers are at the edge of enlightenment, breaking through societal burdens, charging ahead in a band of like-minded individuals. It’s both rushed and contained, much like the signature Peck move where a dancer explodes in a fast fury only to suspend an elongated shape. The effect gives the movement breath and life, air floats around limbs as if in slow motion.
Acting the leader of the group, Kyle Davis gave a committed and athletic performance, even managing to get more fired up in his last sequence where he is surely most tired.
In a moment of tranquility, an introspective pas de deux takes place in the chaos, alluringly danced by Elizabeth Murphy and Lucien Postlewaite. PNB’s undertaking of the intense piece is notable, bringing pockets of brightness throughout but the delivery is a bit too soft in some areas that required more electricity.
Featured Photo of Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Crystal Pite’s Plot Point. Photo © Angela Sterling.
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