First Glance at Mark Morris’s Kammermusik No. 3 (and More) at PNB
The good news is that if you are late to McCaw Hall, Pacific Northwest Ballet has arranged the All Premiere program (through November 11) so that the two pieces with the most to say to each other follow the first intermission. Mark Morris’s new work, Kammermusik No. 3, takes as its title the name of the music Morris has chosen for the dance, Paul Hindemith’s cello concerto, while Kiyon Gaines, for Sum Stravinsky, has turned his ear to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks. Both have been accused of neoclassical output, but Hindemith was German, and at the time of Oaks, Stravinsky was a French citizen, living in Paris.
Picking up on that neoclassicism, Morris has PNB’s dancers open the work with statuesque poses–arms outstretched in unbroken line, palms flat–that resolve into what I came to think of as the Archer (one arm arcing behind, one arm slicing forward: a bow and arrow). They’re in Mark Zappone’s dark legging-trousers, with red tunics, against a wash of rosy backdrop (almost harsh downward lighting by Michael Chybowski carves them out in haut relief).
There’s a tense sprightliness to Hindemith’s music (a restless piccolo, a note worried over in the violins) that in retrospect feels premonitorily pre-war. The very precise Carrie Imler has everyone lined in (shifting) formations. Morris at times uses the stage as a sort of scrolling score, with dancers leaping in from the wings to dance a phrase, and leaping back off when it’s done. The synchronization is so acute that when, suddenly, a line of male dancers jetés diagonally across the stage through a second group of dancers, it generates a strongly visceral thrill.
As the dance progresses through its four movements, a black “curtain” descends at the intervals to smother rosy-fingered dawn, until rising again for the final movement. The dancers aren’t aware of that, they form triplets, little human machines for lifting and jumping. Then, one after another, they drop suddenly to the floor, and the living regard them curiously, wait for them to get back up. That they do is bemusing.
I don’t want to overstate the historical context for Hindemith’s music (Emil de Cou conducts a brilliant performance, with gorgeous cello solos from Page Smith, and some terrific–and achingly exposed–work from the horns). The classical line tends to stoicism–all of this has happened before, will happen again. Morris, returning to those Grecian urn gestures, finds that sublime.
Kiyon Gaines gives his dancers all the leaping anyone could want in Sum Stravinsky, an altogether accomplished work that takes as its inspiration the choreography, says Gaines in his notes, of Balanchine and Stowell. This is a popular line to take with a PNB crowd, but the proof is there onstage. Everything is bright “Balanchine blue” or shades thereof, Pauline Smith’s trim, perky costumes updating the tutu’d look. Gaines, a PNB dancer himself, has placed his colleagues in duos, like jewels in dance settings perfectly suited to them: Carrie Imler and Jonathan Poretta, Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz, Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold. Yet, there’s Morris in it, too–Chapman’s arms stretch out the length of a violin’s bowing, once, twice. (Morris, who was sitting in front of me, was obviously engaged with the piece, seat-dancing out a few of the movements for Chapman and Rausch–and hunching his shoulders as if scolding himself for burbling aloud.) There’s no expression “joie de bleu,” but Sum Stravinsky might require its invention.
Andrew Bartee’s arms that work has a rubberbandy set that reminds you of how elastic Bartee is as a dancer. The choreography, to spiky music by Barret Anspach, is more a question of a wall and the opportunity to see what sticks. But Kaori Nakamura, in her weightless, steely pas de deux with James Moore, astounds once again. Bartee’s approach is hyper-modern: modern, but hyper. Shoulders wriggled seem like they must be close to dislocation; hips, cocked, want to shoot off in different directions. There’s an improvisatory feel to the dancers’ interactions with the set, but there’s also a chilling moment when one becomes tangled in the bands–you’re initially watching someone else, and it’s only when they fall still that you notice someone is caught.
Margaret Mullin’s sentimental Lost in Light (music by Dan Coleman) is given background by a program note that you might not otherwise grasp from a determinedly pretty dance, with fine work by Laura Gilbreath and Chelsea Adomaitis, and Carli Samuelson and Gaines. Mullin credits Antony Tudor as a major choreographic influence, so I think that dance mavens may find her work more interesting than a general audience. Here the issue is simply a lack of tension (conceptual or dramatic)–it’s more of a tone poem featuring a single, attractive tone.