Friday night saw the opening of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s latest repertory program, works by two unusually creative choreographers, Jiri Kylian and Crystal Pite. The former is from Prague, well known for decades of work at Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT): the latter, from Victoria, B.C., is a generation younger, an associate choreographer for NDT who danced and created in Europe before forming her own company, Vancouver-based Kidd Pivot.
Two Kylian works danced Friday have previously been presented here; Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, both part of his “Black and White” series from the 1980s. Each displays aspects of sexual politics and is rife with humor, which appears as interludes in Petite Mort but is deliciously overt in Sechs Tänze. There are no pointe shoes here, and Kylian’s dance vocabulary includes sharp-edged angles and contractions. There are none of the long-limbed reaches so familiar in classical ballet, no floating in the air. Lifts are more weighted. Particularly in Sechs Tänze, the action is swift and clever, but in both dances, Kylian creates kaleidoscopes of movement.
While both were danced with PNB’s usual style and aplomb, there was more zip in the performance of Sechs Tänze. Dancers were mostly unrecognizable in their wigs and zany hairstyles except by their typical movement style. Thus, Jonathan Porretta stood out for his trademark speed matched with vibrancy, as did Carrie Imler, whose innate sense of rhythm and timing serves her particularly well in grounded works like these.
Kylian’s third work, Forgotten Land, is new to PNB. While the first two dances were set to Mozart’s elegant music, Land is set to parts of Benjamin Britten’s 1940 “Sinfonia da Requiem.” The backdrop of roiling clouds, the light changing all the time with occasional patches of sun. This is a deeply evocative dance, the costumes an echo of Martha Graham in red, white and black, the movement conjuring up images different for different watchers. Britten was thinking of the wide flatness of England’s East Anglia, where he was born, and which, at the beginning of WWII when he was composing, was being heavily built over by military bases. Kylian was considering the land also, how it continually changes according to human or natural onslaught.
Here, he uses a dozen body angles to create a sense of abandon or stress as his six couples relate to each other. After hearing the background of the music, I saw the anxiety and fear of the unknown that permeated everything and everybody in 1939, in that front parlor to war as it might reach England. To another viewer, it spoke of the wide open prairies.
Jerome Tisserand and Rachel Foster, the couple in black, danced with a kind of fusion which was moving in its emotional intensity. It was hard to take eyes off them when they were on stage. Kylee Kitchens and William Lin-Yee, the couple in white, provided a contrasting cooler fluidity which was a pleasure to watch. The whole is a work I’d gladly watch again immediately, there is so much depth to its character.
Last on the program came Pite’s Emergence, an extraordinary work which stretches boundaries yet is unmistakably dance. In her choreography she had in mind a swarm of bees and the individual influences in the swarm which direct its course. It was set to electronic music by Owen Belton, sometimes with a pulsing beat, but much of the time with a penetrating arrhythmic sound not easy to listen to. Jay Gower’s brilliant, simple set of what could be willow leaves whirling into a vortex with a tunnel in the midst, with equally superb shadowy lighting by Alan Brodie, added much to this fascinating conception for a work.
Thirty-six dancers, 19 women, 17 men — the majority of the PNB company — danced as a crowd which was always changing, some small groups leaving, others coming from the wings or through the tunnel one way or the other, backlit. At the start, one dancer, barely lit, rose from the floor using shoulder blades, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, back, hips, and knees, creating an uncanny insect-like resemblance.
At one point, Pite has all 19 female dancers in a row highstepping their way across the stage and rejecting the men who rush towards them individually. They remind one irresistibly of a Rockette line.
PNB director Peter Boal, since his arrival here in 2005, has consistently challenged his dancers to discover new aspects of dance and to stretch their abilities in different directions. They have responded magnificently and this well-designed rep program is evidence of what he is achieving. Don’t miss it!
The program runs through November 17.