Every year, one of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertory programs is titled Director’s Choice, in which artistic director Peter Boal programs three of his favorites plus one new work.
This year, he describes it as “four examples of sublime expression and emotion…,” and it began Friday night with four works choreographed by Susan Stroman, Susan Marshall, Molissa Fenley and Alejandro Cerrudo, the last-named with a newly commissioned piece.
I’m not sure I would describe them the way he has, though the first three are diverse in object, idea and execution. Stroman’s TAKE FIVE…More or Less is a lighthearted charmer describing what goes on in the minds and bodies of dancers when they have a five minute rest period. Its six women, each in a different color, and five men have different ideas, but the standouts in Friday’s performance were Kaori Nakamura in yellow, flitting lightly as a hummingbird, Lesley Rausch in purple who suggested the sexier side of things, and Kiyon Gaines with a hat and a little soft shoe routine.
This however was the only brightly colored part of the program. Susan Marshall’s Kiss is less actual dance than 25 ways for jean-clad teenagers to embrace when each is suspended from a rope. Arvo Part’s music is hypnotic and the slow swinging becomes meditative as the two dancers come apart and together. This atmosphere is achieved only by perfect timing, and considerable body strength on the part of the dancers. On Friday these were James Moore and Carla Korbes, held only by a waist harness at the fulcrum of their bodies. Where most kids would have feet on the ground most of the time, these two are holding their bodies more often in the air.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring needs little introduction to many concertgoers, and several have created ballets based on it. Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness is different. In lengthy program notes, she describes how she fell in love with the music and listened to it as she did her home warm-up routines in a shadowy room, gradually realizing she was actually choreographing a work for herself. It is an androgynous piece, so that it worked equally well for Jonathan Porretta, who danced it Friday.
It’s basically abstract movement, story-less and quite long, but mesmerizing to watch in the body of someone as fine a dancer as Porretta.
Wearing only black tights as he moved in and out of the shadows, it was possible to see how he uses his diaphragm to anchor the core of his body and breathing, giving him the solid base and freedom to create music in his movement, often deceptively easy-looking but anything but in practice. His bare feet seem to peel off the floor giving him further grounding. It’s strong music and strong choreography, a challenging work met triumphantly in this performance.
Lastly we had the new work commissioned for this program by Cerrudo. Titled Memory Glow, it has seven men and three women, with 18 floor lights as three sides of an oblong on stage. These are used changeably, not the only lighting, but in general the stage is dimly lit. With the men in black pants and tops and the women in bikini bottoms and neutral tops, it was quite hard to see much detail especially when the men were dancing in unison towards the back of the stage.
The work is in several parts to music of various composers, all recorded, including one long violin and one long cello solo. In several parts couples take the lead though not simultaneously, sometimes mirroring moves done earlier elsewhere on stage. Much of the time the men are racing around, and in the second part, there is a disturbing sense of violence–intended or not is not made clear—as the men lift, drag and otherwise dance vigorously with one woman.
It is not, so far, a work which sticks in the mind as memorably as the first three on the program. And with only the first work on the program in colors, it would have been nice not to have three works consecutively dressed in drab.