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Defined movement: Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Regional Brilliance

By Mae G. Banner

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 20

 

Ah, Peter Boal. A rare dancer who moved with soul and intelligence, he retired last summer from the New York City Ballet to become artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, a long-time Seattle outpost of the Balanchine legacy. His exceptional dancing is our loss, but his leadership of PNB is the dance world’s gain.

PNB, with a quietly proud Boal at the helm, returned to Jacob’s Pillow last week after a 10-year absence from the East Coast. Actually, Boal chose 15 dancers from his 43-member company to perform three small-scale ballets including one by Balanchine, and a final stage-filling tour de force in which African music and Bach blended seamlessly.

If these dancers are representative of the whole group, Seattle is fortunate, indeed. Drawn from around the globe (Japan, Brazil, France, Belgium, Hawaii, Mongolia), many were trained, as Boal was, at New York City Ballet’s official School of American Ballet. They move together silkily, speaking the same dance language.

I wish some of this year’s new Diamond ballets at SPAC had looked like PNB’s The Piano Dance (2005), a ruby red ballet choreographed by Paul Gibson to a collage of short pieces from Chopin, John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti, Bartók, and Ginastera, all played live by Dianne Chilgren.

Duets, trios and a quartet of dancers showed immaculate classical technique, even when performing the most unusual moves. One example: From behind her partner, a woman swung her leg over the man’s extended arm like a waiter’s towel in a chic restaurant. Such insouciance—I couldn’t wait to see what she’d do next.

Ripple Mechanics (2005), choreographed by Sonia Dawson to deep vocal laments by Nina Simone (“Ne Me Quitte Pas”) and Jacqueline Fuentes was a muscle dance for three men and Carla Korbes, a dancer Boal discovered a few years ago in Brazil. He brought her into NYCB and she moved with him to PNB, another loss for the East Coast and gain for the west.

Korbes did a slow, stretchy duet with Batkhurel Bold, the choreography very modern and at ease with itself, while James Moore and Kiyon Gaines decorated the stage with serifs of their tree-trunk bare legs and made strong calligraphic shapes with their arms. All this took place in an abstract beach-like setting with four boxes draped with red fishnet and ambient sounds of ocean waves and distant rain.

The men would take turns dancing athletically with each other or with Korbes, then drift back to sit on one or another box and observe. The dance was small, sexy, abstract. The choreography made no pretense of matching the sadness of the music, yet, at one moment, a man fell to the ground in grief.

Balanchine’s Duo Concertant (1972) was a revelation. Danced by Louise Nadeau and the blond Apollo-looking Olivier Wevers, it was faster, edgier, clearer, more joyous, more romantic, with the dancers more attuned to the onstage musicians and to each other than in this summer’s account at SPAC by Darci Kistler and Nikolaj Hubbe.

We saw the dance in a new way, partly because the Pillow’s stage sets it off better than the expanse at SPAC, but, surely, also, because Boal is coaching his dancers to become instruments of Balanchine’s (and Stravinsky’s) intent. The dancers were fresh, chaste, moving with textbook perfection, but also with love and delicacy in this opalescent dance.

The full-company Lambarena (1995), made by Val Caniparoli to mixed music of Bach and traditional African drums, balafon, and chants, was all sunshine and clarity, the uplifted posture of ballet partnered with African arms that thrust forward and back from the shoulders, African pelvises that rolled from side to side. and hips that pulsed deliciously.

Before a bronze-colored backdrop, a full ensemble of dancers in African-printed wide skirts or tight knee-length pants kept the stage in constant movement, sustaining a high level of excitement. The ethereal Bach music was blended unabashedly with the African sounds in a rude contrast that, nevertheless, yielded an exciting new taste, like stirring hot cinnamon into Viennese coffee. The lead dancer, tall, sinuous Ariana Lallone danced on toe, yet was earthy, swirling with power and pride through the big finale.


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