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A Gathering Of Tutus

Pacific Northwest Ballet Director's Choice Program

by Dean Speer

30 May 2009 -- Seattle, Washington

I like programs that make my job easier. Writing reviews about troublesome programs is not fun. With the unveiling of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s latest important repertory acquisition, Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering,” I was in ballet hog heaven all evening.

“Dances” is one of Robbins’ best inventions, if not the best of his pure dance works. Set to an hour’s worth of Chopin’s piano music, its ten dancers spin their way through clear signature movements, fresh patterns, and a communal experience that the man “in brown,” seems to be half remembering and half experiencing. It’s a sweet piece and a deeply poignant joy to watch.

Each cast member was fully involved and brought their own, unique gifts to their parts. I have to note two who are leaving PNB at season’s end: Jodie Thomas and Miranda Weese. Thomas is moving on to the Royal Danish Ballet and Weese is retiring from performing, concluding a distinguished career that included many years at New York City Ballet and the past few at PNB. Her rendering of the girl “in green” was all it should be – charming, playful, delightful. She truly seemed to be enjoying herself. Thomas should be noted as the girl “in apricot” where all of the qualities and attributes we’ve come to associate with her were easily deployed – a cheerful and bright technique and personality. Our thanks to them for enriching our stages and best wishes to both for many future successes.

[I would also be remiss if I didn’t note the departure of corps member Anton Pankevitch to Ballet San Jose. Their gain is our loss. In addition to his solid work in the corps, Pankevitch was given many solo and occasional principal opportunities here and his spot-on dancing and the depth of background – Russian, Danish, SF Ballet School, New York City Ballet, etc. – will also be missed.]

The Cover Girl for January’s [2009] issue of “Dance Magazine,” Rachel Foster, and her partner James Moore brought lyricism and quiet strength to Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain pas de deux.” Both are beautiful dancers and Moore, a member of the “abs of steel” club, particularly brought sighs from the audience as the curtain and lights went up. Many deserved cheers welcomed them as they took their bows.

Ever since I saw, in 1975, Balanchine’s 1947 gift to the Paris Opera Ballet – “Symphony in C” – in its original home of the Garnier palace done by POB, I’ve reveled in its glories stateside as well.

It’s been in the PNB repertory for 22 years and each performance has enriched the company, its dancers, and its faithful audiences. Meticulously staged by former PNB co-artistic director, Francia Russell, its four movements dovetail into one of the most exciting finales in ballet’s canon – 48 dancers rushing onstage to make battement tendu in many directions and kaleidoscope variants accompanied and propelled by peppy duple meter music, played by the mighty PNB Orchestra under the watchful eye of maestro Stewart Kershaw.

The corps, soloists and demi-soloists each looked razor sharp and very much on top of their game. Carrie Imler and Stanko Milov were having fun as the principal couple of movement one, as were Kaori Nakamura and Benjamin Griffiths in the third, and Mara Vinson and Seth Orza in the last. Vinson, who has returned from a maternity leave, is thriving and continues to grow in facility, amplitude and strength.

One of the glories is the second movement pas de deux, here lovingly danced by retiring principal Louise Nadeau and attentively partnered by one of her best and long-time colleagues, Olivier Wevers. Nadeau was totally in shape for this – extensions, beats, allegro – all there...and more. The “more” is one of the reasons she has been a revered and cherished artist; someone who performs with audacious in-the-moment artistic choices, bringing a ringing clarity to each step and phrase.

Nadeau will be sorely missed and for whom we wish the very best in future career choices.

Altogether, this is one of PNB’s most superb programs. We are so fortunate to have all of it right here in our own backyard.

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