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Showcase Showdown

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Choreographers' Showcase and Annual School Performance

by Dean Speer

June 13, 2009 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

The winners of this year’s end-of-the-year extravaganza were two who stood out – peers amongst their peers: Robbie-Jean Arbaczewski and Ezra Thomson.

In the School Performance, they were showcased in Balanchine’s “La Source” which is really not just a lone pas de deux with a principal couple, a soloist, and corps but really three pas de deux for the price of one. Each element of a traditional duet was explored: the partnered adagio with lots of balances and extended promenades; multiple solos of varying type (jumps, turns, quick pointe work) for each; and more than one coda or finale allegro. Rather than perform each of these components one time, in order, they came back several times after the interpolation of others’ dances to do yet another display.

This was not student-level choreography either. Neither seemed nervous or ill-prepared but right with it at each moment.

A couple of months ago I heard one of Arbaczewski’s teachers say to a group of ballet instructors that not only did she have the potential for a career but she also had the makings of “a major ballerina.” High praise indeed. And certainly well-deserved.

Thomson has technique to spare, his good nature coming through in both his classroom and stage work.

I was very pleased to see them used so extensively here, as they were amongst their Professional Division students in the evening’s Choreographers’ Showcase.

The strongest of these choregraphic works were Stanko Milov’s “Dimensions” and “Courte et Deuce” – short and sweet – created by Jonathan Porretta. The latter was exactly what its name said and used a movement palette whose atmosphere was very classical. And it was a nice surprise. It was charming, which is in all too in short supply these days, fun, and showcased nicely a principal couple, Lola Cooper and Ryan Cardea, and a corps of six. Refreshing.

“Dimensions” took us to several different ones – sagittal, horizontal, vertical, and spatial. Milov also suggested a bend of time, which was partly suggested by Randall Chiarelli’s lighting design that created isolated geometric pools of light and partly by how the dancers were lined up in front of each other and to the sides. My only criticism was that he relied on perhaps a little too much symmetry in his overall design. This was mitigated by taking the dance vertically, a tact that could have been employed sooner in the choreography.

Barry Kerollis’ “Pariah” had some really good ideas. I found that he needs to focus these ideas a little more, as the work was diffuse even if neatly danced.

In “Loving You,” Stacy Lowenberg also showed a good idea – flirtation amongst one man, Jake Lowenstein, and four ladies. The choreography was clear and to the point; very nice. My only fuss would be that its idea was too close to PNB’s new Susan Stroman work, “Take Five...more or less” and perhaps Lowenberg should have chosen another platform for her creative and fun invention.

Olivier Wevers has become a hard-working and experienced dance maker, who has a facile mind and strong ideas about his movement motifs. His “That one dance about that one thing #2,” is a re-staging of a version he originally did for Cornish College of the Arts in 2008. Wevers knows how to effectively move groups around – no small feat – and gives them steps and combinations that dancers enjoy. It’s obvious too that he knows a choreographer must not only show his ideas but also make the dancers look good.

Kiyon C. Gaines is fearless with what he does and his “[NO HOLDS] barre’d” dove right into a pool of energetic movement.

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable and worthwhile day of dance. I very much look forward to 2010's edition. The essence of the School Performance has not changed over 28 years – proudly showing the students’ trained gifts and talents to the public in a spirited and enlightened way.

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