When Versatility Has Depth As Well As Breadth

posted by Wendy Perron on Monday, Aug 11, 2014
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Elizabeth Murphy and Joshua Grant in "A Million Kisses to My Skin." Photo by Stefanie Motta, courtesy PNB.

There’s versatile and then there’s VERSATILE. I mean, well trained dancers can adapt from style to style with ease. But then there are dancers who can dig into completely different genres in a single evening.

So it was with Pacific Northwest Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow this weekend. The program went the distance from high-style contemporary ballet to snazzy Broadway to earthy modern dance. The dancers had to practically remake their bodies for each piece.

Different parts of the body were emphasized in different ballets. For A Million Kisses to My Skin, by British choreographer David Dawson, the chest is bursting open while the arms are triumphant and the legs cleanly brisk. This is the piece that artistic director Peter Boal has described as being “home” for the dancers.

Take FiveIn Susan Stroman’s Take Five…More or Less, eyes and hips are given preference. This ballet, made for PNB in 2008, is a clever Broadway-style romp in which the women have to be unabashedly cute and sassy. Angelica Generosa, opening the ballet in a yellow dress (shades of the Girl in the Yellow Dress in Stroman’s hit Contact), played it to the hilt.

 

Above: Lindsi Dec in Take Five. Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.


Next came the company premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Before After. Made in 2002 for Dutch National Ballet, this duet is a stimulating example of contemporary ballet. I wouldn’t say that certain parts of the body are emphasized, but certain ways of touching (encasing, nudging, pressing) distinguish this duet. It has an edge that requires the dancers to be abrupt—no feminine yielding or lyrical arching or longing looks here. Elizabeth Murphy and Raphaël Bouchard gave it just the right tone of frankness and unsentimental physical intimacy.

In the last piece, Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement, a barefoot paean to an oppressed community somewhere in the world, the performers express their solidarity through rounded backs, flexed feet, and palms pressing out. The PNB dancers sank into this heavy-duty, modern dance idiom with a lush, sturdy quality. Carrie Imler led the pack with her majestic earthiness, and James Moore was striking—harrowing really—in a solo as a desperate character possibly tortured by soldiers. Both Moore and Generosa were deep-in-the-body soulful in the duet that followed his solo.


DuatoI was really impressed by the extremes that the PNB dancers traveled to in one evening. So the next morning, during a brief moment before company class in one of the Pillow studios, I asked Generosa how she shuttles from one aesthetic zone to a totally different one—what she does physically to go from Stroman’s happy-go-lucky, show-off type character, to the heart-rending portrayal of the downtrodden woman in Rassemblement. “I just go off in a corner and hang down like this,” she said, drooping over to relax her back in order to shed the Broadway pizzazz and take on the gravitas of Duato’s characters.

 

Above: Batkhurel Bold in Rassemblement. Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.

 

Watching the program of four radically different pieces given by PNB over the weekend, I could see—feel—that the dancers were totally committed to each genre. They carried off each with aplomb.