Pacific Northwest Ballet 2001

September 20, 2001

Pacific Northwest Ballet dances the patriotic Stars and Stripes, per the dancers’ request.
Photo by Angela Stirling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Seattle Opera House
Seattle, Washington

September 20?30, 2001

Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, co-artistic directors of Pacific Northwest Ballet, like to look back before they move forward. In 1997, they celebrated the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary with a season of entirely new works, either commissioned from contemporary choreographers or company premieres. But the fall opener consisted of excerpts from the repertoire that demonstrated the company’s roots in the Balanchine canon, Stowell’s versions of classical story ballets, and works by emerging choreographers.

To open the 2001?02 season, PNB presented a second retrospective?before moving out of the opera house for the eighteen months it will take to renovate the hall?asking subscribers to vote for their favorite works. Not surprisingly, they selected a fair amount of the Balanchine rep?Serenade, Ballet Imperial, Agon, and The Four Temperaments?and selections from Stowell’s Carmina Burana, Cinderella, and Silver Lining, the last the choreographer’s tribute to Jerome Kern and American musical comedy and arguably his best work.

It was a grueling program for the dancers; each of the sixteen segments went by with lightning speed. On September 28, and again on September 30 at Patricia Barker’s gala, in which some of the rep show was repeated, the dancers demonstrated an extraordinary ability to switch stylistic gears. In almost all cases they delivered performances that revealed their commitment to a repertoire that one minute demands the decorum of classical technique and the next calls upon them to unbutton, unbend, and abandon it

Julie Tobiason and Olivier Wevers bumped and ground their way through “Whip Poor Will” from Silver Lining against a backdrop of Harlem’s Cotton Club, brilliantly reminding us that comedy is a necessity when the going gets rough and the relationship between the sexes can be at once funny and contentious. Wevers was also particularly fine in the Carmina pas de deux, a fluid, sculpted dance he performed with Barker, who sublimely poured her body through the sensuous choreography and a half-hour later was drilling the stage with diamond pointes in the pas de trois from Le Corsaire.

Long-limbed Ariana Lallone exhibited equally sharp, angular attack in the Choleric section of The Four Temperaments, in vivid contrast to her curved dancing in the pas de deux from Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, a role that fits her like an African antelope skin. The pas de deux from William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated was given all the energy and effort it requires by Melanie Skinner and Casey Herd, and Paul Gibson and Louise Nadeau were splendid in the comparatively mediocre choreography of Kevin O’Day’s Aract, an unpleasantly nuanced ballet that professes to merge ballet and street dance and serves neither particularly well.

Principals, soloists, corps members, and apprentices danced with heart, style, and esprit de corps in the finale from Stars and Stripes, added to the program at the dancers’ request in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedies. The dancers asked Russell to stage it when Barker’s gala was postponed, and principals learned corps roles in a matter of hours. It was a fitting conclusion to a program that began with the first act of Serenade, Balanchine’s first choreography for American dancers.