Pacific Northwest Ballet – Fall '02

September 26, 2002

Kaori Nakamura as Valencienne and Christopher Maraval as Camille de Rosillon in The Merry Widow.
Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Mercer Arts Arena
Seattle, Washington

September 26?October 5, 2002

Reviewed by Gigi Berardi

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s thirtieth-season opener was a glamorous rendition of The Merry Widow?beautiful not just in the company’s interpretation of Ronald Hynd’s captivating choreography, but also in the lavish sets and costumes of Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno.>

Hynd’s production follows the plot of Franz Lehar’s 1905 Viennese operetta about the courting of a wealthy widow from the fictitious Balkan state of Pontevedro. The romantic story allows plenty of room for Hynd’s swirling waltzes, technical aerial displays, and dramatic pas de deux. The comedic lightness provides a good balance for the pathos in the ballet.

PNB purchased the production from the Royal Danish Ballet, putting its own mark on the ballet with additional costumes and evocative lighting design by Randall G. Chiarelli. It may be PNB’s most lavish production, and it fits well into the Mercer Arts Arena while the company patiently waits to move into the renovated Marion Oliver McCaw Hall for performances next year.

Different acts presented sumptuous ballrooms or elegant Parisian embassies and cafes, circa 1905. In the opening scenes, the ballroom at the Pontevedrian Embassy was palatial, with five-foot candelabras adorning the stairs, and a swirl of well-dressed guests?the women in tiaras, shimmering ball gowns, and shoulder-length gloves, the men in velvet waistcoats. Protagonist Hanna Glawari, played by a rotating cast of dancers, drew all eyes as she entered the room in black lamé.

Act II featured the brightly costumed corps performing in national dances in a villa soiree, daringly led by soloist Batkhurel Bold. The women danced intricate patterns assuredly and dramatically, with kerchiefs, to the haunting strings of the orchestra. Act III displayed more majestic sets by di Bagno?the glittering nightlife of Chez Maxim’s. Alexandra Dickson was superb as an outrageous countess. The corps excelled, with high sissonne and even higher extensions. Jeffrey Stanton played a dandy to Patricia Barker’s radiant Hanna, dressed in a glamorous white dress and feather boa. The nightlife sizzled with high-spirited can-can dancing, heroic lifts, and a double duet with the four lead couples.

The four casts benefited from the coaching of Hynd, as well as of dancers Annette Page and John Meehan. Each principal brought a somewhat different interpretation to the romantic-comedic roles. Barker was a most elegant, pristine Hanna, dancing with both grace and precision to Stanton’s humorous, almost oafish, Count Danilo. The pair demonstrated the most comfortable partnering, dancing warmly and engagingly.>

Carrie Imler made a dramatic and commanding protagonist, looking much older than her years. For Imler, there are no little steps. She inspired confidence in all around her, including her Danilo, Casey Herd. A recently promoted soloist, Herd proved to be a great dramatist. Although his steps were at times measured, he was believable in the role. Olivier Wevers was perhaps the most at-ease Danilo?wonderfully comedic, with admirable ballon, partnering?with an almost palpable chemistry?the very polished Louise Nadeau. Wevers, suave to a fault, seemed comfortable with every move.

Kaori Nakamura, as Valencienne, an ambassador’s wife, showed her flair for comedy as well as her impeccable technique. This spirited ballerina delivered fiery variations opposite Christophe Maraval’s expertly played Camille. Jodie Thomas charmed in the same role, particularly with her poise and clean extension. She and Paul Gibson made a delightful impression onstage. Noelani Pantastico, in a third cast, virtually glowed as Valencienne. Also noteworthy were Timothy Lynch’s and Flemming Halby’s businesslike Njegus, Astrit Zejnati’s flamboyant Maitre d’, and Nicholas Ade’s prim and proper Pritsch, an undersecretary at the Embassy.

is, technically, a difficult ballet, if for nothing else than the demanding partnering and ensemble work, in which the corps stood out. How gratifying it is to watch the PNB dancers reaching new dramatic heights in their portrayals of these odd turn-of-the-century characters, waltzing to the attentive baton of Stewart Kershaw or Allan Dameron, amid some of the most ravishing sets ever designed for a ballet.