Pacific Northwest Ballet – June '00

March 16, 2000

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Seattle Opera House

Seattle, Washington

March 16?25, 2000

Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Who would have thought that William Forsythe’s revved-up, explosively unconventional 1988 ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated would be the hit of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s fourth concert series of the current season? Or that these carefully schooled dancers would toss away their neoclassical decorum to blast across the stage in jet-propelled movement fast enough to break the sound barrier?

In the Middle isn’t ballet for Miss Manners: It’s rough and rude and wildly energetic, full of flexed feet, angular port de bras and other fractures of classical line, an epiphany of physicality that stretches the classical vocabulary to the breaking point. Opening night, Seth Belliston inhabited the movement as if it had been made on him, and Patricia Barker tore off her Swan Queen tiara in an abandoned performance the likes of which I’ve never seen. Ariana Lallone’s restless, otherworldly solo was also a knockout. Saturday night’s cast was just as good, particularly Casey Herd, who danced with brutal edginess, and Anne Derieux, performing with her usual hip-slung sexy chic.

The program began with Concerto Barocco, George Balanchine’s brilliant visualization of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which presents a very different set of challenges to the dancers. The choreography is, as Mr. B pointed out, as intricately embellished as baroque architecture, requiring timing, accuracy and precision. While opening night’s performance had a few glitches, the dancers turned in a performance so intensely musical and joyous that the artistry overcame the flaws. In the third movement, Louise Nadeau soared along with the music, dancing the way the violin solo makes the listener feel. Saturday night’s cast danced almost flawlessly, but lacked the spontaneity of opening night.

Audiences everywhere seem to adore Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, a mixture of African tribal dancing and classical ballet, traditional African music and Johann Sebastian Bach that doesn’t always work. What does work are the opening and closing and a section that includes a courtly dance accompanied by body-slapping rhythms. Some of PNB’s dancers perform the hybrid movement very well, especially Julie Tobiason on opening night and Ariana Lallone on Saturday. However, because of their classical training and its emphasis on spinal placement, the men in particular lack the flexibility in the torso that African movement demands. Belliston is an exception, as is Christophe Maraval.

Maraval, Derieux and Lisa Apple danced Kent Stowell’s combative choreography for Duo Fantasy with all the requisite edge and aggression it demanded on Thursday night, as did Jodie Thomas, Noelani Pantastico and Belliston on Saturday.