Review: New Rep for Pacific Northwest Ballet Presents Loss and Hope
Sometimes a work of art comes at the right time. At the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s âBeyond Balletâ on Friday night, that work was âDancing on the Front Porch of Heavenâ by Ulysses Dove, a ballet as beautiful as its name. It’s not a new work – Dove, an acclaimed choreographer who died of AIDS in 1996, premiered it in 1993 in response to a deep loss, and PNB performed it before – but it seems newly poignant around this time, when so many of us have faced grief and struggle. Six dancers, looking like ballet angels dressed in white overalls, come in and out of white spotlights. The bells are ringing – a welcome? a goodbye? – and the music of Arvo PÃ¤rt, played by the PNB Orchestra, sparkles with expectation, as if a celestial curtain was about to rise.
A sense of loss and search is omnipresent in this work, especially at the end of a pas de deux danced with quiet passion by Christopher D’Ariano and new PNB soloist James Kirby Rogers: The Two Men Turn and start to walk together at the top of the stage, but one walks forward and disappears into the darkness, leaving the other alone. The movement is sometimes from another world, especially in the trembling drunkards of the women (the noise seems to be all that keeps them to the ground), the deep creaseRaised in second position with one foot raised on pointe, arms held like angel wings, a slow and beautifully mastered gap.
âHeavenâ ends with each dancer walking slowly and meditatively around their own lighted circles, meditating and waiting. Watching it live was like a glorious dream, a dream that moved me deeply but left me with hope.
(In the spirit of that hope, let me share my wish that all members of the public will once again learn how to silence our cell phones, so that we never have another time like Friday night when the Painfully silent final moments of âHeavenâ were marred by a ringtone. As nice as it is to have live performances again, there are things I didn’t miss.)
PNB’s novelty in this performance was âThe Personal Elementâ by Alonzo King, a calm work for eight dancers to a piano score by Jason Moran. (Kudos to the solo pianists of the evening Josh Archibald-Seiffer and Christina Siemens, whose sensitive work filled the room.) In it, King plays with the very idea of ââthe ballet: Cecilia Iliesiu intentionally wavered, showing beautiful control , while balancing on pointe; Amanda Morgan hit a perfect arabesque lean then flexed her free foot, bizarrely changing the shape of the pose. Slipping into different couples, the dancers seemed to tie elegant knots with their bodies. âThe Personal Elementâ is the kind of ballet that would reward multiple viewings; his characters, like those in a Jerome Robbins ballet, seemed to have endless stories to tell.
Jessica Lang’s âGhost Variationsâ, to piano music by Clara and Robert Schumann, were part of last year’s digital season; now it’s been staged for an audience rather than a camera, and it makes the transition beautifully. It’s too brief a little gem, with black-clad dancers swirling around with each other and with shadows cast in the background, often quite spiritually. (At one point, a dancer strikes a pose reflected by her shadow – then she continues, but the shadow holds the pose.) Jillian Lewis’ costumes – voluminous black tutus on the women, flowing shirts on the men – punctuate elegantly. the movement, and pas de deux of Elle Macy and Dylan Wald is a welcome moment of connection in this mostly distant ballet. (Macy’s new director this season – a well-deserved promotion.) Last year they danced for a ghost audience; how lucky we are to be a real one again.