Monday, June 29, 2015

Ageless Ariana Lallone

Ariana Lallone at Teatro Zinzanni
photo by Michael Doucett, courtesy Teatro Zinzanni
She may kill me for revealing her age, but what the heck? 

Ariana Lallone is 47 years old, and she’s as striking and vibrant as she was the first time I saw her dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet 20 years ago.
Ariana Lallone in PNB production of Ulysses Dove's "Red Angels"
photo by Angela Sterling

If you’ve seen Ariana Lallone in performance, you know she’s unforgettable. She’s 5’11” in her stocking feet, 6’5” en pointe, with dark hair and a Roman nose. As Lady Capulet in Jean Christophe Maillot’s “Romeo et Juliette”, in Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels”, or Nacho Duato’s “Jardi Tancat,” Lallone creates an unforgettable impression.
Ariana Lallone dances Nacho Duato at PNB
photo by Angela Sterling

Lallone left PNB four years ago. She wasn’t necessarily ready to stop dancing;

“I felt like as long as I was learning, wanting to change, wanting to improve, that I still had a desire to keep going.”

 But she and PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal didn't see eye to eye on when Lallone should actually leave the company. She wanted to stay longer; he didn't agree.

Lucky for her fans, Lallone had the world’s shortest jump from PNB to her next job at Seattle’s Teatro Zinzanni. Literally, she walked across the street and transformed herself from ballerina to cabaret performer.
Ariana Lallone soars above the Teatro Zinzanni crowd
photo by Michael Doucett

Lallone didn’t even apply for the gig. She’d heard that Zinzanni’s Associate Artistic Director, Reenie Duff, wanted to talk to her about an upcoming show, “Bonsoir Lilliane,” choreographed by Broadway great Tommy Tune.

She remembers how that conversation was initiated. Lallone was double parking on Mercer, just outside PNB. Duff turned up at her car, and invited the ballerina to talk. Several hours of yakking later, Lallone's second act was underway.

Teatro Zinzanni may be just across the street from McCaw Hall, where PNB performs, but the intimate velvet tent with its antique wooden floor and mirrored walls could be on another planet for all that these two performance venues resemble one another.

In McCaw Hall, PNB company members dance for up to 3,000 people. A large orchestra pit is located between the audience and the stage. If you have good seats down front, you can see the dancers’ faces. If not, well, opera glasses are always a good bet at McCaw.

In Zinzanni’s tent, Lallone finds herself on a 9 foot circular stage; she can look right into the eyes of the people who come to the dinner theater. And they can see her. She’s just inches away.

It was a challenge at first.

“I was a big mover,” she explains. “So you step out three feet from your center and it’s someone’s dinner table!”

But Lallone figured out how to use that proximity to good effect, how to make the eye contact and the intimate surroundings work for her.

And she learned that to use her ballet training in that small venue, she had to move her performance into another dimension: up into the air.

“I needed a new partner. And the new partner wouldn’t be a person, it would be a thing,” explains the dancer.

Specifically, a large metal hoop called a lyra. Lallone took aerial training lessons, and she performs regularly now up above the audience.
Ariana Lallone performs on the lyra at Teatro Zinzanni
photo by Michael Doucett

But Lallone isn’t part of the cast of this summer’s Zinzanni production, “The Return to Chaos.”  The show actually marks her first solo foray into choreography. It’s an artistic path that surprised her.

“Choreography was always something (to which) I said No!” she laughs. “I had so many ‘nos’. No I don’t do this, no I can’t do this, in my brain. And all of those ‘nos’ have gone away.”

The last four years have been a whirlwind for Ariana Lallone. She’s learned new skills, but most of all, she says she’s learned to say yes.

“I had a single focus in my career, which was ballet.” Lallone pauses to think. “Walking across the street to Zinzanni, my world just opened up sideways.”

But even though you can take the dancer out of the ballet company, you can’t remove decades of ballet from the dancer.

“I’ll always be a ballerina,” says Lallone firmly. “I may branch out, but that will always be my ‘being.’
Ariana Lallone onstage at Teatro Zinzanni
photo by Michael Doucett

 Teatro Zinzanni's "The Return to Chaos" is at the tent on lower Queen Anne Hill through mid-September.

Monday, June 22, 2015

"Mouth to Mouth" Resuscitation!

Ate9 dancers in Danielle Agami's "Mouth to Mouth"
photo by Tim Summers
I was cranky last Friday evening.

I’d had a long and difficult work week. I didn’t want to use my brain. And I was inching south on I-5 to a dance performance for which I had absolutely no expectations.

As I said, cranky.

But I have to say, two hours later, I was soaring, electrified, and incredibly pleased that I’d ignored my inner grump and headed to see Danielle Agami’s “Mouth to Mouth” at Velocity Dance Center.

The Israeli-born dancer/choreographer originally founded her company, Ate9, in Seattle. But she relocated to Los Angeles before I ever got a chance to see her work. So what unfolded last Friday was surprising, amazing, and ultimately, a welcome gift.

The dancers entered the theater one by one, each carrying a chair that he or she set down on the floor’s perimeter before taking a seat. Quietly, they surveyed each other. I still had no idea what I was in for, the energy they’d unleash like a volcanic eruption.
Ate9 dancers in "Mouth to Mouth"
photo by Tim Summers

Action began slowly, as a dancer in a short blue dress rose up from her chair. A fellow dancer approached, pulled out a scissors, and sheared off a blue sleeve. Another dancer scissored up the dress from the bottom. Hmm.

Blue dress was an outcast; she tried to wedge herself between two other women, like an eager preschooler on the playground. Their rejection didn’t phase her. In fact, this scene was like a long fuse. Eventually, it ignited an explosion of movement.
Ate9 Dancer in "Mouth to Mouth"
photo by Scott Simock, courtesy Velocity Dance Center

The Ate9 dancers twitched and vibrated in a sort of stage version of the robot. They leaped straight up off the floor as if it was a sprung trampoline. They used every part of their bodies, from splayed toes to twisted facial features.  At one point, the most elegant David Maurice vainly attempts to stop the madness, clutching at the heads of three seated women. He’s powerless to stem this river.
David Maurice tries to soothe the savage breast in "Mouth to Mouth"
photo courtesy Velocity Dance Center

All eight dancers were fearless. They bounded across the stage, landing in a beat on the floor in splits, or supine, only to launch themselves straight up to standing with what seemed like just a push from their toes. One woman crabwalked across the floor…in a backbend! At this point I scrawled in my notebook, ‘can humans actually do this stuff?’

It wasn’t just the ferocity that had me smiling. Agami’s movement vocabulary, based on Ohad Naharin’s Gaga technique, requires precision and prowess. Every movement undulates out from the dancer’s core; those dancers must commit fully to what they are doing, to give themselves completely to the performance. And it’s their commitment, along with the technique, that engages the audience.
Ate9's David Maurice shows he is part gazelle
photo by Tim Summers

Agami uses the dancers’ technical skills to great effect. She marshals her company members into complex patterns, like shifting electrons that seem to draw energy from each other. Sometimes the patterns were fugue-like; dancers performing sequences of movements in staggered groups. Other times, two or three dancers performed in unison. Particular standouts for me (in addition to Agami in black leather shorts, only the nipples of her breasts covered with black tape) were super-human Thibaut Eiferman, and the incredibly long and graceful Micaela Taylor.
Danielle Agami in her creation "Mouth to Mouth"
photo by Scott Simock

Even as this dance was unfolding, I wanted to see it again. And again. “Mouth to Mouth” is complex; I’m not sure of everything I saw. But I do know that when the dance ended,  I was slack jawed with awe and appreciation for the bravado, the spirit, the prowess that Ate9 brought to Velocity. I’m still thinking of this dance, three days later.

And I’m kinda wondering if Danielle Agami knew that her creation was a bit of mouth to mouth resuscitation for my crabby Friday soul?

Monday, June 8, 2015


PNB Principal Dancer Carla Korbes takes her final bow
photo by Angela Sterling
In the end, after the last flower petals sifted down onto the stage, after the last curtain call and the last applause faded, it was almost as if Carla Korbes’ fabulous ten years at Pacific Northwest Ballet floated off like an opalescent bubble, a beautiful dream.

Lucky for us, this decade in Seattle was very much a reality.

Her final performance was a gift, a reminder of all that Korbes (and her fellow dancers) have to share with us.

PNB’s 2015 Encore was magic from the get-go, with the local premiere of former company member Andrew Bartee’s stunning dance/film creation “Dirty Goods,” a commission from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Quirky, contemporary, energetic and fun, it is Bartee’s finest work to date.
Carla Korbes in Jessica Lang's "The Calling"
photo by Angela Sterling

But the evening’s tone was set definitively when the curtain rose on “The Calling,” a solo dance by choreographer Jessica Lang. The lights came up on Korbes, in a cream-colored gown with a massive skirt, arrayed center stage like a perfect marble sculpture.

Everybody gasped.

As mezzo-soprano Sarra Sharif began to sing, Korbes’ sculpture came to life. She undulated her torso and her arms around that immovable gown, and wove her graceful spell on us.

The spell remained unbroken through the rest of the evening; through a reprise of William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude;” through Kiyon Gaines’ poignant performance in the pas de deux from Nacho Duato’s “Rassemblement.” (Gaines was also saying farewell to his dancing career. This was an all-too-brief opportunity to watch him, with fellow soloist Elizabeth Murphy, in a hearbreaking dance of love and longing.) 

PNB soloists Elizabeth Murphy and Kiyon Gaines in Nacho Duato's "Rassemblement"
photo by Angela Sterling
And through George Balanchine's "Jewels."

The evening was structured around Carla Korbes, but Encore 2015 was also a farewell to corps de ballet members Eric Hippolito, Jahna Frantziskonis, Charles McCall and Raphael Bouchard; in his curtain speech, PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal called the diminutive Frantziskonis a combination of Audrey Hepburn and Tinker Bell. Indeed. The dancer wowed the audience with Benjamin Griffiths in the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s “Rubies.”

The bittersweet evening could have ended with Korbes and Karel Cruz in the glorious pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” The two dancers shimmered like their namesake gems. When Cruz lifted Korbes into the air, she hovered as light as a feather before mortality prevailed and she drifted like a snowflake to the stage. The duet was exquisite, and it might have been an adequate goodbye.
PNB Principal Dancers Karel Cruz and Carla Korbes in Balanchine's "Diamonds"
photo by Angela Sterling

But PNB saved the best for last.

After a short intermission, Encore 2015 brought us a profoundly lovely, and profoundly moving performance of Balanchine’s “Serenade.”
PNB's Carla Korbes, center, with fellow company members in Balanchine's "Serenade"
photo by Angela Sterling

I love “Serenade;” the way it begins with the 17 women arrayed in staggered rows, looking off into some amorphous distance, their right arms raised in a wistful salute. The way the man, Batkhurel Bold in this case, enters with his eyes covered by the woman, Lesley Rausch. The way Korbes rips out her hairpins after the sprightly first movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade in C for string orchestra.”

I was excited for the chance to see the dance again.  But as the lights came up on the 17 women in their sky blue tulle skirts and bodices, I couldn’t help but think what a remarkably generous choice this was for Korbes’ final dance with PNB.

While Korbes did perform the central role, she shared the stage with fellow principal dancers Carrie Imler and Lesley Rausch, along with Batkhurel Bold and Karel Cruz, as well as with 21 fellow company members. Each had her/his moment at center stage. Each was beautiful.
PNB Principal Dancers Lesley Rausch, Batkhurel Bold and Carla Korbes in Balanchine's "Serenade"
photo by Angela Sterling

In the end, though, the night belonged to Carla Korbes. She glowed from within. The audience witnessed a woman who was truly one with the dance. It’s something we have come to expect from this ballerina. But on this particular evening, Korbes gifted her own artistry to every dancer on stage with her, and to the thousands of us who watched her perform.

Korbes doesn’t count the beats in the music. She feels them. She doesn’t simply perform the steps. She inhabits them. And, on this magic occasion, her fellow dancers seemed to follow her example.

For one last, enchanted evening, we held our collective breath throughout, mesermized, until Steven Loch, Price Suddarth and Dylan Wald lifted Korbes up above their shoulders and slowly walked her to the rear of the stage. Korbes' blue tulle skirt caught the breeze, as bewitched as those of us who soaked in the final notes, the final steps, the final PNB appearance of this wonderful artist.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Carrie Imler in
Alexei Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH"
photo by Angela Sterling
What do you think about when you watch a dance performance?

What catches your interest?

I contemplated those questions this past weekend after I saw  Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Concerto DSCH” one night, and the following evening, Whim W’him’s presentation of a new work by French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle, called “RIPple efFECT.”
These dances were on the bills of larger programs, but I single them out because they prompted me to think about patterns, and nuance, and most of all, the complex marshalling of bodies in space.

Oh, and they both featured bravura performances from excellent dancers.
PNB Principal Dancers Jerome Tisserand and Carrie Imler in Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH"
photo by Angela Sterling

Ratmansky’s “Concerto DSCH” isn’t new to PNB’s repertoire; the company first presented it in 2011. I don’t remember loving it then. Certainly not as much as I loved it this time around.
Set to Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 2 in F. major, (wonderfully performed by the PNB orchestra with pianist Christina Siemens), “Concerto DSCH” is crafted in three parts: sprightly opening and closing sections sandwich a wonderfully tender pas de deux, performed by the most excellent Karel Cruz and Carla Korbes.

“Concerto DSCH” is a big work, with a bevy of dancers. Carrie Imler, Jerome Tisserand and Seth Orza, a sassy trio in blue, threw out wickedly challenging leaps and spins like they were the easiest moves. And they punctuated their technical competence with so much fun; playful jabs and sideways glances at one another.
PNB company members in Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH"
photo by Angela Sterling

It was bittersweet to watch departing corps members Raphael Bouchard, Eric Hipolito and Jahna Frantzikonis, as well as retiring soloist Kiyon Gaines, dancing their hearts out with fellow company members. They were all crisp and clean, and they made Ratmansky’s complicated fugue of a dance clear and accessible.

Korbes and Cruz were a dream; in contrast with the other two movements of this Concerto, their duet is inward focused and contemplative-they danced a couple saying a tender goodbye to one another. But it felt as if they were also dancing their offstage emotions; Korbes was giving one of her last PNB performances with her regular partner Cruz. It was exquisite both technically and emotionally.
PNB Principal Dancers Carla Korbes and Karel Cruz in Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH"
photo by Angela Sterling

Aside from fine performances, “Concerto DSCH” provided a great chance to appreciate how a choreographer deploys dancers in the service of a piece of music. Or perhaps, the dance and the music were mutually dependent, and seen and heard together, they are more than the sume of their parts.

Ratmansky used Shostakovich’s intricate composition as inspiration for an intricate ballet; at points, you have to choose which dancers to watch-the trio stage left, or Carrie Imler, who is teasing us with saucy sautes.
Never too many photos of PNB's Carrie Imler
this one, again, by Angela Sterling

Manuel Vignoulle’s “RIPple efFECT” doesn’t bear a lot of technical or emotional resemblance to Ratmansky’s work. But I couldn’t help comparing its interlocking sections, the variations in partnering in his work to “Concerto DSCH.”

Vignoulle set “RIPple…” on Whim W’him’s seven company members, and they blast out of the gate from the get-go, Tory Peil twitching and vibrating at such frequency you fear she might implode on the stage. She doesn’t. Vignoulle pairs her with Whim W’him’s newest dancer, the fantastic Justin Reiter, in a duet that displays both their discipline and virtuosity, as well as Peil’s amazing strength. Loved it when she lifts Reiter and spins him around.
Whim W'him in Manuel Vignoulle's "RIPple efFECT"
photo courtesy Bamberg Fine Art

“RIPple efFECT” is high-energy, a continuous swirl of acrobatic action. There are also moments of rest (luckily for the dancers), and quieter contemplation. In the second section, for example, all seven dancers join hands in a circle, then move in and out, up and down, reminiscent of a sea anemone that pulses with the tide.
Whim W'him company members in Vingoulle's "RIPple efFECT"
photo by Bamberg Fine Art

Whim W’him Artistic Director Olivier Wevers has made it standard practice to include other choreographers on his programs. Manuel Vignoulle’s work was new for me, and a welcome chance to revel in his artistic vision. So, thanks for that Olivier.

I see a lot of different kinds of dance. And I never know how what I see will touch me, how it will move me. I do know that last weekend’s two very different dance programs fed my mind and my spirit.

And I’m still thinking about those patterns…

Friday, May 22, 2015

Kiyon Gaines, It's So Hard To Say Goodbye!

PNB's Kiyon Gaines soars as Puck in Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
photo by Angela Sterling
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Kiyon Gaines says he didn’t find ballet; ballet found him.

The Baltimore native didn’t start dancing until he was 10 .  He studied tap and jazz. Somebody told him he needed to work on his port de bras; they said ballet would help. So his mother enrolled him in a local class.

He recalls the teacher pulled his mother aside. “Does Kiyon want to take more ballet classes?” the teacher asked. “He would be great at this.”

Gaines was 12 at the time; incredibly late to start ballet training. Despite the fact that he was the only boy in the class, he embraced the challenge.

“And I got hired at PNB when I was 19,” he laughs. “So in the span of seven years, there was a lot of improvement!”
PNB's Lesley Rausch and Kiyon Gaines in Susan Stroman's "Take Five...More or Less"
photo by Angela Sterling

Now, at the ripe old age of 33, Kiyon Gaines will retire at the end of PNB’s artistic season. Say it ain't so!

Gaines' decision to step away from ballet was not an easy one. Like every professional dancer, he knew he couldn’t continue to perform much past the age of 40. From the get go, he had this idea that he'd carve out a second career.

Plus, his mother had urged him to make contingency plans, in case this ballet thing didn’t pan out. 

So, early on, Gaines decided that age 35 would be the perfect time to step away.

“That’s me wanting to be in control of my own career. I wanted to be the one to make the decision when I wanted to stop dancing.”

Unfortunately, Kiyon Gaines’ body didn’t cooperate with his well-made plans.

“I’ve dealt with injuries,” he explains. Specifically, three surgeries in the past four years. “My entire soloist career has been plagued with surgeries.”

So, last fall, before PNB started the 2014-2015 artistic season, Gaines told PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal that this year would be his last.

As hard as that was for Gaines, it also was a loss for PNB audiences. The exuberant, energetic dancer has been a standout during his 15 years in Seattle. Anyone who's seen him perform knows how he lights up the stage with his zillion-watt smile and the joy he infuses into his powerful dancing.
PNB's Kiyon Gaines soars in Twyla Tharp's "Waiting at the Station"
photo by Angela Sterling

We know that watching him now, but Kiyon Gaines had to fight to get here.

As a young, aspiring African American ballet dancer, Gaines had few role models. “Who do I look up to?” he remembers thinking. “Where do I get inspiration?”

After a stint in Pittsburgh, Gaines enrolled in  New York’s School of American Ballet, the feeder for the New York City Ballet. He recalls, at that time, Albert Evans was the only African American male dancing with NYCB. But even Evans wasn't the perfect role model.

Where Evans had the long, lean stereotypical ballet dancer’s body, Gaines is shorter and more compactly muscular. Not only was Gaines a black man in a predominantly white art form; he had the “wrong” body type for ballet. 

But Kiyon Gaines believed in himself. He kept working. In 2000, he came to Seattle as a PNB Professional Division student. Former PNB Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell hired him as a corps de ballet member the next year. He’s been in Seattle ever since. Gaines says he's the loyal type.

Kiyon Gaines believes the only way to challenge the traditional ballet aesthetic is to be a role model, to encourage “more people who look like me” to embrace ballet. And he'll have the chance to do that after he retires.

Starting next season, Kiyon Gaines will teach at the PNB school, and he'll work with PNB’s Dance Chance program. Dance Chance offers scholarships to kids who might not normally enroll in ballet classes, or even consider that ballet is something for them. Some of those kids have moved on to professional ballet careers, including Eric Hipolito, who also leaves PNB at the end of the season (not retiring, but heading to Ballet Arizona; our loss!)
Gaines does Balanchine at PNB
photo by Angela Sterling

Gaines also will continue to choreograph, in Seattle and for companies around the country. PNB will reprise his "Sum Stravinsky" in the 2015-2016 season.

Kiyon Gaines will give his final PNB performance on June 7th

But it won’t be his last onstage appearance. On Sunday, June 14th, Gaines will don cap and gown and stride across a platform at Key Arena to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Seattle University. Not only did he get the college degree his mother hoped he'd puruse; on June 12th, he's being honored with SU's Fine Arts Department Buhr Award. It goes to the student with the highest GPA in his major. 

“Mom will be here, my aunt will be here,” he says with a smile. “They’re going to be so proud!”
Kiyon Gaines works with PNB dancers on "Sum Stravinsky"
photo courtesy PNB

Monday, May 18, 2015

I'm All About The Arts, Boss

PNB Principal Dancers Lesley Rausch (rear) and Lindsi Dec in David Dawson's "A Million Kisses to My Skin"
photo by Angela Sterling
Sometimes I wonder why I'm driven to write about art, especially dance.

Frankly, it's an impossible task, to translate my visceral response to an artist or her work into mere words. If those words were enough, we wouldn't have symphonies or ballets or great paintings, would we?

Besides, outside of people who already love and value art, the general reception for my mere words is pretty tepid.
PNB's Chelsea Adomaitis and Stephen Loch in William Forsythe's "New Suite"
photo by Angela Sterling

But I persist.

From time to time, people invite me to come give little talks about what I do. They want to know how I started out, or my opinions on burning issues of the day (I don't reveal those); most often, they want me to dish about famous people.

Inevitably, somebody asks what I most love to write about. The answer is automatic: dance. When they ask why, I am forced once again to ask that question of myself.
PNB Principal Dancer Jerome Tisserand with former Principal Kaori Nakamura in "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling

The answer is always the same: a great artwork resonates with something deep in my heart. I imagine it's something like a spiritual tuning fork, and I start to vibrate with the same invisible frequency as the tones that emanate from that art.

All of the above is a long and windy preamble to some thoughts on this weekend's PBS American Masters' documentary about American Ballet Theatre.

The New York Times laid into this film. The critic said it didn't have enough specifics about ABT, not enough Baryshnikov (is there ever enough???).

I loved it.

Mostly for the fabulous commentary from Jennifer Homans, author of the great ballet history "Apollo's Angels." That book propelled me into what feels like a never-ending exploration of the connections between dance and grace. This film reminded me of the ineffable beauty that is ballet, the quest that dancers pursue to bring their technique and their artistry to a performance that can lift them (and the audience) beyond ourselves.
Former PNB Principal Dancers Lucien Postelwaite and Noelani Pantastico in Jean-Christophe Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette"
photo by Angela Sterling

Insert sigh of pure bliss right here!

Okay, now that I'm done waxing rhapsodic, some upcoming events of note:

Olivier Wevers' Whim W'him performs a new program called X-Posed, 5/29-31 at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

Pacific Northwest Ballet presents Kent Stowell's "Carmina Burana" and Alexei Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH" May 29-June 7th at McCaw Hall.

Catch the Seattle International Dance Festival June 12-27 all over town.
PNB Principal Carla Korbes in Kent Stowell's "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling

And Sunday, June 7th, you can say goodbye to a slew of great PNB dancers: Principal Carla Korbes and Soloist Kiyon Gaines retire this year, at the ripe old age of 33; wonderful corps de ballet members Raphael Bouchard, Jahna Frantzikonis, Charles McCall and Eric Hippolito leave for greener pastures in the dance world. PNB said goodbye to corps member Brittany Reid earlier this spring.
PNB Soloist Kiyon Gaines in the studio
photo by Lindsay Thomas

Monday, April 27, 2015

Joy, Redemption And Sacred Spaces

This past weekend was what people refer to as an embarrassment of riches.

So much art, so much sunshine, Cornus Florida abloom, flat water to row on, and the planet I believe to be Jupiter gleaming in the deep blue twilit sky.

I've spent the past year or so ruminating on those small moments of grace we discover in our daily lives. Two performances really drove home to me the role that artists play in translating and communicating that grace, providing a bridge for us between the mundane and the sacred.

Donald Byrd and his excellent Spectrum Dance Theater premiered a new and poignant "Carmina Burana" at STG's Moore Theatre April 23-26.
Jose Rubio in Donald Byrd's "Carmina Burana"
photo by Tino Tran

Byrd cheerfully admits that Carl Orff's mid-1930's cantata is bombastic. But slimmed down for two pianos, percussion and a group of talented singers (particularly baritone Jose Rubio as the central figure), Byrd's "Carmina" was clear and intimate.

Byrd tells the story of a monk (Rubio) who loses his faith when seriously ill people he's tending to die. The monk casts off his robes, seeks refuge in booze and sex in a Kurt Weill-esque club; he is a shattered, hollow man. Ultimately, he rediscovers his faith, and finds redemption, through the pure love and joy he discovers in innocent children.
Spectrum Dance Company and singers in Donald Byrd's "Carmina Burana'
photo by Tino Tran

The dancers, the musicians, the singers: they all combined for an evening that was both beautiful and satisfying, and displayed Byrd as a masterful storyteller.
"How To Become a Partisan", April 25, 2015, St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle
photo by Sebastien Scandiuzzi

Where "Carmina Burana" was tightly honed, Alice Gosti's "How to Become a Partisan", produced by Velocity Dance Center at St. Mark's Cathedral on Saturday, April 25th, was a five-hour meditation.

I confess from the outset that I could only be present for two of those five hours, alas. What I had the privilege to witness was both stunning and thought provoking.
Composer/Performer Hanna Benn in Alice Gosti's "How To Become a Partisan"
photo by Liz Dawson

"Partisan" began with a procession through Capitol Hill, from Velocity to St. Mark's. The cathedral doors opened to reveal composer/singer Hanna Benn encased in a monumental white and black sculpture of a dress. Benn rose at eight ten feet above large, red rectangular blocks that turned out to be ice. As the blocks melted, blood-red moisture seeped up the fabric of her skirts.
Hanna Benn in "How to Become a Partisan"
photo by Liz Dawson

Gosti's dancers first appeared in black coveralls, hair tightly braided, red triangles painted below their jaws. They galloped, slid, slunk and cavorted through St. Mark's majestic sanctuary. Sometimes they sat, while Benn and her musicians took over our attention. Sound poured down on the audience from the organ loft; it enveloped us as singers circled the perimeter of the huge room, whitewashed cinder block walls bathed in refracted sunlight that entered through the soaring windows.

Gosti's starting point for what was billed as a durational performance was the story of the role Italian women played in resisting the Nazis during World War II. Serendipitously, April 25th marked the anniversary of Italy's liberation from fascism. In the simple program notes, Gosti and her collaborators asked audience members what it would take for us to be moved to action. After more than an hour at St. Marks, I wasn't think about overt action, I was thinking that Gosti had set up conditions for me to suspend my usual notions of time. She made a physical space that freed my mind up to think, to watch, to breath. I wrote in my notebook, "what does it take to create  a sacred space?"

Because truly, that is what Gosti created. Audience members tried to capture fleeting images of Benn and her red-soaked gown, or a womens' ensemble called the Beaconettes, who entered with towering day-glo beehive wigs on their heads, singing an Italian folk song. Professional photographers and videographers were also on hand, to document this five hour opus.

The scraps of their documentation exist; I've included some of those photos in this post. But really, how do you preserve a performance that is meant to be as fleeting as the blocks of melting ice?

I'm told as many as 500 people stayed for the whole five hours. I didn't want to leave; I was mesmerized by the dancers' movements, by the the reverberations of  the voices and instruments, by the way the light made each pastel yellow, blue and pink glass pane shine.

Alice Gosti created a magic, fleeting space in which I could contemplate, ruminate, meditate. We find that so rarely.
The experience of this moment of grace, this bridge to the sacred, now exists only in my mind.

It is indelible.

"How to Become a Partisan" by Alice Gosti, music by Hanna Benn
photo by Sebastien Scandiuzzi