Monday, June 9, 2014

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Kaori Nakamura as Kitri in Alexei Ratmansky's "Don Quixote"
photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet
One thing is constant in this world: change.

As much as we'd love to stop time, it just keeps marching on. And with time's passage, we experience the inevitable: people come into our lives. And then they leave.

On Sunday evening, June 8th, a packed audience in Seattle's McCaw Hall was witness to the inevitable, at Pacific Northwest Ballet's annual "Encore" performance.

Officially, "Encore" is a one-off season closer, an evening of greatest hits, if you will. But it's also the ballet company's send off for departing dancers. And every so often those who are departing are also dearly beloved company members.

That was the case this year-a royal farewell for veteran principal dancer Kaori Nakamura, spiced with fond farewells to PNB Executive Director D. David Brown, and corps de ballet dancers Andrew Bartee and Liora Neuville. Both Bartee and Neuville got their moment to shine for the enthusiastic audience, but the night belonged to Nakamura. More on that in a moment.
Liora Neuville in Kent Stowell's "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Liora Neuville is a lovely, quiet dancer. She and Benjamin Griffiths performed the Bluebird pas de deux from "Sleeping Beauty." It's a show piece that mixes some dazzling footwork with delicate choreography, a delicacy that Neuville herself always exhibited. Pretty steps for a pretty woman. Neuville leaves PNB to study nursing. As Artistic Director Peter Boal quipped, that almost makes you want to get sick.

Like Neuville, Andrew Bartee studied at the PNB school before he joined the company. Unlike Neuville, Bartee's neither pretty nor delicate. Instead, this lanky redhead is bold, elastic and has shone in work by contemporary choreographers, from Ulysses Dove to Twyla Tharp to, most recently, Crystal Pite, in her dance "Emergence." Bartee got a chance to reprise his solo from this large, challenging work, and it was a thrill to see him perform it once again.
Andrew Bartee in "Emergence" by Crystal Pite
photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Bartee leaves for Ballet BC later this summer. As I've mentioned before, it's just a pleasant road trip from Seattle. I take that as a small consolation. I'm so sorry to see him leave.

And then there's Kaori Nakamura. As one dance fan mentioned to me on our way out of McCaw Hall: "what a way to go!" It's the kind of graceful exit everyone should hope to emulate.

Nakamura has appeared in every kind of ballet over her 17 years with PNB, but she won't hesitate to tell you her favorites are the classics: "Swan Lake," "Sleeping Beauty," "Coppelia", "Romeo and Juliette." She loves them all. And that's what we got to see in this "Encore" program, snippets from these works, culminating in the Rose Adagio from "Sleeping Beauty." And what an emotional several minutes!

The stage was packed with Nakamura's long time PNB colleagues: all three ballet masters: Otto Neubert, Anne Dabrowski and Paul Gibson in period costume, plus a bevy of blue and white-clad ballerinas, including retired PNB soloist Chalnessa Eames.
Kaori Nakamura as Princess Aurora in PNB's "Sleeping Beauty"
photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB

And then, there were Nakamura's four suitors: Batkhurel Bold, James Moore, Jonathan Porretta and Jerome Tisserand. All four have danced with Nakamura, all four seemed honored to be part of her last dance. Just remembering it makes me a little teary. In her pink tutu (something she wished for as a little girl in Gumma, Japan) and sparkling tiara, Kaori Nakamura went out in a beautiful shimmer, surrounded by loving friends an adoring audience, and a mountain of flowers.

Time may pass, but if we're lucky, we hold onto our memories. Thank you Kaori Nakamura, for giving me plenty of wonderful images to hold on to.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Timeless Kaori Nakamura

Kaori Nakamura and Jerome Tisserand in Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling
She's been dancing for more than three decades, but on opening night of Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of Peter Boal's "Giselle," Kaori Nakamura looked as fresh and radiant as a woman half her age (44!). In the demanding title role, Nakamura conveyed every nuance of the love-struck young girl driven to madness, then death, by the perfidy of her man. She also showed us what we'll miss next season; Nakamura retires June 8th.

Nakamura's Act I Giselle is a coquette-a grape-picking peasant who has her eye on the hunky guy in the hut across the town square. Luckily, he's also got his eye on her. They flirt, they dance, they get engaged. But the hunk, Albrecht, isn't who he seems to be. Turns out he's really a nobleman in disguise. Worse, he's already engaged to somebody else. When Giselle finds out the truth (from the guy she's spurned), she descends into a grief induced madness that ultimately kills her.
Jerome Tisserand as Albrecht in PNB's "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling
Jerome Tisserand took on the role of Albrecht opposite Nakamura's Giselle, and it was a great opportunity for this dazzling young dancer, and for the audience. Tisserand still holds the rank of soloist with the company, but to my eyes he's the most princely man to take the McCaw Hall stage since Lucien Postlewaite left PNB three years ago for Monte Carlo. For one thing, Jerome Tisserand looks like a prince: handsome, dark, with chiseled cheek bones. But he's got more than looks going for him. He dances with a grace and lightness that set him apart. Tisserand is unbound by the same gravity that encumbers the rest of us.
Jerome Tisserand with Kaori Nakamura in PNB's "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling

In Act II, Giselle is dead. A grief-stricken Albrecht wanders into a spooky forest haunted by the ghosts of spurned women-the Wilis. When their queen, Myrtha, orders Albrecht to dance, Tisserand propels himself more than two feet straight off the ground, scissoring his feet like a hummingbird's wings. Then he does that a few more times for good measure. (If this ballet was set in the Wild West, the bad guy would be peppering his feet with bullets, goading him to 'dance, sucker.') Every time Tisserand's Albrecht staggers in exhaustion, Myrtha (danced by the ever astonishing Carrie Imler) points her finger at him, then mimes that he better keep going. So he does, circling the stage in continuous leaps. I'm sure Tisserand was thrilled when his character got to collapse to the stage floor; it was a good chance for him to catch his breath. I needed to catch mine, too.
Kaori Nakamura, Jerome Tisserand and PNB corps de ballet in "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling

PNB's production of "Giselle" was first unveiled three years ago. It was recreated from original manuscripts and notation. The company borrowed sets and costumes for those performances. This time around, PNB built all new sets and costumes. Particularly interesting were large etchings projected on a scrim that was revealed when the curtain rose. But it's the dancing that stands out in this production, particularly in Act II. The corps de ballet women, in long, ethereal white gowns, are the Wilis: stern, disciplined and magnificent. They execute their choreography with a fearsome precision. At one point, in unison, they hop across the stage on one foot. Their bodies lean forward from the waist, one arm extended straight in front of them at shoulder height, the other straight to the rear. They are Myrtha's angry army, prepared to hound to the death any unsuspecting man who ventures into their path.
PNB corps de ballet members as Wilis in "Giselle"
photo by Angela Sterling

All cylinders clicked in "Giselle", but opening night belonged to Kaori Nakamura. She made the dramatic evolution from flirtatious young girl, through hysterical madness, to defiant spectre seem effortless. Physically, Nakamura gave us her all: leaping and spinning with abandon, stalking across the floor en pointe, dangling almost weightless in Tisserand's arms, legs waving softly to and fro like a tree in a breeze.
Kaori Nakamura as Giselle
photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet

Lucky for us "Giselle" continues this weekend at McCaw Hall. Nakamura and Tisserand are schedule to perform the Saturday June 7th matinee. To mangle Shakespeare, get thee to the theater!