Monday, March 16, 2015

The Visceral And Intellectual Thrill Of Forsythe

PNB soloists Leta Biasucci and Margaret Mullin in "Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude"
photo by Angela Sterling
Opening night at Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe," the first American all-Forsythe evening, I had this kind of tingly sensation as I took my seat. You know that feeling of anticipation when you're about to open a fabulous gift? Or maybe the way your stomach kind of churns with excitment when you're on an airplane that's about to take off for your Paris vacation?

I'd been waiting for this particular program ever since PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal announced it as part of the company's 2014-15 season.

Nothing like some heavy expectations, eh?

This all-Forsythe experience not only fulfilled those expectations; it reminded me of all the ways that dance can both thrill me with its energy and grace, while at the same time pushing me to consider what I'm watching.
Benjamin Griffiths and Carrie Imler in "Vertiginous Thrill..."
photo by Angela Sterling

The evening opener, "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," is one wild ride. It's a non-stop dazzle of virtuosity, precision and, let's face it, fortitude from the five dancers who barely get a chance to stop to breathe.

The curtain goes up on two men in orange shorts and shirts. Jonathan Porretta and Benjamin Griffiths were more than capable of meeting the challenges Forsythe threw down for them. They executed the leaps, spins and chains of intricate footwork with panache and an exactitude that was, well, thrilling.

The three women-Carrie Imler, Leta Biasucci and Margaret Mullin, were equally up to the tasks at hand. Dazzling in acid-green tutus that looked nothing like the classical confections of tulle that we'll see in "Swan Lake," these dancers were marvels in motion. When I managed to snap my jaw shut, I scrawled down in my notebook 'wicked footwork.' Wicked indeed, and fabulous.

After a musical interlude to celebrate the PNB orchestra's 25th  anniversary, we were treated to "New Suite." The dance-first performed in 2012 at Dresden Semperoper Ballett, and no place else until now-is really a collection of nine pas de deux. Forsythe originally choreographed them for other dances that aren't performed any more. Four are set to music by George Frideric Handel, three to sections of Luciano Berio's mid-20th century "Duetti per due violins," one to a Bach chaconne, and the longest, the "Slingerland pas de deux," to Gavin Byars' 1985 "String Quartet no. 1."  The music was performed live.
PNB soloists William Lin-Yee and Elizabeth Murphy in Handel 1 from "New Suite"
photo by Angela Sterling

"New Suite" opens with a romantic Handel duet, performed with stunning elegance by soloists Elizabeth Murphy and William Lin-Yee. Murphy was at her best; her body seemed to arc and stretch as if made of some kind of delicate elastic. Lin-Yee, always an able dancer, mesmerized with his strength and solid partnering.

While the three opening Handel duets were charmers, the sharper-themed Berio pas de deux were the true highlights for me. Performed by Lesley Rausch and Raphael Bouchard, Lindsi Dec and Jerome Tisserand, and Chelsea Adomaitis and Steven Loch, these three gems highlight the nuance and sometimes jagged discord that most of us experience in romantic relationships.
PNB Principal Lindsi Dec with Jerome Tisserand in Berio 3 from "New Suite"
photo by Angela Sterling

It's the little details that elevate these dances beyond mere illustrations; the brief caress of a cheek, or a tug on a partner's knee to lift his leg off the floor. Adomaitis holds her arm out straight, hand tilted up with her palm to the audience. When Loch forms a circle with his arms, she undulates her head and torso through it, a fish swimming upstream. Knocked me out.
PNB corps de ballet members Chelsea Adomaitis and Steven Loch in Berio 2
photo by Angela Sterling

These details, these gestures, build on one another like wet sand dribbled to form a beautiful castle at the seaside.

The one sour note on opening night was "Slingerland." I had seen it performed five years ago and loved it. Laura Tisserand and Karel Cruz seemed rushed, out of synch with the music. Their Saturday matinee performance was infinitely better and I found out later that the live string quartet had been replaced with a recording.

"New Suite" ends with the fourth Handel pas de deux, and Forsythe saved the best Handel for last. Jahna Frantziskonis and Kyle Davis were adorable in what feels a bit like a balletic version of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." But in the Saturday matinee, Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta seized the stage and gave a textbook performance in what it means to combine confident technique with pure charisma. Wow. Be still, my heart!

The program ends with "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," part of PNB's repertoire since 2000, and a consistent crowd pleaser. This tour de force is still as captivating as I'm certain it was when it debuted at the Paris Opera Ballet 30 some years ago.
PNB Principal Jonathan Porretta and company dancers in "In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated"
photo by Angela Sterling

"In the Middle..." is an ensemble piece for nine dancers, set on a stage stripped bare to the back wall and wings, and lit eerily from overhead. You feel like you're watching the dancers after hours in an abandoned warehouse. That feeling is magnified by Thom Willem's powerful electronic score.

Every dancer on opening night brought something special to this dance, but Lindsi Dec, Lesley Rausch, Seth Orza, William Lin-Yee, Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta were standouts.

Every time I see Rausch in a contemporary ballet I think 'this is what she was born to do.' As a performer she brings a cool, almost haughty elegance to the stage. Think Grace Kelly. These traits, combined with her technical mastery, were stunning in this work.

Dec, with her amazing long lean body, brought a feral ferocity to the choreography. And Imler and Porretta? What can I say? They were brilliant. Just brilliant.

I saw "Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe" twice opening weekend. I'm so glad I have the opportunity to see the program one more time. It's like postponing the end of a long vacation, savoring one last cocktail in a Parisian boite.

The PNB dancers have been inspired and energized by the all-Forsythe program, and by the chance to work with this choreographer and his stagers. You will be inspired and energized when you see them perform this great program. You've got four more chances; "Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe" is at McCaw Hall March 19-22nd.
PNB corps de ballet members Jahna Frantziskonis and Ezra Thomson in Handel 2 from "New Suite"
photo by Angela Sterling

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