Saturday, April 11, 2015

Transcendent Moments

Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Carla Korbes in Kent Stowell's "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling
We live in a day and age where everybody wants to quantify EVERYTHING.

Data are supposed to tell us how well kids are learning.
How our businesses are performing.
And, in my world of journalism, what impact our work has on our audience.

I’ve been contemplating that last one.

Bean-counters want to know whether or not the audience takes action after we read, or hear, or see something. In the data world, that’s the way you measure impact. But I’d argue the most powerful impact is not about the actions we take; it’s about the way we feel.

Look, you’ve probably experienced those moments in life that transport you from your humdrum rut. And chances are, you don’t really know WHY. For me, those moments sometimes come when I’m swimming along, and the water is gliding over my arms and legs and the sun is shining and everything just feels easy and rhythmic and happy and peaceful.

But more often, it’s a great artwork that catapults me into that realm. For example, the other day I was driving along listening to a recording of Chopin’s “Polonaise” on the car radio. Something about the way the pianist accented the notes he played gave the piece a sort of suspenseful syncopation. I don’t know, I found it thrilling.
PNB Principal Dancer Carla Korbes and Company dancers in "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling

I had that same sense of goose-bumpy thrill Friday, April 10, 2015, at Seattle’s McCaw Hall, as I watched Carla Korbes dance in Act 2 of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “Swan Lake.”

(You’ve probably heard of this ballet, even if you’ve never seen it. A handsome prince wanders out to a secluded lake one night. By the light of the full moon, he and his hunting buddies encounter a flock of beautiful swans. Turns out they’re actually beautiful women who’ve been bewitched by an evil sorcerer.
And, wouldn’t you know it, our hero falls in love with the loveliest member of the flock, a swan/woman named Odette. He can rescue her from her situation with a pledge of true love. I’m not giving anything away to say that things don’t end well. This is a 19th century ballet, after all.)
PNB Principal Dancers Karel Cruz and Carla Korbes in "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling

Carla Korbes didn’t just dance Kent Stowell’s choreography that evening; she embodied it. She floated across the mist-shrouded stage, her raised arms undulating behind her, as if they really were wings. It was astonishing to watch the wave of motion flow from a slight lift of Korbes’ shoulder, through her rippling forearm, and out through fingers that feathered through the air.
With each infinitesimal tuck of her chin, or tilt of her head, Korbes was less human than avian. I had no reason to question why this prince, danced by Karel Cruz, would be captivated by her. Who wouldn’t be?

Not long ago I sat down with Korbes to talk what it’s like when she’s onstage. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t make conscious choices when she performs. After more than 20 years of training, she says she doesn’t have to worry about the technique anymore.

Sure, when she has to dance the seemingly endless chain of fouette turns in Act 3, in the role of Odette’s evil alter-ego, the black swan Odile, Korbes must concentrate. It’s a daunting technical and artistic challenge. Korbes threw down 27 fouettes. By the way, I counted.

But a performance isn’t about the steps for Korbes; it’s about her relationships: with her partner, with the audience, and most of all, with her character. And that relationship is what she wants the audience to experience.

“I think it can touch people in a way that is not conscious.” Korbes believes the printed word doesn’t give readers the room to dream or to feel. “Dance is different. It depends on mood.”
PNB company members in "Swan Lake", choreographed by Kent Stowell
photo by Angela Sterling

The mood Korbes created in “Swan Lake” was ethereal, beyond words, and certainly beyond a data analysis of its impact. She elevated the beautiful mystery of that misty, moonlit lake, with her stunning attendant flock of 24 swans. She took me with her to someplace beyond Seattle’s McCaw Hall. I was conscious that she was Carla Korbes dancing a role, but at the same time I was touched by the magical possibility that a woman could be an enchanted swan.

Ultimately, I think that’s what a great artist can do: transmit the magic; the intangible, unquantifiable glory of what it means to be human and to dream and to hope and to create. Korbes managed to reveal to her delirious audience a sliver of the divine possibilities that lie within us all. The night was inspirational, and unforgettable.

1 comment:

  1. Marcie --
    I'm in tears, just reading this. I can see her. And feel her. Thank you.

    Linda Townsend West