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…