Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Ballerina Returns

Former PNB Principal Dancer Patricia Barker
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker is back in town.

Well, she’s not onstage herself.

Barker is in Seattle with her Michigan-based company, Grand Rapids Ballet, and two distinctively different programs.

The stint at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center opened last night with a new twist on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” choreographed by former PNB principal dancer Olivier Wevers.
Wevers created this ballet for GRB; this is its Seattle debut.
Grand Rapids Ballet company members in Olivier Wevers' "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Barker’s company rounds out its Pacific Northwest visit with a mixed bill called MOVEMEDIA. In includes four contemporary works, by choreographers Anabelle Lopez Ochoa, David Parsons, Mario Radocovsky and Penny Saunders. Wevers’ company, Whim W’Him, has presented both Saunders and Lopez Ochoa here.
Grand Rapids Ballet company members

Patricia Barker had an acclaimed ballet career. She was known for her long elegance, and her commitment to technique. After she retired from PNB almost a decade ago, Barker spent time as an independent repetiteur, staging choreographer George Balanchine’s ballets around the world. She took her current position as Artistic Director at Grand Rapids Ballet in 2011.

This week’s performances mark Barker’s official return to Seattle. Her company performs just yards from the Phelps Center, where she built her career. It will be interesting to see if and how her dancers reflect that formidable past.


Monday, October 5, 2015

The Mind Of Pat Graney

Jenny Peterson and Sara Jinks in Pat Graney's "Girl Gods"
photo courtesy of the choreographer
Over the years I’ve spent a fair amount of time navigating the rich pathways of Pat Graney’s mind.

It’s always an amazing journey.

Graney has been making dances in Seattle for more than two decades. Love them or hate them, they are always fascinating.

I happen to love her work, even when it’s not quite finished.

That’s the case with Graney's latest ambitious project, “Girl Gods,” which premiered October 1-4 at On the Boards in Seattle.

"Girl Gods" is billed as an exploration of women’s rage. Graney explained in a post-show talk-back that she initially planned to begin the piece with a tantrum. She decided that was too literal.

Instead, Sara Jinks walks agonizingly slowly across the stage, carefully placing each foot precisely in front of the other. With one hand, she guides herself along the uneven surface of what looks like a brick wall. In the other, Jinks balances a teacup and saucer. The porcelain chatters with each tremulous step, an audio reminder of the precarious path every woman weaves through her life, trying to balance her desires with other people’s expectations.

“Girl Gods” is a series of connected scenes that roll out in front of an elaborate wall made from what look like stacked white blocks. As the performance gets underway, we see that many of these “blocks” are actually cardboard storage boxes that contain everything from raw poultry to a blood red dress.
Jody Kuehner in Pat Graney's "Girl Gods"
photo courtesy of the choreographer


The scenes vary from tantrums--full body raging and writhing that Graney says exacts a physiological toll on each performer--to darkly humorous vignettes. Recent Stranger Genius-award winner Jody Kuehner (aka Cherdonna Shinatra) is particularly brilliant as she laboriously forces her body into a tiny pink tee shirt, capris and hoodie. Kuehner’s antics provoke laughter, but the message is far more serious: women must contort themselves, infantilize themselves, to fit the mold society has set out for us.

Frequent Graney collaborator Amy Denio created an audio score laced with snippets of interviews the dancers conducted with their own mothers. Like the movement on stage, it feels like a sonic quilt: varied and elaborate.

Longtime Graney audience members recognized some of the choreographer’s signature motifs and images: high heels, hand gestures that conjure American Sign Language, slowly drifting sand. The motifs are familiar, but this performance is not a regurgitation or revisitation of Graney's body of work. 

Instead, they remind us how this artist uses each creation to explore another facet of herself, and of what it means to be female in our culture. All of her performers touch on those themes; “Girl Gods” puts them squarely front and center. It's another step in Graney's artistic growth and maturity.
Sruti Desai and Cheryl Delostrinos in Pat Graney's "Girl Gods"
photo courtesy of the choreographer

Despite the high points it hit, “Girl Gods” felt unfinished, like a sweater that still needs its final neckline ribbing. Graney told the talk-back audience she envisions it in final form as an installation as well as an evening-length performance. She's touring the work, so no doubt it will evolve and fulfill her vision over time.


Despite that sense of incompletion, "Girl Gods" was thought provoking and intriguing;yet another confirmation of Pat Graney’s distinctive and unique artistic voice.
The cast of Pat Graney's "Girl Gods"
photo courtesy of the choreographer