Thursday, December 31, 2015

What Is 'It'?

Audrey Hepburn in her first film, "Roman Holiday"
Last weekend I pulled out a copy of Audrey Hepburn’s first film, “Roman Holiday.” If you’ve never seen it, I’ll briefly recap: Hepburn plays a princess on a goodwill tour. By the time she gets to Rome, she’s exhausted and sick of the insular life she leads. Her doctor administers a drug. Under its sedative influence, she flees her hotel, and meets cute with Gregory Peck’s character, a suave American newspaper man. I’ll let you watch the movie to find out what happens next.

The thing that really struck me was Hepburn’s on-screen aura: she glowed. It was almost as if her light was so bright, the cameras and crew couldn’t contain it. I imagined what the studio execs must have thought when they saw the dailies: ‘holy smokes, this kid is gonna be a star!’

Audrey Hepburn had ‘it’: that indefinable charisma and presence that make it almost impossible for us to avert our eyes. That ‘it’ factor is what makes stars stars, no matter their artistic medium.

I’ve been working on a profile of Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta; he has ‘It.’
Jonathan Porretta in PNB performance of "Fancy Free" by Jerome Robbins
photo by Angela Sterling

Audiences love Porretta. But he tells me he loves them more than they love him. And he wants to give them everything he's got. His boss, PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal, says when Porretta dances the role of Gamache, say, in “Don Quixote”, his aim is to steal the show. Oh, he does that!

Jonathan Porretta as Gamache in PNB production of "Don Quixote", choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky
photo by Angela Sterling

Gamache is the rich fop intended for the heroine Kitri. Of course, she only has eyes for the more virile Basilio. Gamache is a fool. Porretta chews the scenery, spits it out, and somehow draws every eye in the hall.

Which leads me to wonder: is ‘It’ in the eye of the beholder? Or is there something about certain people that just draws us to them?

Seattle’s stunning contemporary dance company Whim W’Him is made up of fine artists, but whenever I attend a performance, my eyes immediately follow dancer Justin Reiter. 
Whim W'Him's Justin Reiter, front, with Jim Kent
photo by Bamberg Fine Art

He throws himself whole-heartedly into the choreography, and his skill and dedication are obvious. But with Reiter, there’s also a frisson of electricity onstage, something that transcends the material.
Jade Solomon Curtis, performing with Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theatre

Former Spectrum Dance company member Jade Solomon Curtis had that same magnetism onstage. Andrew Bartee, who used to dance with both PNB and Whim W’Him and is now at Ballet BC, has it in spades.

A colleague and I recently had a conversation about the ‘It’ factor. She thought it would make a great feature story. She’s right, but actually, I’ve been talking to folks about it, and nobody can pin it down for me in a way that makes concrete sense.
Chow Yun Fat in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Maybe there are ‘It’ performances, rather than ‘It’ people? I’m quite partial to Chow Yun Fat in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” And the possibility that British actor Idris Elba could succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond? Well, what can I say except, be still my heart?
Wouldn't hunky Idris Elba rock James Bond?

For now, I’ll get back to work on the Jonathan Porretta profile. And for his many fans who have missed him during his very prolonged recuperation from surgery, here’s a New Year’s gift: Porretta says he’ll “most def” be back at PNB in the company’s upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliette.” 
what a face!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Waiting Patiently

PNB Principal Dancers Jonathan Porretta and Carrie Imler dance William Forsythe
photo by Angela Sterling
This holiday season is daunting when it comes to the arts. Seriously, it’s next to impossible to take in all the offerings that Seattle arts organizations present to us. Music, theater, visual arts, dance…it would be great to have some of this rich meal portioned out over the next few months. But that's not how the holidays work.

I’m not going to wax eloquent here on which Messiah is the most mellifluous, or which chorus brings it when it comes to Christmas carols.

Nope. Here's a little peek at what I'm working on: a long profile of this guy:

Jonathan Porretta (with bartender Glenn Kawasaki) in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free
photo by Angela Sterling

If you like ballet, you know him: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta.

He’s been out of the spotlight since last March, when a serious foot injury forced him to stop dancing in the middle of PNB’s fab all-William Forsythe rep.

Porretta had major surgery last summer, and he’s been rehabbing like crazy in hopes of being back onstage for the company’s new Nutcracker. That December return is still up in the air. He says if (IF???) he’s back for this production, it’ll be at the end of the run.
PNB Principal Dancers Jonathan Porretta and Noelani Pantastico in George Balanchine's "Square Dance"
photo by Angela Sterlig

So now Porretta fans have their fingers crossed that this audience favorite will be back in February for the return of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s heartbreaker, “Romeo et Juliette.” No, Porretta won’t be dancing the role of Romeo; if you saw this ballet the last time PNB performed it, you’ll remember Porretta in the role of Mercutio. He was, as always, a scene stealer.

And, according to his good friend and former PNB dancer Jordan Pacitti, Porretta is persistent, in his work ethic and when it comes to getting himself back onstage. He’s had to be patient and dogged to work his way back to performance-shape. We've tried to be patient, too.

At 34, Porretta can glimpse retirement not too far down the track. And he says 'not yet.' Pacitti left PNB almost six years ago; last spring Porretta’s other good friend, Kiyon Gaines, gave a last bow to his performing career. Porretta plans to dance until he's 40, and with his dogged attitude, he may make it.
PNB Principal Dancer Jonathan Porretta in Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room"
photo by Angela Sterling
The saddest part of a professional dancer’s life is how fleeting it is. Very few ballet dancers continue to perform past 40; recent notable exceptions in Seattle: PNB principals Kaori Nakamura and Louise Nadeau. Jonathan Porretta hopes to join their ranks.

In the meantime, audiences have to exercise our own patience. If I can't watch him dance, I guess I'll go back to writing about Jonathan Porretta. Look for that profile in the not-too-distant future.