Monday, February 5, 2018

I Just Can't Forget

Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in Kent Stowell's "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling
I’ve got an old Beatles’ song running through my head.

“I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place….”

Swap “dancer” for “face” and you’ll have a sense of what I’ve been obsessing about for the past few days: Noelani Pantastico in the dual roles of Odette/Odile in the classic ballet “Swan Lake.”
Noelani Pantastico as Odette in "Swan Lake"
photo by Angela Sterling
Pantastico starred in Saturday evening's performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s latest iteration of Kent Stowell’s “Swan Lake.” Even if you don’t know much about ballet, you probably know about this one. It’s the 19th century classic about a prince who falls in love with a woman, Odette. The problem? She’s actually under the spell of an evil sorcerer. Odette only takes human form at night; by day she’s a white swan. Only sworn true love can break this spell.

Unfortunately for Odette, that doesn't happen. Her prince is seduced into pledging his troth to her evil doppelganger, the black swan Odile. Nobody lives happily after in this ballet, but it sure is beautiful.

In most contemporary productions, the same ballerina performs the dual roles of Odette/Odile. It seems to me, a non-ballerina, this must be one of the most challenging roles a dancer faces. 
Technically, the ballerina has to leap and spin, and perform Odile’s notorious 32 fouette turns, whipping her body around and around. It requires not only a laser-like focus, but also incredible stamina.

Maybe more important than technique, the ballerina must bring emotional depth and dramatic ability to these two roles. She must convince us that she is a graceful enchanted swan woman Odette, as well as the beautifully confident (but let's face it, venal) Odile, daughter of the evil sorcerer Rothbart.
Seth Orza and Noelani Pantastico as the Prince and Odile
photo by Angela Sterling
The last time I saw “Swan Lake,” the incredible Carla Korbes danced Odette/Odile. Korbes was (and maybe still is?) one of the most graceful and emotional of dancers. Her Odette was birdlike and bereft; her Odile? Well, Korbes was excellent but she wasn't really convincingly nasty. Still, she was my gold standard.
Carla Korbes dances Odette in 2015 at PNB
photo by Angela Sterling

Watching Noelani Pantastico on Saturday evening, I saw a completely different interpretation: a fierce, taunting Odile who looks down her nose at everyone in the royal party as she whips around the room with the prince. When his mother (hooray, Margaret Mullin is back onstage!) extends her hand to her future daughter in law, Pantastico's Odile all but shoves it away. Pantastico was equally convincing as a tormented, beautiful Odette in love with Seth Orza's prince. She made me want to weep for the tragedy of her doomed love (and this ballet has never made me weep.)

Pantastico has years of experience at both PNB and with Jean Christophe Maillot's company, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, where she honed her dramatic talents. Of course she leapt and spun, but she imbued both swans with something extra. When Pantastico is overtaken by dark magic and begins to transform from woman to swan, it seems to come as a shock to her body. Her long arms begin to flap, pulled at the shoulders, as if Rothbart is yanking invisible strings. Pantastico’s huge dark eyes mourn, her expression is one of agony as she is wrenched from Orza’s arms toward Rothbart, who looms in a misty corner.
Seth Orza and Noelani Pantastico, photo by Angela Sterling
so in love, but not for long!
As I said earlier, I’ve just seen a dancer, a performance, I can’t forget.

Four other PNB principals will tackle this demanding role during the run of the production. 

Lesley Rausch and Laura Tisserand danced Odette/Odile opening weekend; Elizabeth Murphy and Sarah Orza will make their debuts this week. Each woman will bring her own interpretation, her own experience and technical skills to her performance. Each will be unique. I wish I had the time to see them all. Rausch and Sarah Orza are both dancing at the top of their games right now; Tisserand is just back from maternity leave, and Murphy will dance this role for the first time with Prince Lucien Postelwaite. 

You've got six different performances to choose from. Noelani Pantastico and Seth Orza close out the run on Sunday evening at McCaw Hall.  Find ticket and casting info here

Friday, February 2, 2018

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

"The Burning Stable", by Adolf Schreyer
photographed in the Frye Art Museum, Seattle
February began with steady rain and dark skies. But why should this month diverge from the pattern 2018 has set? Gloomy weather and even gloomier politics. Still, the meteorological monotony has started to chafe my soul.

So, I retreated to Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, a cultural jewel box bequeathed to the city by Charles Frye and his wife Emma. A show of work by contemporary Tlingit artist Alison Marks intrigues me, but something (melancholy?) tugs me into the one gallery still dedicated to the Frye’s personal collection. The museum has dubbed this room the Frye Salon. The walls are crammed with late 19th/early 20th century paintings. Many are German, but French and American artists are sprinkled in.
A visitor in the Frye Salon at Seattle's Frye Art Museum
notice the art student on the left, copying one of the paintings

It's probably not hip or correct to admit it, but I love this gallery; the paintings hang check by jowl, portraits sharing intimate wall space with landscapes, liberally accented with depictions of livestock. Charles Frye made his fortune in the meatpacking industry. Did he collect these animal paintings to remind him of the source of his livelihood?

When my son was young, he adored a painting of terrified horses fleeing a burning stable. Well, he was young and enamored of firefighters. Still, the work by German artist Adolf Schreyer is definitely one of the more dramatic in the Frye's collection.
A slightly crooked look at Charles and Emma Frye on the wall of the museum they left to Seattle
painted by Henry Raschen in 1913
Sitting in a gray velvet chair, I notice not one but two sets of portraits of Charles and Emma hanging on the walls, plus another small oil painting of Emma’s head. The Fryes look serene, almost majestic, as if they're watching us enjoy their collection. More than 100 paintings hang in this Salon, apparently just the way they hung on the walls of the Frye's own home.

Out of all the paintings, I’m invariably drawn to a John Singer Sargent-esque portrait of a beautiful dark-haired woman. Her chin is slightly lifted, but her eyes beckon me. The painting, by someone named Leopold Schmutzler, is called “Here I Am.” Indeed.
"Here I am" by Leopold Schmutzler, 1910
wouldn't you follow her anywhere???
Sitting in this room, I’m transported out of the present, away from the tumult and chaos of news reports about secret memos, and nuclear weapons upgrades; porn stars and the man who would be president.
Here she is in her current habitat

I’m sure many of the artists whose works hang on the Frye Museum walls used their skills to comment on similar tumultuous times a century ago, but these paintings don’t communicate those messages to me. Instead, I conjure my own stories as I idle away an hour. I’m warm and dry, oblivious to politics and the rain, rain, relentless rain of February in Seattle.