Monday, March 19, 2018

OMG, I love this ballet

PNB company members in William Forsythe's "One Flat Thing, reproduced" 2018
photo @ Stacy Ebestyne

The first time I saw Pacific Northwest Ballet perform William Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing, reproduced,” in 2008, my head exploded in the most wonderful way. I’d loved Forsythe’s “In the middle, somewhat elevated,” already part of the PNB repertoire, but “One Flat Thing,” with Thom Willems’ arresting electronic score and its flotilla of white-topped tables that served as both set, obstacles, and dance partners? This was a ballet that spoke to my soul.

It still does.

Ten years later, PNB presents the dance again, as the capstone to the annual “Director’s Choice” program. And “One Flat Thing” is better than I remembered it.
PNB company members in Forsythe's "One Flat Thing" 2018
photo @ Angela Sterling

If you haven’t had an opportunity to see it, this is a work for 14 dancers and, 20 metal tables.  As the lights come up, the dancers emerge from darkness at the back of the stage, each dragging out a table, which they align precisely, like cars in neat parking spaces. Then, to Willems’ sometimes jarring score, we watch the interplay between the humans onstage, as well as the interplay between humans and their environment; in this case---the tables.

On opening night, March 16th, Christian Poppe began the action with an emphatic hop straight up from the floor to a set on a table top; Noelani Pantastico seized the stage, striding toward us between two rows of tables, her hands grazing their surfaces, her ponytail sailing in her wake. Ryan Cardea teasingly echoed the movements of his fellow cast members; Kyle Davis stepped in to help a dancer reposition her legs, while Lucien Postelwaite lay under a table, his movements shadowing the action above him.
 
PNB company members in Forsythe's "One Flat Thing, reproduced" 2018
photo @ Angela Sterling
“One Flat Thing, reproduced” was inspired by Robert Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, according to the program, and if you’re inclined toward literalism, you can see icebergs in those white table tops. Ten years ago, this ballet made me thing about chaos and order; this time around I saw it as a thrilling wild ride that showcases each dancer’s technical abilities and full-on commitment to this multi-faceted, and continually fascinating, work.

As I mentioned, “One Flat Thing” capped an excellent evening of contemporary work that opened with the premiere of PNB soloist Ezra Thomson’s ambitious and sophisticated “The Perpetual State.” I’ll write more about it after a second viewing.

Karel Cruz and Laura Tisserand were sinuous and elegant in Forsythe’s “Slingerland Duet.” PNB audiences originally saw this in 2015 as part of another work called “New Suite.” Forsythe removed this long duet, and now it stands on its own in the PNB rep, like a polished jewel.
 
PNB Principal Dancers Laura Tisserand and Karel Cruz in Forsythe's "Slingerland Duet" 2018
photo @ Angela Sterling
“Slingerland” was paired mid-evening with Ulysses Dove’s 1994 quartet “Red Angels,” performed to Mary Rowell’s percussive, plaintive electric violin. I have loved “Red Angels” since the first time I saw it at PNB in 2005. The opening night cast--Lindsi Dec, Lucien Postelwaite, Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand--were uniformly excellent, but I have to single out Postelwaite, who took my breath away. He has a seemingly magical ability to hang in mid-air for an extra beat, when you’d think gravity would pull him to the stage. It’s a haunting contrast to Rowell’s throbbing and somewhat ragged violin.
 
PNB Principal Dancers Lucien Postelwaite and Lesley Rausch in Ulysses Dove's "Red Angels"
photo @ Angela Sterling
Actually, it feels a little unfair to single out dancers, because the company as a whole looks so good right now. Artistic Director Peter Boal regularly pulls out members of his corps de ballet, to feature them in roles that typically go to soloists or principal dancers. At this performance, he took the opportunity to promote two of those corps members: Price Suddarth and Steven Loch. Both promotions are well-deserved, but Boal could just as easily promote at least half a dozen others:  Emma Love Suddarth (Price’s wife); Sarah Pasch; Elle Macy; Miles Pertl; Dylan Wald to name just a few of the excellent company members who deliver great performances night after night.


New PNB Soloist Price Suddarth rocking it in the studio
photo @ Angela Sterling

If you’ve been meaning to check out PNB, now is the time. The company is preparing for its first-ever tour to Paris, plus the work on offer is exciting. “Director’s Choice” runs Thursday through Sunday at McCaw Hall. Go! You won't be disappointed. 

FYI, you can also catch the return of Crystal Pite’s “Betroffenheit” this coming weekend, a co-presentation of Seattle Theater Group and On The Boards. And that will prep you for a return to PNB in April, for Pite’s monumental “Emergence.”

What a spring!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Kim Lusk's Shiny Dark Horses

Cast of "A Dance for Dark Horses" by Kim Lusk, at Velocity Dance Center March 9-11, 2018
photo by Jazzy Photo

Thank you Kim Lusk!

I really needed your first full length work, “A Dance for Dark Horses,” part of Velocity Dance Center’s “Made in Seattle” program.

Let’s face it, the world around us has been particularly chaotic for the past year, and it’s all too easy to get mired in the venomous mudslinging that’s been sparked by the titular head of the free world. It’s enough to make my head explode. Lusk’s “Dark Horses” was a refreshing and witty breather, a chance to revel in art well made and well performed.

Lusk and her three main dancers—Alexander Pham, Shane Donohue and Erin McCarthy—took the floor one by one in silence, their eyes focused out toward the audience. Lusk appeared last, and took a place directly in front of McCarthy, who then skootched to the side so we could see her. This was the first signal that we were in for something figuratively and literally off kilter.
 
Alexander Pham, Kim Lusk and Erin McCarthy in "A Dance for Dark Horses"
photo by Jazzy Photo
The dancers skittered across the floor on their toes to Ryan Hume’s club-inspired soundtrack, arms and shoulders pumping to the steady beat. Then, all at once, in unison, they seem to tip to the side, pushed by unseen hands which catapult them into another section of the dance.

Pham performs Gagnam-style arabesques and pirouettes, twirling an invisible lasso overhead in homage to Psy and his K-pop crew. Lusk strikes John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever pose, arms outstretched, fingers pointed. Donohue’s duet with a battered tambourine is both poignant and hilarious. The tiny percussion instrument seems to have a life of its own; Donohue tries to end the duet but the tambourine keeps jingling until Donohue assaults it with his foot.

McCarthy whirls out a ferocious solo, then collapses to the floor, sweaty and panting. Lusk watches her, a big smile illuminating her face. McCarthy catches her eye and smiles back.
 
Kim Lusk and Shane Donohue in "A Dance for Dark Horses"
photo by Jazzy Photo
These dark horses---tall and short, thin and round, are always aware of one another and of us sitting in the audience. They revel in their movements, particularly Lusk, a compact Gumby of a dancer. As her arms swing back and forth to the music, she twirls her pelvis to a different rhythm, a counterpoint if you will, all the while watching us with a knowing look and a half smile. We rewarded her audacity with laughter, cheers and delighted applause.

“A Dance for Dark Horses” isn’t fluff; it’s technically ambitious and rich with popular culture allusions. All the dancers, including a Fantasia-esque gaggle of women in hot pink, delivered their parts with precision and full-fledged brio. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I found myself wanting to join in, although I’m certain I couldn’t keep up the nonstop pace.

Lusk’s work reminded me of the pleasures of moving to the beat, of the delight and camaraderie. And it reminded me that in a time when so many people are devoted to resistance and struggle, sometimes we need to take an hour to delight in the joy of being alive.