Monday, November 5, 2018

Cerrudo's Little Gems

Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in Alejandro Cerrudo's Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

In March, 2016, I was sitting in McCaw Hall, waiting for the curtain to go up on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual contemporary bill, Director’s Choice.  A dear friend had passed away the day before, and I was filled with both sadness and anticipation for the program that was about to begin. I love contemporary ballet.

I don’t remember where it appeared on the bill, but when Price Suddarth ran through the house and jumped up on the stage, the beginning of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump, I was shaken from my own moodiness and I set off on the kind of emotional journey I crave at a performance: I transcended my grief. Rather, I lost my self in what I saw to be a contemplation of all the possibilities that lay before us as human beings.

Does that sound high falutin’?

Maybe, but it’s an accurate description of my experience of Cerrudo’s work. And that’s why I was excited to learn that PNB would present another of his ballets, Silent Ghost, as part of its 2018 All Premiere program.
PNB Principal Dancer Leta Biasucci and company dancers in Kyle Davis' A Dark and Lonely Place
photo @ Angela Sterling

Ghost was sandwiched between PNB soloist Kyle Davis’ ambitious world premiere, A Dark and Lonely Place, and a hilarious sendup of pretentious arts writers like me called Cacti, from choreographer Alexander Ekman. Cerrudo’s work was quieter, far more intimate, a palate cleanser if you will.

PNB provided no choreographer’s statement or any other information about the ballet in its printed program, except to say Silent Ghost was the third piece by Cerrudo to be presented by the company. That left me free to experience it any way I wanted. That is to say, I could immerse myself in Michael Korsch’s exquisite and atmospheric lighting, and the cast’s equally exquisite and atmospheric performances.

I saw two different casts, but each included Lucien Postlewaite, Noelani Pantastico, Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald performing two pas de deux that serve as bookends in this dance; for me they were also examples of how we humans interact with one another.
PNB Principal Dancers Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite in Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

The first duet featured a kind of powerful coming together, exemplified by an amazing lift: the male dancer bends at the waist, with the woman balanced on his back. She extends her legs back behind her, veed out from her body. Here’s a photo, but really, you need to see this in person. 

For me, this wasn’t only technically stunning; it really illustrated the kind of interplay that we bring to our relationships. (I should say that I saw both couples perform both pas de deux, in two separate performances; the effect was the same.)

Cerrudo has a great talent for creating interesting movements. I loved what I can only describe as a prone ‘wave.’ On opening night, Noelani Pantastico and Leah Merchant lay in a line, Merchant’s feet next to Pantastico’s head. Pantastico started to ripple, from her feet up through her legs, lower back, arms and head, then Merchant echoed this wave of movement.

The dancers kneel in a row facing the audience, then bend their arms at elbows with fingers pointed upwards. Forearms pass in front of faces, heads tilt in unison, then syncopation. It resembled a kind of sign language, but I couldn't translate it. No matter; it was fascinating to watch.
PNB dancers Dylan Wald and Elizabeth Murphy in Little mortal jump
photo @ Angela Sterling

Finally, as with Little mortal jump, Cerrudo creates an ending duet that reminded me how fragile our relationships can be. In Little mortal jump, Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald dance a duet of possibilities; they spin around the floor, and soon the set begins to spin with them, opening wider and wider, inviting me to contemplate the next step in life. In Silent Ghost, the two dancers circled one another, establishing their bond and questioning it at the same time. This dance isn't really about hope and possibility; it's about our coming together then moving apart.
Wald and Murphy in Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

Silent Ghost doesn’t really have a narrative; I’m prone to creating stories for myself where none exist, so this ballet might mean something completely different to you. Or maybe you'd simply enjoy the stellar performances PNB's dancers bring to the stage. This little gem of a ballet might be obscured by the pomp and scale of Kyle Davis’ opening work, or the tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of Cacti (which I loved, for the record). But Silent Ghost is the dance I’m still pondering, a dance that left me wanting more.


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