Pacific Northwest Ballet at City Center
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by Barnett Serchuk
Pacific Northwest Ballet is and should always be welcomed in New York. It has a long history with the works of George Balanchine, so what better way to present its opening program than with three classic Balanchine works. Although we have seen these ballets millions of times in New York, what balletomane doesn't like to shop, compare, argue or discuss?
Concerto Barocco, that great ballet set to Bach's Double Violin Concerto, opened the program, and I can say with honesty that it works better on the smaller City Center stage than on Koch stage. The dancers don't have to worry about getting to their places on time and can actually relax. Plus the intimacy of the stage perfectly renders the ballet's supreme exposition of agile feet at work. Although it is easier to spot the ballet's mechanics and maneuvering, it is also easier to just sit back and delight in the ballet's cool and bracing atmosphere. Was there ever a ballet that is seems so serene yet is something of a killer for the dancers?
Barocco presents other challenges. At the Koch it seems as if the dancers are not on the music, but behind it. This undermines the entire ballet and makes me wonder if the ballet is not rehearsed properly or if the dancers just can't mark the music. This, luckily, was not the problem at this performance. Laura Gilbreath, the lead dancer, and Lindsi Dec, the female soloist, show how the close coordination between choreography and music adds new layers of meaning: intimacy, elation and tranquility. This is what Balanchine referred to as "seeing the music." Most times we don't see it.
Barocco's pas de duex in the second movement posed a problem for me. Gilbearth's physique and line did not match that of her partner, Batkhurel Bold. Gilbearth is tall and lean, Bold is shorter than his partner a somewhat stocky. What should be physically symmetrical became distorted and unbalanced. Perhaps I was hoping to see a dancer who complemented his partner. But partnerships in ballet rely not only on temperament, but physique. Here a different male partner would have been useful.
Apollo was given an excellent performance. Like so many I keep wondering why Seth Orza and Carla Korbes never received the recognition they deserved when they were with New York City Ballet. Orza is a dancer with a genuine virile presence. I would call him more of a European Apollo in the manner of Peter Martins and Peter Boal rather than a gangly American Apollo as embodied by Jacques d'Amboise. This is someone born to godhood. His stance, his look, his muscularity revealed a divinity conceived on Mount Olympus. Carla Korbes as Terpsichore was a perfect match for this Apollo. She did not have to teach him how to dance; she just had to partner him to bring out his radiance. Their pas de deux was one of equals: A god and a muse embarking on a royal courtship. Maria Chapman as Calliope and Lesley Rausch also contributed excellent performances. However, this is a ballet for a man and a woman not of this earth. The performance bore this out splendidly.
Agon was the last ballet on the program, and I found it rusty and unfocused. I was hoping to see the ballet in its original form: not the beautiful bodies we see today but the urgency and embattlement that the music and choreography so clearly insinuate. But this was not the case here. Bodies, limbs and arms seemed unsure-where was the contest battle between bone and spirit? Not here.
Pacific Northwest Ballet is definitely a fine company. And under Peter Boal it has a first-class artistic director. Everything should be in place to make this one of most outstanding regional companies. If it failed to hit the mark in New York this time, in the words of Betty Comden and Adolph Green: "we'll catch up some other time." And I hope it's soon.
On a final note I would like to ask City Center's management to please turn down the heat. Opening night was stifling--which isn't good because heat sits on your head and will put you to sleep. Not something you want when you see a performance.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Thomas