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Pacific Northwest at City Center
Pacific Northwest Ballet
New York City Center, February 13-16, 2013
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, February 18, 2013
Pacific Northwest Ballet made a welcome return to New York with a much too short season and a much too small repertory that surely made many balletomanes plead, “We want more!” The Seattle company, directed by Peter Boal, brought only two attractions: a triple-bill of masterpieces by George Balanchine (“Concerto Barocco,” “Apollo,” “Agon”) and a peculiar version of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Jean-Christophe Maillot. Nevertheless, the dancers and their fine orchestra, conducted by Emil de Cou and Allan Dameron, were enough to make one crave, “More, please.”
The Balanchine evening was especially fascinating, not only for its excellence, but also because its three works had often been danced at City Center by the New York City Ballet when it was in residence there (“Agon” was even created for the space), and it was interesting to see how the dimensions of the stage both contained and threatened to explode with the energy of the choreography.
This Balanchine bill was blessed with forthright dancing. Its lack of frills was especially evident in “Agon.” Movements looked impetuous, yet never careless, the performance giving the impression that powerful forces had been assembled for sports to Stravinsky. The duet for Lesley Raush and Batkhurel Bold was a study in both rivalry and cooperation, and Maria Chapman stressed the wit of the solo Bransle Gay.
“Concerto Barocco,” with Laura Gilbreath and Linda Dee in the two ballerina roles, looked brisk and lucid. Choreographic phrases always harmonized on stage with those of the Bach score, which became a dancing partner rather than a simple accompaniment. There was an especially attractive flow to the second movement, in which the way Gilbreath and Bold, in their pas de deux, and the corps de ballet kept approaching and receding with a quiet power that seemed inevitable.
The evening’s one disappointment was “Apollo,” which was danced in the abridged version that Balanchine devised late in his life, a version that cuts some of Stravinsky’s music and minimizes the drama. Yet “Apollo” is most definitely a story-ballet, for it shows the maturation of a young god. Even in this dramatically wan conception, a greater sense of characterization was needed. Carla Körbes brought dignity to the role of Terpsichore, but Seth Orza’s Apollo never convincingly grew from boy into god, although the lack of a satisfactory choreographic text may have contributed to this deficiency.
Maillot directs Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and both admirers and detractors of his “Roméo et Juliette,” as he Gallicizes the title, must surely agree on one thing: this is totally unlike any other balletic “Romeo.” Whereas many choreographic retellings of Shakespeare’s tale come with lavish Renaissance décor, Maillot’s is antiseptically austere. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s settings consist of bare white geometric objects that are shifted about to suggest changes of locale. Theoretically, these shapes could serve as backgrounds to highlight compelling choreography. But Maillot too often fails to provide it.
Many balletic treatments of “Romeo” abound with long lush lyric choreographic lines. Not this one. Maillot favors consistently harsh, abrupt, jittery steps. Such a departure from tradition could be provocative if there were convincing reasons for it, and some of Maillot’s crowd movements do have an eye-catching Expressionist angularity.
The action bustles along. However, too much of the choreography degenerates into monotonous twitching, and Maillot’s storytelling is faulty. He tries to bind events together with the almost constant presence of Friar Laurence (William Yin-Lee), who schemes to manipulate events and save the young lovers, but his machinations always come to grief. As he prowls about the stage, he turns into an increasingly meddlesome pest. Other scenes are excessively vague in motivation and significance. For instance, the potion scene, always a challenge to the wordless art of choreography, is here virtually incomprehensible, especially since Maillot dispenses with props almost entirely. And that also makes the swordless duels perplexing.
Fortunately, he does give opportunities to his principal characters. At the performance I attended, James Moore was a boyish, impulsive Roméo; and Kaori Nakamura was a headstrong Juliette, a young woman capable of tantrums as well as loving embraces. Both might be even more impressive either in a more traditional treatment of the ballet or in one that brought more coherence to Maillot’s Expressionism. I’d like to see these dancers again. Indeed, I’d like to see more of this company and its repertory. Yes, more, please, more.
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