Performing Arts: Dance
February 26, 2016
It was a joy to watch Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening night at City Center in a program of iconic Balanchine works, accompanied by live music (wonderfully played by the PNB orchestra), a rare treat in today’s economic climate. Under the artistic direction of former New York City Ballet principal Peter Boal, the company has acquired an impressively diverse repertory, while continuing to honor its Balanchine legacy with a distinct point of view.

As soon as the violins struck the first note in Square Dance (1957), the tone was set by the two demi-soloists with a crisp, sharp attack that imbued the company’s dancing throughout the evening: tendues, emboités, arabesques and gargouillades executed at lightning speed and freezing forever at the end of each phrase. The corps danced brightly and cleanly, and playfully towards the end, where the square dancing references accumulate. The lovely soloist Leta Biasucci’s contrasting petite allegro and lyrical qualities in her upper body were a pleasure to behold during her fiendishly difficult solos. But in the mysterious adagio male solo (added by Balanchine in 1976), Benjamin Griffiths was at times too abrupt in his movement, breaking the spell that had been cast.

At a time in ballet history where choreographers regularly go down in flames trying to tell a story, watching Prodigal Son (1929) is a reminder that the master of ballet modernism was also a master storyteller. Jonathan Porretta was an energetic and belligerent Prodigal, at times too exaggerated in his facial expressions, but convincing as the rebellious and naïve young protagonist. The elfin Lesley Rausch, who replaced the opening night Siren, seemed a bit tentative at first, but both dancers found their stride in the famous pas de deux, designed for the Siren to tower over him as she teaches him a thing or two about sex. The PNB dancers seemed to relish the fun: the raucous scene with the “drinking companions” (we used to call them “goons”) was a highlight. And it was incredible to feel, yet again, no matter how it is interpreted, how the last scene never loses its emotional resonance.

The evening closed with Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972), Balanchine’s tribute to his lifelong composer, collaborator and friend, a year after his death. The ballet seems like a compendium of Balanchine’s ideas and influences, from the clean, unadorned lines of a grand battement to jazzy hip rolls to folk dance circles. Clear quotations from Agon, Four Temperaments, Square Dance and other works abound, and the PNB dancers danced it beautifully, touched as they are, by direct lineage to the master.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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