November typically brings a mixed bill for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. It is also when the dancers graciously donate their salary from the opening night performance to Second Stage, PNB’s career transition support program for the company. The previous year, the mixed program featured Twyla Tharp’s Brief Fling, performed to live music, Jiri Kylian’s haunting Forgotten Land, inspired by the artwork of Edward Munch and first performed by the Stuttgart Ballet, and Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, featuring the masterful violin of concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lin and previously not seen in PNB’s programs since 2001.
This is a tough act to follow, but the 2017 program successfully met the challenge by featuring Jessica Lang’s Her Door to the Sky, Twyla Tharp’s Afternoon Ball, and Crystal Pite’s Plot Point. The Lang and Pite works were particularly enthralling.
In Her Door to the Sky, Lang created a Georgia O’Keefe landscape for her dancers. The costumes were hand-dyed works of art, the colors reminiscent of the Southwest. This clever piece features dancers ebullient — gay, country dancers, bursting out of a series of windows (the frames were part of the scenic design). In one performance, Elizabeth Murphy (unstoppable in her maximum-turnout attitude tours) was the siren in the window, in another, it was Sarah Ricard Orza, simply gorgeous as she reclined in one of the window frames. Together, the dancers helped paint the very English music of Benjamin Britten – they danced as if they were on top of it, mirroring the form and lightness of the music. The dancers were guided by a series of different colors of lighting – white, turquoise, a bluish purple, as well as the swelling music – especially at the end, when a showering of lifts, almost percolating up through the atmosphere, and quick dancing dominated the stage. Rarely does a piece come together so beautifully.
In Afternoon Ball, Leta Biasucci is the one to watch. She digs into every move. She rarely anticipates or announces her dance. Rather, she makes the dance look exceptionally fresh. Ezra Thomson also was compelling to watch, one of the most impressive performances I have seen from him. Opening night, it was Benjamin Griffiths and Angelica Generosa who stole the show.
Pite’s Plot Point, billed as a study in storyboard, is set in mysterious montages that tell a story of false friendships, illicit affairs, and criminal mal-doings, set against Bernard Herrmann’s impressive score from Psycho, with additional and powerfully effective design by Owen Belton. Shout out to scenic designer Jay Gower Taylor, costume designer Nancy Bryant, and lighting designer Alan Brodie for the stark, intriguing production elements. The piece literally consists of plot points – a man struggles with some thugs, guests celebrate a birthday party, someone hands off a briefcase to another, the Psycho bathroom scene is evoked – watched carefully and even mimicked by a set of alter-egos. Those alter-egos represent some of the thought processes of the key players – what they thought they would do, what they should have done, what consequences they need to live with.
The music is haunting, the solos are beautiful, the intricate staging by Sandra Marin Garcia is literally picture-perfect. Brava for this exceptional, stylized piece, Crystal Pite!
Photo Credit: © Lindsay Thomas