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  • Review: Spectrum Dance Theater's "FAREWELL"

    Oh, what a night! Spectrum Dance Theater’s “Farewell” at Seattle’s Moore Theatre was nothing short of spectacular. (Or to use the phrase I used immediately following the show: “That was so freaking good!”)

    "Farewell", Spectrum Dance Theater.  Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual

    "Farewell",

     

    Farewell is based on the novel, Beijing Coma, written by Ma Jian, an exiled Chinese author. The story’s male protagonist (played by Joel Meyer) is shot during the protests in Tiananmen Square, and then suffers a "waking coma"; alert yet paralyzed and unable to communicate. While lying in this state, his mind drifts back to the tragic events that put him there and the violent state of his country. The story juxtaposes with the relationship between China and America and their strong financial ties. It then shifts to our own cultural/social tragedy of Sept. 11th and the similarities between the two.

    The audio backdrop to this piece consists of part live music by local Chinese-American composer Byron Au Yong, part speaking (the dancers recited various speeches about democracy and economics through megaphones), and part recordings from emergency responders and news reports. This overlapping onslaught of sound which comes at you from all directions was at times very difficult to listen to. The people’s cries for change barely rose above the din of media coverage and political propaganda, which I felt symbolized how the media often confuses and drowns out the truth.

    During “Farewell”, audience members sit directly on and around the stage, either in chairs or on metal bleachers, which provides an intimate—or in the case of the bleachers—a deliberately uncomfortable feel. The scenery is comprised of a large photograph of China’s Chairman Mao which hangs above the stage’s large podium. On this podium sits Spectrum’s Artistic Director, Donald Byrd who signals the dancers with the word “Go” throughout the show. Oversized imagery featuring Tiananmen Square and September 11th are suspended from the ceiling, most of which are difficult to look at.

    But then, that’s the point.

    "Farewell", Spectrum Dance Theater.  Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual

    "Farewell",

    Yet for all the pain and heartbreak, there were several moments of sheer beauty provided by the Spectrum dancers. Their stretching, yearning, cowering and writhing—their hands and legs creating shape upon beautiful shape. Every one of them managed to add their own unique stroke of color to this intricate canvas, leaving many of us alternately gasping or wiping away a tear.

    Speaking of tears; as the performance moved into the September 11th attacks and the audio recordings made by New York emergency responders were played, there was hardly a dry eye around. I personally choked back tears as my mind was suddenly whisked back to the memories of that horrible morning. Toward the end on the audio, a witness describes the scene of people jumping from the windows of the Twin Towers to their deaths. Then shortly thereafter, the dancers (who've been using these wooden benches during the entire performance) stand the benches on-end and then slowly knock them over, one by one. SLAM!...SLAM!...SLAM!..SLAM! While Joel Meyer’s character lies center stage, cringing and crying on the floor. To me, this seemed to symbolize the sounds of those bodies falling from the burning sky above.

    In the final moments, what looks like a dead, soot and ash covered dove is placed on our comatose story teller’s chest. Perhaps this symbolizes the death of peace or how peace can rise from the ashes of tragedy? I can’t say for certain. But either way, the entire performance was very powerful, extremely moving and beautifully heartbreaking.

    Thank you, Spectrum and Donald Byrd for providing this serious, thought-provoking evening. It was a night I will remember and cherish for a very long time.

    by Denise Opper

    Media Relations:   Vala Dancewear / Class Act Tutu

    All photos by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual

    Costumes by  CJDL Design.

  • Review: Whim W’him—3 Seasons

    Whim W'Him's 3Seasons, Kaori Nakamura

    Whim

    Olivier Wevers and his newly formed company, Whim W’him have done what no other dancer, choreographer or company has done before. The Seattle-based tour de force has shattered the glass barricade that once stood as the dividing wall between the world of ballet and the realm of modern dance, ushering in a new era of collaboration and artistry.

    Whim W’him’s sold-out performances at On the Boards this past weekend packed an intoxicating punch of sound, light and movement. The triple bill featured Wevers previous works, X-Stasis (PNB’s Choreographer’s Showcase 2006) and Fragments (Spectrum Dance Theatre 2007), as well as the world premiere of 3 Seasons, Wevers first major collaborative effort.

    X-Stasis

    X-Stasis is comprised of 5 couples making a unique statement about their world and their relationship to one another. Standouts from this performance include Jonathan Poretta and Lucien Postlewaite’s pas de deux which sizzled with poetic tension. Their execution was both complimentary and contradictory; a raw, edgy rendition of the proverbial yin and yang.

    Whim W'Him's X-Stasis, Jonathan Poretta & Lucien Postlewaite

    Whim

    Chalnessa Eames dazzled in a delightful piece that felt a bit like an avant-garde rendition of Coppelia. Let’s just say her partner, the helpless mannequin, was no match for her seductive charms!

    Kaori Nakamura and guest artist, Karel Cruz (PNB Principal Dancer) were utterly spectacular. Their pairing was exuberant, crisp and well-balanced; the perfect blend of power, delicacy and joy.

    Fragments

    Fragments begins with a sweeping aria playfully mimicked by an amusing pair of friends. Kelly Ann Barton’s (Spectrum Dance Theater) and Vincent Lopez’s movements were light, fluttering, and beautifully in sync. Together they encompassed all that is childlike and well--whimsical, from their “twittering” hip rolls, to their playful dashing about the stage.

    Whim W'Him's Fragments

    Whim

    Following the playful antics, Vincent Lopez gave a commanding solo performance as a tortured soul, longing and yearning to be free. Moving effortlessly through a series of well-crafted poses, Lopez is transformed into a living sculpture, relishing in its temporary freedom. Costumes by Christine Joly de Lotbiniere provided a delicious hint of Baroque flair, while Michael Mazzola’s thoughtful lighting cast the entire piece in a distinct, Renaissance glow.

    Last but not least, was 3 Seasons.

    Never have I seen such a decisive take on our modern world that fused together the elements of style, wit, humor and hope so beautifully.  In fact, I have a feeling that this piece will serve as the springboard by which all other collaborative efforts will be judged, and provide Whim W’him with a prominent position in the annals of dance history.

    The musical score consists of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons paired with a live corresponding movement by Byron Au Yong, which was nothing short of perfection. The tinkling of a toy piano, the hum of the violin and gentle percussion created a fun, exciting, youthful energy.

    Designer Michael Cepress’ vision of pairing vibrant splashes of red on ruddy, human earth tone canvasses provided the perfect backdrop for this piece. The use of his re-designed sculptural collars, wire hanger skirts, and sullied leotards made for a stunning artistic display.

    3Seasons

    3Seasons

    Jim Kent’s portrayal of the covetousness of human nature was thrilling. The object of his desire changes with whatever is put before him; a pillow, a lamp, a keyboard to finally a bird cage, which has to be placed on his head because there’s no more room in his hands. Kent—like society itself—is never content with what he already has, and is continuously seeking, grasping, and vying for more. The act was played for humor which the audience responded with more than a few “been there, done that” laughs.

    Kaori Nakamura is used, abused and finally discarded and yet—she still manages to come out looking like the victor. Her stage presence leaves its own indelible mark of beauty behind.

    Chalnessa Eames was effervescent and sensual. Vincent Lopez was completely brilliant and charming. Jonathan Poretta and Lucien Postlewaite were riveting, powerful, dominating, and fierce.

    Ty Alexander Cheng and Kylie Lewallen were saucy, flirty and breathtaking. Their endless kiss reminded me of a pair of butterflies; lips locked with wings (arms) continually unfurling yet never intertwining.

    Hannah Lagerway and Lucien Postlewaite writhed about in geometric splendor. I was impressed with Postlewaite’s skillful control and Lagerway’s incredible range. Indeed, her presence within this company is the icing on the cake.

    With everything this company has going for it—excellent dancers, respected Artistic Director, dedicated fan base, and a growing list of collaborators—Whim W’him stands poised on the edge of a divine precipice, ready to be launched into the stratosphere.

    Congratulations to you, Mr. Wevers and to your talented team of artists.

    Viva Whim W’him!

    by Denise Opper

    Media Relations:  Vala Dancewear / Class Act Tutu

    All photos © LaVie Photography.  For more amazing photos, visit the LaVie photo blog.

  • Review: Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker

    A Little Bit of Magic

    The magic of the holiday season has descended upon McCaw Hall, ushered in on the wings of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual treat, The Nutcracker.  The air inside the theater was alive with anticipation, and the excitement emanating from all the hundreds of children present was palpable.

    Clara's Christmas Tree - A signature moment of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker occurs when Clara’s Christmas tree grows from 14 to 28 feet. The majestic tree was constructed by Boeing engineers and weighs 1,000 pounds.

    Clara's

    The Story and the Set

    The ballet is based on the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffman and brought to life by the choreography of former PNB Artistic Director, Kent Stowell.  The sumptuous sets designed by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) play a crucial role in the success of this stellar production.  They not only envelop the stage like a lush, Victorian picture book, but also provide a sense of pure magic.  Everything from the massive growing Christmas tree and the enormous Mouse King that wickedly encircles the stage–to the realistic boat ride along the sea, leaves audiences captivated and riveted to the edge of their seats.

    Clara

    The role of young Clara was marvelously played by PNB student, Eileen Kelly.  Kelly’s mannerisms and characterization were both impressive and believable.

    Carrie Imler , Principal Dancer, PNB, as adult Clara was nothing short of outstanding.  Imler’s Clara provides a stunning portrayal of a maiden whose heart is laced with the charms and emotions of girlhood.  She is her Prince’s devoted equal in terms of bravery, and wants nothing more than to remain locked within the confines of this beautiful dream with him forever.

    The Prince

    Batkhurel Bold, Principal Dancer, PNB, gave a powerful performance as the dashing Prince.  His movements were breathtaking, his character regal and confident.  Bold not only captivates audiences with his impressive strength, but sweeps them off their feet as Clara’s faithful protector, companion, and hero.  Their gorgeous, sweeping pas de deux conveys all the beauty and promise of young love.

    A Cast of Characters

    Herr Drosselmeier/Pasha

    Jordan Pacitti shines in the dual role of Herr Drosselmeier/Pasha.  As Drosselmeier, Pacitti is teasing yet harmless, a classic example of a man who is “a little boy on the inside.”  He not only revels in his ability to shock and amaze the party guests, but takes the most delight in getting a rise out of young Clara.  Later, however,  as the Pasha, Pacitti transforms from a fiendish eccentric, into a protective father-figure, possessive of both Clara and her affections.

    Ballerina Doll

    Sarah Ricard Orza gave a lovely performance as the wind-up Ballerina Doll.  Her masterful display breathed new life into this well-loved character, one who is sure to star in many little girls’ dreams.

    An Enchanted Land

    The Moors, A Chinese Tiger, The Commedia

    Act Two whisks Clara and the Prince along to an enchanted land where they are greeted by a lavish display of hospitality, courtesy of the Pasha.  Moors dance about with bright, energetic flair.  A dancing Chinese tiger, charmingly played by Ryan Cardea, received more than a few giggles and squeals of delight.  The Commedia (Liora Reshef, Benjamin Griffiths and Rachel Foster) were reminiscent of a precious music box or toy shoppe window.  Griffiths’ acrobatics and technical prowess were evident both here and during his role as Sword-Dancer Doll in Act One.

    The Chinese Tiger

    The

    The Peacock

    Lesley Rausch, soloist, PNB mesmerized in her role as the fluttering, sensuous Peacock; a winged beauty transported via gilded cage.  Rausch’s expert characterization was daring, captivating, and hypnotic.

    Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Lesley Rausch as the Peacock in PNB's Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker. Photo © Angela Sterling

    Pacific

    The Whirling Dervishes

    The three whirling Dervishes (Barry Kerollis, James Moore, and Josh Spell) were absolutely thrilling. These fantastic dancers created a spectacular “tour de force” that left every little boy in the audience inspired and awe-struck.

    Flora

    Lindsi Dec, soloist, PNB,  soared to new heights as the beautiful blossom maiden, Flora.  Dec gave herself completely over to her role, and that coupled with her long, gorgeous lines and jubilant expression, made her performance exhilarating to behold.

    Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Lindsi Dec as Flora in the Waltz of the Flowers from PNB's Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker. Photo © Angela Sterling

    Pacific

    Snow, Waltz of the Flowers

    PNB’s corps de ballet performed beautifully as a chorus of swirling, icy snowflakes glittering in the moonlight. Their dazzling display literally made a chill run down my spine.  Later during the Waltz of the Flowers, I could almost smell a hint of jasmine and rose being carried along on a soft, spring breeze.

    Pacific Northwest Ballet’s, Nutcracker

    I was once again impressed with the caliber of dancing and characterization offered by this amazing company, as well as the talent that exuded from its students.  Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker is a must-see and should be a part of every family’s holiday tradition.

    PNB’s acclaimed production of Nutcracker

    runs November 27 – December 30, 2009

    at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall.

    Tickets are available online at www.pnb.org or by calling 206.441.2424

  • Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Roméo et Juliette"

    Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Kaori Nakamura and soloist James Moore in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

    Pacific

    I recently had the privilege of viewing the matinee performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Roméo et Juliette.   I was prepared to be delighted and entertained, being a tremendous fan of PNB already.   However, I must admit I was not prepared for the high caliber of dancing coupled with such flawless character interpretation as this.

    The PNB dancers breathed new life into Jean-Christophe Maillot’s intricate adaptation.   From the moment I saw actual credits rolling across the screen, I knew this would be no ordinary ballet with a modern twist.   This was history in the making.

    The scrawling black and white credits soon gave way to sets that were clean, pure and abstract.   The lighting played a greater role than I’d seen in the past, able to change the entire feel of a scene from a misty dream-like state one minute, to a cold starry night the next.

    The dancers were so in tune with their characters, you easily became lost in the performance.

    Kaori Nakamura’s Juliette was young, fresh and a bit of a “spoiled, wild child”.   From “flashing” her nurse (bad girl!), to her refusal to obey her Mother’s wishes and marry Paris, Nakamura successfully channels all the feisty rebelliousness of the teen years.  This is Nakamura's first time performing as Juliette, and she beautifully exceeds all expectations.

    James Moore’s Romeo is everything you’d expect from a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks.  He’s playful, rambunctious, headstrong, and a bit of a show-off, especially with the ladies.  Yet for all his flaws, Moore’s Romeo was a character you couldn’t help but fall in love with.

    Olivier Wevers did a superb job as Friar Laurence. As both a silent narrator and active participant to this tragedy, his performance is raw and heartbreaking; his anguish palpable. He is forever trapped in a nightmare of his own making, desperate for forgiveness that will never come.

    Principal dancer, Olivier Weavers as "Friar Lawrence" with the two Acolytes (Jordan Pacitti and Jerome Tisserand

    Principal

    Equally magnificent was the athleticism of the Friar’s two Acolytes, played by Jordan Pacitti and Sean Rollofson.  So much of their movement was done in slow, exaggerated motion: the turns, lifts, and carefully executed rolls off the stage were riveting and poetic.

    Her Nurse, expertly played by Chalnessa Eames, was clearly outwitted--and at times overwhelmed--by her young charge’s antics. Although the Nurse’s movements were silly and comedic, they carried an undertone of seriousness to her tasks at hand. There was no question regarding her devotion to Juliette.

    Mara Vinson’s Lady Capulet was simply magnificent. From the moment she came into view she exuded superior control and confidence. Every inch the powerful matriarch, Vinson gave a performance so compelling I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

    Seth Orza was a very convincing Tybalt. He successfully conveyed his character’s anger, sense of family pride, and deep loathing of the Montague’s. His movements were commanding, intimidating, and breath-taking.

    Mercutio and Benvolio played by Barry Kerollis and Josh Spell, round out the obnoxious Montague bunch. They live to aggravate and annoy the Capulets, most especially Tybalt. They played their roles as troublesome, arrogant pests with a hint of boyish foolishness, to the fullest.

    Jeffrey Stanton’s portrayal of Paris was perfect. He was quiet, unassuming, gentlemanly; a stark contrast from Tybalt and Romeo.

    Lesley Rausch played a sexy, sassy Rosaline. Her character is well-aware of her beauty and uses it to full advantage.

    Story Highlights

    The attraction between Romeo and Juliette was undeniably beautiful. The Balcony scene served as an exquisite moment of foreplay, aching with longing. Their wedding was simple and elegant; their wedding night resonating with passion and joy. It was in that moment that Juliette became the pursuer, with her Romeo succumbing to her charms. Watching these two, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was witnessing pure magic.

    With the dramatic fight scene at the end of Act II, the audience is suddenly catapulted into the midst of Friar Laurence’s nightmare. Like one possessed, he digs his fingers into the set as it moves eerily across the floor, trying in vain to stop the next chain of events.The terror unfolds in slow motion as the distraught Friar Laurence watches on in agony. This is the moment he was dreading. This is the moment when everything falls apart.

    Principal Dancers Bakturel Bold (Tybalt) and Jonathan Poretta (Mercutio)

    Principal

    As the action resumes normal speed, the brutality and its aftermath hit you full-force. Lady Capulet flails about in a wild rage, her grief unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Paris must half-carry, half-drag her away from Tybalt’s lifeless form. Her heart takes another devastating blow with the loss of her daughter. She bitterly clings to the walls as if to say, “Take me now! I can’t bear this any longer!” As a mother, you feel her cries echo through your heart as she doubles over repeatedly in anguish. Yet her reaction is nothing compared to Romeo’s. As we know, Friar Laurence’s letter has not reached him in time. Romeo cannot—will not—bear this excruciating loss.

    As Juliette awakens from her slumber and discovers that her cherished Romeo is no more, you feel her gut-wrenching loss. Her body is wracked with sobs, her horrified expression crying out, “This was not how it was supposed to be!”

    Unable to bear the scene before him, Friar Laurence turns his back toward the grief-stricken Juliette and clings to the wall in shame and helplessness. Juliette then strangles herself and gently falls across her beloved’s body.

    Conclusion

    I was absolutely enthralled by this performance. It was magical, poignant, thrilling, devastating and beautifully complex. The dancer’s dramatic expressions, the careful subtleties of movement, and the striking character development work together to provide a rich, new layer to this Shakespearean tragedy. I'm so thankful to Peter Boal for adding this production to the company's repertoire.

    What may have initially felt like a bold move to my "classically inclined" mind, the performance left me with an even deeper respect for PNB as a whole. This is a company that is clearly up to any challenge a choreographer or director may throw their way.

    My co-worker and companion on this trip, Lisa-Marie, also found the performance captivating. In fact, this was her first time ever seeing a ballet so I'll let her reaction speak for itself: "I am spoiled for life! I can never see another ballet again without comparing it to Romeo et Juliette."

    Run—do not walk—to McCaw Hall and get your tickets to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Romeo et Juliette. You will not be disappointed.

    By Denise Opper

    Media Relations: Vala Dancewear/Class Act Tutu All Photos © Angela Sterling

    James Moore and Kaori Nakamura Romeo et Juliette

    Pacific

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