Showing some hometown love, lauded choreographer Mark Morris (now based in New York) debuted two new works in Seattle this fall, the first one at On the Boards last month, and the most recent piece at the opening of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Premiere last Friday. Taking the stage with works from three young company members (also world premieres), Morris’ graceful, balletic Kammermusik No. 3 is a stark contrast to the humorous, theatrical piece unveiled at OtB. In fact, all four premieres lean heavily towards classical dance, but that’s to be expected from a night at the ballet.
Set to the four movements of German composer Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 3, Morris’ piece (like all of his work) is acutely musical and his choreography is mesmerizing to watch. Using 12 PNB company dancers Morris fills the stage with movement, but does so without crowding the space. Listening closely to the music is key with Morris. During the score he may have one group of dancers punctuate violin notes with a movement from their arms, while another group uses their feet or legs to do the same for the oboe. Costumed in simple dark velvet leggings and ombre magenta tunics (the women en pointe) the dancers move agilely in changing groups around Carrie Imler, each one peeling away in a different manner from the dancer before them. At first the music is deep and serious—a black curtain against the violet-lit background lowers.
This work is group-choreography heavy, with many trios making their way across the stage arm-in-arm in a delightful succession leap—as the three dancers travel across the stage the first will jump, the whole group will travel a few steps, then the second person will do the same (arms still linked) and then when the trio reaches the curtain at the other side of the stage the last dancer of the group will leap (the arm chain broken) landing just before the curtain, then follow the other two into the wings. This is classical Morris: taking simple movements and stretching them to a larger potential.
There are some actions that tempt one into search-for-a-deeper-meaning territory—when dancers fall to the ground in a deathlike state or walk onto stage hunched like aging men—but this piece is better watched simply for the masterful synchronism between the gorgeous modern dance and the early-20th century score.
Mark Morris is a tough one to follow, but the evening’s closer, Sum Stravinsky, choreographed by PNB Soloist Kiyon Gaines, held its own, highlighting three gorgeous duets set to music by the piece’s titular composer. Backlight in shades of blue with a bright, almost glowing, rectangle of light on the floor, the stage gives vague hints of an ice skating rink. The amount of jumps, leaps and lifts in the piece lends support to that image. The high-energy duos (who are the gem of this piece—the larger ensembles tend to fade together) dance playfully, the women executing quick and traditional footwork and the men lending their strength to the lifts, arabesques and partnered turns. Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz, costumed in vibrant turquoise, shine in the Allegretto, smiling widely to the audience, and keeping a playful rapport—her technique is impeccable, but she is still having fun.
The night’s opener, and the least classically inclined, was Andrew Bartee’s arms that work. Bartee, who also dances with Whim W’Him, seems to take a cue both in choreography and staging from Olivier Wevers. The surprising set piece (spanning the entire length of the stage) looks similar to the outline of a roller coaster, but has black elastic bands running between the top and the floor. The choreography is beautiful—modern, fluid, bold—and the opening duet between Kaori Nakumura and James Moore stuns. They border between a pas de deux and a face-off; there are long pauses between their partnering in which she seems to forget that she’s dancing with another person. The tension builds between these two, but the mood releases as other dancers (all are barefoot) spin, jump and eventually march back and forth between the elastic bands, which catch everyone up in an esoteric way. Are they being ensnared against their will? Are they escaping a sinister fate? We’re never quite sure, but the bland beige costumes emphasize their black hold on the dancers—this piece is about movement, and Bartee certainly knows how to create it.
Probably the least dramatic, although no less beautiful, work in the program is Margaret Mullin’s Lost in Light. A dreamy, shadowy piece full of romantic ballet pas de duex, light assembles, pirouettes and strong male support for spins, lifts and dips, Lost in Light is pure ballet—pointed feet and long limbs and lovely arabesques. It is the perfect piece to run between Bartee and Morris—a languid little sigh to remind us how much we love the ballet.
All Premiere runs at McCaw Hall through November 11. Tickets here.
Above: Jonathan Poretta in Andrew Bartee's arms that work. Second image: Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Margaret Mullin with company dancers (l-r) Jerome Tisserand, Kyle Davis, and Ryan Cardea in Mark Morris’s Kammermusik No. 3. Photos by Angela Sterling.