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Friday, November 13, 2009

Today in Genius: Pacific Northwest Ballet

Posted by on Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Last night, I to see the Director's Choice program at PNB (it was delayed for a half an hour because of the power outage in Queen Anne). The four dances were a perfect illustration of the delicate balance new artistic director Peter Boal has achieved. The night had some old-fashionedy, pretty ballet (ironically, the most conservative piece of the evening was a world premiere by Val Caniparoli of the San Francisco Ballet).

But Boal also slid in some poppier work—Jerome Robbins's West Side Story Suite, which condenses the musical into a one-act ballet with a little singing—and some firecracker new work.

He brought back Mopey, the spastic solo to C.P.E. Bach and the Cramps, which has become an audience favorite since Boal introduced it in during his first season (at the time, it was considered a crazily radical addition). And Petite Mort by Jiri Kylian, a dance for six men, six women, and six fencing foils (dance rarely looks good on video, but to give you some flavor of the thing):

Because it's a work night for the ballet, tonight's Genius Party won't be overrun by dancers. (At least not in the beginning. But once the pointe shoes and makeup comes off, who knows what'll happen? Maybe you'll get to buy a drink for a seven-foot-tall professional dancer.)

Read all about Boal, PNB, and why we gave a Genius Award to such a giant organization here.

During their 28-year directorship, Stowell and Russell built PNB into a nationally renowned stronghold for classical dance training and the works of Russian ballet giant George Balanchine, who collaborated extensively with Igor Stravinsky, became the leading choreographer of the 20th century, and founded New York City Ballet. PNB earned the respect of the classical ballet world as a kind of NYCB-West. But conservatism set in, with Stowell and Russell only adding a few new works to the repertoire each year.

Between 2000 and 2004, only 10 new dances appeared in the repertoire, two of them by Stowell. In four seasons, Boal has added 52, none by him, and many that stretch the definition of ballet.

One of those pieces was One Flat Thing, reproduced by William Forsythe. (Again, video can't really capture the mood, but click to around 6:20 or 9:10 to get a little flavor.)

Also from PNB's Genius profile:

One Flat Thing, reproduced, by Forsythe, inspired scores of walkouts when it premiered in March of 2008. Not coincidentally, it was the most thrilling piece PNB has staged in years. "We have a deliberate pattern of pushing the envelope and then pulling it back to something more familiar," Boal says. "But with that piece, people felt pushed too far, too quickly."

Performed by 14 dancers on and around 20 gray aluminum tables, Thing sounded like rumbling static and looked like a fit. The dancers (dressed in bright American Apparel colors) slid along and under the tables, jumped over and onto them, briefly locked limbs in furious but mechanical couplings, then disengaged. The dance was cold and glittering, with a medicinal aftertaste. As the bright bodies streaked through the gray grid, shoving the tables back and forth as they went, they looked like a riot of metastasizing cancer cells or a pack of cocaine molecules skipping through the brain. It was hard on the dancers, who suffered nicks and bruises. It was also a hell of a lot of fun.

Seattle is learning to love weird new dance like Mopey and Thing because Boal has given us a taste for it—he's also breathed new life into the organization and found the Holy Grail: the attention of newer, younger audiences.

I hope other Seattle institutions due for new leadership—the Rep, the symphony, the opera—are paying attention.


Comments (5) RSS

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kim in portland 1
Posted by kim in portland on November 13, 2009 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Saw it last night, too. (Was hoping they would have to wind up doing it by flashlight, DIY style, but alas the power came back up.) Petit Mort and Mopey were great! It was interesting to feel how much more vital the first 2 "radical" pieces seemed compared to the much more traditional Seasons and West Side Story pieces when considering the evening as a whole. I had hoped they would present something more original with a shortened WSS, instead of taking a kind of Cliffs Notes approach, but there it is. A very nice sampler overall for those of us who don't often go to the ballet (preferring Seattle's terrific modern dance scene in general).
Posted by bouncehouse on November 13, 2009 at 12:56 PM · Report this
I see you edited the first paragraph to omit the line about "nodding off" during half the program. Too bad; I thought that was a telling detail.
Posted by lola2 on November 13, 2009 at 1:21 PM · Report this
Petit Mort and Mopey were indeed great. I did not care for the 3rd piece and left half way through West Side Story. I love what Peter Boal has done for ballet in this city.
Posted by trellis on November 13, 2009 at 2:59 PM · Report this


A view of Synchronous Objects - One Flat Thing

On the basis what’s good for Albert should be good for us, it is instructive that the great Einstein died while still exploring and failing to ratify his unified field theory.
He had rather hoped that one day he would discover how to make the whole Universe comprehensible as more than the sum of its parts, rather than less.
This surely at a stretch, might be one of the key indicators of anything approaching coherent outcomes for the rather more mundane but nonetheless important artistic impulse.

I have to ask if Statistical analysis of spatial dynamics, or the investigation of how moving bodies can organise themselves - whether synchronously or within de-reified fields of order and organisation, or whether the chance arrangements of geometric patterns of moving human forms can help organise new ways of understanding the dynamic processes in design for the assembling of inanimate lumps of glass, steel and breeze-block architecture, can provide very much more than a very good pretext for countless imitative versions of the same thing somewhat repeated?

One of the problems with deconstructing the choreographic process, from a spatial, atomic, dynamic, visual or merely abstract aesthetic, is that the sum of parts will nevitably become less than the whole.

What is the philosphical, philological , spatial, contextual, emotional or semiotic motivator unique and central to the process?

In the breathless hype and total absence of informed critical appraisal of the S.O launch, this member of audience begins to wonder is whether there has any decision been taken as to exactly what this progenitor might be.

My feeling is that there is not one key motivator.

Thus what ensues is yet another monumental work of making and meaning in which there is no centre. What the gestaltists might call, lacking either a clear figure or a clear ground.

Is this yet another of those fantastically erudite exercises in the careful and mutually respectful allowing, of at least ten different sets of fingers to take hold of at best, different parts of, and at worst, the same part of the wings of a single butterfly and pulling sufficiently hard - to discover that the wings have come off?
All with the single and express purpose of examining, from at least ten different points of view, exactly how it, the butterfly, actually fails to continue to be able to fly.

If there is a value in pulling the wings off butterflies, at the very least a conclusion can be drawn, a carefully constructed set of reasons as to exactly why the dewinging of a butterfly should be taking place.
Perhaps even a a beautifully inscribed equation for all those involved in either the pulling or the observation of such.
One to be splashed upon lecture-room whiteboards the length and breadth of Academia:
Butterfly - Wings = General Lack of Flight - discuss

Further brilliant observations and outcomes following the exhaustive and minutely documented de-winging process, might be:

1 A certain amount of surprise and consternation that this butterfly is not looking as good as it did.


2 The entire exercise boiling down to not a great deal more than a final published series of findings with the general heading;
"How we, er, well…we um, probably killed a butterfly."

What is even more surprising is that despite ever more sophisticated and fantastical exercises in synchronous objectification of the atomic affects no-one seems to be questioning whether flying was something that the butterfly was ever intended to do.
In fact the only consequence of that kind of skewed and heretically unscientific thinking, is that it might lead to the entirely uncomfortable conclusion that flying and butterfly might even have a non-human imperative.
Worse even still, there may be a far more instructive and deductive poetry at work, which describes the whole of a butterfly in ways that do not even mention the bits that make it work.

And thus, with the noisy clattering of pot lids, launching of web-sites and general over-excited PR driven hype, we have Synchronous Objects.
Unquestioningly presented as a Major Creative Event, but which in fact resembles not much more than a large, multi-coloured, formless, disintegrated and more or less inert mass.
One, which may or may not have resembled something approximating a notion which might or might not, with all respect to the interdisciplinary sensibilities of the disparate and self-actualising interests of the various participatory groups, have been a thing which once accorded with the notion of butterflyness, or choreography, or creative endeavour.

Where I am confused about the "S.O." exercise and would greatly appreciate someone clarifying the why and the what for me, is in precisely what outcome might be measured as a result of the synchronous objectification of what to many is a dense and to most, an almost impenetrable piece of uniquely personal modern dance-making.

Secondarily, why there should be made such an uniquely uncritical din about its launch?

What I think Synchronous Objects would like to have been, when the notion started as that oh so riveting dinner party conversation all that time ago, is a series of possible outcomes which might or might not occur as a process of bringing together an interdisplinary team of variously post-hoc areas of research and design disciplines in the broadest sense.

One which has clearly been resourced to the eyeballs in order to exhaustively research the possiblity of Spatiality being a synchronous process involving the potential for the inconnectedness of things in general, which in certain contexts might or might not be recognised as something we might later refer to as: choreography-ness.

No chance that Synchronous Objects is an ok, if somewhat windy April Fool joke is there?

Here is Pacific NorthWest Ballet forcing "One Flat Thing" on their public for a second time.
Clearly attempting to brazen out the notion that alienating their audience, by feeding it the angst ridden internal monologues of this weeks Dance Genius, currently engaged in deep psychotherapeutic interventions, should be seen as essentially a positive step. I assume, on the basis that Stravinsky got away with it....
I wonder if anyone who suffers from the current chronic creative hubris so resplendent in its over-subsidised compounds, ever stops for long enough to wonder if any of this outcrop of "groundbreaking" avant-gardisms will really stand the test of time over the next five years, let alone the next 50 or even 100.

Perhaps we should pause to reflect that all of what has lasted was without exception deeply rooted in the notion that previous creative geniuses knew the rules REALLY well prior to finding themselves in a position whereby breaking some of them might be considered either advisable or relevant.
Now we seem to have constant examples of bathroom windows being thrown wide open accompanied by the often violent and always noisy jettisoning of baby, bathwater and seemingly, most of the plumbing equipment. All of this behaviour inevitably accompanied by the loud braying of self-congratulation and PR/media hype of white-noise intensity, including PNB's "LOOK, SEE!! We TOLD you, you were ALL too Phillistine to get it, so you are all to stay in after school and watch it again!"

Make of the piece below what you will, but listen especially carefully to the sofa-punditry which accompanies it. Notional value, positive attempt to explore the boundaries of modernism for its own sake - but "choreographic value"?, hmmm............

Mr Boal, you are one of the many brilliant, committed and passionate people all over the world, professionally involved in keeping the art of dancing on stage for the entertainment pleasure and occasional enlightenment of paying audiences. Your repertoire is brave, visionary and occasionally as in the case of One Flat Thing, wait for it....Post-Modern.

To continue in both breadth and depth, you have occasionally to be up to the task of becoming that thing you are likely most to despise - a critic. In the case of explaining repertoire choices, both erudite and profound, will you rise to the task or merely hide behind the fig-leaf of "if you don't get it, then you are clearly thick".
Posted by choreokino on January 21, 2011 at 9:02 AM · Report this

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