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.)
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.