|Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Karel Cruz in Twyla Tharp’s Opus 111, presented as part of ALL THARP,
Nov. 5-14, 2010. Photo © Angela Sterling
During my first few months taking flamenco lessons, an area of dance I never used to think I’d harbor any talent in (and boy, was I surprised!), my instructor introduced a few new members to the course by giving us a strange, eclectic offering of improvised word play while clunking away in her fourteen year old shoes apparently purchased at a dance convention in Buenos Aires. I’d be misquoting her if I attempted to put down exactly what she said, but I ask you to recall at any point in your life where an instructor of sorts whose passion for their field of teaching reached levels that bugged your eyes out began a rant that was so moving, you feared they’d foam at the mouth with their seemingly endless dribble. The levels of sensation vibrated through my body, my mind opened to new levels of possible achievement, and in that moment, I made the choice to continue pursuing dance in any shape possible, though many before had told me I was unqualified due to physicality. She spouted many common dance 101 ideals I had known since taking my first ballet class many years prior. The body is flexible. The body moves and breathes and tells a story when we put the proper muscle and mind to it. It can transcend, and scream, and disappear, and all at once be as vivid and large as we create it. Dance can be revolutionary, and can still offer new ways of comprehending ideas and society, all at once allowing an audience to laugh and cry, sigh and revolt.
That is what Twyla Tharp does. It shows in her work, time and time again. Tharp’s career has spanned over 40 years, and her richly deserved title as one of the finest contemporary masterminds in the dance world is fully channeled and on display at McCaw Hall as part of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s season, in “All Tharp”, a showcase featuring three movements, two of which were conceived for the PNB company, and one which is new, and all together a very welcome triumph. The show runs through the weekend, closing on November 14th, and tickets are still on sale!
The first presentation is titled “Opus 111″, featuring music by Johannes Brahms, which premiered at PNB in 2008. Ultimately, this was the evening’s plateau moment for me; the energy was robust, and the work the dancers managed to convey was polished and as pristine as imaginable. It was a nice introduction to Tharp’s candid combination of classic ballet techniques, and watery modern movement all brushed with a tangy folk flavor. The pacing was lovely, though the piece itself left much for me to interpret beyond a technical observation of just how flexible dancers can be, and what crimson positions can be achieved with trustworthy direction. This is, I must stress, not a negative criticism by any stretch of the imagination, and only occurred to me until after the evening’s pageantry had come to an end. Simply a comparison to the other two glorifying, masterpieces I was about to embark on.
|Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Chalnessa Eames in Twyla Tharp’s Afternoon Ball, presented as part of ALL THARP, Nov. 5-14, 2010. Photo © Angela Sterling|
“Afternoon Ball” hit me like a ton of bricks. And what a splendid smack in the face it was! Featuring a minimalist music pallet by Vladimir Martynov, a cast of three modernly dressed street punks take us through a bitter representation of their life, which is both moving, and horrifyingly honest all at once. It’s as if Twyla Tharp woke up one night while staying in Seattle, got dressed, and took a walk down University Way or Broadway at 3:00 a.m., and found it’s inhabitants so abruptly fascinating, she had to throw them into a choreographed work. Having made such observations myself while walking home from a bar, or friend’s pad in the wee hours of the morning, their portrayal was authentic and frankly to the point. Complete with heaving motions, sexuality, and flamboyancy, the piece serves as a stand out for company members Jonathan Porretta, Olivier Weavers, and Chalnessa Eames, all on top of their professional game, and truly brilliant to witness. The piece, midway through, takes another turn as our main focus, Mr. Porretta, finds himself in a dance hall, where a couple (waltzing at their finest, Ariana Lallone and Jeffrey Stanton) glide across the stage and back, creating a portrait of refinement while the lone urchin struggles to master himself with some fancy footwork. But, he comes crashing down to his original stance, on the floor, in a heap of destruction. This mid-piece received some comments I found unfashionable and incorrect from some of the evening’s more classically set-in-stone dance lovers, as one woman during intermission consistently argued with her companion that it was “odd”, “out of place”, and “inappropriate”. I couldn’t disagree with her more, and applaud both Ms Tharp and PNB for taking this rich, haunting work and breathing life into it once again, and addressing an area and topic too often ignored or romanticized by other forms of art.
The third act presented in a series of short pieces, first presented in 1994 with the Boston Ballet at the helm, and making it’s PNB debut. The showcase is a dynamite lovefest for anyone who especially appreciates precise attention to rhythm, and delicately blended vignettes that stream into one another, evoking tender grace, gritty and explosive sexual tones, in an overall celebratory nature, accompanied by the music of Anton Webern, Kevin Volans, John Lurie, David Lang, Mickey Hart, John Adams, and tango brilliantine, Astor Piazzolla. From the titanic force of nature that is (and always has been) Batkhurel Bold’s commanding stage presence, to another emotional and enticing offering, a duet between Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz, the company is on fire with constant movement, magnetism, and peppered humor. To end with this new-to-local-audiences selection was a smart move on PNB’s part, and out of Ms Tharp’s entire Mary Poppins like enchanting bag of limitless grandeur of which to chose between, a correct and excellent splash of all the tics and tocs that are available to properly allow Seattle and surrounding cities the opportunity to fall in love with this modern guru of all things dance.
Overall, a triumph on part of the PNB family, their artistic and technical hands and an especially gorgeous tribute to Ms Tharp. Once again, my appreciation is at an all-time high for our local dance community, and so far, the stars have aligned twice now to keep me on such a path. On my own time, I’ll keep clunking away at my flamenco heals, which are in dire need of a buffing, or even replacing. Perhaps I’ll try to remember exactly what it was my instructor had said to our new members, and channel that same passion she gave our intimate group, and one that PNB provides yearly at McCaw Hall, into my own work. Ah, the inspiration. Dance! L’amour, l’amour.
For more information, I encourage you to visit the PNB website which is chalk full of so much wonderful reading and photos. Also, if you do have a chance to see “All Tharp” this weekend, I may also point out a poignant, beautiful article written in the Playbill touching on the company’s upcoming 40th anniversary. It shines an exquisite light on the impending questions that are currently being faced by the company in regard to their future, all the while building a wonderful buzz around what’s to be a fantastic celebration of art and culture in the coming years for them.
- Aiden Karamanyan