Some dances stay with you, whirling and soaring and lingering in your head long after the performance is done; a vision and emotion tucked away in memory, perfectly preserved. It’s been some years since Pacific Northwest Ballet has presented George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” (last seen here in 2006), Ulysses Dove’s “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” (2006) and Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” (2007), but all returned for the “Modern Masterpieces” program as if they’d been waiting just offstage all this time, fresh and timeless.
On Friday’s opening night, “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” (one of the dance world’s loveliest titles) seemed particularly transcendent. Set to a yearning, reaching Arvo Pärt score punctuated by tolling bells, “Dancing” — subtitled “Odes to Love and Loss” — uses the otherworldly quality of ballet to cast a quiet spell. These are dancers neither of earth or heaven, but someplace in between: where a woman (Rachel Foster) is borne weightlessly across the stage like an angel in flight; where two men (Andrew Bartee and Jerome Tisserand) create a small world in a pas de deux full of beautifully deep pliés, almost disappearing into the floor; where Seth Orza leads a three-woman procession in a quiet echo of Balanchine’s “Apollo.” It doesn’t end so much as fade away, and it leaves the watcher moved and changed; like a poem you don’t quite realize you’ve memorized.
“In the Upper Room,” by contrast, is all energy and power; it sweeps you up through sheer force. Some of its dancers whirl in red pointe shoes; others bounce endlessly in sneakers, echoing the pulse of Philip Glass’ throbbing score. The stage is enveloped in smoke, and dancers emerge from it, slowly becoming distinct shapes in the mist. Like participants in some heaven-sent dance marathon, they never stop moving, and you never want them to.
“Concerto Barocco,” which opened the evening, is early Balanchine (created in 1941) and pure joy — with its leading roles for two soaring women (Carrie Imler and Carla Körbes, two very different dancers who nonetheless delicately mirrored each other), its lyrical pas de deux (Batkhurel Bold and Körbes), and the way the female corps, in constant movement behind them, provides an ever-evolving picture frame.
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Local choreographer/PNB ballet master Paul Gibson’s “Mozart Dances” made its world premiere on this program, and the programming didn’t do his ballet any favors; what still-emerging choreographer would want to be compared to Balanchine, Dove and Tharp? “Mozart Dances,” Gibson’s fifth work for PNB, is a pleasant, agreeable diversion, costumed prettily and danced with flair (the long-limbed duo of Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz stood out), but it’s more a thoughtful exercise than a work of art. It’s a piece that dances on the front porch of creativity, you might say; not quite yet entering the upper room where the other works from this magical evening resided.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org