Pacific Northwest Ballet's current program, which pairs George Balanchine's "Apollo" with Kent Stowell's "Carmina Burana," presents a study in contrasts.
Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a study in contrasts in its current program, which pairs George Balanchine’s “Apollo” with Kent Stowell’s “Carmina Burana.” Both are staples of the company’s repertoire, but absent from their stage for some years: “Apollo” was last performed here in 2005, “Carmina” in 2007. Both were warmly received by Friday’s opening-night audience, which appreciated both simplicity and spectacle.
“Apollo,” crafted in 1928 by a then-24-year-old choreographer, is a brief work of rare beauty; a delicate calling card for what the next half-century of Balanchine would bring. Set to a restrained, quietly glowing Stravinsky score, it must have looked shockingly modern at its debut: one man, three women, a bare stage, heel-walks, bent wrists and thrust hips. At its center is the young god (Batkhurel Bold) who finds glory through art, represented by the muses Terpsichore (Sarah Ricard Orza), Calliope (Maria Chapman) and Polyhymnia (Lesley Rausch). All danced Friday night as if guided by angels, particularly in the pas de deux with Orza and Bold: She, balanced on his shoulders as he knelt on one knee, seemed to be flying, gently kneading the air. Bold’s strong, serene Apollo seemed transformed by his ethereal partners, their endless legs rising like petals to the sun. The ballet’s famous final pose — which, in Randall G. Chiarelli’s elegant design, looked like it was creating its own light — seems to stop time, as Apollo and his muses achieve a sublime moment of perfection.
“Apollo” creates a tiny yet complete world; “Carmina Burana,” created by Stowell in 1993, is a vast one. Just about the entire company appears onstage, along with 75 singers (three soloists, plus 72 members of the Seattle Choral Company, robed in monks’ hoods and standing on a platform suspended just above the stage). Carl Orff’s musical cantata, inspired by a collection of medieval songs and poems, seems to sweep off the stage and envelop us with its power and strength; Ming Cho Lee’s set design, with its enormous golden Wheel of Fortune, is likewise larger than life.
It’s all so impressive that you almost don’t need to add dancers to the mix, and indeed the company sometimes seems dwarfed by all the other elements. There’s a swirling energy to the choreography that often borders on frenetic, with legions of frolicking dancers crowding the stage, and the ballet’s narratives of carnality, fortune and love aren’t always clear. But the opening-night principals — Kaori Nakamura and James Moore (substituting for an injured Jonathan Porretta), Carrie Imler, Lesley Rausch and the soon-to-be-departing Lucien Postlewaite — danced with energy and commitment, and the sheer power of the spectacle can’t be denied. For all the noise and fury, though, it was the quiet of “Apollo” that stayed with me; a reminder that stillness, too, can mesmerize.
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