Choreographer Crystal Pite, whose work has knocked out audiences at On the Boards and Pacific Northwest Ballet, returns to PNB with “Plot Point,” one of three works by renowned female choreographers in a program titled “Her Story.”
Watching choreographer Crystal Pite in rehearsal with Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers is an experience both brisk and spellbinding.
She’s cheerily pragmatic in the directions she gives. Yet the steps and turns she demonstrates are so far from normal ballet fare that you wonder how the dancers will ever catch onto them. Pite’s head seems only loosely attached to her neck. Her whole body has a rubber-band quality tough to mimic. But one by one, the dancers find the elasticity, snap and multidirectional prowess they need to become more Pite-like. As they do, excitement builds in the studio.
Pite’s own dance company, Kidd Pivot, has knocked out audiences at Seattle’s On the Boards with “Dark Matters,” “The Tempest Replica” and other pieces. PNB fans know her best for “Emergence,” an eerily potent meditation on swarms and the hive mind. It left anyone who saw it hungry for more by Pite. This week they’ll get it when “Plot Point” has its American premiere at McCaw Hall.
Pacific Northwest Ballet: “Her Story”
7:30 p.m. Nov. 3-4 and 9-11, 2 p.m. Nov. 4 and 1 p.m. Nov. 12. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$187 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
“Plot Point” was created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2010, but Pite is revising it significantly for PNB. In stills and video clips from the 2010 production, two parallel casts — one shrouded head-to-toe in white, the other more conventionally costumed — mirror and repeat one another’s actions.
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The white-costumed performers are, in Pite’s words, “replica characters” akin to the white plastic figures used in architectural models to give a sense of scale. In “stop-motion choreography” (as Pite dubs it), they sketch out the basics of the dance about to unfold.
Then “real-world characters” appear to deliver the emotion. “You see their faces and you see their colors,” Pite says. “They enact the same scene, but much more fleshed-out … more human and vulnerable and three-dimensional.”
While “Plot Point” is set to Bernard Hermann’s powerful score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” it’s the music rather than the movie that inspired Pite. “It’s not the ‘Psycho’ story.”
Instead, her focus is on “the very idea of story — not a particular narrative, but actually the question of narrative. What is story? Why do we need it so badly? What are the repeating narratives that happen across cultures and across generations? And what is the shape of that story in the body?”
“Plot Point” was inspired in part by some mannequins Pite saw in a shop window in The Hague, where Nederlands Dans Theater is based. “They weren’t the sort of cheesy-looking mannequins that have all the features and everything,” she recalls. “They were blank. Just the beautiful shape of the head, but with no features.”
The Hermann score had prompted her to think about screenplays and storyboarding in film. “Storyboard and the shop mannequin kind of zinged together,” she says, “and the replica came out.”
Shortly after “Plot Point” debuted, she created “The Tempest Replica” for Kidd Pivot, playing more extensively with replica-versus-real-world ideas as she re-imagined Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” In revising “Plot Point,” she’s drawing on lessons learned from that production: “How to be a mannequin, how to move the body in isolation, how to break movement down into little increments, and also how the replica might walk.”
She jumped at the chance to rework “Plot Point” for PNB. “From the moment it premiered,” she says, “I wanted to do it again. It was potent, but it was problematic. … I hadn’t had a chance to do the fine-tuning and editing and distilling that needs to happen to make it a little bit more watertight.”
PNB’s Peter Boal has been a Pite fan ever since he saw Kidd Pivot’s “Lost Action” at On the Boards. Pite’s fluid spine-work and neck-work immediately fascinated him.
He grabs a No. 2 pencil and holds it up straight. “My school of classical ballet started like this,” he explains, tilting the pencil one way, then another. “This is your spine. It went this way and this way.”
In Pite’s work, he says with a smile, it’s not a pencil anymore: “It’s a cobra.”
“Plot Point” is joined by Twyla Tharp’s “Afternoon Ball” and Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky” in a program titled “Her Story.” Boal didn’t set out to create an all-female program, he says in his program notes. He chose these three because each one is “powerful, insightful and skillfully crafted.”