Inspired in part by the music of “Psycho,” Crystal Pite’s “Plot Point,” though riveting, felt too often like concept at the expense of dance; Twyla Tharp’s “Afternoon Ball” was unexpectedly moving; and Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky” was a welcome splash of Southwest sunshine.
A woman screams. A knife’s blade glints. A crowd of violins slashes savagely into a series of gash-like notes, leaving them hanging in the air and in your head, like the aftermath of some terrible dream that you can’t quite shake.
Bernard Herrmann’s instantly recognizable score to “Psycho” sounds like no other piece of music, and it casts an unsettling spell. Crystal Pite’s “Plot Point,” making its American premiere as part of the “Her Story” repertory evening at Pacific Northwest Ballet this month, takes that music as its inspiration, crafting a dance/theater work that loosely tells a story of a forbidden love affair and a terrible crime (not the “Psycho” plot, though the piece occasionally nods to it). “Plot Point” plays with the very idea of visual storytelling, with the layers that music, costume, and sound provide; it’s both a rough-sketch storyboard, told via white-clad and -masked “replicas,” and a final version, talking to each other.
It’s a complex and interesting idea, and “Plot Point” is never less than intriguing, and often riveting. (With that music spiking up from the pit, played with bite and verve by the PNB orchestra conducted by Emil de Cou, how could it be otherwise?) And its visuals — particularly a shadowed replica dancing in darkness, like an eerie cutout silhouette twisting in the wind — are often as haunting as its score.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle, through Nov. 12 ($30-$187, pnb.org or 206-441-2424).
But unlike Pite’s acclaimed “Emergence,” a malevolent swarm of legs, “Plot Point” too often feels like concept at the expense of dance; the movement tends to get lost in the layers. Watching it, you spend a lot of time puzzling out just what’s happening; why some of the replicas have a distinctive, jellylike way of moving; why the sound effects sometimes seem inconsistent with the actions they are amplifying. (Was this intentional? I saw it twice and am still not sure.) There’s a beautiful, liquid pas de deux early on, danced with slippery passion by Karel Cruz and Leah Merchant as the clandestine lovers, and it’s a gorgeous reminder that these dancers can do anything; a welcome chance, in this flurried work, to breathe.
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Doing more with less, to my eye, was Twyla Tharp’s “Afternoon Ball,” created for PNB in 2008 and back on its stage after some years’ absence; it’s an unexpectedly moving work, danced with jittery abandon. Benjamin Griffiths, Angelica Generosa and Lucien Postlewaite, costumed in punkish tatters on a mostly bare stage, portrayed three lost souls; they dance alone, even when moving together. Generosa brought a darkness and edge to her usual effortless charm; Postlewaite, as always, vanished effortlessly into the dance, lost in the swirls of Vladimir Martynov’s hypnotic score. (This was, unusually, an evening of music played entirely by stringed instruments.) And a beautifully loose Griffiths, whose waif sees in the darkness a glimpse of beauty that he wistfully tries to emulate, lets us see a momentary transformation, and a heartbreaking slipping-back.
In pleasant contrast to these two haunting works was Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky,” which opened the evening. Though perhaps brought back a little too soon (it just premiered here in March of this year), it was a welcome splash of open arms and Southwest sunshine.