Dance review: PNB program emphasizes roots of three choreographers: George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp. Ballet repeats June 9-12.
The title of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s breezily irresistible “American Stories,” a three-ballet evening closing out the company’s season, emphasizes the distinct American roots of three great choreographers: George Balanchine, the Russian genius who made the United States his beloved adopted homeland; Jerome Robbins, a born-in-Manhattan son of immigrants who mingled Broadway with ballet throughout his career; and Twyla Tharp, a contemporary dance legend whose life began on an Indiana farm. But the dances chosen to represent them — and the order in which they are presented — tell another, equally compelling story: the arc of a choreographer’s career, and how the work reflects the maker’s time in life.
Robbins was only 25 when he created the sailors-on-shore-leave ballet “Fancy Free,” and danced in its 1944 premiere. But it already showed the choreographer he would become: long before “On the Town” or “West Side Story,” his dancers told a story through swingy, loose movement; through the tweaking of traditional ballet technique (a foot flexed up; a jump with arms pulled down); through a sprinkling of that great American dance form, tap. On opening night, sailors Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta and James Moore — a dream team — were all exuberant youthfulness, effortlessly swaggering. (Porretta’s insanely high jump landing in a split elicited a “how does he do that” murmur from the audience.) When you’re young, as the end of the ballet tells us, there’s always another girl, another bar, another dance.
Balanchine’s “Square Dance” premiered in 1957; its choreographer had been making dances for several decades, always elegantly pushing the art in new directions. Set to Vivaldi and Corelli, the ballet is a free-floating hybrid of American square dance, classical ballet and centuries-old court dance (its original version actually used an onstage square-dance caller) — and you’d recognize it as confident, classic Balanchine from its serene opening steps. As the central couple, Leta Biasucci (whose astonishingly fleet feet were well deployed here) and Benjamin Griffiths had a gentle nobility.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, Thursday-Sunday, June 9-June 12, at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle ($30-$187, pnb.org or 206-441-2424)
Tharp’s “Waiting at the Station,” created for PNB nearly three years ago, has a late-life theme: its central character (Moore, in a performance that was a masterpiece of jazzy twists, slinks and hat-handling) makes a last connection to his son (Price Suddarth, also splendid) before his own New Orleans jazz funeral. Two couples, in playfully mismatched height pairings (Porretta with Laura Tisserand; Noelani Pantastico with William Lin-Yee), wove intricate patterns around them; dancing with seemingly boundless energy.
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It’s a haunting work, with a message sadly underlined for those who remember the 2013 premiere: composer Allen Toussaint, who performed his own joyously swinging score with the PNB orchestra for the ballet’s debut, died last year. With Allan Dameron on piano, the orchestra made a valiant attempt Friday night, but didn’t quite match Toussaint’s groove. May Toussaint be making music somewhere in jazz heaven — and may Tharp, still busily creating in her 70s, have many more last dances.