A Big, Balachine-y, World-Premiere-y Bang
Review of Director's Choice at Pacific Northwest Ballet
PNB is closing out another season and by the looks of Director’s Choice they are quite intent on going out with a bang—a big, Balanchine-y, world-premiere-y bang. If you haven’t made it down to McCaw Hall to see Director’s Choice in years past, this is a good year to do it. The annual show of assorted pieces selected by PNB’s Artistic Director, Peter Boal, can range from feeling like Ballet Trail Mix—light, snacky, and a mix of flavors—to feeling like Very Serious Ballet With Capital Letters, Please Sit Up Straight. This year, though, PNB hits the nail on the head and has put together a show where you can feast your eyes and marvel at the crazy, beautiful things that a dancer can do.
The evening starts with Agon, a 1957 piece by American ballet great George Balanchine. As one might hope at a ballet show, it’s the dancing that’s impressive in Agon. The dancers move in strict Balanchine symmetry all over the stage—except when they don’t. The graceful, rigid ballet you’re used to suddenly becomes deliberately awkward. Limbs swing around like open doors, and the graceful music you were expecting becomes jarring and grating. As a non-old person, I can certify that the awkwardness here is the same awkwardness you felt/will feel in sophomore year of high school or at most of prom. What’s cool, though, is that the unexpected awkwardness forces you to actually focus on what the dancers are doing; when you appreciate the strength and the power there, that’s when the ballet becomes really impressive.
PNB moves from the Balanchine-y to the world-premierey with Tide Harmonic by the very trendy Christopher Wheeldon. Tide Harmonic is many things, but for the purposes of this show it’s a really excellent counterpart to the two Balanchine pieces. Where Balanchine moves his dancers with rigid symmetry, Wheeldon wraps them around each other with all the fluidity of water, as the title suggests. Wheeldon whips his dancers into the ballet equivalent of a hurricane, and does more with them each time. There is no denying that Tide Harmonic is the crown jewel in a very good show, but you’ll have to wait to the very last second of the piece to really see why.
Perhaps Tide Harmonic's greatest achievement is that it manages to make Diamonds, one of Balanchine’s masterworks, really, really boring directly after it. Not to be outdone, Balanchine pushes about a zillion dancers onstage at the end, each wearing enough crystals to make Phyllis Diller spin delightfully in her grave. At the close, Diamonds is a fun palate cleanser and lighter fare for a very good show.
So why should you go see this very good show? Besides ballet fans and dance lovers, this show will be good for you if you enjoy watching people throw other people and make it look effortless. Or if you like watching about 10,000 diamonds dance in symmetry at once. Or maybe if you want to impress your friends by saying that you went to a world premiere this weekend. For whatever reason, it will prove a delight.
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Through June 9
More info at pnb.org