A Flurry of Tulle

​Review of Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet

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With a 30-foot king rat with a stray flopping tail, swirling cardboard waves, and a clock that grows legs at the stroke of midnight, Maurice Sendak’s set doesn’t attempt realism. His two-dimensional props look more like cutouts from a children’s book than objects of the real world. But that’s fitting from the author of Where the Wild Things Are. And it’s perfect for a show like Nutcracker.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual show isn’t a typical ballet. From the stage to the audience, Nutcracker is all about the kids. It allows PNB students to take on serious roles and children (armed with tutus and tiaras, of course) to fill the lobby. In some settings, that would make the show feel juvenile, but at Nutcracker, it’s refreshing. It makes the show what it is — magical.

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Sensual, Funny, Forgettable, and Frightening

​Review of Kylian + Pite at Pacific Northwest Ballet

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The two-part title of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Kylian + Pite is misleading. Consisting of four vastly different dances, the show offers much more than just those two names.

Kylian + Pite opens with Petite Mort, a dance choreographed by Netherlands-based Jiri Kylian and set to music by Mozart. Almost immediately after the sparkly, red curtain lifted, I heard a little voice behind me exclaim “wow,” capturing both my thoughts and her own. This (approximately) five-year-old girl would proceed to accurately narrate the entire show for me.

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Hello. I’m Twyla Tharp, and I can do anything.

​Review of Air Twyla at Pacific Northwest Ballet

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Pacific Northwest Ballet has a crush on Twyla Tharp. The iconic American choreographer has spent the last year as Artist-in-Residence in PNB, and while we can’t be sure how many gushy entries PNB may have written about Twyla in their diary, their new all-Tharp production, Air Twyla, shows that Twyla is a pretty swell person to have a crush on.

Tharp’s versatility as a choreographer makes Brief Fling an impressive start to the show. Military drum rolls, classical pieces, and a fleeting moment of disco groove come in quick succession as Tharp uses the dancers to explore a hundred different moods and styles. As the piece switches wildly over and over again, it begins to feel a little like Whack-a-Mole. Then you get it: this is Twyla Tharp saying casually, “Hello. I’m Twyla Tharp, and I can do anything.” And it’s true: her choreography rings true every time. Though Kaori Nakamura and Sascha Radetsky came off a touch behind the beat, Tharp’s big finish leaves you excited for the next two acts.

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A Big, Balachine-y, World-Premiere-y Bang

​Review of Director's Choice at Pacific Northwest Ballet

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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.

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Incred-ability

PNB's Swan Lake and the pleasures of order

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There is nothing easy about dancing en pointe. Ballerinas and danseurs often spend years perfecting their abilities to dance on the tips of the toes while still remaining graceful in their upper bodies. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake dancers, however, make dancing en pointe look flawlessly easy.

PNB’s production of Swan Lake, choreographed by Kent Stowell, is a classic performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, with four acts and a brilliant company of dancers. The ballet tells the tragic tale of Odette and Siegfried, two lovers who are determined to break Odette’s curse of being a swan, but are undermined by the menacing Odile, who deceives Siegfriend and forces Odette to forever remain a swan by day.

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Embrace the Dark

Review of Giselle at Pacific Northwest Ballet by Tucker C.

NOTE: Contains spoilers!

Photo by Angela Sterling

When the sun is shining and the thermometers around town finally crack 70 degrees, it may not seem entirely intuitive to go see a very dark ballet about betrayal, death, and supernatural vengeance. Sure, while you’re sitting in a dark, cool, enclosed space, you could be out water skiing or sunbathing. But the fact is that while summer comes only three months of the year in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Giselle is here for only two weeks, and it is not to be missed under any circumstances. The last show of their season and a completely new staging by Peter Boal of the classic work, Giselle is captivating and entrancing.

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CRUSH OF THE MONTH

Hard-working, cute-boots-wearing, Janet Jackson-loving dancer Amber Mayberry Check out Amber's interview with Tucker C.: You can see Amber dance in Spectrum Dance Theatre's upcoming show The Mother of Us All March 3 - 5 The Moore Theatre More info at spectrumdance.org

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A.W.A.R.D. Show :: The Finale!

Review of A.W.A.R.D. Show, Sunday, January 30th at On the Boards by Tucker C.

Sunday night at On the Boards, every seat in the house was packed in anticipation of the grand finale of The A.W.A.R.D. Show, a competition for Pacific Northwest choreographers. Twelve choreographers had entered, and for the previous three nights audiences had crowned a winner from among each group of four. Now, with the dirty work of selecting the finalists done, it was our job to sit back and enjoy an evening of spectacular dance before crowning the winner. And it was indeed spectacular.

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Punch Drunk and Dazzled

Review of All Tharp at Pacific Northwest Ballet by Tucker C.

Soloist Chalnessa Eames in Afternoon Ball. Photo © Angela Sterling

If PNB’s All Tharp is any indication, Twyla Tharp is clearly a woman with a lot to say. You sit down in the theatre, the curtain goes up, and All Tharp proceeds to grab you and shake you around in every direction. Until last night, I had never seen ballet danced as though drunk, groups of dancers swooping across the stage dressed as synchronized swimmers, or dancers mouthing words that definitely cannot be written on this blog, screaming silently at a captivated audience. Tharp’s work is a creature truly and markedly set apart from any other. It is a blend of the traditional, of the movie and the theatre, of the hidden story and dance for the sake of dance.

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Liquid Lightning

Review of 3 by Dove at Pacific Northwest Ballet by Tucker C

(Tucker asked if, instead of posting his review, we could just put a big star on the blog with "Go See This" on it. We're doing both.) Really, really cool things continue to happen over at PNB. This time it’s 3 by Dove, three ballets (as the name would suggest) by the choreographer Ulysses Dove. Spliced in between is a new work commissioned for the PNB by Victor Quijada, Suspension of Disbelief.

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Rachel Foster in Ulysses Dove’s Vespers. Photo © Angela Sterling

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Crush of the Month: Laura Gilbreath

by Tucker C.

Photo by Angela Sterling for Class Act Tutu

Laura Gilbreath, apart from being an amazing and accomplished dancer, is a lot of things. She is an avid country music fan, a savvy traveler through Europe, a Seattle University student, and all in all a very, very cool person. Officially, she’s a member of the corps de ballet at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and is performing in the upcoming 3 by Dove, opening this Thursday, March 18th, at McCaw Hall.

Laura, as the Peacock, watches the performance behind the curtain at a partial dress rehearsal of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo by Erika Schultz

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Fall Into Another World

Review of The Sleeping Beauty at Pacific Northwest Ballet by Tucker C

If the grey skies have got you down this winter, there’s a show in town for you. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is the ultimate picker-upper; filled with fanciful and intricate sets and costumes, excitement, and breathtaking dance, Sleeping Beauty takes a hold of you and won’t let go until the curtain comes down.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura in Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The first thing that strikes you about Sleeping Beauty is the sets. The pages of a fairy tale seem truly to have come to life on McCaw Hall’s stage. The austere majesty of the castle, with soaring columns and enormous thrones, is enough to arrest your attention in itself. And when Aurora falls into her slumber, ivy and forests take over the castle, crawling magically from all corners. Sleeping Beauty’s scenery is made only the more beautiful by the costumes. The gowns are detailed beyond belief, flowing, and elegant. Inside of the dreamlike world that all of this creates, the dancers bring amazing new life and vivacity to an old story. At first, the dances of the fairies are whimsical, and happy. With carefree dances, the dancers bring you into the idyllic happiness of the story. And the choreography develops characters through dance—each of the fairies with their own temperament, Aurora’s majestic and graceful dances just before being cursed, and the dances of the many fairy tale characters at the end. Unfortunately, at some points along the way the choreography seems passionless, lacking the energy that the music evokes and that the dancers clearly wish to show. Often, you find yourself frustrated, waiting for the zeal and life that never fully comes. But all of this takes a complete back seat to the indisputable high point of the show, the pas de deux between Prince Florimund and Aurora. Their dance is tender and slow at first, but then the two then began a series of acrobatic lifts and twists that will have you literally on the edge of your seat and holding your breath. They defy gravity and description, with lifts and pirouettes. But most amazing about the dance is their sense of controlled power and strength, the very grace that ballet at its core is all about. Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale brought to life, complete with all of the fancy, magic, and splendor it needs. And from start to end, you find yourself completely fallen into another world, far from the grey skies and drizzle outside the door. - Tucker C. February 4th, 2010 The Sleeping Beauty Pacific Northwest Ballet Through February 14th

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The Nutcracker Makes My World

A Review of The Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet by (former Nutcracker dancer) Tucker C.

Returning for its 26th season in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker ushered in the holiday season last weekend to an enthusiastic audience. Created by Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak (author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are) TheNutcracker has been a holiday tradition for Seattle families for many years. And this year, it can be counted on again to be the fun, whimsical, but also powerful experience that has charmed Washington for decades. The crown jewel of the show is the world that Sendak creates with his costumes and sets. Each piece is intricate and detailed—upon close examination, mice line the frescoes of Clara’s house, Where the Wild Things Are-like monsters can be found in the backdrops at the start of Act Two, and his sets vary in style from European to Oriental to the bizarre. It is this intricacy and detail, combined with his vibrant but simple style that makes Nutcracker come alive in a world formed of the same imagination that whisks Clara away. Combined with Tchaikovsky’s timeless score, Stowell’s choreography, and a small army of excited PNB School students, the production takes off. Building off of boundless energy and passion, you cannot help but be drawn into the spirit and cheer of it all. I had the chance to dance for three years in the PNB’s Nutcracker several years back, and the experience defines Nutcracker for me every time I have seen it since. From the first time I saw it, dancing in the Nutcracker was my childhood dream, and I entered the PNB school just to be in Nutcracker. Now, when I return to Nutcracker, I am captivated just as I was when I was four. In the end, Nutcracker continues to be a tradition for just this reason. Not just any show can make you remember how to dream and feel like a kid again, year after year after year. Uniquely heartfelt and touching, words do not describe what it is like to experience it, and cannot even come close to the joy of coming back again. Nutcracker creates a world that for a few hours you will be blessed to fall into; and when the curtain closes, you will be just as sad to go as Clara. Pacific Northwest Ballet'sThe Nutcracker plays at McCaw Hall now through December 30th. Please note that this production is NOT Teen Tix eligible.

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Artful Dodge: Director’s Choice Defies Categorization

Review of Director's Choice at Pacific Northwest Ballet by Tucker C.

Thursday night, the Pacific Northwest Ballet unveiled Director’s Choice, a collection of four smaller ballets and works. PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal has striven recently to encourage modern and new ballets, and he remains true to this goal in Director’s Choice. All of the four works presented premiered after 1990—one, The Seasons, enjoys its world premiere here. Each ballet is its own creation, and are powerful statements in their own right. Presented together, they reveal the PNB’s commitment to presenting a variety of fascinating new works. Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort Photo © Angela Sterling The first, Petite Mort, is a visually striking dance that quickly grabs your attention. When the curtain opens, six men with swords raised slowly back towards the front of the stage; figures swirl in and out of the darkness at the back of the stage. Dreamlike and surreal, the dancers occasionally run an enormous sheet across the stage. When it falls, you discover that the scene behind it has changed entirely. It is the dancing, though, that is truly fascinating, shifting from graceful steps and duets to stilted, broken movements. At other times, the female dancers come on stage behind enormous wheeled black gowns. They play behind and then leap out from them—the imagery is starkly entrancing. Remarkable and rich in meaning, it truly has to be seen to be appreciated. James Moore in Marco Goecke’s Mopey Photo © Angela Sterling Mopey, presented next, is sure to be a favorite with Teen Tix patrons. James Moore is spectacular in this one-man ballet, a perfectly done exploration of a teenage mind. Beginning with Moore whipping around the stage in anxious, frenzied steps, his angst is palpable. The dance is inward; Moore dances around the stage like a train of thought, moving between feelings in a smooth flow. Next becoming whimsical and vivacious, Moore marvels in his strength and energy with a crazed enthusiasm, leaping about the stage. Mopey changes again; the music stops and Moore begins a writhing dance filled with anger and violence, descending further into chaos as he goes. Mopey perfectly captures the changeability and volatility of the teenage mind, and is one of the show’s best moments. Peter Boal makes a pitch toward the more traditional in The Seasons—here, tutus and more formal hallmarks of ballet return, and the choreography becomes less experimental. Though not as intellectually rich as the previous two, The Seasons is an interesting revision of an older ballet. The Seasons flows through each and explores its different moods, weaving a narrative of love blossoming from the cold of winter and into the craze of summer. The dance shines through autumn’s revelry, capturing the season’s austerity and frenzy. While The Seasons is a well-done work by itself, young viewers may find that it pales in comparison with the first two. The dancers seemed determined to have some plain fun at the show’s close with West Side Story Suite. Perfectly suited for the grace and power of ballet, the dancers dominate the dance and feeling of West Side Story. While some numbers don’t shine as brightly as others, the show ends on a high note with the dancers on stage, singing “Somewhere” with all the passion and power it deserves. Director’s Choice refuses to be pinned down into any category. An innovative, provocative, and breathtaking show, it brings together the classical and the modern. Worthwhile, fascinating, and imaginative, the imagery and energy of it will remain with you long after you have left the theatre. - Tucker C November 5th, 2009 Director's Choice Pacific Northwest Ballet Through November 15th

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