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.
In Petite Mort, six male dancers in practically nonexistent gold and beige shorts dance with long, silver swords before being accompanied by female dancers in similar nudity-evoking outfits. Their bodies and their graceful movements are highlighted by this appearance, and the interaction between the male and female dancers is extremely sensual, if not explicitly sexual.
I was first wowed by the literal movements of the dancers’ bodies, and when the curtains closed and reopened for the next performance, I began to see how such movements could tell stories.
The second performance, Kylian’s Sech Tänze (Six Dances), wholeheartedly embraces storytelling theatricality. The dancers double as actors and interact with one another in narrative ways. Dressed in outfits that seem to be something along the lines of Colonial-era undergarments, complete with powdered wigs, the performers immediately lighten up the hall from the prior tenderness of Petite Mort.
This dance is surprisingly full of jokes, offering plenty of opportunities for raucous laughter from the audience, but most of the jokes hinge on typical gender roles — tiffs between the male and female dancers, controlling one another’s bodies with puppetry-mimicking movements, and the male dancers donning giant dresses. They are easy laughs for the audience, but tiptoe the line between lighthearted and distasteful. The stereotypical stuffiness of the ballet melts away, but it does so at the hands of pretty basic and gendered humor.
Unfortunately, the third and final dance choreographed by Kylian could have been called “Forgotten Dance” instead of its actual title, Forgotten Land. Consisting of paired dancers taking turns twirling in long dresses, Forgotten Land seems all too typical amongst the other wholly unique dances. The only peep I heard from the young girl behind me during this performance was a short, exasperated sigh, and I could empathize with her.
The last dance, and the only one choreographed by Canadian Crystal Pite, is a creature entirely its own. In Emergence, a dance inspired by bee colonies, the dancers transform into a frightening horde of insects. Their movements are angular, repetitive, and too synchronized for comfort. With dozens of dancers in identical outfits on stage at once, performing the exact same movements and chanting in unison, it’s difficult to not see them as a swarm completely absorbed in a hive mentality. Complete with black masks shrouding their faces, the dancers transform into something hardly recognizable as human.
The young voice behind me whispered a quivering, “I’m scared” to her chaperone, and I wished someone had been there to reassure me there was nothing to worry about and to hold my hand too. Not typically known for evoking fear in its viewers, ballet is taken into new territory by Emergence. Absolutely absorbing on both a visual and emotional level, Pite’s choreography is terrifyingly entrancing.
Between its four dances, Kylian + Pite is at once sensual, funny, forgettable, and frightening, It presents many ideas about what ballet is and what it can be. Each of the four dances offers something distinct, and their varying characteristics create many entry points for even the most novice ballet-goer. Whether in the audience as a talkative five-year-old, a seasoned ballet-attendee, or anyone in between, Kylian + Pite has something enjoyable for all.
Kylian + Pite
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Through November 17