First things first: the big gun Mark Morris commission. Kammermusik No. 3, set to Paul Hindemith’s composition, was a dance for 12 performers. Costumed in magenta tunics and black pants by Mark Zappone, the dancers en masse seem to be the embodiment of the notes on Hindemith’s complex score. Silhouetted against a matching backdrop, they enter fron the wings in trios, leaping and twirling around each other. Assembled together in straight rows, or moving in time to the syncopated score, the dancers are lovely illustrations of the music that inspires this work. Kammermusik No. 3 is firmly fixed in the Morris canon.
Oddly, what stood out on November 3rd, was James Moore’s solo unaccompanied by the more-than-able PNB Orchestra with cellist Page Smith. Moore is a solid dancer, best when given a challenge. Here, his quiet moves across the stage usher in a different mood. Instead of blithely spinning, some of the dancers now limp out from the wings. Or drop to the floor. The momentary lapses from their formerly energetic movements make the viewer pause and wonder what Morris had in mind. Kammermusik No. 3 doesn’t really answer that question, but that doesn’t really matter. As usual for his work, Morris’ dance displays the choreographer’s indisputable mastery of his craft. From its visually arresting opening to the whimsical final move, Kammermusik is a solid if not dazzling addition to Morris’ body of work.
None of the other three works on the All Premiere program dazzled the way Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette did when it premiered at McCaw Hall in 2008. They didn’t dazzle, but they did satisfy on other levels. Andrew Bartee’s arms that work opened the show. It was an ambitious piece for nine dancers, set to an edgy score written by Barret Anspach (brother of PNB corps member Jessika Anspach). arms features a large installation that bisects the stage from wing to wing. It looks something like a long harp, strung with wide black straps. Those straps divide the stage psychologically as well as physically. Bartee highlights sections and dancers by placing them in front of the straps, or even among them. A lone dancer writhes to her (or his, depending on casting) own rhythm.
Notable is a pas de deux early in the work. On November 3rd, Kaori Nakamura and James Moore were intent and intense. They executed Bartee’s very unballetic choreography with precision and grace. But the following week, young dancers Leta Biasucci and Ryan Cardea imbued the same pas de deux with a feral energy that was exciting to watch. arms that work dragged in places, and Anspach’s score was hardly accessible. But this dance, Bartee’s first big piece, promises that the young choreographer has much more to show us.
Unfortunately, Bartee’s fellow corps member Margaret Mullin doesn’t offer the same excitement in her dance, Lost in Light. Mullin says in the program notes the work was inspired by the death of a good friend. That’s hard to discern from what’s onstage. Ten dancers, costumed in beige and gray by Alexis Mondragon, perform pretty spins and lifts to Dan Coleman’s original music. With the exception of one blind lift by Kiyon Gaines (he stands back-to-back with his partner, Carli Samuelson, catching her by the elbows and lifting her up over his shoulders), not much stands out in Lost in Light. It’s relentlessly pretty, like an overly sweet vanilla pudding. The return of Carla Korbes the second weekend (dancing wonderfully with Karel Cruz) was a treat, however. Like great music, choreography needs dynamic range. I hope Mullin will build on this experience and look forward to seeing what comes next.
The last dance on the All Premiere bill was the audience favorite. PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal invited soloist Kiyon Gaines to choreograph to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Gaines chose Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks.” The result is an homage to the composer, to his longtime collaborator George Balanchine, and to Gaines’ fellow dancers.
Sum Stravinsky is a work for 20 performers, divided into the music’s three movements. “Tempo Giusto” is sprightly, the women twirling in Pauline Smith’s lovely powder-blue tutus. On November 9th, principals Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta looked happy to be on stage together. Both dancers are powerful, and Gaines’ lively movements look tailor-made for them. Perhaps they were. In a post-show talkback, Gaines said he’d created different steps for different dancers, and that he wanted to cast as many fellow company members as he could without conflict. Scanning programs from two performances (November 3rd and November 9th) only three of the 20 dancers appear twice. Which means at least 37 different dancers performed in Gaines’piece. On November 9th, it was pure delight to watch the “Allegretto” movement danced by offstage couple Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz. Dec is just back from an injury and seemed overjoyed to be there.
Kiyon Gaines is known for his lively performances–and lively choreography. Sum Stravinsky is no great departure for him stylistically, but it shows a more confident Gaines, somebody who grasps his craft. With the pas de deux for Dec and Cruz, Gaines tries to slow his pace a bit, but frankly, his cheerful energy is irrepressible.
Like Mickey Rooney’s community show in the 1937 film Babes in Arms, PNB’s All Premiere is almost a DIY production. Lots of dancers get their chance to shine. Young dancemakers share the bill with the big name and hold their own artistically. Nothing on the program was a masterpiece, but it didn’t have to be. All Premiere had something for everyone. Can the company put on a good show? The answer, yes it can.