Peter Boal, the artistic director of the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Ballet, may be waiting until he’s sure New Yorkers are in love with the company’s excellent dancers before he brings all 48 of them here. And they’d need a stage bigger (hence more expensive) than the Joyce to perform the works by George Balanchine that have formed the bedrock of PNB’s repertory since the company’s founding in 1972. At Jacob’s Pillow this past summer, 16 PNB dancers performed a program of works by the late Ulysses Dove, and only 21 came to New York to dance ballets created for them in 2008 by Twyla Tharp and Benjamin Millepied, as well as a duet by Edwaard Liang and a solo by Marco Goecke.
To me, Tharp’s genius is most evident in earlier pieces she made for the several companies she called her own, for dancers she knew body and soul. Opus III for PNB is a lovely work—beautifully constructed, intrepid in its use of space and its kinship with Johannes Brahms’s fiercely rushing String Quintet, No. 2 in G major. But it only infrequently tells me about the 12 dancers as individuals. After Barry Kerollis unrolls a little solo as he crosses the stage to his waiting partner, Rachel Foster, or Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta pass through with a teasing dialogue, I think, “Come back soon—I want to know you better.”
No choreographer can best Tharp at keeping dancers swirling and dashing on and off the stage, forming eddies and whirlpools, waltzing, strutting, flicking an impudent hip, or, in this work, flexing a foot to allude fleetingly to Hungarian folk dance. The fact that the women aren’t on pointe adds to the fluidity. Despite Mark Zappone’s gimmicky, multicolored costumes, the opening image is serene: Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold graciously hold down center stage, while way behind them, at either side, two other couples perform twin duets in inkblot symmetry. Then Tharp starts busying your eyes. Three couples slip from unison into counterpoint. A foursome struts past. While you’re watching the center of the space, something complicated begins to happen in a corner. Dancers leap across and vanish. Couples swim into brief prominence. Yet the choreography never seems to clot, or strain for effect. This is just what people do in Opus III‘s sweet, saucy little world: dance to Brahms’s ravishing music.
Millepied is rapidly becoming a master pattern maker. In 3 Movements, set to Steve Reich’s Three Movements for Orchestra, he deploys his cast of 16 with a panache that makes you imagine a deconstructed Olympics pageant, or the view through a kaleidoscope that has slipped askew. There isn’t much the man doesn’t know about manipulating horizontal chains, vertical columns, circles, diagonals, and spinning pathways. Lines form and tilt and decompose before your eyes. The dancers in Isabella Boylston’s spiffy gray, black, and white outfits (the women on pointe) flash their legs with balletic elegance and vernacular verve, pair up, and zip smartly into the next design, in synch with Reich’s driving music.
Small incidents pepper the group maneuvers. In one duet, Bold manipulates Körbes so rapidly that you’d fear for her if she didn’t have a “do me” willingness and pause to fix her hair afterward. Lindsi Dec and Stanko Milov meet and dodge each other in a way that underscores how hard it is to keep in line, and have fun doing it.
A program like this needs some small-cast works for balance, and the audience cheered for Liang’s Für Alina, performed on opening night by Bold and Foster. The duet shares its title with the spare, haunting piano piece by Arvo Pärt that gives the ballet more poetic resonance than it might otherwise have. It’s one of those pas de deux in which a man does many improbable and virtuosic things to a woman, while both of them look very unhappy and she seems to desire something in the distance. Each of them has a separate on-and-off spotlight; maybe she’s remembering him or he’s remembering her. There’s a disconnect between what these people may want and the movements they do. Bold buries his face in Foster’s belly, then rises and helps her to turn in a perfect arabesque.
Goecke created Mopey for a program Boal put together in New York in 2004. A study in post-hip-hop urban angst, it shows a guy in a hoodie (later bare-chested) loping, crouching, and scootching along on his butt to music by C.P.E. Bach and the Cramps. Benjamin Griffiths performs the solo excellently, but how long can you watch a neurotic man ripple his back muscles?
Wish I could fly to Seattle and see more of this company.