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Rachel Youens

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Boal and Körbes on bedrock

Pacific Northwest Ballet
The Joyce Theater, NYC
January 5-10, 2009

New York fans anticipated the return of former City Ballet dancers Peter Boal and Karla Körbes, now with Pacific Northwest Ballet. There is no denying rumors that Boal's PNB looks strong. Indeed, they brought a challenging program to the Joyce.

The company's reputation as one of the countries best, now with thirty-two Balanchine dances in repertory, was set during the quarter-century directorship of former City Ballet soloists Francia Russell and Kent Stowell. Boals took the PNB Artistic Director post five years ago, and Körbes followed him. The Brazilian-born dancer had trained at the School of American Ballet, at Boal's behest. In his short PNB tenure, Boal added more than fifty dances, including several by Balanchine and five by Twyla Tharp.

Tharp spent an eight-week residency creating two new dances for PNB, including Opus 111 to Johannes Brahms String Quintet No.2 in G major. It was first on January 5th, opening night. Classical steps inform the movement and costumes are Grecian silky, belted tunics by Mark Zappone. Tharp found ‘exotic’ passages in the music and inserted international Russian folk and Near Eastern steps, like those in classical story ballets. We may never have discovered those musical suggestions.

Always finding different twists on ballet technique, Tharp has the women finish pirouettes with their arms stuck in a preparatory position, at chest height. This gives the work a dreamy, perpetual-motion quality. The dance, initially criticized for lacking dramatic urgency, is not representative of Tharp’s oeuvre, but that’s refreshing. Its masterful structure is unequalled in this program.

Tharp Image

Many bright lights shone among those (around half the company) who made the expedition. Körbes is decidedly the main attraction in three of the season’s offerings. Her relaxed virtuosity makes her a pleasure to watch. She brings wonderful emotion and mystery to Edwaard Lliang’s 2006 Für Alina, and Arvo Pärt’s eponymous, minimalist piano music. Körbes and partner Karel Cruz dip in and out of Randall G. Chiarelli’s dramatic lighting. Temporality in relationships appears to be the subject of this dance.

Lliang and Benjamin Millepied engage us with elegant, expansive movement. A new Millepied shows the influence of New York’s recent Jerome Robbins celebration. 3 Movements’ theatricality sometimes goes overboard, for example, a raggedy, kicking chorus line looks sloppy instead of cheeky. With sixteen on stage, Millepied eliminates regiment and unison, with unsettling results.

Millepied Image

However, this puzzling dance warrants a second look. Is it complicated with too many parts? It is full of cantilevered poses and daredevil feats. Körbes sudden, supported lunges bring us to the edge of our seats. Pirouetting men land resolvedly, in surprising squatting poses. An uplifting passage in the central movement has lighter-than-air couples jumping to metronome-like sounds in Steve Reich’s score. They follow and riff off an exhilarating duet by Körbes and partner Batkhurel Bold.

James Moore performed a modern solo by the young Marco Goecke to an unlikely score of C.P.E. Bach, then silence, and then The Cramps. Staged by Sean Suozzi, its comic beginning and end succeed with marvelous timing. But in the bulk of this dance, the bare-chested dancer extends his arms forcefully and repetitively like a traffic cop. He breaks the monotony with an expressive and musical shake of his head, which is like a font of sweat. This bit of moisture is relief for the raging, depressed, and depressing Mopey. Goecke leaves it to us to explain.

Top image: Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold with company members in Twyla Tharp’s Opus 111.
Below: Benjamin Millepied's 3 Movements
Photos © Angela Sterling