PNB's corps de ballet shines in 'Past, Present and Future'

Sing hail to the conquering corps! After a rough start earlier this season with George Balanchine's "Duo Concertant," Pacific Northwest Ballet's corps de ballet triumphed on opening night of PNB's "Past, Present and Future" program.

In Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco," PNB dancers Alison Basford, Kari Brunson, Lindsi Dec, Laura Gilbreath, Rebecca Johnston, Kylee Kitchens, Stacy Lowenberg and Brittany Reid performed with precision and grace. All, except Johnston (who debuted in 1998) and Lowenberg (who debuted in 1994), are 21st-century PNB dancers, having joined the company in 2000 or later. All these ladies have the potential to move up the ladder over the next decade to become soloists and principals for the company. All showed a true appreciation of Balanchine's translation of Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D Minor into pure dance.

The principal dancers of the company (the highest rank at PNB) always dance well, but principal Carrie Imler is getting an extra "oomph" out of her season.

Imler shone in the season opener, "Director's Choice," and seems to be still flying on the wings of that applause. She turned in a terrific solo turn in "Concerto Barocco," danced with fire and energy in the earthy "Jardí Tancat" choreographed by Nacho Duato, and then lit up the stage again with the Hornpipe in Kent Stowell's "Hail to the Conquering Hero."

"Jardí Tancat" highlighted all the strengths of PNB's principals, especially their ability to move smoothly from classical to modern, in a difficult, often down-on-the-stage piece. Ariana Lallone and her partner Jeffrey Stanton turned Duato's awkward bends and straight out leg movements into a passionate and believable exploration into the hardscrabble lives of Mediterranean peasants.

Principals Batkhurel Bold, Olivier Wevers, Imler and soloist Mara Vinson also transformed themselves from elegant to earthbound in Duato's "closed garden" (the literal translation of the Catalan title), haunted by the folksongs of loss and suffering recorded by Maria del Mar Bonet.

But the night really belonged to the corps. James Moore, who just joined the company a year ago, brought the audience to their feet with a roar after the debut of Marco Goecke's "Mopey."

Goerke's choreography relies heavily on small movements and looks interesting (but not beautiful) up close. How well it plays to the second tier in a 2,900-seat house, I can't tell you. I suspect "Mopey" is not as dramatic if viewed from the cheap seats - most of the hooting and hollering came from the first-floor seats after "Mopey" ended - but Goerke's piece did showcase Moore's high-energy dancing. The lack of upper-torso costume also highlighted the kid's ribs during the last half of "Mopey."

Moore's famine-victim looks started to distract this reviewer and a few others during "Mopey." At intermission, several of us agreed that it was certainly a change of pace to hear music from the Cramps mixed with Bach for a ballet, and somebody needed to feed Moore a very big dinner after the show.

The evening ended on a sophisticated note with a return of Kent Stowell's "Hail to the Conquering Hero." This very classical ballet by PNB's former artistic director, set to the music of Handel, once again featured a corps de ballet truly performing as the solid future of PNB.[[In-content Ad]]