Three dynamic contemporary female choreographers — Crystal Pite, Jessica Lang and Twyla Tharp — are featured in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Her Story, which opened Nov. 3.
Opening the program is the floating lyricism of Lang’s Her Door to the Sky, inspired by the work of renowned American painter Georgia O’Keeffe and set to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, Op. 4. O’Keeffe’s fascination with the landscape around Santa Fe, New Mexico, and its vivid sunrises and sunsets, culminated in numerous paintings. In homage to O’Keeffe’s Patio Door series, Lang designed a stucco wall with cutout windows used as a dancer’s perch or to divulge parts of the choreography. Around the wall and through the windows, lighting designer Nicole Pearce splashes the vibrant hues of a continually changing New Mexican sky, echoed in Bradon McDonald’s ombré costumes.
Like O’Keeffe’s art, the choreography has an abstract, evocative feel and a soft flow, highlighted in Sarah Ricard Orza’s solo on opening night, whether she was smoothly twisting or gently caught by other dancers as she fell.
Next up is the darker Afternoon Ball, which had its world premiere at Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2008. Dressed in costume designer Mark Zappone’s street punk clothes, Angelica Generosa, Benjamin Griffiths and Lucien Postlewaite were alienated teens in the destructive grip of drugs. Singled out by lighting and scenic designer Randall Chiarelli in harshly white spotlights and surrounded by darkness, the three started off dancing in isolation, gradually coming together for duets and occasional trios.
Dancing to the initially spiky and repetitive strains of Vladimir Martynov’s Autumn Ball of the Elves, the trio was by turns playful, petulant, angry, self-absorbed, drug-addled, shivering and in pain. As Martynov’s composition veered in the sharply contrasting direction of Shubert, Miles Pertl, and Laura Tisserand began waltzing gracefully in and out of the action, enveloped in warm light and dressed in elegant Biedermeier costumes from a bygone era. Griffiths’ character emulated their steps as if wishing to be swept into their world. Even more than a sense of the loss of tradition and elegance, Tharp’s ballet left behind a searing image of the growing problem of homeless teens.
Pite’s Plot Point seems more cerebral than her Emergence, which is one of my top ten ballets. I found myself a bit distracted trying to puzzle out a story, when there are really only snippets.
Created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2010, Pite seriously revised the piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s premiere. Selecting Bernard Hermann’s chilling score from the movie Psycho, supplemented by music from composer Owen Belton, led Pite to explore screenplay storyboarding. Pite did not want to deliver a story with a beginning, middle and end, instead using what she calls stop-motion choreography. Featureless figures in white represent the models used to sketch a storyboard and dance the basic plot points, while dancers dressed in realistic clothing with visible faces make the plot points three-dimensional by dancing the emotion.
Alan Brodie’s shadowy lighting design together with scenic designer Jay Gower Taylor’s two-dimensional white set of trees, streetlights, doors and windows, plus a dash of stage fog, suggests black-and-white film noir. Nancy Bryant’s costumes, featuring trench coats and fedoras, further the sensibility. Projected scene titles and recorded sound effects like approaching footsteps add to the film concept.
Rich with humor, drama and theatrical elements, Plot Point garnered the sole standing ovation of the evening.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Her Story” runs through Nov. 12 at McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.). Tickets range from $30-$187, with some under-age-25 discounts. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.pnb.org or call 206-441-2424.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a freelance writer who lives in the greater Seattle area.