Above: Peter Boal as Apollo, photo by Paul Kolnik/NYCB.
Monday September 10, 2012 - Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Maria Chapman, Carla Körbes, Seth Orza and Lesley Rausch, soloist Benjamin Griffiths, and corps de ballet danseur Matthew Renko journeyed from the Other Coast to bring us a spectacular evening of dance as the new season of the Guggenheim's ever-fascinating Works & Process season got underway. The dancers performed excerpts from PNB’s upcoming City Center season, including George Balanchine’s Apollo, Agon, The Four Temperaments, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
In his particularly illuminating opening remarks of the evening, PNB's Artistic Director Peter Boal talked about his dual career roles of dancing and - later - staging Balanchine. He spoke of how Mr. B's ballets were never etched in stone but rather how the great choreographer was constantly revising and tinkering with his masterworks. There are multiple 'versions' of several of the ballets, and in this evening's presentation we even treated to seeing the same solo in two different incarnations danced side by side. This proved a real eye-opener.
The immortal Balanchine classic APOLLO is a ballet in which the Master made sweeping revisions over time, deleting whole passages and altering the stage setting and costumes, stripping things down to the sublime essence that we are familiar with today. Peter Boal was of course one of the great exponents of the role of Apollo during his dance career, and it is his staging of this earliest of Balanchine ballets that Pacific Northwest Ballet will be bringing to City Center in February.
This evening, Peter Boal spent a few minutes in an impromptu coaching session of Apollo's opening solo with PNB principal dancer Seth Orza. Even from the excerpts danced here, it's clear that Seth is a superb Apollo and one who can stand proudly in the grand tradition of Apollos like Boal, Peter Martins and Nikolaj Hubbe. In a spine-tingling rendering of the Apollo/Terpsichore pas de deux, Seth's dancing with the luminous Carla Korbes was an experience to cherish, and one to make us regret yet again their departure from New York City Ballet. Yet Seattle has worked beautifully for both of them: they have developed into dance artists of the top echelon. Maria Chapman and Lesley Rausch were the lovely Calliope and Polyhymnia respectively. Pianist Christina Siemens' playing reminded us of the ravishing qualities of this Stravinsky score, distlled to a keyboard essence.
In the Melancholic variation from THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS, soloist Benjamin Griffiths and corpsman Matthew Renko danced different versions of the solo, first separately and then side by side. Here the idea of Balanchine as a creator who loved to 'adjust' his ballets came into high relief. Two versions of the ballet's finale were also danced, with all six of the participating artists taking part. Yet again, the differences between the two versions ranged from subtle to emphatic.
Mlles. Chapman and Rausch danced the women's duet from AGON, and Peter Boal asked them to show some of the variants that Mr. B made in the choreography over time. The two ballerinas then joined Mr. Griffiths for the pas de trois which they danced in both the 'current' and 'original' versions. Peter Boal said that often times Balanchine would make changes when new dancers entered the cast of an established ballet: what looked perfect on a dancer at the premiere of a work might not have suited someone coming into a role some years later. Balanchine always wanted his dancers to look their best, and did everything he could to make that happen.
According to Mr. Boal, there are more 'versions' of the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux than of any other Balanchine work. Tonight Carla Korbes and Seth Orza gave a lyrically poetic reading of the adagio, and Benjamin Griffiths and Lesley Rausch followed up with the variations. Maria Chapman and Matthew Renko launched the coda and eventually Carla and Seth took over for the final passages. The limited space threatened to hamper the fish dives, but Seth had things well under control and they swept on to the ballet's exuberant ending with flair.
In this evening of excellent dancing, mention must be made of the buzz which Matthew Renko created. Having danced briefly with New York City Ballet and later with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, he seems to have found his niche at PNB and his dancing tonight was very impressive. It also served as a justification for those of us who recall his performances here in New York City and always thought he had special qualities which deserved to shine.
It was lovely to run into Faye Arthrs and David Hallberg among the crowd.
Watch the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Works & Process evening here.
The next Works and Process evenings, featuring the exciting choreographer Justin Peck outlining his upcoming premiere work at New York City Ballet, are sold out. But there will be a live-streaming of the event, so there'll be an opportunity to tune in.