Pacific Northwest Ballet - Square Dance, Prodigal Son and Stravinsky Violin Concerto

Pacific Northwest Ballet was triumphant tonight at City Center.  They drew cheers from the audience and that is no small feat considering most New Yorkers grow up cutting their teeth at New York City Ballet.  Were there a few problems?  Yes, but nothing that was truly disastrous.  Just little niggling things that are more than likely my own preferences.  One of them that included all the works performed tonight was that the music tempo was a bit too slow at the beginning.  By mid point all of them were danced at regular tempo but it took awhile to get going.  I don't think the average person would realize the chug, chug, chug of the little music caboose getting up to speed but it bothered me a bit.

PNB opened with Square Dance which is a tough ballet for everyone leads as well as corps.  There were definitely opening night jitters in evidence.  A bit of rushing to keep pace, some wobbles in pirouettes and falls off pointe.  One poor Corps dancer tripped and was about to fall flat on her face, an involuntary gasp came out of her.  Luckily her partner was on the ball because he deftly grabbed her under her arms and hauled her back to her feet.  It was at this point there was a change in the dancers.  Obviously the worst had occurred so they just threw caution to the winds and danced hell for leather. The standout among the female corps was Angelica Generosa who was very deft with the choreography.  No doubt it helped that she was on the small side.  The taller dancers struggled to pull in their limbs to keep up with the tempo.  PNB placed the lead in the hands of a soloist, Leta Biasucci.  She was fantastic.  At first a bit hesitant but more and more relaxed as the dance progressed.  During her pas de deux with Benjamin Griffiths there were a series of tricky coup de pied like pirouettes.  Biasucci began the steps with a determined look on her face.  But almost midway through the series, she realized nothing horrible was going to happen and the most gorgeous smile broke out onto her face.  She finished the difficult set without mishap and her smile was even more charming. Benjamin Griffiths was great in his solo, so light and graceful.

The second piece on the program was the night's showstopper.  Jonathan Porrette danced wonderfully and acted just as well.  He was believable as a rebellious youngster looking for trouble.  The role of the Siren was danced by Lesley Rausch.  Her appearance was tall, pointy, aggressive and sinuous.  Although she was on the slight side, as opposed to past interpreters such as Maria Tallchief and Karin Von Aroldingen, she managed to be extremely intimidating.  The male corps was great as the drunken companions and supported the piece with a lot of spirit.  I could tell they were enjoying the acting as well as the dancing.

The last piece was not as successful as it could have been.  This was due to the miscast in the female leads.   Lesley Rausch was cast in the Aroldingen Aria 1 role.  I suppose this is because she was the taller of the two leads.  Due to the choreography in Prodigal and the costume, her slight form was not a hindrance.  In this ballet it was extremely noticeable.  She is not the amazon that Aroldingen was, she doesn't have the heft or authority in presence.  The all black leotard just made her look more vulnerable.  This went against the choreography and I didn't believe her in the ballet.  The Mazzo Aria 2 role was danced by Noelani Pantastico and she was just as miscast.   This role required a tiny, slight ballerina with a lot of vulnerability which Mazzo had in spades.  Pantastico dances as if she were 7 feet tall, there is nothing soft or yielding about her.  Again this is the exact opposite of her character in the ballet.  Especially in the Aria 2 pas de deux which is supposed to be slightly menacing for the female role.  The ballerina is not in control in that piece but Pantastico never looks out of control.  She is very much in control.  It also didn't help that she is not a slight ballerina, she is very strongly shaped.  At times she looked as if she could overpower her partner Seth Orza and that is no small feat considering he was very masculine looking.  I couldn't help but wish that Corps dancer Angelica Generosa had been cast.  She was the exact, perfect type this role required.  Or they should have switched roles between Rausch  and Pantastico.  If the female dancers were a miss in this ballet, the male dancers were beyond perfect.  I loved Seth Orza and his powerful dance form.  Jerome Tisserand was also in the same mold.  In fact all the male dancers in this company have a wonderful, authoritative bodily presence, very much in the vein of how male dancers used to look in the 50s and 60s.  They were strong, muscular and handsome then just like the PNB dancers.  So many companies are taking in tall male dancers no matter if they are scrawny and a bit weak just so they can tower over the just as tall female dancers.  This makes pas de duex dances very heart stopping today.  Since the females look huge and the males look too thin to support them.  Well that is not the case in PNB.

PNB is a fantastic company and fantastic interpreters of Balanchine works outside of NYCB.  Peter Boal (NYCB alumni) has done a good job as Artistic Director.  I hope the company can come back to NYC more often.  If you can, see them at City Center this week.

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