Friday, October 10, 2014

Pacific Northwest Ballet—A Prodigal Daughter Bids Farewell

Tide Harmonic. Carla Korbes & Joshua Grant. Photo: Angela Sterling 
This month, we bid at least temporary farewells to two outstanding ballerinas: the incomparable Wendy Whelan, at NYCB, and the luminous Carla Korbes at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Korbes' retirement is somewhat of a surprise as she's in her early 30s, about 15 years younger than Whelan. It still feels like just yesterday when she emerged within NYCB as a soloist and was given larger roles, only to cross the continent to join PNB under Peter Boal's direction, where she has flourished and certainly danced more leading roles than if she had remained in New York. 

A Justin Peck "preview performance" of Debonair, to George Antheil's score, in PNB's program at the Joyce this week featured Korbes in an extended duet with Jerome Tisserand. (The piece will "premiere" on Nov. 7 in Seattle, which presumably means it will get a fancy party.) With that in mind, I assume the rigorous vocabulary of double tours en l'air and pirouettes will only be honed by then, and Korbes' already formidable elasticity and plushness will deepen. In addition to the traditional couple, Peck has created two sections for one woman and three men in which the woman dances alone—a rarer sight than you might imagine in recent abstract ballets. 

Laser legs in Tide Harmonic. Rachel Foster and James Moore. Photo: Lindsay Thomas

The bill began with Chris Wheeldon's 2013 Tide Harmonic, with music by Jody Talbot, who also scored Alice's Adventures. Four women bolt onstage, circling one another, unleashing developpés whipping piqués; the men rush cross stage in deep pliés. Wheeldon excels at inventive partnering, here making ample use of the women's bare legs as weapons. (Remember laser cats? Like that, but with lasers emanating from toe shoes, not paws.) On one toe, with the other bent leg, ankle gripped by her partner, a woman is rocked menacingly, side to side. Another section features two men mirroring one another, alternating phrases, circling the stage with their arms clasped congenially around one another's back. The piece exudes daring and speed, with movement experiments fitted together like a puzzle. Talbot's music is filmic in feel, with suspenseful, rushing passages, but it can also be overly aggressive for the choreography, which itself seems amped up to match the bold dynamics. Lindsi Dec stood out for her bold lines and highly arched feet.

Alejandro Cerrudo's Memory Glow, set to a selection of moody music, showed his sinewy, organic vocabulary on these fine dancers. Ample drama came from the chiaroscuro lighting, as well as the on-stage light fixtures, two of which were dragged by their cords into place to form an arc around the dancers. Cerrudo is from the post-Forsythe sock school of choreography, which extends the softness from pliable feet into the whole body, allowing torsos and limbs to ripple and react to impulses. A fleeing woman would be caught by her ankle by a pursuing man, or even by her forehead. Once again, the women wore legless leotards while the men were completely covered in polo shirts and crinkled slate pants. Women seem to be the focus of these younger ballet choreographers, but the emphasis on their bareness pushes this tendency toward objectification, even if it's meant as a tribute.

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