Tried and true

A mixed-repertory ballet program offers the traditional and the industrial.

To re-view a dance, i.e., to see it again, is to match the past with the present—to compare what you thought you knew with what's in front of you. Pacific Northwest Ballet's November repertory performances present us with the chance to see the company in some of its older works as well as to get a fix on where they are now.

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Opera House ends November 18

When PNB premiered Kent Stowell's Dumbarton Oaks in 1982, it probably closed the show; the ebullient Stravinsky score and the 1920s tennis-party atmosphere would easily send the audience home happy. Eighteen years later, however, the work's lively, jazz-tinged movement serves as an opening act for more complex material later—an indication of the company's evolving maturity.

George Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux may be new to PNB, but it's a stalwart in the repertories of many other companies. Balanchine made it in 1960 as a kind of party piece, a virtuoso duet that gives its performers a chance to shine. Based on the structure of the classical pas de deux, an adagio entrance and allegro finale surrounding a pair of matched solos, Balanchine turned away from the aristocratic bearing of the original version, creating a warmer and more playful relationship between the two dancers.

On opening night, Patricia Barker was especially responsive to this alteration during her solo, where her musical phrasing was both complex and organic. Her partner Batkhurel Bold executes impressive jumps, drawing a set of easy arcs in space during a series of leaps, but he needs to let his kinesthetic excitement extend into his face. When he does, he looks like a kid running on the playground.

La Valse could easily have been programmed a couple of weeks ago—the sinister tale of a young woman stalked by Death in the midst of an elegant party would have fit in well at Halloween. But even without the assistance of the calendar, Balanchine's 1951 work is disquieting. His distortion of academic ballet positions, especially in the coiling arm gestures that open the work, raises the hair on the back of your neck. Couple after couple rush heedlessly across the space to Ravel's score, abandoned to a kind of morbid passion. This piece has been described as dancing on the edge of a volcano; to me it seemed more like watching a shipwreck being sucked under by a whirlpool, circling faster and faster until there's no escape for anyone.

When William Forsythe's 1987 In the middle, somewhat elevated entered the PNB repertory last year, like most of the audience I was swept away by its industrial-strength edginess. This time I was braced for the onslaught and had a chance to see more details inside this postmodern revision of ballet technique and construction. Like modern choreographer Merce Cunningham, Forsythe creates multiple focal points onstage, subverting our expectations of a "front and center" stage picture. Anyone could be dancing anywhere, with anyone else. The movement has a no-nonsense aggression that is far away from the idealized men and women of classical ballet, more like the Valkyrie on motorcycles. Forsythe's world is harsh and implacable, speeding us down the highway to conflagration.

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