Dance Review: PNB's "Director's Choice"

Peter Boal shows his affections.

Ballet has been scrambling, post-Balanchine (and post–several other choreographers, but Balanchine is the most imposing landmark), to find the next big direction. More and more companies are programming work that's almost identical to what modern-dance companies perform, and that's clearly the direction PNB's Peter Boal is headed as well. The name of the current program, "Director's Choice," is obviously a bit silly (Boal chooses everything the company performs), but it really does reflect what Boal finds most interesting. Most of the contemporary stuff he's been programming is quite lovely, and in some ways appeals to audiences in a much more direct and sensual fashion than more arcanely classical material. The audience at last year's performance of Jirí Kylián's Petite Mort ate up the work with a spoon and begged for more; it's a piece that's worth the acclaim. By contrast, the sexual-themed piece by Ulysses Dove that Boal added to the rep, Serious Pleasures, is considerably shorter on substance. Two of the four pieces on the current program are new to the company, and three of them—Kylián's Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, and Nacho Duato's Jardí Tancat—come originally from Netherlands Dance Theater, an incubator for the combination of ballet and modern dance that has become a standard style for most European work. That style is grounded in the power and faculty of ballet, but doesn't use that vocabulary overtly—we don't recognize "steps" so much as strength. The three-dimensional twist in the torso, the weighed runs across the space, and the quicksilver responsiveness to impulse all provide a jolt, whether it's in the suggestive power plays of Petite Mort or the commedia dell'arte romp of Sechs Tänze. In contrast to this style, the fourth "choice" on this program draws from everyday pedestrian movement to create a different kind of hybrid. Jerome Robbins made Glass Pieces in 1983, the same year as Jardí Tancat, but instead of the sequential twisting and weighted emotionalism that Duato gets from modern-dance sources, Robbins seems to link the bright repetitiveness of Philip Glass' music to the minimalist choreographers of that time, using the accumulation of very simple steps to make a significant impact. While the corps passes through the space as if through a train station, a series of couples dance with the poise of their neoclassical heritage—ballet makes each of them into a kind of superhero valiantly commanding the stage, until the larger group takes over the space at the end, in a roiling mass that resolves into a sort of square dance. Increasingly, this is the look of 21st-century ballet. All the performers in the Kylián works were just right—the liquid push and pull that Karel Cruz and Lindsi Dec brought to Petite Mort, or Chalnessa Eames bouncing like a mordant superball in Sechs Tänze. Both pieces are laced with the dance equivalent of magic tricks—making people "appear" out of nowhere or bobble like marionettes without strings. Those kinds of jokes take perfect timing, and all the casts were dead-on. Jardí Tancat is more familiar territory for them (the work has been in the PNB rep since 1996), and Rachel Foster danced as if she'd been in each one of those performances. To paraphrase Shakespeare, she is "little and fierce."

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