Dance Review: Small (and seriously hot) Masterpieces at PNB

Pacific Northwest Ballet has just done us all a big favor.

The choreography of Ulysses Dove (left), which is the focus of its current program “3 by Dove (and 1 by Quijada)” adds up to an exhilarating evening of not-to-be missed dance.

Each of the Dove ballets is clean, sharp and gorgeous, with a percussive, idiosyncratic sense of pace and musicality, and a careful attention to the geometries of stage space and to the emotional language of gesture. In other words, each is a small masterpiece. When performed with the kind of care and intensity which PNB brings to them, these dances look like they will be, and should be, part of the line-up for major American ballet companies for years to come.

The program opened with “Vespers,” Dove’s homage to his grandmother, inspired by his memories of her prayer meetings with women friends.

He has said that in choreographing this ballet he pictured old age as the quickening and intensifying of inner energy rather than the slowing down of the body. Thus, Rachel Foster, Lindsi Dec, Kylee Kitchens, Kaori Nakamura, Carrie Imler and Brittany Reid moved like power fields to the percussion of Mike Rouse’s music. Whether sitting in a straight row arching their backs in quick sequence, standing on a chair pointing heavenward, or modestly pulling down their skirts over widely spread legs, the dancers caught the fire and dignity of his grandmother’s generation of women. [Read more after the jump.]

In “Red Angels” Ariana Lallone, Olivier Wevers, Lesley Rausch and Lucien Postlewaite danced as if they were possessed to a Richard Einhorn score for the electric violin played by violinist Mary Rowell. Here the women were on pointe, taking full advantage of the elongated line to communicate the ballet’s emphasis on power and drive. In the final moment, the dancers raise their arms like wings, glancing back to the audience, as if about to take off and fly. 

Ariana Lallone and Olivier Wevers in Ulysses Dove's Red Angels. Photo by Angela Sterling.

“Suspension of Disbelief” by Victor Quijada (below), the only ballet not by Dove on the program although Quijada has cited him as an influence, held its own in a different way. More hip-hop based, the groupings felt softer and casual, sparked more by charges of impulse and attitude than pattern. Set to music by Mitchell Akiyama, the partnering here was often striking: groups of dancers picked up and carried off as in a wave, or changing each other’s paths of direction with a light touch.

Photo by Roland Lorente

The most anticipated work of the evening was “Serious Pleasures.” Created in 1992 and preserved only in some badly lit black and white videos, it was staged for this PNB premiere by Parrish Maynard, one of the original dancers. 

Advance publicity for this piece, which described it as being all about sex, made me wary. Highly trained, perfect bodies performing athletic generalizations of sexual moves can too often look impersonal and cold. “Serious Pleasures,” though, is intimate, personal — and seriously hot. 

Dove achieves theeffect of heightened sensuality not through gyrating or suggestive movement but with moments of stillness, lightness of gesture, a hand wafting a scent, the speed and quickness of each dancers own pulse, their self-containment.  There is also an element of threat and danger. 

Conceived at the height of the American AIDs epidemic in the 1980s and 90s, the dance takes sex seriously. The set (Jorge Gallardo, Robert Perdziola) consisted of rows of doors, which the dancers could shut behind themselves (timed to slam with Robert Ruggieri’s charged score) further creating the sense of an intimate space and privacy that might be violated. The lighting by William H. Grant III sometimes set the dancers off as silhouettes behind shuttered doors, and at other times isolated them, drenching them from above. Postlewaite, as the “narrator” moved through this landscape of hetero- and homoerotic fantasy with intensity and vulnerability.

Dove died of AIDs in 1996 before he turned 50. Watching this program makes you wistful about the other ballets he might have made, had he survived.

Photo of Ulysses Dove by Paul Kolnik

3 by Dove (and 1 by Quijada), March 18 – 28
Pacific Northwest Ballet
McCaw Hall 
206.441.2424, pnb.org