I had my first ballet “moment” this weekend during PNB’s Contemporary 4 program. It was in the middle of the fourth piece, Concerto DSCH by former Bolshoi Ballet director Alexei Ratmansky, a wunderkind choreographer with an affinity for Shostakovich scores and modern stagings with classical underpinnings. (Think Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story.) PNB corps dancers in burnt orange and maroon give way to the pastel pas de deux of principals Karel Cruz and Carla Korbes—a pair separated by nearly a foot in height, but still so perfectly matched. Equals in grace, they seemed to float an inch above the stage. As the central couple in this piece, we’d already watched them flirt and frolic, but this middle movement was more reflective. More mature. And as they walked off hand in hand, I started to cry. Just a little, but they were definitely tears.
At first I blamed the glass of wine I had during intermission, but then I had to give credit to the human touches in Ratmansky’s choreography. And not just his piece: This selection of four contemporary dances was the strongest overall PNB performance I’ve seen since I started attending every show two years ago. Mark Morris’s Pacific opened the evening with bare-chested men in billowing pants, dancing against an oceanic blue background to a Lou Harrison score for violin, cello, and piano—the sounds of the South Pacific. Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance was everything modern ballet should be: a series of short stories—solos, duets, and pas de trois set to 10 piano works—that are elegant and sexy in turns, and showcase the strength of the modern ballerina who can hold a pose like the “spiderwoman” maneuver pictured above.
The weakest link in Contemporary 4 was its riskiest composition. Marco Goecke’s world premiere Place a Chill featured the same precise, frenetic movement as last year’s Mopey —dancers seemingly possessed, arms flailing in a high-speed exorcism. But the impact of these synchronized movements wears off and the piece goes on for about 10 minutes too long—until Goecke drags you back in with a…set-change surprise I don’t want to spoil.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say PNB was a modern dance troupe—they seem as comfortable in a Mark Morris work as they do dancing Balanchine. You don’t want to skip this performance.
Contemporary 4 runs through March 27 at McCaw Hall.