For the past several years, the dance community has had one pressing question: who will be the One to lead ballet into the twenty-first century? The deaths of Geroge Balanchine and Jerome Robbins signaled to some that ballet’s death was imminent too, while others argued that, in time, someone would emerge who could create the same kind of iconic works. Every new choreographer seems to be judged by this standard, whether it be Alexei Ratmansky or Marco Goecke. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Contemporary 4 program, which features works by these two men as well as Mark Morris and Paul Gibson, demonstrates just how deep and eclectic imagination runs in the ballet world today. No one person stands out as the answer to the question, but the combination of thoughtful choreography and vibrant dancing by the company ensures that these works will be around for a while.
Mark Morris’ Pacific, which had its premiere at PNB back in 2007, was an agreeable though subdued start to the program. The curtain rises on three men standing in a circle, with loose cream and blue culottes billowing around their ankles. Suddenly, they fan out into movement and hardly stop from there, with endlessly curving arms and bounding jumps that flow across the stage, until the entrance of four women in seaweed-colored skirts. There doesn’t seem to be any relation between the two groups, just a peaceful exploration of circular steps and thematic gestures. The entrance of a coral-hued couple, danced subtly by Rachel Foster and James Moore, is the first hint that Pacific is hiding more under its surface.
The two were truly the standouts of the piece. Moore in particular captured the sense of breath in Morris’ choreography; his sinuous arms and precise jumps had so much lightness that it was like he was being tossed on the tide. Foster’s ballon matched that of Moore, but she, like several others, appeared to be off her leg in some of the quick pirouettes at the beginning of the work. Because the simple atmosphere of Pacific demands so much precision to sustain, it was unfortunate that small stumbles had to pepper the section.
Thankfully, the evening only grew stronger from there. Marco Goecke’s world premiere of Place a Chill showed us what other ideas the choreographer of pop hit Mopey has up his sleeve. The program notes imply that Place a Chill will be about “a world in which darkness, evil, and the opacity of filthy material are predominant,” but amidst the frenetic arm twitches and spastic torso rolls it’s hard to tell what exactly the dancers represent, if anything. This is not to say that the piece is directionless: Goecke uses the sheer complexity of his movement to introduce the audience to an entirely new way of viewing reality, where childish poses such as monster claws suddenly take on a much grimmer meaning. The cast—mostly corps members—tackled these challenges with admirable ferocity.