The New York Times still claims to contain “all the news that’s fit to print.” But it also delivers a constant stream of individual views on every subject under the sun to its worldwide audience, and when the object being viewed is a work of art created in a provincial puddle like Seattle, the opinion effectively becomes, for better or worse, the Truth.
Last Friday, Godzilla, in the form of the Times’ dance critic Brian Seibert, turned its attention to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s fourth on-line-only repertory program, and its verdict was decidedly mixed. A 2017 filmed performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition met with Seibert’s approval, but the two new works on the program were found wanting. He grants both incidental virtues but damningly sums up: “Both choreographers seem to want to provide comfort food but struggle to make the choreography its own defense.”
Well, I too had problems with Donald Byrd’s and the skies are not cloudy all day. Cowboy ballets have been around for more than 80 years, since Eugene Loring’s Billy the Kid stepped on stage, shirtless and in star-spangled chaps. (Even George Balanchine had a campy crack at one in Western Symphony.) Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers . . . Is there any life left in the iconic cowpoke silhouette?
Byrd doesn’t find much, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in doing so. The music he’s chosen, John Adams’s Book of Alleged Dances written for the Kronos String Quartet isn’t particularly Western-flavored or even dancy. The corps of four boys seemed to have been chosen for their callow uncertain androgynous look, and the two solo numbers that close the piece are sort of anti- images. Dylan Wald presents a kind of cool classic-marble Apollo version of the icon, while Kyle Davis’s brilliantly squirmy-lascivious call-boy recalls soft-corn gay-porn photos from the 1950s.
It doesn’t “add up” but it clearly wasn’t meant to: like other Byrd works, it’s kind of a sketch-pad with images ranging from near-outline to quasi-finished. What it means remains in suspension and provisional. And remarkably clear in memory.
Seibert’s dismissal of Alejandro Corrudo’s brooding paired-duet Future Memory as “comfort food” is particularly unjust. I have not myself been a fan of the choreographic trend toward endless undulant movement in half-light to undulant New-Agey music, but Corrudo’s piece goes way beyond that cliché. It displays the polar opposite of traditional partnering: a fusion of male and female into a single expressive whole, simultaneously extravagantly virtuosic and asexually erotic.
A second and even a third viewing broughtout a deeper expressing dimension: movements mirrored and reversed and exchanged. This is “abstract” choreography of a very high, disciplined order. I can’t wait to see it again, live. The prospect of more Cerrudo work joining the PNB repertory is the brightest light imaginable at the end of the tunnel we inhabit just now.