I am a dance critic and a former ballet dancer and my husband, Justin, is a designer and a live music connoisseur. Before we met, he had never been to a ballet and I had never seen Pearl Jam, but we remedied both situations early on in our relationship. We continue to push each other toward new artistic experiences, and I like to pick his brain after dance performances to find out why he likes or doesn’t like a particular show. After all, dance is there to be enjoyed by people of all levels of exposure—not just those of us who have seen The Nutcracker 27 times.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Director’s Choice, running through November 16, is a mixed bag program of classical ballet and contemporary dance pieces hand-picked by PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal. This exciting and eclectic collection of choreography spans a variety of moods and styles, some of them quite far from typical classical ballet traditions—the perfect program for a dance performance newbie. Grabbing at the opportunity to get the Everyman perspective, I betook my sweet husband to McCaw Hall for opening night. Here is what he had to say.
What was your favorite? Why?
Rassemblement, for sure. [Twists beard, stares deeply into pint of IPA] I like the music a lot, I want to find that recording [Toto Bissainthe’s Chante]. I liked the costumes, had never seen anything like that done; the classical ballet dancers moved with that grace and the ability that they always have but there were also traditional elements that I could relate to and follow along with a story more easily.
What do you like about being able to follow a story?
It’s not that I necessarily like to follow the story. When I can pick up on themes and follow that along that adds another element to a performance I can really appreciate. Sometimes I’m lost during dance performances and can only appreciate the movements and an emotion or two that they evoke in me but if there’s a story, it adds to my experience. I’m glad I read the program notes, because that background offered me a bit of insight into Haitian culture so I understood where [Rassemblement] took place.
The insight is hard to put into words. There was definitely the slavery aspect of their past, there was the weeping and sorrow of that era that really stood out at me. It was mainly the music that drew me to the piece. The dancing and the music intermixed really well to tell the story and present the mood, and the music started that for me because I’m really drawn to music.
What did you think about Before After?
I liked it! It’s interesting that there’s not a danceable or percussive beat to the soundtrack but that the dancing can still happen to a rhythm. And the movements that happen close to the floor are harsher and hard. But the strength in male ballet dancers and in the harsher movements of the men and women flows very gracefully.
So! You did like it! Were you totally riveted the whole time?
Well, I kind of nodded off a few times during one of the pieces. I do that a lot during performances, and it’s not that I’m bored. I think it’s the slower pace of the music and the pace of classical ballet that does me in, especially on a Friday night after chili relleno and a beer. I’m frustrated with myself but it’s there. It’s circumstances, it’s what happens at the end of the day.
What do you think of the whole ballet experience?
It’s fun to people-watch. I really like going to McCaw Hall and being in that space and seeing the architecture and the interior. It’s awe-inspiring, the Hall is huge, and these theaters are the only spaces you can be in that are five stories tall and all open space. It’s just awesome. From a pure engineering standpoint, everything is designed to make the sound wonderful and the space works for everybody, and then all the pretty stuff onstage on top of it!
Ballet photo by Angela Sterling.