Balanchine, native of imperial St Petersburg, loved how athletic, breezy, hungry for space and averse to tortured analysis Americans could be. In an opening programme dedicated to iconic Balanchine works, the Pacific Northwest Ballet – founded by two Balanchine dancers and run by another – seemed the Russian’s very definition of American, mainly for the good.
The women, who predominate in Balanchine, were uniformly tall, leggy and powerful. Not a misstep or weak line among them, and yet they did not look drilled. They moved naturally. They used gravity and breath to swoop and loft, swing their hip-loose legs high, and let their arms float up or down.
The evening’s opener, Concerto Barocco, introduced the company in its strength. One of the few Balanchine works to Bach, the 1941 ballet is transparent and absolute like its music, the double violin concerto. But these dancers understood clarity and rightness as a form of naturalness. Not only did the two soloists, Laura Galbreath and Lindsi Dec, resemble birds when they moved nearly chest to chest and one woman echoed the other’s twittering steps, but the choreography seemed to emerge from natural laws: fall and recovery, lunging out and pulling up.
Apollo and Agon did not prove so revelatory. These ballets depend not only on physical amplitude but on musical wit and dramatic flair, eccentricity and extremity. Apollo, after all, depicts supreme creators, with their ambitions, insecurities and untempered experiments. As Apollo, Seth Orza – a deeply sweet dancer with New York City Ballet for several years – flickered between muteness and eloquence until lush, musical Carla Korbes, another NYCB alumnus, joined him as muse Terpsichore, tutor to the appealingly uncouth youth.
As for Agon, it is like the weirdly proportioned bodies at our local Balanchine source, New York City Ballet: beautiful for being strange. A current of nervous energy runs through it. In the Stravinsky score, even the silences give off sparks. The Pacific Northwest dancers were never less than full-bodied, but only corps member Elizabeth Murphy relished the distortions and contortions in the steps. Perhaps Balanchine overstated the case for the good, clean American manner in ballet. This company, anyway, could use a few neurotic Russian tics.