At a lecture earlier this week, choreographer Twyla Tharp said, “A commission is an invitation to fall in love.”
Then the legendary lady proceeded to outline all the ways that she’d fallen in love at Pacific Northwest Ballet while creating a new piece for the company: the wit of Carrie Imler’s dancing, the daring of “Johnny” [Jonathan] Porretta, the sass of Kiyon Gaines, the speed of Laura Tisserand, and the maturity of James Moore.
The last caused a few giggles in an audience who still mostly think of Moore as the young heartthrob who dazzled in Marco Goecke’s Mopey and Susan Marshall’s Kiss during his early years in Seattle.
But, of course, Tharp was right. She proved every point and so much more in an evocative work crafted on and for the dancers of PNB: Waiting at the Station. By the time that the world premiere ended last night (Sept. 27), it was clear that the audience had returned the favor and fallen in love with the piece crisply described in the program as “being the story of a man’s last fare-thee-well.”
Although still a heartthrob, Moore displayed a maturity and gravitas that made him the perfect “Father” on opening night. He wandered through the landscape with the grounded grace of a Gene Kelly.
Throughout the night, three glittering Fates pursued him, but ultimately, triumphantly, he reunited with “Son,” winsomely danced by Price Sudderth.
In a moment of quiet beauty, Moore climbed a ladder and turned back the hands of a clock, rewinding time itself, in a single gesture that Tharp used to entangle the audience’s heart in her fable.
Throughout the piece, Imler, Porretta, Gaines, and Tisserand joined together, parted, fought, and then, with a little help from Moore, reconciled. This quartet showed off all the strengths of these four fine dancers as ticked off by Tharp earlier.
Similarly, the trio of “big girls” (as the tiny Tharp called them) who act as the pursuing Fates marked Chelsea Adomaitis, Elle Macy, and Sarah Pasch as dancers to watch in the coming season.
Jazz great Allen Toussaint, who composed the original score for Waiting at the Station, performed on the piano, accompanied by Todd Larsen on bass and Gunnar Folsom on drums. The trio earned their own very deserved cheers during the lengthy standing ovation.
PNB artistic director Peter Boal bookended this new work with Tharp’s Brief Fling (a company premiere) and Nine Sinatra Songs.
The former pleased those who like their modern ballet extremely modern and very Tharp. The “blue couple” of Kaori Nakamura and Sacha Radetsky let an airy, classical elegance as a deliberate contrast to the more athletic endeavors of those clad in red tartans and those barely covered in green tartan (all based on original designs by Isaac Mizrhai).
A standout in this section was corps dancer Leta Biasucci.
The evening ended with couples draped in Oscar de la Renta elegance, pairing and parting under the mirror ball while Sinatra played throughout the hall. Sarah Richard Orza and Karol Cruz’s interpretation of “All the Way” earned them screams from a few highly excited ladies in the back rows.
Those who already knew Tharp’s amazing body of work left more than satisfied with the latest addition to her oeuvre as well as PNB’s remounting of her earlier works.
Those who entered McCaw Hall as strangers to Tharp’s choreography last night must have agreed with Old Blue Eyes as they hit the road: “Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away.”
Air Twyla continues through Oct. 6 at McCaw Hall. For tickets and times, see the PNB website. The program includes Brief Fling, Waiting at the Station, and Nine Sinatra Songs. Don’t wait to secure tickets. This show has all the marks of becoming a sell-out.
Want to know more about Twyla Tharp and her work? PNB artistic director Peter Boal recommends spending some time at her website.