Blues, Ballet, and Bare Feet
I had tickets this past spring to take my son to what would have been our first ballet together. Then the pandemic happened, the show was canceled, and 8 months later performance venues in America remain shuttered. But artists across the country are finding ways to make it work, and for two of our family favorites--Iowa singer/songwriter William Elliot Whitmore and Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, this means performing in front of cameras instead of the stage. So on Saturday night, my husband and our kiddo brewed up a pot of hot chocolate, put on our comfy socks, and cuddled on the couch for a couple of stellar shows.
Will Whitmore premiered his new album, "I'm With You" from Bloodshot Records, to fans across the country via a livestream. Performing alone in the studio on his Iowa farm, Whitmore sang all nine tracks from the new album along with a few old favorites. "These songs aren't exactly road-tested," Whitmore laughed, "because I haven't been on the road!"
Masterfully picking banjos and guitars and knocking a drum with his left leg while sipping whisky and operating the computer, Whitmore sang about the burdens of rural farm life, losing parents, and facing societal and environmental degradation. The melodies and lyrics to the songs on "I'm With You" feel ripped right from the hearts of creatives locked down under the months-long quarantine. In "Black Iowa Dirt," Whitmore sings "I've got that dirt underneath my fingernails/Got that dirt running through my veins." That dirt, that foundational ingredient to life and creativity, runs through the veins of all of us during this shit time. It won't go away. Learn more about Whitmore and the new album here.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2020-21 season, titled "Dance Happens Everywhere," opened online Thursday night October 15th with "Rep 1." The pieces were filmed in an almost empty McCaw Hall. Dancers rehearsed for weeks in small pods. Everyone involved in rehearsals and production wore masks. PNB produced "Rep 1" with as much reverence for health and safety as they exhibit for the art of ballet. That is love. That is leadership.
"Rep 1" opens with Lucien Postlewaite in Jerome Robbins' jaunty, welcoming "Opening Solo" from "Dances at a Gathering." Postlewaite uses music as an invisible body part, delicately lifting and dropping the notes as he jumps around the stage. The occasional footfall at the end of a high jump can be heard just enough to make it feel (kinda) like we're sitting in the theater.
Excerpts from Eva Stone's 2019 audience favorite "F O I L" follows Postlewaite's solo, including the powerful trio of women performing with their backs to the audience. In choreographer Albert Evans' "One Body," Chris D'Ariano resurrects a solo originally performed in 2003 by PNB artistic director Peter Boal, back in his New York City dancing days. Set to the haunting vocals from composer John Kennedy, "One Body" feels liturgical and deeply sad, as if we've snuck up on a monk performing a moving meditation.
The rep continues with three sections from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, during which Stephen Loch's airy tour jetes in the Black Swan Pas de Deux caused my preschooler to scream into my ear, "Did you see that, Mom? That is the BEST!" And it was. Also fabulous was the ever-badass Angelica Generosa in her debut as the Black Swan. The rep followed with three section from Balanchine's "Jewels" and a reprise of choreographer Jessica Lang's "The Calling."
But if we have to pick one specific piece of dance to title this strange, life-changing year, it is James Moore's performance in Marco Goecke's "Mopey." Just as we commonly assign songs to important life events like breakups or weddings, sometimes there is a particular ballet that expresses our feelings when words cannot. Goecke's choreography and Moore's emotionally mature and physically stunning performance paint the erratic feelings of a slow dissent into madness, made more perfect by a split score by Bach and the Cramps. "Mopey" alone is worth the price of admission.
Excerpts from choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams' "The Trees The Trees," and Ulysees Dove's "Red Angels" complete this first rep of the PNB 2020-2021 season. Accessible via season or one-off tickets, all performances are available to watch for a limited number of days. More information about tickets on the PNB website here.