Critical Dance

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Pacific Northwest Ballet

"Silver Lining"

Sadler's Wells, London

July 2, 2002
By Joanne Brack

Silver Lining is billed in the programme notes as a tribute to “Jerome Kern, whose brilliant work in musical theatre contributed significantly to creating what is now regarded as a classic American art form.” When fusing two dance forms, it is always difficult to successfully combine both, and whereas most musical theatre performers will have a sound ballet training, the demands of musical theatre also require other assets in presentation which will sometimes be difficult for a purely ballet trained dancer to get to grips with. Some of the dancers obviously relished this challenge while others seemed ill at ease with this performance genre.

The opening piece (Look for the Silver Lining and Left All Alone Again Blues) unfortunately did not grab me. The spacing at times of the dancers looked precarious and there was a sharpness missing in the precision of some of the moves and patterns which is essential in this musical theatre style. I understand that the Sadler's Wells stage lacked depth compared to PNB’s home theatre so this would obviously have an effect. The majority of female dancers performed some sections of this piece on pointe, however the moves not done on pointe – the more musical theatre style choreography – appeared completely at odds with the wearing of pointe shoes and made the dancers look rather clumsy and seemed to slow down some of the more intricate choreography. From this, the opening seemed not to succeed in fusing the two forms.

The programme combined song and dance at a number of intervals. The lovely soprano and tenor, Valerie Piacenti and Erich Parce entertained beautifully but some of the company dancers when made to stand and sing looked extremely uncomfortable. I also found the inclusion of singers just standing on stage singing rather a distraction to the dance during the first act. In the second act, the singers were placed in the balconies or behind the dancers which gave a far more successful visual balance.

The first act progressed with some rather strange choices, some of the lighter numbers (The Bullfrog Patrol and The Edinboro Wiggle) were not substantial enough to sustain my attention and it was only when we got to The Cotton Club section that I felt engaged.

Whip Poor Will was probably the highlight of the first act. Louise Nadeau and Oliver Wevers performed with conviction, expression and a sultriness that set the stage alight. Carrie Imler carried this through into Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and the company fortunately ended the first act on a high with an energetic Harlem finale.

The second act enthused me a great deal more. We entered the era of Astaire and Rodgers and the obvious balletic quality and fluidity that Astaire brought to his style of dance was a style that a lot of the dancers felt more comfortable with. The second act was also full of more smaller company pieces, duets, trios and solos which seemed to work better. Some of my favourite pieces in this half included The Last Time I Saw Paris which presented a graceful, fluid Caron/Astaire-esque duet between Ariana Lallone and Stanko Milov. When talking Fred Astaire, the inclusion of tap was inevitable and Jeffrey Stanton presented a nice, short routine. The stage floor seemed not entirely suited for the sound of tap as a certain amount of clarity seemed to be lost. Stanton’s taps also sounded very loose which produces a good jingly sound, but does sometimes mean that clarity of sound is lost.

It was again, as we got towards the end of this act, that my interest sharpened. The Hoffman House section probably produced the most effective visual picture of the evening and also blended song and dance very well with a chorus of tailed males set against the Empire State Building and a lovely duet between Louise Nadeau and Paul Gibson played out in front. Atmospherically, it was beautiful. In fact both the Set and Costume designers (Ming Cho Lee and David Murlin) are to be congratulated on their designs particularly for the second act. In addition to a giant Empire State building, the Cowardesque tall ladies on the back drop during Lovely to Look At were very effective. The costume design keeping to black, white and red in the second act was stunning and I particularly liked the way the red and white gowns in Yesterday’s Dance complemented the choreography so well.

The Finale commenced with a very entertaining and intricate pas de trios between Tempe Ostergren, Jonathan Poretta and Mara Vinson. Poretta obviously delighted in performing this work. The finale was a black and white spectacle where really the soloists stole the show. The corps seemed to lack that musical theatre pizzazz, however their choreography, compared to the soloists in the Finale, I would have felt did not do much to ignite them.

The company however was well received by the audience last night and showed obvious good technique. This style of performance will not suit every dancer and the programme in itself was probably a little too long to sustain enough variation in the choreography. However it was an entertaining evening which I am sure much of the London audience will enjoy.

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