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Pacific Northwest Ballet Highlights Three Female Choreographers in ‘Her Story’

In a performance including work by Jessica Lang, Twyla Tharp and Crystal Pite, dancers celebrate the contributions of three incomparable female artists.

November 6, 2017

With a name like Plot Point and the score from Psycho, you might expect Crystal Pite’s newest Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) premiere to be a story ballet complete with beginning, middle, end — and maybe a murder by stabbing. However, what the audience experiences is something infinitely more profound (still with a bit of murder).

“For Plot Point, I wasn’t compelled to deliver a specific narrative. I was more intrigued by the subject of screenwriting itself and by our insatiable need for story,” Pite says of the piece, which originally premiered in Europe but was reworked on PNB for its American debut. The influence of a screenplay is a recurring theme, down to the typewritten cues for the audience which introduce both the setting and tone.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers Emma Love Suddarth and William Lin-Yee in the American premiere of Crystal Pite’s “Plot Point,” which PNB is presenting as part of “Her Story.” Runs November 3–12, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Plot Point is not so much a play as the outline of a play, with snippets of fleshed-out story bringing life to what our imaginations fill in. Most often, the dancers on stage are not actual characters, but caricatures; mannequin forms that act out scenes in robotic stop-motion ahead of or alongside the real people they’re meant to represent. The entire ensemble must be constantly in sync to pull off the intricacy of each moving piece, enveloping us in their incomplete plots.

Bernard Herrmann’s immortal score for Psycho and the painstakingly accurate sound effects by Owen Belton drive the movement, evoking an eerie sense of déjà vu. Even during a scene as innocent as a dinner party, we’re waiting — breath suspended — for that next crescendo or for the butcher knife to descend. While storylines have little to do with the slasher film usually associated with the music, they are no less dramatic or transfixing.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers Cecilia Iliesiu, Elle Macy, Angelica Generosa, and Leta Biasucci in Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky,” which PNB is presenting as part of “Her Story,” November 3–12, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The rich tapestry Pite weaves for us is not the only treat on the menu of Her Story, which opens with Her Door to the Sky — the celebration of the centennial of Georgia O’Keeffe’s first solo exhibition that PNB premiered in 2016.

In her ode to O’Keeffe’s work, Lang brings us a vibrant bouquet of dancers in flowing fabrics splashed with bright colors. Opening night’s female quartet (Leta Biasucci, Angelica Generosa, Cecilia Iliesiu, and Elle Macy) show off incredible technical skills in a petit allegro. To watch principal dancer Sarah Ricard Orza as she floats across the stage is to feel the emotive power of the music through her delicately arching back or elegantly outstretched arms.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Griffiths and soloist Angelica Generosa in Twyla Tharp’s “Afternoon Ball,” which PNB is presenting as part of “Her Story,” November 3–12, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Sandwiched between these different but brilliant works is a story from innovative genius Twyla Tharp which feels incredibly timely as our country struggles with an addiction epidemic. While we’re never shown exactly why the three disillusioned youths on stage in Afternoon Ball seem so disconnected from reality, it isn’t hard to imagine what may have influenced them. At any moment they are off in their own worlds, three soloists seemingly unaware of each other. But the next instant, they’re dancing like the best of friends. Benjamin Griffiths and Angelica Generosa play cat and mouse while Lucien Postlewaite stumbles hilariously in and out of the set, confused as to where he is or what he is doing. Yet it’s Griffiths who is somehow transported, tripping in and out of a ballroom in another time and place. While much of his story remains a mystery, it’s hard not to become increasingly invested in his character right up to the tragic-yet-hopeful ending. 

Her Story runs through Sunday, November 12, 2017. For more information or to buy tickets, visit pnb.org

Top image: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer James Moore with company dancers in the American premiere of Crystal Pite’s Plot Point, which PNB is presenting as part of Her Story, November 3–12, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.


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Morgan McMurray

Morgan McMurray is a writer and editor based in Seattle. A 2013 graduate of Iowa State University, she has a Bachelor of Arts in English, Journalism, and International Studies.

Read more of her work on her personal blog and at Law Street Media.

More stories by Morgan McMurray

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