Performance review: “Kylian + Pite”

The draw of Jiri Kylian’s most famous ballet is its title “Petit Mort.” In French, the phrase can mean the moment that a person falls in love with another or, truer to the ballet, “orgasm.” The first show of “Kylian + Pite” features seven pairs of dancers in minimal clothing, not even wearing soft shoes. Heavily androcentric, the show opens with the men on stage alone playing with fencing foils, all phallic subtext intended. Later, when the show does feature women, it does so with their male partners, often dancing with the foils. Beyond this, they are shown briefly behind large “dresses” on wheels.

Kylian has a beautiful sense of stage and space. The next piece, “Six Dances,” in English, reuses some of the same props: foils and large wheeled dresses. The entire performance mocks ballet and its origins back to Commedia Dell’Arte. Dancers rush on and offstage, bouncing around each other, before and behind a large cut out square toward the back of the stage. The piece is quickly over with simple bows as bubbles float down from the rafts.

After a brief intermission, “Kylian + Pite” resumes with the last piece of Kylian’s and the first Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere of the night “Forgotten Land.” Noted by PNB as a request of Kylian’s, this last work is vastly different than either “Petit Mort” or “Six Dances” while showcasing the most appealing aspects of his work. The set appeared to be a single sheet of painted glass picturing a stormy day, the horizon getting brighter by the lights behind as the piece went on. The dancers wore more traditional clothing, not just from Kylian’s homeland but from the time when ballet became more female-focused. The men were simply dressed with soft shoes to match their costume colors. The women wore fitted dresses with long, flowing skirts also with soft shoes.

The similarity to the previous dances were the shapes the dancers created. Their bodies were never perfectly smooth with balance given using only a single side of the body or opposite arms and legs. Their feet never remained perfectly pointed. The intensity was rooted in the music, this time by Benjamin Britten. Best of all, the paired dances could have just as easily been done independently. Even the turns of the omen weren’t ‘anchored’ by the men. A man followed a woman’s turn, pivoting around her center as much as the leg extended behind her.

Most anticipated of the night was Crystal Pite’s “Emergence.” When she worked for The National Ballet of Canada, Pite choreographed “Emergence” not just to incorporate all of the dancers but to mimic the rhythm and intensity of a hive. Owen Belton’s music thrums added to the effect much like the mini bustles of the ballerinas and the structured pants on the ballerinos. Each movement was perfectly synchronized, slightly different and perfectly timed. No amount of words could capture how awe-inspiring her piece was.

Unfortunately, “Kylian + Pite” has come to a close without being filmed. Luckily, I believe PNB did both choreographers justice and would, at the least, still make Jiri Kylian,if not his successor at the Netherlands Dance Theater,Crystal Pite, proud.