Three renowned female choreographers get a well-deserved spotlight in “Her Story,” the second offering of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 45th season. Twyla Tharp, Jessica Lang, and Crystal Pite, are some of the most prestigious choreographers in the world of dance. The program runs November 3-12 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.
“Her Story” features the return of Twyla Tharp’s dramatic “Afternoon Ball,” her raw view of a lost generation; and Jessica Lang’s sumptuously painted “Her Door to the Sky,” inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Both works were commissioned and premiered by PNB. The third piece is the American premiere of “Plot Point,” created by Crystal Pite, and set to Bernard Herrmann’s film score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
PNB Artistic director Peter Boal commissioned Twyla Tharp to create two new works for Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2008, one being “Afternoon Ball,” a portrait of a lost generation. Three ragamuffins perform simultaneous solos; their isolated dances finally merging into a disconnected trio. One performer is transported to an earlier era, as two other dancers in Biedermeir costumes enter and warm lights rise. Composer Vladimir Martynov’s references to Franz Schubert stand in stark contrast to the dissonance of the previous section.
Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s Patio Door series painted between 1946 and 1956, Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky” features 10 dancers and is set to Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony.” O’Keeffe created a number of paintings depicting a black door with boxlike shapes beneath it. Lang’s ballet features a backdrop with cutouts mirroring those shapes and suggesting a door, along with smaller window-like squares through which dancers can be glimpsed. The costumes, designed by Bradon McDonald of “Project Runway” fame, evoke the vivid earth tones of rust, yellow, and green of the Southwest its mountainous terrain.
Crystal Pite created “Plot Point” for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2010, but she has revised it significantly for PNB. Two parallel casts — one shrouded head-to-toe in white, the other more conventionally costumed — mirror and repeat one another’s actions. Pite sees the white-costumed performers as “replica characters,” reminiscent of the white plastic figures used in architectural models. While they sketch out the basics of the dance about to unfold, the “real-world” characters then appear to deliver the emotion. They repeat the same scene, but you see their faces as well as their colors–more human, vulnerable, and three-dimensional. These two worlds alternate and escalate to collision.
Although “Plot Point” is set to Bernard Herrmann’s chilling score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Pite wants to make it clear that the music, and not the plot, led her to use the score. You should also know that “Plot Point” contains violent themes.
“Her Story” is a celebration of women choreographers. PNB should be commended.
Her Story runs for seven performances only, November 3 through 12 at Seattle Center’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Tickets start at $30, and discounts are available. For more information, contact the PNB Box Office at 206.441.2424, in person at 301 Mercer Street, or online at PNB.org.
About the Artists
Choreographer and the artistic director of Jessica Lang Dance. Lang, a graduate of The Juilliard School under the direction of Benjamin Harkarvy, is a former member of Twyla Tharp’s company, THARP! A recipient of a prestigious 2014 Bessie Award and 2017 Arison Award, Lang has created more than 95 works on companies worldwide since 1999 including American Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet (2013 Manchester Theatre Award nominee), the National Ballet of Japan and Joffrey Ballet, among many others. Additional commissions include new works for the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra, The Harris Theater and the Chicago Architecture Biennial in collaboration with architect Steven Holl, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum for its Works and Process series. For opera, Lang made her directorial debut at the 2013 Glimmerglass Opera Festival. In 2016, she choreographed San Francisco Opera’s production of Aida, directed by Francesca Zambello which will be performed by Washington National Opera and Seattle Opera in the 2017-2018 season. She was a 2015 New York City Center Fellow and a 2016 Fellow at the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts. In 2017, Lang is the Emerging Movement Artist in Residence for Dance Films Association.
Her receipt of a Joyce Theater Artist Residency supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped launch her own company, Jessica Lang Dance (JLD) in 2011. JLD has been presented by major venues including The Kennedy Center, The Harris Theater, New York City Center, Northrop Auditorium, Winspear Opera House, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and BAM Fisher and toured to more than 29 cities in the 2016-2017 season. In July 2017, JLD returned to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival for the fourth time in six years. Lang’s work has also been performed by numerous educational institutions including The Juilliard School, SUNY Purchase, NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Southern Methodist University, among many others. She was a part of the founding faculty of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and a teaching artist for the Make-a-Ballet program. For more information, visit JessicaLangDance.com.
Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite is a former company member of Ballet British Columbia and William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. Since her choreographic debut in 1990, she has created over 40 works for companies such as Nederlands Dans Theater I, Cullberg Ballet, Ballett Frankfurt, The National Ballet of Canada, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Resident Choreographer, 2001-2004), Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Ballet British Columbia, and Louise Lecavalier/Fou Glorieux. Pite is Associate Choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater I and Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. In 2013, Crystal was appointed Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells, London. In 2002, she formed her own company, Kidd Pivot, in Vancouver. The company’s distinct choreographic language – a breadth of movement fusing classical elements and the complexity and freedom of structured improvisation – is marked by a strong theatrical sensibility and a keen sense of wit and invention. Kidd Pivot tours nationally and internationally, performing such highly-demanded and critically acclaimed works as Dark Matters and Lost Action. Kidd Pivot’s residency at the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt (2010-2012) provided Pite the opportunity to create and tour The You Show and The Tempest Replica. Most recently, the company has premiered Betroffenheit, a co-creation with playwright and actor Jonathon Young of Electric Company Theatre.
Pite is the recipient of the Banff Centre’s Clifford E. Lee Award (1995), the Bonnie Bird North American Choreography Award (2004), and the Isadora Award (2005). Her work has received several Dora Mavor Moore Awards (2009, 2012), and a Jessie Richardson Theatre Award (2006). She is the recipient of the 2008 Governor General of Canada’s Performing Arts Award, Mentorship Program, the 2011 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, the inaugural Lola Award in 2012, and the Canada Council’s 2012 Jacqueline Lemieux Prize. Most recently, she received a Laurence Olivier Award (2015) for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. For more information, visit KiddPivot.org.
Since graduating from Barnard College in 1963, Twyla Tharp has choreographed more than 160 works for ballet and dance companies, television, movies, and Broadway. She has received a Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, 19 honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. Her many grants include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1965, Ms. Tharp founded her dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Her dances are known for creativity, wit and technical precision coupled with a streetwise nonchalance. By combining different forms of movement – such as jazz, ballet, boxing and inventions of her own making – Ms. Tharp’s work expands the boundaries of ballet and modern dance. In addition to choreographing for her own company, she has created dances for The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Australian Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Martha Graham Dance Company, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Today, ballet and dance companies around the world continue to perform Ms. Tharp’s works.
Ms. Tharp’s work first appeared on Broadway in 1980 with When We Were Very Young, followed by her collaboration with musician David Byrne on The Catherine Wheel and later by Singin’ in the Rain. In 2002, Ms. Tharp’s dance musical Movin’ Out premiered, set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel. Ms. Tharp later worked with Bob Dylan’s music and lyrics in The Times They Are A-Changin’; and Come Fly Away, set to songs sung by Frank Sinatra. In film, Ms. Tharp has collaborated with director Milos Forman on Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. She has also worked with Taylor Hackford on White Nights and James Brooks on I’ll Do Anything. Her television credits include choreographing Sue’s Leg for the 1976 inaugural episode of PBS’ “Dance In America,” co-producing and directing Making Television Dance, and directing The Catherine Wheel for BBC TV. Ms. Tharp co-directed the television special Baryshnikov by Tharp.
In 1992, Ms. Tharp published her autobiography Push Comes to Shove. She went on to write The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, followed by The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together. She is currently working on a fourth book, and she continues to create.