Choreographer George Balanchine famously said that “Ballet is woman,” but Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current American Stories program is filled with juicy roles for men.
Jerome Robbins’ 1944 Fancy Free follows three sailors on shore leave, and the characterizations are remarkably specific. Robbins’ sailors are based on his own observations in WWII Times Square— they drink beer, chase girls, brawl in a bar, and make peace again. Both casts on Saturday were thoroughly enjoying themselves, but the trio of Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta, and James Moore (respectively sultry, brash, and sweet) emphasized the sense of camaraderie that permeates the work. With its Leonard Bernstein score, the ballet was the nucleus for the musical On the Town and the template for a whole line of buddy films—Robbins’ characters are a part of American popular culture.
When it premiered in 1957, Balanchine’s Square Dance was an unusual combination of neoclassical dancing and American square-dance conventions. Caller Elisha Keeler performed text for a running set that described ballet vocabulary using square-dance terms. Originally designed to highlight the connection between classical and vernacular dance, the production gradually lost its Western accessories, but gained a male solo in 1976 that is one of the loveliest in the repertory, a contemplative moment amid baroque busyness. Porretta has danced the role in the past, and brought that experience to great effect, but Dylan Wald, only a couple of years out of school, made a truly impressive debut in the part.
Twyla Tharp’s work is always doing several things at once, but the main thread in her Waiting at the Station, which she made for the company in 2013, is the story of a father and son. To a jazz-inflected score by Allen Toussaint, the father tries to pass along his dancing skills to his unwilling son, while trying to avoid a trio of women who might actually be the three fates. By the end of the work he’s managed to mend fences with his son and accept his own fate. Price Suddarth is dancing the son for the entire run, creating the illusion of awkwardness as he learns style from his father. Ezra Thomson and James Moore are sharing the role of the father, which is full of sly wit and sleight of hands and feet. Like the other ballets in this program, it’s a showcase for male dancing, offering kinetic riches all around. n
McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., 441-2424, pnb.org. $30–$187. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., June 9–Sat., June 11; 1 p.m. Sun., June 12.