Dance and Desire

A life in the closet bursts out in a new choral ballet.

If I didn’t know “Down the Street” was by Eric Banks and had to guess the composer, I might say it sounds something like a French Steve Reich: a lush carpet of intricately weaving vocal lines; modal harmonies bringing a hint of the perfumes of Arabia; delicate tracings of instrumental color (just string quartet and harp); and piquant, pulsing rhythms that seem to both revolve in tight curls and propel themselves sinuously forward. This last element makes the piece particularly suited to dance, which was Banks’ idea—it’s a setting of one of 18 poems by Constantin Cavafy (1863–1933) he chose for his new choral ballet Approaching Ecstasy. His choir, The Esoterics, is collaborating with Pacific Northwest Ballet alumnus Olivier Wevers’ dance company Whim W’Him on the 90-minute suite, which premieres this weekend. Cavafy’s languid, hothouse verse, overtly homoerotic as few poets before him had dared to be, reveals the emotional life of a gay man in his closeted time, from carnal longing to fear and the burdens of secrecy.