Pacific Northwest Ballet's final program of the season brings together Alexei Ratmansky's  Concerto DSCH and Kent Stowell's Carmina Burana. Each shines in its own genre.       

Ratmansky's fondness for Dmitri Shostakovich's music is well-known; Concerto DSCH, premiered in 2008 at the New York City Ballet, and is one of several ballets that Ratmansky has choreographed to the composer's music. The "DSCH" of the title is a musical motif of four notes that abbreviate the composer's name when the notes are written in German transliteration. Concerto DSCH is a delightful partnership of music and dance that illuminates both and brings out the dancers' lovely personalities.

Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz in Concerto DSCH © Angela Sterling
Carla Körbes and Karel Cruz in Concerto DSCH
© Angela Sterling

The ballet opens to the music's fast-paced Allegro. Seven men dressed in orange and maroon leotards huddled circling around dancer Angelica Generosa, who was a last-minute replacement for Rachel Foster this evening. Generosa bursts out of the circle with an exuberant smile that sets the piece's youthful tone. Dressed in a blue, capped-sleeved leotard and short skirt, and together with her playmates, Kyle Davis and Benjamin Griffiths in blue and grey leotards, the trio bounced about in wonderfully intricate and playful phrasings, such as teasing each other in a flirtatious game of tag. 

The depth of the pas de deux between Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold, in the second movement, the Andante, negates any need for narrative. Rausch imbued her movements with beauty and sentimentality, from her lithe upper body down to her fingertips, which she coyly retracts from Bold's advances. As in life, this couple's story doesn't happen in isolation, and their duets are at times echoed by the company of seven women and seven men, and in one scene, an amusing slow-motion pas de trois from Generosa, Davis and Griffiths. Phrasings never deliberately display physical feats – there aren't any 32 fouettés or exhausting series of jumps to draw applause – though the steps and musicality of the choreography are aptly demanding. Instead, Ratmansky serves the piece with subtlety, which lends a more natural evolution to the intentions that guide the dancers' movements. While some of the very quick steps could have been cleaner, it was remarked in the post-show talkback that the orchestra played at a quicker tempo than usual – an occasional folly of live performances. The playful montages in the first and third Allegro movements, such as a line of standing men that leaves one on the end lying on the ground, or another man who, caught up in the marching rhythm, jumps flexed-feet in second position until the music changes, are just some of the ways Ratmansky acknowledges the idiosyncrasies of life and adds the human touch. 

Carl Orff's 1937 musical cantata, Carmina Burana, intended to be a theatrical performance consisting of music, movement and staging; though today it's more commonly presented as a musical performance only. Kent Stowell's production, which premiered at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1993, brings the dancers together with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, over 70 choral singers, three soloists, and scenic design by the award-winning Ming Cho Lee, for an impressive production.

Carmina Burana © Angela Sterling
Carmina Burana
© Angela Sterling

Orff composed his driving, primitive rhythms to accompany the lyrics of the Songs of Beuren, the medieval songs and poems discovered in 1803 at the Barvarian monastery of Benediktbeuern. Orff found that these poems, written in Latin and German, expressed secular and erotic themes universal to the human condition.

The standing choir is suspended halfway up from the stage floor, as if in judgment of the mortal scenes playing out below. Lee's gigantic golden wheel hangs imposingly in front of the choir during O Fortuna and dominates the visual space, later turning to flatten out like a chandelier frame above the stage to make way for the up to 26 dancers who fill the stage in each scene. The choreography aptly serves the narrative and the dancers' theatrical expression meets the bravado of the staging and the music. Stylistically, the neoclassical choreography seems to favour expression in the arms and the hands, which enlarges the dancers' presence. Carrie Imler fully embodies the spicy character of the tavern gypsy, and Benjamin Griffiths unleashes his torment in his solo to the lyrics of the poem The Roast Swan. The singers narrate the scenes as monks or a nun. The final scene ends with the young, innocent lovers standing beside the hedonistic tavern dwellers, who have hoisted a triumphant Imler on their shoulders, and are flanked by the company of dancers kneeling facing the audience. In the story of Carmina Burana, all are judged equally.