BECKET -- Some dance companies develop and perform the choreography of their artistic directors. Pacific Northwest Ballet, returning to Jacob’s Pillow through Sunday, is not one of them. Its director, Peter Boal, selects works from everywhere, forming showcases of expression and style.
When the PNW (as it is known) was here in 2009, Boal, a longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet, devoted its program to the so-called "orphaned repertory" of Ulysses Dove, who died of AIDS in 1996. On this visit Boal’s versatile, skilled dancers have brought a range of ballet and modern dance. The scores, by Bach, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmonds, Dutch jazz pianist Marc van Roon, and Haitian actress Toto Bissainthe, suggest the variety.
None of the works were new, but three of them -- David Dawson’s exhilarating "A Million Kisses to My Skin," Susan Stroman’s Broadway-inflected "Take Five Š More or Less," Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s odd duet "Before After" -- had not been seen at the Pillow. Nacho Duato’s Haitian lament, "Rassemblement," was here in 2006.
"A Million Kisses" is early Dawson, from 2000. He did not dance with Balanchine’s company but Boal did, for many years, and you can see Boal’s and Dawson’s attraction to Balanchine in the arch of the dancers’ backs. Dawson was inspired by the rare ecstasy he felt when his dancing was exactly right.
Bach’s D Minor Violin Concerto was elegantly amplified; the piano (instead of harpsichord) was not disturbing.
The lithe ensemble wore leotards in sweet shades of powder blue. Joshua Grant pulled Elizabeth Murphy, standing, across the floor and she somehow slid toward him, in toe shoes. Jonathan Porretta, small, strong and light on his feet, sailed around alone, partnering as needed. In the third movement, Carrie Imler kept her poise while tearing into a male-type variation, circling the stage with huge joyful leaps.
In "Take Five Š More or Less," Stroman, a Tony award-winning choreographer and director, combines Broadway and classical sensibilities. The curtain opens on Margaret Mullin, sitting open-legged on the floor like a cast-off doll in a yellow dress, recalling the Girl in the Yellow Dress in Stroman’s 2000 show "Contact."
Others wore simple cocktail dresses in colors of the rainbow. When Lesley Rauch, in purple, danced with three formally dressed men, the backlight (by Randall G. Chiarelli), which cleverly changed to match the soloists’ dresses, was lavender.
Sarah Ricard Orza, in blue in front of a blue backlight, was partnered by tap-dance man Christian Poppe. He had no taps and she was in toe shoes, but what they were doing was perfectly clear. Flexible Laura Tisserand in a red dress with red backlight did splits and 12 o’clock arabesques, cavorting to Brubeck’s and Desmond’s drums and saxophone.
The 2002 "Before After" is a confusing duet about the breakup of a relationship, with spoken voiceover about sound before the light changes -- which is after. Evidently that’s a traffic light.
The cranky lovers, Angelica Generosa and James Moore, in black slacks and tank tops, were intensely involved, intertwined standing and also on the floor. By the end, when Moore walked off, the puzzled audience shrugged and scratched its collective head.
"Rassemblement," a rally or gathering, grew out of Duato’s sympathy for Haiti’s poor and dispossessed. His choreography is popular at the Pillow; so far this summer it has been seen in Hong Kong Ballet and Hubbard Street.
This ethnic-looking 1990 dance has a score of Voodoo slave songs. Soft pink light darkens, and dancers in wonderful filmy grayish green bias-cut fabrics appear and disappear through dismal rugs hanging across stage rear. It feels dreary and hot.
Early on, two police figures in black violently beat and imprison Batkhurel, an obviously poor man. (He acts dead, but management said he’s not.) His helpless friends assemble. The songs, with drums, moan and grieve in Creole. Imler is a passionate griever, squatting in her wide dress and rolling her head around. Much of the action is on the floor.
Duato’s artistry has grown since he made "Rassemblement" 24 years ago. Stroman’s has grown too. But whatever else Dawson has done, it’s a good bet that his Bach setting will stay in the company’s repertory.