Half of the four dances on Pacific Northwest Ballet's New Works program are easily forgotten. The first is A Garden, another pretty, domestic pastoral by Mark Morris (set to Richard Strauss) that slides right off your brain. The second is an exuberant, youthful, and slightly callow pastiche by PNB dancer Kiyon Gaines that folds ballet, modern, tango, jazz, and other dance samples onto a percussive score by Cristina Spinei.
So far, so what?
The freshness in New Works doesn't come until a world premiere by the evocatively named Benjamin Millepied: the (not-so-evocatively named) 3 Movements, which, at times, looks like West Side Story on Wall Street. (Millepied danced for West Side Story choreographer Jerome Robbins at the New York City Ballet.) Like Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 3 Movements is rigorous, carefully composed, and geometrical, but has soul.
Men in shirts and ties dance with women in simple secretarial skirts—everyone in black, muted blue, and gray—to a layered, minimalist score by Steve Reich. They march past each other as if on a busy New York sidewalk, with brief bursts of partnering. If duets are a metaphor for sex (and they usually are), these couplings are straight from Craigslist: frequent, brief, and casual. The men and women run into each other, shimmy for a bit, and fly apart to go about their business. (The lighting design, by Brad Fields, is excellent: Side lighting creates a weird chiaroscuro on the dancers, then shifts to stark, almost blinding frontal lighting.) 3 Movements is the sexiest and darkest piece in New Works, and by its end, the gentlemen are sweating through their button-up shirts like hot businessmen on a summer subway.
One Flat Thing, reproduced premiered at PNB in March, and praise God (and artistic director Peter Boal) for bringing it back. Performed by 14 dancers on and around 20 gray, evenly spaced aluminum tables, Thing sounds like rumbling static and looks like a fit. These couplings are mechanical and calisthenic, entirely devoid of warmth. The dancers (dressed in bright American Apparel–type outfits) slide along and under the tables, jump over and onto them, briefly lock limbs, and disengage. Thing, by William Forsythe, has angered some (and averages 12 walkouts per performance): The dance is cold and glittering, with a medicinal taste. It gives no point of entry and no quarter, and is as brilliant as it is unrelenting. Forsythe says Thing began as an idea about arctic expeditions and "baroque machinery." But as the brightly clad bodies streak through the gray aluminum grid, they look more like a riot of metastasizing cancer or a pack of cocaine molecules skipping through the brain. It is a marvel.
New Works at Pacific Northwest Ballet, 321 Mercer St, 441-2424, $25–$155. Through Nov 16.