There are three reasons to catch the last leg of Pacific Northwest Ballet's season kick-off this weekend. The first reason is the second half of George Balanchine's Agon, the second reason is Lesley Rausch dancing in the second half of Agon, and the third is listening to the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union sing Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" during Kent Stowell's Carmina Burana while a one-ton golden wheel hangs over the heads of apparently every ballet dancer in Seattle.
Aesthetically, Agon and Carmina Burana couldn't be further apart.
Agon is a masterpiece of modern choreography built around French court dances from the 17th century and fused with a weirdly peppy, pretty, twelve-tone-ish composition from Igor Stravinsky. It looks and feels like an Eames chair. Or a late-1950s party in a New York artist's loft, if those were ever real.
Stowell's Carmina Burana is contemporary dance set to a classic (and Old-Spice-famous) score based on 13th century poems written by potty-mouthed monks. Though the ballet premiered at PNB in the 1990s, it looks and feels like the original Disney movie, the Disney movie from which all Disney movies were born.
Though the visual differences are quite stark, both ballets brilliantly use allusion to show off dance's ability to collapse time into a single set of steps, reminding us that time truly is a flat circle, albeit a heavy one dangling perilously above our heads.
The first part of Agon drags for me, but that's no shade on the dancers I saw on opening night. Elle Macy, Margaret Mullin, Christopher D'Ariano (who was new to me, but who is someone I'll be watching in the future), and Dylan Wald stood out, hopping around and doing the funny little ankle dances that Balanchine makes them do. The piece really picked up in Part II, which featured a spectacular pas de trois between D'Ariano, Wald, and Noelani Pantastico.
But it was the duet between Rausch and Seth Orza that functionally paralyzed me and everyone else.
Rausch just nailed everything. She stretched and bent at nearly impossible angles. She and Orza snapped into complex, modern poses like a transformer with a jammed reset button. And the entire time she was moving she appeared to behold herself with both curiosity and confidence, as if she were a comic book hero testing out newfound superpowers. Her expression read something like, "Am I really moving with this much grace and strength at the same time? Why, yes, I absolutely am. Can you even believe me? Because I certainly can."
After Agon, Carmina Burana felt like a big, baggy production with a metaphor that hits you over the head like a 2,500-pound golden wheel: death is inevitable, and the dramas of human life are brilliant and fun, but they're ultimately petty in comparison to the immensity of fate, death, and big wheels. However, the ballet does make the standard arc of a heteronormative life look like the absolute nightmare that it is, and I appreciated that immensely.
Though I faded in and out of this one, the two things that kept me going were the choir and Noelani Pantastico. The choir's performance of "O Fortuna" was powerful enough to make me feel like I was meeting my maker right there in McCaw Hall. And Pantastico gets 1,000 points for imbuing her role as a courtesan in the tavern scene ("In Taberna") with a spirit of self-determination and complete command. She practically skated across the stage, having the time of her life playing handsy drunks like fiddles. It was a welcome display of joy and prowess in an otherwise pretty apocalyptic ballet.