Three days after watching Her Story, a suite of pieces at Pacific Northwest Ballet, I can't get two things out of my mind: the sound of bones breaking like ceramic plates as dancers throw other dancers to the ground and the strangulation of Celia.
Celia's struggle (performed in all of its horrifying glory by Noelani Pantastico) and the incredible sound effects (courtesy of designer Owen Belton) both feature in PNB's premiere of Crystal Pite's Plot Point, a meta-theatrical noir. It has all the powerhouse hyper-violence of comic-book noirs such as Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's Sin City, and all the complex, intricate choreography you'd expect from a modern ballet.
Pite's piece has everything you didn't know you wanted out of dance. A Dick Tracy mood. A Psycho soundtrack. Two slow-mo street brawls. Knowing writer-nerd jokes about the paradox of traditional narrative structures: They're bloodless, but you need them if you want your characters to bleed.
The dance's story lines were relatively easy to follow even as they tangled together in the dark, foggy atmosphere of Bernard Herrmann's music. A love affair causes tension between two couples—the Smiths and the Joneses—which ripples across their group of friends. Meanwhile, a woman named Celia has put out a hit on her partner, Fernando. Each of the characters has their own replica, all of which look like mannequins in spray-painted white fencing masks and trench coats.
At one point, a thug surprises Celia from behind and strangles her with silk. There is an entire essay to be written about the onstage deaths of ballerinas, and this one from Pantastico—choreographed down to the smallest gestures by Pite—would deserve a few paragraphs. There's so much life in the dancer just before death: the violence of her resistance screaming out in every flexed muscle and grimace, the electrified shimmy into submission, the broken doll collapse to the floor, the last leg twitch like a stepped-on cricket—one final act of defiance. It's the femme fatale's story told with a brief flurry of completely legible gestures, an act of condensation you find only in dance.
But Plot Point is only one of three dances presented over the course of the evening. Her Story opens with Jessica Lang's Her Door to the Sky, a sunset-colored ensemble piece that's lyrical and beautiful but ultimately kind of blah. That's no shade on Sarah Ricard Orza, who tumbles like a falling leaf at twilight. Twyla Tharp's Afternoon Ball was more successful. She presents a street threesome between a goth couple and a grunge guy. In their jerky, convulsive movements and in their story in general, they troll the elegant steps of classical ballet, represented in this case by two dancers tangoing in black. PNB soloist Angelica Generosa (who has been killing it lately) and Benjamin Griffiths stand out here.
The thread connecting all of these pieces is the grace, strength, and persistence of women in the face of violence—an (unfortunately) evergreen theme, but one that's especially worth your attention in the shadow of all this Harvey Weinstein bullshit.