Artistic Director’s Notebook: Petite Mort, Sechs Tänze, Cacti

Dear Friends,

George Balanchine’s influence over ballet in America is unmatched. One could trace the origins of his reach to New York City where he established the company he helmed for 35 years. With Balanchine’s encouragement, dancers from New York City Ballet went on to found or shape regional companies from San Francisco to Harlem, and Miami to Seattle. Dancers also became choreographers, teachers, stagers, writers, and arts leaders. For a deeper dive into Balanchine’s legacy, I recommend reading Jennifer Homans’ latest book, Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century. Though 43 years younger than Balanchine and a continent away, it’s tempting to draw parallels to the influence of Jiří Kylián in Europe. The Czech choreographer made his first works for Stuttgart Ballet in the 1970s before assuming artistic leadership of Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague in 1976. Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze are two of the 100 works created by Kylián during his tenure at NDT. His arresting works, each distinct in approach and innovation, dominated the repertory of NDT for 25 years. And like Balanchine, Kylián’s contribution to choreography was only a part of his lasting influence. He also founded satellite companies – NDT II showcases young artists between the ages of 18 and 22 and NDT III is a chamber troupe for dancers over 40. A culture of support and innovation made NDT a hotbed of choreographic talent. Many of the world’s most creative dance makers worked with NDT in some capacity. A few of those names should be familiar to PNB audiences like Alejandro Cerrudo, William Forsythe, Marco Goecke (associate choreographer), Edwaard Liang, Crystal Pite (associate choreographer), and Alexander Ekman.

Ekman began his career as a 16-year-old member of Royal Swedish Ballet. At 17 he relocated to The Hague to join NDT. As 21 he devoted himself to his choreography. now 39, he has created over 50 works for companies like NDT, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and Boson Ballet. His explosive 2012 work, Cacti, has been performed by 20 companies on four continents for hundreds of thousands of audience members. Originally conceived as a comment on “snobbish” critics, it’s chock full of irreverence, sly humor, and mind-boggling athleticism. Check out Ekman’s own notes on his approach and philosophy on page 15 of this program. Our four on-stage musicians known as the “Cac-tet” are part of the fun.

People often ask how works are taught, prepared, and coached when the choreographer is not present. Credit goes to the stagers. For this program Stefan Zeromski staged Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze with help from PNB Rehearsal Directors Otto Neubert and Giovanni Villalobos, respectively. Stefan danced for many years with NDT and worked directly with Kylián. Ana Maria Lucaciu returned to PNB to stage Cacti for the second time with valuable assistance from Anne Dabrowski. Ana Maria was also in Seattle to create an original work for Whim W’Him.

PNB is also a culture of creativity with dancers, musicians, designers, and choreographers working to offer fresh takes on dance. Watch for a season filled with new creations and new ideas. So much of this happens beyond the mainstage. This year, original choreography is offered in the PNB School Performance (James Kirby Rogers), Family Matinee (Terry Marling and Robyn Mineko Williams), and NEXT STEP (Luca Anaya, Melisa Guilliams, Elle Macy/Dylan Wald, Noah Martzall, Amanda Morgan/Christopher D’Ariano, and Lily Wills). And if you catch our November DISCOVER DANCE performance, you’ll see work performed by the student choreographers from our New Voices class.

Ballet is ever evolving. The balance of offering favorite works from the past, and recently created cutting-edge pieces is challenging. Newer works allow the evolution to continue, and familiar works offer just the right lure for bringing audiences back. Identifying environments of innovation, like NYCB, NDT, and PNB, helps us to understand how the past informs both present and future. As you enjoy Cacti, consider the influence of Petite Mort or Sechs Tänze on Ekman’s work. It’s thrilling for all of us to have a front seat to the continuous evolution of dance.

Kind regards,

Photo credits: PNB Company dancers in Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, photo © Angela Sterling.
James Yoichi Moore and Rachel Foster in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, photo © Lindsay Thomas. Jerome Tisserand and Lesley Rausch in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, photo © Angela Sterling.