Saturday, March 19, 2016

NBT wins doubleheader

Bishop + Chaplin = Dynamite
by Christopher Key

Like many extremely creative people, Northwest Ballet Theater Artistic Director John Bishop occasionally wanders off out there where the buses don’t run.  We should all be grateful for that because when he comes back, he usually brings something brilliant.  This time, he encountered the ghost of Charlie Chaplin and turned it into a thing of rare beauty.

Bishop’s original Remembering Chaplin is as unforgettable as its subject, but that performance was only half of this year’s Northwest Dance Festival.  Bishop created the festival in order to show off shorter ballets and to include disciplines beyond ballet.

Tonight’s performance began with Paquita, a one-act ballet set to the music of Ludwig Minkus and first performed in 1847 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.  This lovely and lyrical piece gave us a chance to appreciate many of the senior dancers we have been watching grow in stature for many years.

Photo credit - Kari Martilla

Ally Rose, Chloe Johnston, Sophia Kongshaug, Delci Syvertson, Julia Schwartz, Ona Underwood, Emily DesChane, Hailey Forsberg, Sion Calabretta and Anna Rombold give eloquent testimony to what long hours of pain and sweat can bring forth.  Never mind the beauty and grace, these are some of the best athletes you’ll ever see.

NBT also introduced some new male dancers and we all know how hard they are to find.  They’re as rare as mature presidential candidates.  Ian Aegerter and Evyn Bartlett are both accomplished performers and prove that male ballet dancers are more than just furniture.  That’s Bishop’s description, not mine.

Paquita was delightful, but Bishop is a thoroughgoing showman and knows how to save the best for last.  He not only developed the concept and original choreography for Remembering Chaplin, but somehow found a doppelganger to play the role of the Little Tramp.  James Innes is 19 years old, looks about 12, and was apparently born to play Chaplin.

Photo credit - Kari Martilla

His slender stature is perfectly Chaplinesque and he obviously spent many hours perfecting the unique physicality that made Chaplin an icon.  Bishop took him to see a triple feature of Chaplin silents at the Mount Baker Theatre to help him prepare for the role and it obviously worked.

Innes starts with the bumbling, stumbling Charlie disrupting the routines of ballerinas.  Chaplin himself was an accomplished dancer that that’s what it takes for a good hoofer to look awkward onstage.  With the help of some sympathetic ballerinas, he discovers the joy of dance and before long is leaping about the stage with effortless abandon.

But the characterization would not be complete if it were all just for laughs.  The Little Tramp captured America’s heart because he balanced the comedy with pathos.  Innes manages to capture both and that’s no stroll in the park.  Bishop plays a Keystone Kop who gets thoroughly abused by the Chaplin character and shows a distinct flair for slapstick comedy.

Unfortunately, this was a one-time performance.  But if enough people raise enough hell, I’m betting we’ll get another chance to see this gem.  Here’s how: e-mail John Bishop or call the NBT office at 714-1246 and demand an encore.

NBT’s next performance will be Alice in Wonderland, coming to McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon on May 14, and May 21 and 22 at the Mount Baker Theatre.  I wasn’t a ballet fan until I saw an NBT performance.  You, too, can be saved!

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