VAIL, Colorado " A solo dancer, seemingly defying gravity and flying above the stage, is at the heart of "Caught," the David Parson's stroboscopic tour-de-force that will highlight Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance Tuesday at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
The 1982 piece opens with a single dancer moving from spotlight to spotlight through an assortment of "test movements," trying out a rapping motion, a spin or two, an "attacking monster" pose, a dream of flight. And then flight happens, literally, with no strings or wires attached.
In a series of strobe-lit "snapshots," the dancer levitates across the stage without touching it once. Leaps, tilts and midair splits are "caught" as if no effort led up to them. Set to Robert Fripp's score of phased electric guitars, the dancer appears to stay impossibly airborne.
Asked about the inspiration for the piece, Parsons credits his work with photographers.
"The idea of 'Caught' came from working with photographers," Parsons said. "You would go up and you would hit a shape and then you would change it slightly and you just got to be so good at knowing where that shape was from an outside eye. I got to thinking, what if I could control that light and make a dance just in the air, but you could only see it when the strobe went off. And that's how 'Caught' was born. I started experimenting in a dark room with a strobe light."
In addition to "Caught," Pacific Northwest Ballet will also perform Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free," Twyla Tharp's "That's Life from Nine Sinatra Songs" and Susan Stroman's new "Take Five ... More Or Less," with music by Dave Brubeck.
When Jerome Robbins' first ballet, "Fancy Free" premiered in 1944, it proved to be one of the most exciting evenings in the history of ballet in America, marking the emergence of many new American talents.
Robbins created the choreography while on a coast-to-coast tour with American Ballet Theatre, working closely through correspondence with a young, unknown composer in New York by the name of Leonard Bernstein.
The setting of the ballet is New York City on a hot summer night. Three sailors on shore leave pick up two girls and a fight develops over which sailor is to be left without a partner. In the bar, they stage a competition, each dancing a variation designed to win the favor of a girl, but at the same time revealing his individual character. When the girls are still unable to choose between them, the fight is resumed and the girls slip away. The sailors make up, but one wonders when a third girl passes their way, whether they have learned their lesson.
Twyla Tharp created her "Nine Sinatra Songs" in 1982, based on the 1950s social dancing. Oscar de la Renta's dresses and tuxedos flash with a similar double edge of past and present, while each of the songs chosen has its own character, with Tharp's choreography reinforcing traditional ballroom dancing.
In Tharp's view, the dancing runs the gamut of showing infatuation ("Strangers in the Night"), through cynicism and resignation, to revealing the difficulties and abrasiveness that might well follow ("That's Life).
Susan Stroman's "Take Five ... More or Less," is set to music closely associated with Dave Brubeck, including "Take Five." The piece is vastly amusing, often sexy and full of wit. While Stroman made her name in the world of the American musical, rather than ballet, she is now beginning to do work for important companies like New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Take Five is her first collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Tickets for the Vail International Dance Festival's July 29 Pacific Northwest Ballet performance are priced at $17 for general admission lawn seating and $60 and $75 for reserved pavilion seating and may be purchased online at www.vaildance.org or by calling 970-845-TIXS (8497) or 1-888-920-ARTS (2787).
In addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet, individual tickets for the 2008 Vail International Dance Festival are priced from $8 to $85, with ticket packages also available.
The 2008 Vail International Dance Festival runs through Aug. 9, with performances at both the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. Visit www.vaildance.org for more information.
Pacific Northwest Ballet performs "Nine Sinatra Songs" during last year's performance. photo by rex keep.