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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 22, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 25
PNB's Season Encore a warm and fitting tribute to Karel Cruz' artistry
Arts & Entertainment
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PNB's Season Encore a warm and fitting tribute to Karel Cruz' artistry

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
SEASON ENCORE PERFORMANCE
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
June 10


This special one-night-only evening of dance revisited some of the liveliest and most romantic moments from Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2017-2018 season. The entire company was on hand to perform eight dances and excerpts from larger works, including the beautiful White Swan pas de deux from 'Swan Lake' - the one with a corps of sixteen swans who frame the central duo with perfectly coordinated symmetry. Also on the program was a reprise of the lively 'West Side Story Suite' given in honor of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday, and the spectacular Act Two pas de deux and coda from Balanchine's 'Nutcracker.' It was also a pleasure to see Christopher Wheeldon's lovely 'After the Rain' pas de deux that was performed only days earlier in PNB's 'Love and Ballet' program. The Encore evening was a particularly impressive and sentimental event because the company and audience bid farewell to Karel Cruz, one of PNB's most cherished and memorable principals, who is retiring from the company this year.

Karel Cruz came to PNB via Cuba and Venezuela in 2002, and was promoted to soloist in 2007 and principal in 2009. He is unforgettable not only for his power and elegance, but for his height - at 6'4' he is unusually tall for a principal dancer, and a blessing for tall women in the company as well as for anyone who loves to see a king-sized cavalier in traditional story ballets or a star dancer who can bend in every possible direction in contemporary works. He is an exemplary partner in both settings, and, according to all reports, a generous and gentlemanly colleague. I will focus on the two dances that featured his final performances in Seattle (he will go with the company to Paris this summer). I'll also spotlight a personal favorite of mine, Balanchine's 'Tarantella' set to Gottschalks' fabulous score.

'Don Quixote pas de deux and coda' (1871)
Choreography: Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky
Music: Ludwig Minkus

This love duet was appropriately danced by Karel Cruz and his real-life partner, Lindsi Dec, the principal dancer he met and married in the company. It begins slowly with the man supporting his partner through a series of crisp architectural balances and turns, featuring a spectacular one-arm lift in which the man holds the woman overhead with one hand as she balances like a starfish in an ocean of air. This duet also shows off the ballerina's ability to hold a pose on pointe, then twirl like a top, and the man's ability to act like a pillar with a strong arm and anchored feet so that she can show off her skills safely and to the best advantage. Apart from striking poses like Mercury on a mission, the man only gets one showy moment, when he dashes up stage to his partner, leaping into splits in midair. With his long legs, Cruz is unforgettable in this moment, but even more affecting is his quiet, passionate partnering as Dec displayed her precise and difficult steps. Then, as if the genuine feeling between these two were not convincing enough, a tiny child toddled out at the curtain call with a bouquet almost as big as he was - Cruz and Dec's little boy - who was swept up by his proud parents to take their bows both as dancers and as a beautiful family.

'Tarantella' (1964)
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Louis Moreau Gottschalk

If you don't know Louis Moreau Gottschalk's 'Tarantella' - either in the composer's piano version, or in Hershey Kay's orchestral setting - then go straight to YouTube and listen to it. Better yet, watch one of the several examples of Balanchine's delightful duet for a young, vivacious, flirty couple. Many famous dancers have performed it - Patricia McBride, Edward Villella, Mikael Baryshnikov, Alexi Radmansky - but nothing online will measure up to seeing it done in person, so it was a real treat to see the adorable Angelica Generosa and her terrific partner Matthew Renko throw themselves into this Spanish-style folkdance with unrestrained gusto. During the seven minutes of exhausting solos and duets, the couple shows off all their skills in individual pyrotechnics and folkloric partnering - no showy lifts, but playful mirroring and unison movements that are a delight to behold. A big shout-out goes to the orchestra and pianist Christina Siemens for their marvelous playing of a famously difficult piece of music - a performance worth hearing in a concert hall in its own right, even without the dancing. This was a farewell performance for soloist Matthew Renko who, I hope, is taking his career to the next level. He is a wonderful dancer.

'Diamonds Pas de deux and Polonaise' (1967)
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

This section of 'Jewels' shows us Balanchine at his best as he moves thirty-two dancers through intricate patterns while framing the central couple, who perform elegant figures as the cavalier partners his ballerina like a handsome shadow through a series a sparkling passages. The entire company takes the stage for the grand finale to music only Tchaikovsky could write without sounding pompous. The sheer invention of patterns as they form and melt to the music is reason enough to cheer this marvelous piece, but on this special evening Karel Cruz performed his last dance with the company in Seattle with one of his loveliest partners, Leslie Rauch - one of those tall ballerinas who appears at her best with a great match like Cruz. And as always, in 'Diamonds,' the stars are the corps de ballet, whose precision, unity, and grace suggest a better world, where art and beauty reign.

It was a fitting end to a wonderful season for PNB and a wonderful career for Karel Cruz. We were not told, in the program or from the stage, what's next in store for this still-young and brilliant dancer, but I, for one, hope to see him re-emerge in some greater capacity as a dance company manager, a teacher, a guest artist - something that uses his unique talents. PNB's roster of gifted artists is very deep, but we always miss the special ones we've loved seeing over long careers. Karel Cruz is one of those. I borrow a blessing from Walt Whitman: 'Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.'

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PNB's Season Encore a warm and fitting tribute to Karel Cruz' artistry
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