ONE THOUSAND PIECES Pacific Northwest Ballet 3/12/2020


Pacific Northwest Ballet

McCaw Hall
Seattle, WA

(phone screen shot - wallpaper photo by Mark Sugiyama (c) 2020)

Today is March 19th. I have been ill since February 26th. My symptoms started with a dry cough that, to this day, hasn't let up. There were other symptoms too that concerned me. Greatly. Where we are now as Washingtonians is vastly different than just a few weeks ago.

As the first week of March came and went, I was already forced to make some tough decisions about upcoming media/press events I was scheduled to cover. At that time, the coronavirus crisis was known but not to the extent it is now. Businesses were still open. Events were still being held. Life was pretty much normal other than for the alarming news coming out of Everett and then Kirkland.

Out of respect for my fellow human beings, I decided it was best to self-quarantine early based on what the science experts were telling us. I cancelled all of my event coverage week by week, hoping that I would be well enough to attend some of the events in the latter part of March.

One such event was the Pacific Northwest Ballet's, "One Thousand Pieces", scheduled to open Friday March 13th at McCaw Hall. I was ready to cover the Saturday the 14th evening performance as I had a scheduling conflict with Friday night. My tickets were confirmed several weeks prior.

I have not missed a scheduled PNB event since I was afforded the opportunity to cover them in November 2018 (except for the pre-summer event last June). So, this decision was not made lightly. But, my symptoms were worse, not better. So, it had to be done.

As we all know now, the second week of March was when the hammer started to come down and things got much more serious. School districts were closing left and right. Colleges were going online for the rest of the quarter. Big businesses such as Microsoft and Amazon were asking their employees to telecommute if possible. There was a sense of dread in the air around town.

Then, the governor issued a mandate to close down gatherings of 250 people or more. This meant every concert, theatre, and ballet event I had on my schedule was now dead in the water. I went from trying to see if I would be well enough to still cover an event in the latter part of March to seeing my entire event calendar go blank.

It was like a punch to the gut every time I saw an event cancellation. The arts are a part of who I am as a person. I cannot exist without them. So, to have them ripped away was devastating. I know for the artists themselves, the administration folks, the behind the scenes workers, the ushers, the volunteers, etc - everyone felt the same way. It was a collective sigh that happened all across the three major counties in Washington State when the news broke, only to be worsened when it became a statewide mandate.

So, instead of dressing up on Saturday the 14th, driving down to Seattle, parking my car, and walking to McCaw Hall which are all of my normal routine things before a PNB performance, I was at home alone.

But all was not lost - far from it.

I had read that the PNB were going to live stream or something equivalent a performance of, "One Thousand Pieces" for the ticket holders. I thought this was an amazing gesture to give everyone involved a chance to still perform for an audience virtually.

What I didn't count on (why I don't know) is that the press/media that weren't at the final dress rehearsal - like myself, would also have a chance to view this video performance online as well. Imagine my surprise and delight when I checked my in-box to see an email containing the link earlier this week.

It may seem insignificant but with the way things have been going with the coronavirus crisis, my own illness that I was dealing with, and everything else - having a taste of my normal Eclectic Arts event schedule was just what the doctor ordered.

If I wasn't sick, I would have dressed up for the virtual performance - only to stay home. But, I didn't. What I did do was I picked a day - Tuesday the 17th - to watch the performance on my television. There's a story there too regarding a lack of WiFi but I won't bore you with those details. Let's just say it was another hurdle to overcome.

So, I got everything set up - turned off all the lights other than a rear hallway light to replicate the scene in McCaw Hall as best I could, kept my couch seat upright just as if I was sitting at McCaw Hall (instead of kicking the footrest open to lounge), absolutely no food near me, and pressed play precisely at 7:30pm. I kid you not. Look at the screenshot from my phone at the top of this piece.

There was a short introduction then the program started.

"Empire Noir" was up first. With music by Greg Haines and choreography by David Dawson, I sat in my living room with zero distractions and took in the performance. The first thing I noticed was the three focal lengths of the video - full, mid, and close. I'm so used to seeing nothing but a full stage at McCaw Hall where I can't make out details of someone's face for example. This video performance provided what you would see in a film. Long shots of the entire scene, mid shots to focus on a certain aspect of the performance, and of course full body shot close-ups where I could see more details than ever before.

The music by Greg Haines was sweeping and cinematic which I happen to love. My own music background kicked in as I was taken away by the orchestral music that the dancers then conveyed through David Dawson's exquisite choreography.

For the entire performance, my world stopped, and I sat captivated by what I saw and heard. I absolutely loved this piece.

Then it was on to, "One Thousand Pieces" with music by Philip Glass and choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo. I first studied the music of Glass in the late 80's. At that time, I was not fond of his minimalist approach to his compositions. While he is highly regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, I've always found him an acquired taste.

Alejandro Cerrudo was recently named as PNB's first Resident Choreographer of PNB for the next three seasons, beginning in Fall 2020.

The choreography in this piece was daring, abstract, and challenging. I was very engaged in all aspects of the dancers movements. The "water scene" was especially beautiful and perhaps the highlight of, "One Thousand Pieces".

The music of Glass - that left me wanting something else. His usual belabored musical motifs that go on endlessly were prevalent all through this piece. By the end of the performance, I was wishing for a change in the music.

Having said that, the choreography must have been one heck of an undertaking for Mr. Cerrudo considering the music at hand. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Mr. Cerrudo comes up with for the next three years. Based on what I saw here (and in, "Silent Ghost"), there's going to be some daring new choreography coming our way.

And then it was over.

I stopped the performance, said a bravo to my empty living room, and then turned on the lights.

My heart was both happy and sad. We all know this coronavirus crisis will eventually pass. But, while we live our lives with an uncertain immediate future, one can't help but feel that dichotomy. I was extremely happy to have the PNB in my life again - even if it meant viewing it from home. But, I was also sad as I realized that I'm still sick, the state mandates are still in place (and probably will get stricter very soon), and I don't know when I'll be back at McCaw Hall enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

In the grand scheme of things, this is low on the feel sorry for me list and I know that. There are people dying literally every day in Washington State from this virus. There are families grieving for the loss of their loved ones. There are people hospitalized hoping they're one of the lucky ones that recovers from this virus - all while the confirmed cases in Washington State keep going up.

We are living in unprecedented times and as long as we all do our part, we'll see the light shining at the end of this dark tunnel once more.

Thank you to the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Thank you to the dancers, the unions, the administrators, the tech crews, and anyone else that was involved in making this happen. You were the ghost light on my otherwise dark living room stage.

Until next time,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts
Eclecticartszine AT gmail DOT com


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