Dance: Raw power

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The Independent Culture
WE OUGHT not to be surprised to meet good dancing from Seattle; this is the town where Merce Cunningham trained and Mark Morris was born. For 25 years now, it has been the home of Pacific Northwest Ballet, which this week is making its London debut, following a warm reception at last year's Edinburgh Festival. To see these dancers in Balanchine's Four Temperaments on Monday night was to rejoice at their quality.

Set to a rich, melodious score by Hindemith (which Balanchine had commissioned from his Broadway and Hollywood earnings), this was the ballet in which, in 1946, the choreographer first set out his vividly personal neoclassical style. Francia Russell's staging for PNB preserves the version in which she danced with New York City Ballet years ago, maintaining a fascinating raw edge compared with Balanchine's later revisions.

This is especially true of the first solo, "Melancholic", danced by Seth Belliston with a thrilling sense of danger in his sudden falls and twists. But all the cast are sharply exact in their movements, with feet that stab or stretch beautifully. Patricia Barker's jumps and turns in her "Sanguinic" solo have a glorious breadth and speed, and the ballet's finale builds smoothly to its soaring climax. Another Balanchine ballet, his two-act A Midsummer Night's Dream, was PNB's Edinburgh hit last year, and that will be given at Sadler's Wells from Thursday: definitely worth seeing. Boldly, however, and rather rashly, the company's directors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, chose to open with an all-American mixed bill by choreographers mostly unknown here, and who come nowhere near to living up to Four Temperaments.

Stowell's own Quaternary, a pure dance piece for four couples to Rachmaninov's two-piano Suite No 2, is the most pleasing. It gives the dancers attractive if conventional things to do, and lets them look happy while they are about it. For the life of me, however, I cannot see the point of muffling the men's legs up in baggy trousers so their spectacular steps are hidden.

The other two ballets also suffer from drab costuming, but that's the least of their problems. Kevin O'Day's Aract and Donald Byrd's In The Courtyard both present their dancers in sour and oppositional mood to turgidly raucous scores by, respectively, Graham Fitkin and Louis Andriessen.

These dancers deserve better.

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