Dancers face the wilderness in Pacific Northwest Celebration at Wolf Trap.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a lovely place to spend a late summer evening. The setting is serene, and the music seems to shimmer with the stars. Spread a blanket on the hillside – you can see the performance from just about anywhere on the hillside – and lookup at those stars, so rarely seen in downtown DC.
It was, indeed, a perfect setting for last night’s eighth rendition of Face of America, an evening of dance, indie rock, and film footage of Washington’s Olympic National Park in all four seasons. Still I felt cheated with the dance performances sandwiched in-between a 55-minute rock concert! It appeared that the nearly full house had come to hear Band of Horses, six musicians, who reminded me of Levin Helm from The Band and those guys from the Coen Brothers’ film, Oh Brother Where Art Thou!
I don’t claim to be a music critic, and I did appreciate watching folks stand, cheer, and hum along. Nonetheless, there could have been dancing on stage to these lively tunes during the long interlude, adding to the interchange of the arts, so much a part of this project. The wait was worth it as Dirty Goods, a multimedia performance by the Pacific Northwest Ballet was the highlight of the evening and the anchor for this installment.
The site-specific program began with The Mountain, filmed by Virginia-based Blue Land Media at Mount Rainier National Park. In the pre-performance talk, a representative from the film crew pointed out the rigorous conditions for the dancers during the snowy outdoor filming. A haunting figure of a dancer, moving gently in the snow, lingers long after the curtain comes down.
Choreographer Andrew Bartee, a former soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet, who left the company around the time of the filming, handpicked the dancers for both the film and the onstage performance. Like the 20-something artist, they are all young, fit, and seemingly interested in preserving nature and the parks for posterity.
Dirty Goods, choreographed by Bartee and set to music by The Chromatics, is fabulous in all aspects. The dancers onstage are dressed in white, designed by Larae Hascall to match the snowy scenes. Mark Stanley’s lighting design works well with the constant movement of the dancers. Wearing sneakers instead of toe shoes, the ballerinas pull off moves a la Baryshnikov in a Twyla Tharp dance. Together with their guys, the acrobatics become an Olympic event. Meanwhile, the filmed dancers remain calm and serene, sticking mainly to gestures that take us to a faraway place of beauty and peace.
Trey McIntyre’s Robust American Love romp for the Oregon Ballet Theatre kicked off the dance portion of the show. McIntyre, familiar with the Face project through his Glacier National Park work, The Sun Road, opted to present a work solely for the stage. This pre-civil war era Americana work reflects a pioneering spirit of the westward travels, which maybe considered a tie-in to the northwest mountain theme. Mainly, though, it showcases fine individual dancing by the OBT ensemble to music by Fleet Foxes. Let’s hope Septime Webre caught this work as it would be perfect for The Washington Ballet, a company that is quite familiar with McIntrye’s clever and seducing dances.
Directed and edited by Joe Bruncsak and Walter Rissmeyer at Blue Land Media with Vincent Gancie responsible for the stunning photography, this program was filmed for a future PBS Great Performance special. Go to the WNET Website for details.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The eighth production in the Foundation’s original Face of the Nation series with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Band of Horses, and Oregon Ballet Theatre played one night on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.t Wolf Trap at The Filene Center – 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA.
There’s one more chance to see dance that pushes the boundaries this season at Wolf Trap when Cirque Dreams – Jungle Fantasy comes to the Filene Stage Friday, Sept. 5, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. Expect the unexpected in this family-oriented show.