Monday, October 24, 2016

Pacific Northwest Ballet Steps Forth with Brief Fling

PREVIEW: Brief Fling

Pacific Northwest Ballet
McCaw Hall, Seattle

'Brief Fling' Ensemble, photo Angela Sterling
“I LOVE TWYLA THARP. She is humor, irreverence, craft, and boogie all rolled into one pint-sized woman.”    

 -- Peter Boal, PNB Artistic Director

From Twyla Tharp to George Balanchine to Jiří Kylián, Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall will jump, leap and twirl with excitement in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s second program of its 44th season in the three contemporary ballets comprising its Brief Fling.

Of special note in this live-wire agenda is Music Director Emil de Cou’s revival of the original orchestra score for Tharp’s Scottish-themed title ballet Brief Fling, which was set to music by Percy Grainger and Michel Colombier.

The work, whose title reflects a combination of traditional Scottish dance and a romance that is fleeting, was Mikhail Baryshnikov’s last commission from Tharp during his tenure as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre. Since its 1990 premiere by ABT in San Francisco, when Tharp was new to the company's artistic staff, the piece has been performed only with a 1989 recording produced in Los Angeles.

“It was her wish to have something that could be performed anywhere, at any time as opposed to relying on whatever ‘house orchestra’ might be available while on tour,” says de Cou of Tharp. “That is the way Brief Fling has been performed over the past 26 years.”

Emil de Cou, photo Griffin Harrington
However, in 2013, when Tharp was participating in PNB’s Air Twyla, the choreographer had a change of heart, according to de Cou. She told him that the recording no longer had its former freshness and that she wished for the PNB Orchestra instead to perform the original orchestral score during those performances.

The timing was too tight to find the music materials at that time, but de Cou was determined to act on Tharp’s wishes. He prepared himself to jump through however many hoops necessary to create an orchestra score for PNB’s current offering.

It wasn’t easy.

“When I looked into the possibility of performing the score live, I encountered a series of musical roadblocks,” de Cou says. When Tharp’s New York office emailed him a photocopy of Colombier’s score that was near impossible to read, he went back to his hometown of Los Angeles to seek out the composer.

“The first thing I discovered was a terribly sad thing indeed - Michel Colombier died in 2004 at the all too early age of 65,” says de Cou. After researching exhaustively online, he was thrilled to discover a Dana Colombier living in Santa Monica. “I emailed her in hopes that she was the late composer’s widow and it was indeed the right place to go.”

Mme. Colombier invited de Cou to her home to wade through the boxes and envelopes in which her late husband’s music was stored. Since the Brief Fling score had never been performed live, de Cou took on the immense responsibility to make sure the individual orchestra parts were authentic and complete. Again, not easy.

'Brief Fling' composer's sketches, photo Emil de Cou
On the widow’s dining room table he found two large manila envelopes inscribed in the composer’s hand. “When I opened the first one my heart sank when I saw it filled only with sketches and early drafts of the ballet,” de Cou says. The second envelope, however, contained everything he was hoping for. “In it we found a set of the most beautifully hand engraved music on extremely fragile and transparent onion skinned paper… Amazingly everything was there and ready to be recopied for our late October rehearsals.”

'Brief Fling' composer's hand engraving
The next obstacle was Mme. Colombier’s reluctance to let her husband’s original parts out of her sight and her insistence that they be copied instead. Disappointed, de Cou left, but was overjoyed the next day when she ultimately decided to entrust the materials to him. In a cloak and dagger scene worthy of a Hollywood noir thriller, the widow hurriedly handed over the music to him.

“The music went into my carry-on luggage all the way back to our music library in PNB’s Phelps Center where it will stay until I return it in person to Dana Colombier,” says de Cou, who will be the first conductor to perform the live version in public. “I know Twyla will be thrilled as well to know that this music that she lovingly choreographed in 1989 will get the hearing that it deserves.”

De Cou also feels blessed at the opportunity to get to know Dana Colombier who, along with her daughters, will attend the PNB performances of Brief Fling. Due to her efforts and generosity in sharing Michel Colombier’s score, says de Cou, “We can all look forward to Colombier’s music and Twyla’s dance being performed the way it was meant to be, with great impact, energy, color, and life… with the full forces of the PNB Orchestra for the first time.”

'Air Twyla', photo Angela Sterling
Adding to the excitement of this Scottish-themed Tharp ballet, PNB will present two more memorable works. Forgotten Land, with music from Benjamin Britten’s 1939 Sinfonia de Requiem, depicts the land and sea of Britten’s East Anglia birthplace, taking inspiration from paintings by Edvard Munch.

The program will end with Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, created for New York City Ballet’s celebrated 1972 Stravinsky Festival, always a favorite with dancers for its physical and emotional challenges.


BRIEF FLING plays for seven performances only, November 4 - 13 at McCaw Hall.

Photo permissions: Angela Sterling (#1, 5), Griffin Harrington (#2), 
Emil de Cou (#3,4)
Erica Miner can be reached at: [email protected]

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