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Tragic Secrets and all that jazz from Pacific Northwest Ballet
Carla Escoda,
March 17th, 2014

Photo © Angela Sterling

 Equally haunting was Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness, a marathon solo to Stravinsky’s epic Rite of Spring, the orchestra led into battle by the authoritative Emil de Cou. The solo was originally performed by Fenley herself in 1988, and has since been performed by women and men, notably by Peter Boal, now PNB’s Artistic Director. Fenley recalls with a mixture of resignation and pride that her attempt to channel Stravinsky and Nijinsky was labeled by some critics as “unbelievably arrogant.”
The solo is an exorcism of sorts, with every soloist bringing their own unique power and frailty to the role. At Saturday’s matinee, the commanding Matthew Renko swept away our collective experiences of this iconic dance – like an airport baggage handler gone rogue – and let the music course through him in all its savagery.
After 39 minutes of plunging, kicking, shuddering, stabbing, fluttering, exploding into the air, slicing it with his powerful arms, and finding moments of absolute, breathtaking stillness amidst the cacophony, Renko steps into a pool of light in a tough-guy stance as the final shards of Stravinsky come crashing down. Fenley intended the finale to evoke a “modern woman [stepping] out into the light: intact, strong, and alive.” I was convinced, however, that the central figure had indeed perished in some stomach-churning ritual sacrifice, just as Stravinsky and Nijinsky had originally intended, and Renko the dancer was revealing himself in that final moment.

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