Ulysses Dove's 'Serious Pleasures' revived by Pacific Northwest Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet is reviving Ulysses Dove's ballet "Serious Pleasure" — a challenging, AIDS-era work. Stager Parrish Maynard talks about the dance's early reception and the process of re-creating it with PNB.
Seattle Times arts writer
'3 By Dove'Pacific Northwest Ballet, 7:30 p.m. March 18-20 and 25-27, 2 p.m. March 20, 1 p.m. March 28, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $25-$160 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
Dancer Parrish Maynard, looking back 18 years, remembers choreographer Ulysses Dove's instructions to the cast of his new ballet. "He was very clear, and I said it to the dancers here," said Maynard, who's in Seattle to restage the piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet. " 'This ballet is about sex, and if you have an issue with that, then you are in the wrong room.' "
On Thursday, PNB will present its premiere of that ballet: "Serious Pleasures," which Dove created in 1992 for American Ballet Theatre. Created after Dove's diagnosis as HIV-positive (he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1996), it is a ballet about sexual fantasy — specifically, those experienced by the main character, called the narrator. "It's about all of his fantasies — homosexual, heterosexual," said Maynard, who played the narrator in the original cast. He said Dove told him, when originally working on the ballet, "that I had to be uninhibited but I could not be gay or straight or anything, I had to be just a void to accept these fantasies."
PNB artistic director Peter Boal, who worked with Dove in the '90s, describes the ballet as an example of the choreographer's "phenomenal movement and athleticism and musicality." "Serious Pleasures" came, he said, during "an interesting time when people were ready to start making artistic comments on the AIDS epidemic" — a time, after the immediate emergency of figuring out what the illness was, when fingers were being pointed and blame was being placed. In the ballet, he said, "I felt like Ulysses was saying, 'Listen, this is what happens, we don't need to be crucified or judged, there can be good people, there can be angels involved.' "
"Serious Pleasures" was controversial on its debut, and may well still be — it's certainly more overtly sexual than ballets generally seen at PNB. (The company has noted in promotional materials that it is "for mature audiences.") "I think it's very brave for choreographers to take on uncomfortable issues," said Boal. "It broadens the range of what the art form is capable of. You will offend some, you will fascinate others."
Maynard remembers, at the New York premiere, that the ballet received a mixed reaction. "I think they were just in shock," he said of the audience. "No one knew how to respond ... But time has changed so much. Everything has evolved — dance, people, acceptance."
Returning "Serious Pleasures" to the stage was a restoration challenge. Not performed since 1993, it existed only on three different, grainy videotapes and the memories of a handful of dancers, and Maynard had to carefully piece it together, bit by bit. "The visual is still there for me," he said of the ballet. "I can still see it and say, that's right, that's right." He pored over the videotape from the ballet's ABT debut — though "everyone's a quarter of an inch tall and you can't really see what the choreography is" — and talked to fellow members of the original cast. Boal, noting that "Serious Pleasures" will be the fourth Dove ballet in PNB's repertoire, is pleased to have gathered up the pieces of this almost-lost work. "I thought that this one was about to get scattered into the wind," he said, "if somebody didn't pull it together soon."
"Serious Pleasures" will be performed with the Dove ballets "Vespers" and "Red Angels," both previously performed at PNB. The evening also includes Victor Quijada's contemporary ballet "Suspension of Disbelief," first performed at PNB in 2006.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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