Is Crystal Pite’s Plot Point, one-third of PNB’s enfolding fascination Her Story, as consequential and prophetic as Le Sacre de printemps (The Rite of Spring), a landmark moment of cultural shit-disturbance?
To the Parisians of 1913, Sacre with Igor Stravinsky’s dissonant, “barbaric” score, and Nijinsky’s iconographic “anti-balletic” choreography were an invitation to a riot that May evening in the Theatre de Champs-Elysees. More than 40 of that jeering, whistling audience had to be tossed out, while the sacrificial Chosen One had to dance to her ritual death in the glare of the house lights, counting (one hopes) the music over the din.
Don’t snort. Clearly Plot Point, on its own, doesn’t carry Rite of Spring’s explosive charge. But incrementally, as one more of Crystal Pite’s probing open-ended investigations of how we live, how we endure, what we must hold dear and what she calls “the unanswerable questions”‘ it’s quite consequential enough and characteristically unsettling.
(I can only bear witness to Pite’s earlier Dark Matters, to Emergence via PNB, to her jaw-dropping collaboration Betroffenheit, and now to Plot Point. Enough to become a lifelong follower. Betroffenheit which deals with trauma and loss with a ferocity that makes you fear for its central dancer, was barely endurable in early 2016. Today its climate of dread and stomach clutching anxiety is our own. Betroffenheit is coming back to the Moore Theatre next year. Let’s see if stet is still the order of the day.)
Plot Point is more relatable, or at least more suburban than Pite’s previous PNB thriller, Emergence (“an eerily potent meditation on swarms and the hive mind” per critic-essayist Michael Upchurch.) P.P. is danced to Bernard Herrmann’s music for the film Psycho. Be at rest, “I did not want to make The Ballet Psycho,” the warm, soft-spoken Pite said to a rapt pre-rehearsal audience last week. One really, really believes her. What she does want to consider is story, and why we need it as much as we do.
Half the cast’s characters seem to be from a Fifties census: Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Fernando, Celia, and the unsurprising Thug 1 and Thug 2. (You’re right, that’s Noelani Pantastico as Celia in the top picture, whose astonsihment is almost audible.) The other half — their replicas — came to be as a result of Pite’s love for the little white plastic figures used by architects to give scale to their “real” worlds.
The all-white gang move herky-jerkily, the women’s heels raise a noisy clatter, and when a brawl breaks out, as it does below, it’s a slo-mo wonder. The ballet’s sounds, its fights, party chatter, impatient high-heels and even screams, are on a pre-recorded track. The very observant are onto this in a nanosecond. . . . as they are to notice that replica does not mean “mirror image.”
Enough. This is, obviously, not an account of Her Story’s riches, which are varied and gorgeous; it’s barely a credible trailer for Plot Point. Consider it an alarm: a Crystal Pite ballet is an occasion of the mind and the heart. Few other dance makers working today have her reach and in Peter Boal’s great PNB, she has dancers, a director and apparently a board (bless them!) in sync with her. With only one weekend to go, miss this night at your peril.