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Pacific Northwest Ballet's Lesley Rausch & Jerome Tisserand

 Pacific Northwest Ballet's Lesley Rausch & Jerome Tisserand
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on February 23, 2016
Photo © Angela Sterling.

On Dancing Balanchine’s "Stravinsky Violin Concerto"

Pacific Northwest Ballet will perform at New York City Center February 24 – 27

For tickets, go to New York City Center's website.

Pictured above: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand in Coppélia choreographed by Alexandra Danilova and George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet, under the direction of Artistic Director Peter Boal, returns to New York City Center with two repertory programs that reflect the company’s reputation for inspired stagings of works by George Balanchine, paired with some of the finest works in contemporary ballet. The first program offers a trio of Balanchine masterpieces — Square Dance, which premiered at City Center in 1957, Prodigal Son, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto. The second program features David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin, William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and Crystal Pite’s Emergence. The PNB Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou, will accompany both programs.

The Dance Enthusiast's Henning Rübsam had the opportunity to speak with two principal dancers on their experience in the company and dancing Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

Lesley Rausch, a principal with PNB since 2011, joined the company in 2001. From Columbus, Ohio, she started dancing at the recommendation of her music teacher. “My dance teacher Shir Lee Wu is from China and actually danced with Martha Graham, so we had a Graham class early every Saturday. Not my favorite thing, but it was interesting and good for me and gave me a different perspective.”

TDE: When did you first encounter the Balanchine style?

LR: I was thirteen and fourteen when I took the summer workshops at The School of American Ballet in New York. And here in Seattle we have a lot of Balanchine in the repertoire and I danced at least a dozen of his ballets.

 Jerome holds Lesley's front foot as Lesley lunges and extends her arms behind her
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Jerome Tisserand and Lesley Rausch in Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort. Photo © Angela Sterling.

TDE: Is there anything about Violin Concerto that makes it a different experience?

LR: I approached it as if it was Agon or 4T’s [The Four Temperaments] but it is a lot more nuanced with deeper positions in the pliés and the lunging than the other leotard ballets. There is a weight given to the choreography especially in the first Aria. Because it was choreographed on Karin (von Aroldingen) the weight I am speaking of is almost like a sense that you are pushing through something. Nothing is light and airy. Colleen Neary coached us. In the final movement we do a lot of dancing that mimics some of the Russian folk and character dancing that Balanchine grew up with. I am excited to be making my debut in this work in New York.

TDE: Jerome, how did you get to PNB from your native Lyon?

JT: I was 17 and had gone to Miami City Ballet’s summer program under Edward Villella, and a lot of kids from SAB went to that program so I decided to take a shot and went to New York for a weekend and that September I started at SAB. But the Balanchine style was very foreign to me for at least a year. I was used to story ballets in France and it took me some time to appreciate the beauty of abstract ballets and then to finally enjoy performing them. And for a man to be so light and quick on your feet is a different way of working. And there is a different way to partner. Now I have been in the company in Seattle since 2007 (he was made principal in 2014) and I feel very much at home here.

Lesley, in an arabesque on pointe with her right arm supported by Jerome's shoulder
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Jerome Tisserand and Lesley Rausch in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

TDE: Did working on Stravinsky Violin Concerto give you new insights?

JT: It confirmed my appreciation for Balanchine ballets. I love this one especially and had never seen it before. The Aria in the Violin Concerto is particularly difficult because it is like you are constantly pushing through water, but I love the challenge and dancing with Lesley is a joy.

LR: It is a celebration. Colleen reminded us that Violin Concerto was created for the Stravinsky Festival and – different from other leotard ballets - the communal element in the last movement just brings everything and everyone together.

TDE: I really look forward to seeing both of you in it. It is one of my favorite Balanchine works and truly brings a joyful and communal spirit to a non-story ballet. All good wishes for your performances here in New York and THANK YOU both for taking your time to chat with me.

Choreographer and dancer Henning Rübsam wrote about Stravinsky Violin Concerto in his first audience review for The Dance Enthusiast in 2012 upon which he joined the team of TDE’s correspondents. Please read his thoughts on the work here.

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