by Rachel Hellwig
Carla Körbes shocked and saddened the ballet world last fall when she announced her early retirement at age 33. On Sunday night, she gave her final performance with Pacific Northwest Ballet and the company live streamed the program, giving fans an opportunity to be in the audience, regardless of their geographic location. I was able to watch from Birmingham, Alabama.
Körbes appeared in three of the works on the mixed bill, beginning with Jessica Lang’s The Calling, set to choral music from the 12th-13th century. Wearing a long white dress whose material engulfs the floor around her, Körbes articulated though the tense and yearning energy of the upper body-focused choreography, skillfully channeling her dramatic qualities.
In Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux, she brought an Odette-like sensibility to her role, imbuing it with vulnerability and hesitant-but-increasingly-trusting affection for her partner–the strong, stately Karel Cruz. In the touching final moment, when he kneels and suddenly kisses her hand, her reaction mingles surprise and anticipation, as if she were hoping for it, but not entirely certain it would happen.
Tech issues seem inevitable with live streams, and, unfortunately, this meant missing the famous opening minutes of Serenade. But, the omission didn’t diminish the overall power of Balanchine’s masterwork. PNB’s dancers’ long, lithe lines and sparkling synchronization shone throughout the piece and they adeptly conveyed the images of life, death, and transcendence which emerge in the choreography. Körbes’ combination of strength and expressive powers continually struck what ABT’s Gillian Murphy describes as ballet’s “balancing act between control and abandon”.
Körbes recently said that one of her reasons for retiring was the fact that her body was “breaking down”- though you wouldn’t realize it from watching her last night. Also retiring last night was soloist Kiyon Gaines, who, like Körbes, is just 33. He too appears to be in his prime, judging by his performance in the earthy yet lyrical pas de deux from Rassemblement by Nacho Duato. Nonetheless, he said that his “entire soloist career has been plagued with surgeries”, the toll precluding him from continuing until 35, the age that he originally planned to retire.
It makes one wonder… will the increasing physical demands of professional ballet lead to increasingly shorter careers? Körbes told The New York Times last September, “[…] ballet has changed. It is evolving, and we’re being pushed in ways that just doesn’t feel like it’s working for me right now.”
Though she hasn’t revealed much about her post-ballet plans, Körbes will be returning to the stage at least one more time to perform at the Vail International Dance Festival later this summer.