Editorial: A Fond Farewell to Lucien Postlewaite

Written by Steve Ha

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite in The Prodigal Son, choreography by George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust. 
Photo © Angela Sterling
As a fairly recent transplant to Seattle, one of the allures of living here was the chance to attend performances by a well-established ballet company. It’s not as though ballet didn’t exist where I came from—in fact, my hometown company is roughly the same in age as Pacific Northwest Ballet, but the resulting growth has yielded far different results, and the fact that PNB is roughly twice the size can start to paint a picture. Not only does PNB have the funding to hire more dancers, but it also has the prestige to attract high caliber ones, and I can’t stress enough how the level of talent amongst the men made an immediate impression upon my first viewing of the company.

That first viewing was the All Balanchine program from the spring of 2010. I had literally just arrived after crossing the nation, and All Balanchine was truly the perfect introduction to PNB, as I had never seen a work of George Balanchine live. I remember the sheer emotional thrill of the curtain rising on Serenade, with its opening picture of seventeen dancers arranged in a crystalline lattice, by far one of the most sacred images in all of ballet. Following that was Square Dance, in which one of the aforementioned talented men shined with the illustrious brilliance of a star—Lucien Postlewaite. Of course, Postlewaite was already a principal, so the audience already knew of his exceptional talents, but I certainly didn’t, and I was incredibly moved by his passionate, lyrical solo. It’s not often men get to dance an “adage” (especially in a Balanchine ballet), and the way he tempered tenderness with authority, never once showing an ounce of force, remains my favorite memory of Postlewaite to this day.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura 
and Lucien Postlewaite in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s 

Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

                                                                          

Postlewaite has since been one of my favorites to watch, and I’ve made it a point to see him in many roles, each one marvelously delivered. Unsurprisingly, the announcement of his leaving for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo came as devastating news. Of course I wanted more opportunities to see him dance; I liken it to how the thought of losing a precious gem makes one grasp it tightly, but there’s a reason why the rarest jewels make their way into museums—they simply can’t be kept. Some dancers can find a home and settle down with ease, but for others, the idea of being kept means staying in the same place, and dancers are not fond of stagnation. This is why new works are so important; dancers need a good balance of classics and uncharted territory in order to feel fulfilled as artists and when one grows up in a company with the meteoric rise Postlewaite had, the scales can be tipped toward the familiar rather quickly. Though he has the love of an audience and surely a comfortable life, it’s perhaps an intellectual undernourishment that inspired him to look for opportunities for growth. Sometimes the ones who appear to have everything don’t have what it is they need the most.

Dancers—at every level—thrive on the pursuit of a challenge, so it makes sense for him to go, to take a step further on his personal journey, and to experience what the world has to offer. If I hadn’t moved to Seattle 2 years ago I wouldn’t even be writing this now, and I’d hate to think what Postlewaite would be missing out on if he didn’t jump on the chance to join Monte Carlo. As a fan, I feel it appropriate to offer nothing but support and congratulations on what will surely be a momentous step in his career. PNB’s Season Encore is always a great time and will reprise many of Postlewaite’s roles from this season, but it’s the inclusion of Balanchine’s Prodigal Son that serves as a true tip of the hat to his achievements with PNB, as many far more seasoned than I will remember that role as his breakout performance. With negotiations supposedly already taking place in order to allow him to return as a guest artist, Prodigal Son is, symbolically, a fitting final appearance. As artists are often influenced by their position in life, I sincerely hope we do get that chance to see Postlewaite again, invigorated, worldly, and in a different—but always resplendent—light.