Pacific Northwest Ballet ended their 40th Anniversary Season this past Sunday, June 9, with a Season Encore Performance that reprised some of the 2012-13 season’s greatest hits. Artistic Director Peter Boal introduced the show with well-placed pride, announcing that 70 of PNB’s 314 former dancers (all of whom were credited in the program) were in attendance at McCaw Hall that evening. It was a night of celebration, both for a successful season and for an illustrious forty years’ history, and the company showed off its skill with classical, Balanchine, and contemporary ballet repertoire.
After a photo montage, the dancing began with the second and third movements of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, a perfect choice considering the work’s 36 year history in the PNB repertoire. Laura Gilbreath, Lindsi Dec, and Joshua Grant led a corps both crisp and sinuous. Barocco’s clear yet complex composition, as well as its synchronous marriage with Bach’s music, looks old-fashioned now—but utterly classic. It is a necessary piece of ballet history to see and keep seeing, the way people keep watching the film Casablanca. Next, Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand swooped and swirled their way through the final pas de deux from Kent Stowell’s Cinderella. This was the most beautiful part of the ballet back in September, and it was every bit as lovely on its own. Stowell’s choreography needed no narrative context to convey the love and joy the dancers brought to Prokofiev’s emotive score. Paul Gibson’s Mozart Pieces, which premiered this season, had a close musical relationship similar to Barocco. Although the performance was overall stronger and more together than Barocco, the piece lacked the punch it might have had if not been seen so close to such an iconic work. Still, a quartet of men (Ryan Corderas, Kyle Davis, Sean Rollofson, and Ezra Thompson) and a trio (Benjamin Griffiths, Kaori Nakamura, and James Moore) all deftly exhibited precise jumps and turns perfectly in time with the music.
The apex of the evening was the series of selections from Stowell’s Swan Lake. First came the white swans: a sharp, exacting performance of the Cygnets’ pas de quatre (Leta Biasucci, Jenna Nelson, Liora Neuville, and Carli Samuelson); Odette’s variation, danced with an impossibly birdlike beauty by Maria Chapman; a coda that showcased the corps de ballet at its finest; and a finale with seamless, if brief, partnering between Chapman and Tisserand. Then came Carrie Imler’s fierce Black Swan, and the audience’s collective jaw dropped. Partnered by Batkhurel Bold through the pas de deux and coda from Act III, Imler danced with near-perfection, and, just as importantly, with a commanding presence that placed the entire house in the palm of her hand. Her artistry and technique dazzled equally; suffice it to say that she incorporated swan arms into her thirty-two fouettés.
The first half of the performance, dominated as it was by Barocco and Swan Lake, gave due credence to the Balanchine quip that “Ballet is Woman.” In these two works, the men made little more than cameos. Even in the Black Swan Pas, Bold, for all his virtuoso jumps and turns in the coda, was strongly overshadowed by Imler’s presence and breathtaking technical skill. Happily, the gender dynamic became more balanced in the second half of the show, and both women and men had the chance to shine. It began with the Third Movement from PNB Soloist Kiyon Gaines’ November premiere, Sum Stravinsky (the title, of course, notes the composer). Lesley Rausch and Bold (more in his element in this piece) led a small cast through quirky contemporary ballet choreography full of interesting movements and transitions for both women and men, as well as some unexpected partnering. Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven was the evening’s most poignant selection. With music by Arvo Pärt, the work’s second movement saw Andrew Bartee and Tisserand deliver a moving duet centered around falls, support, and a simultaneous sense of need and separation. The Balcony pas de deux from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette was a riveting love duet danced with youthful bubbliness by Kaori Nakamura and James Moore. One thing that sets Maillot’s version apart from others is the way it delights in the giddiness and goofiness of teenage love, and the result is choreography that is very human—a quality sought by many but not one easy to attain.
Just as Balanchine opened the program, Balanchine brought down the curtain—appropriate for a company steeped in the Balanchine tradition. Diamonds, with music of Tchaikovsky, was a fitting end to the evening, and not only because it brought a sizable portion of the company onto the stage. Sixteen couples, plus Imler and Seth Orza in the principal roles, danced through the work’s many interweaving formations with clarity and a luscious sense of glamour. Diamonds requires a large company, as well as one whose dancers are strong technicians and performers at every level of the ballet hierarchy, from principals to soloists to corps. PNB has shown, over and over, that it is up to this task. As the curtain rose for the final bows, Boal and the full company were joined on stage by many former members and Founding Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. To see so many splendid artists of different generations on stage was a moment that solidified PNB’s history, and, what’s more, it was a visual promise of PNB’s bright future.
Information on PNB’s 2013-2014 season is available on their website.