Seattleites love getting outside during those few summer months when the sun shines. There are outdoor concerts, festivals, movie screenings, and now, a dance performance. Pacific Northwest Ballet has teamed up with the Seattle Art Museum to produce Sculptured Dance, a free, one-night-only performance this Thursday, August 11, at 6 PM. The program features five new pieces, each inspired by and performed in or around works at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Since PNB was selected to be a part of the Wallace Foundation’s “Building Audiences for Sustainability” initiative last year, the company has made many successful efforts to expand their audience reach. Commissioning five local choreographers and pairing them with three different companies to create new works in a setting far from the proscenium stage, is a whole new direction for PNB, and it’s bound to pay off. Though the pairings of choreographers and companies are not entirely unconventional (PNB, Spectrum Dance Theater, and Whim W’Him are the featured troupes), the fresh environment provides the edge, and the results are still well worth watching.
Each work is set at a different sculpture, so the evening allows you to soak in the park’s waterfront vistas, as well as the smorgasborg of live performance. In Kiyon Gaines’ sinewy piece, Do. Not. Obstruct., the dancers flit between the curving metal towers of Richard Serra’s sculpture, Wake. The four PNB dancers (Leta Biasucci, Jonathan Porretta, Leah Merchant, and James Moore), slink their shoulders and undulate their spines, mirroring the sinusoidal sculpture. The metal walls hem in the action, framing the movement in unexpected ways depending on how far or close you choose to stand. Donald Byrd has set a duet on PNB dancers Cecilia Iliesiu and Miles Pertl at the stone bench of Roy McMakin’s Untitled. The real treat here is getting to see these two up close; their artistry, skill, and genuine chemistry sizzle in this tense tango of fraught romance.
For lighter fare, there’s undercurrents, Olivier Wevers’ piece set on four young men from PNB School’s Professional Division. The earnest boys march militantly, then romp around and through the legs of Alexander Calder’s iconic red sculpture, The Eagle. Occasionally, they ask each other questions like: “What do you hear?” The answers are proof that Wevers still has a whim in him.
Speaking of Whim, Kate Wallich has set her latest on Wevers’ company. In the field of tall grass and wildflowers surrounding Roxy Paine’s Split, the seven dancers pop up and disappear into the landscape—the work is appropriately titled Little Bunnies (response to Roxy Paine’s “Split”). More than in the other pieces, Wallich’s shows the power of perspective. From various viewpoints you’ll catch different snippets of the action, so don’t feel like you have to stay in one place. PNB dancer Ezra Thomson will also present a work on Spectrum’s dancers at Tony Smith’s Stinger. Though the piece wasn’t shown at a rehearsal earlier this summer, the mysterious aura of Stinger, with its hulking onyx walls nestled in a protective glade, will surely inspire something magical.
We’re used to seeing most of these dancers on a proscenium stage, set apart from the audience, so it’s a pleasure to watch them in a different environment, up close, yet out in the open at the same time. With dance and sculpture on equal display, it’s clear to see how the two forms inspire each other. Placing them side by side allows you to notice both the movement in the sculptures and the architecture in the dance. Not a bad takeaway for a summer evening at the park.
Sculptured Dance will be performed at the Olympic Sculpture Park on Thursday, August 11 at 6 PM. This is a free event, open to the public and all ages. More information available here.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed Benjamin Griffiths as a dancer in Kiyon Gaines’ Do. Not. Obstruct. He was later replaced by Jonathan Porretta.