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‘Season Encore’ gives thanks to unforgettable dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Written by Steve Ha

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ‘Season Encore Performance’ bears a misleading title, as Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort appeared as the only excerpt that revisited the 2010-2011 season, once again letting the audience bask in its golden glow. Rather than put forth a retrospective, ‘Season Encore’ took shape as a bittersweet farewell for eight of PNB’s dancers, four of them principals (a staggering number for a company of forty-six). While some of the other retiring dancers are sure to find (or have found) work elsewhere, the clichés about a dancer’s career—its fleeting nature, the devastation of leaving the stage, the opportunity to begin a new chapter—tell us that this is indeed the end for the principals who have held the rank with PNB for over a decade. While professionals in other classical performing arts can in fact become more distinguished with age, ballet dancers are more vulnerable to the whims of an aging body, and perhaps cruelly subject to standards where even the slightest decline in technique is virtually unforgivable.

However, ‘Season Encore’ showed evidence to the contrary, or at the very least, muddled the lines. In the myriad of extracts spanning a wealth of performances, the audience recalled some of their fondest memories as a couple of the retiring principals danced in some of their finest roles. The quiet and chivalrous Jeffrey Stanton showed his gracious partnering skills in the Pas de Deux from Balanchine’s Agon, but made sure to remind the audience that his tranquil demeanor is but one facet of his personality—he has a surplus of classical jazz in him. Salacious in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and displaying a satiny panache in Who Cares? (both by Balanchine), Stanton couldn’t be labeled a quintessential leading man in the image of the Golden Era of Hollywood were it not for his incredible tap dancing skills, on full display in a charming video from his childhood and live in a solo by Kent Stowell, Silver Lining. Dancing with exuberance and a handsome smile, it was clear that Stanton is still an accomplished performer, and one can only hope that if not in ballet, tap will provide an outlet for him to return to the stage as a professional artist soon enough.
Absent from the stage were two other principal men, Stanko Milov and Olivier Wevers; Milov, the consummate prince has long been injured, and Wevers, rather than memorialize his past, elected to celebrate his future as artistic director of Whim W’Him, his own contemporary ballet company. Bringing a fragment of his work Monster, one that explored the issue of homosexuals hiding from a virulent society, showed the audience the scope of ideas ballet has the potential to express. Wevers has a perspective that is fresh and vital, sure to connect with a generation younger than the typical ballet audience, which is healthy progress for the future of the art. Though Milov and Wevers’s artistic presences will be mourned, they (in addition to Stanton) will also be missed as integral parts to PNB’s identity, having long been at the core of PNB’s reputation for having tall men.
Though the majestic contribution of the aforementioned statuesque pantheon is unique, there is but one crown jewel—she being none other than Ariana Lallone, famously known as a prima ballerina just an inch shy of six feet tall. Fittingly, she performed a principal role in Balanchine’s Rubies, where she reigned as queen supreme, at times comically towering over her fellow dancers (which is absolutely appropriate in Rubies). Though tall dancers often have difficulty moving with speed, Lallone was in no lack of dynamism—her breathtaking leaps sizzled with élan, striking each musical cue with glittering accuracy. Showing her range as an artist, she brought out her sultry side in Stowell’s Carmen, and of course, only the queen could close the show, the finale being a vibrant solo from Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, a ballet made for Lallone and painted in tropical, sun-splashed resplendence. Earlier in the program, a video montage of Lallone’s career, which spanned over twenty years, revealed countless performances of signature roles and more importantly her undeniably passionate spirit.
For the others leaving, including longtime corps de ballet member Stacy Lowenberg, the rain of roses on stage after she performed a duet of her own choreography indicated that among the Seattle audience, no role was too small or went unnoticed. Also leaving the corps de ballet are Josh Spell, who made appearances in Petite Mort and Rubies, who has a gift for comedic timing in humorous roles, and Barry Kerollis, a budding choreographer whose talents will continue to grow as a complete artist with Ballet X in Philadelphia. Sadly, soloist Chalnessa Eames is also among those moving on, a dancer who is best described as “saucy” (in the best possible way). In her final performance as a PNB dancer, she delighted the audience in a duet from Nine Sinatra Songs by Twyla Tharp, leaving them with images of her natural beauty and incomparable moxie.
‘Season Encore’ took the audience on an emotional roller coaster of nostalgia, sadness, jubilation, and every shade of emotion in between, an evening virtually impossible to critique because the connection with the audience was far too personal and far too genuine. With an additional sense of freedom present, the night belonged to the dancers, who shared it in tremendous generosity…such nights are far too few.