Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Journey Across Classic and Brand-New Is an Epic Yes

The triple-bill combines a lesser-known classic with a timely world premiere, then finishes with a mighty flourish. Carmina Burana runs live through 10/2, then streams from 10/6-10. 


Varied. Exuberant. Complex. If I had three words to describe the triple-bill on now at Pacific Northwest Ballet, those would be my go-to. 

And the title program would merit a fourth: Epic.

The Kent Stowell-choreographed Carmina Burana is undoubtedly the most well-known of the show’s trio, and the capstone performance for the evening. It’s not hard to see why the work is so popular. 

Carmina Burana manages to capture almost every contradiction inside one epic work. Ethereal and worldly. Dogmatic and liberated. Ancient and contemporary. Solo and chorus. Solemn and euphoric. Revelrous and monastic. 

And, in visual form, the most curious of contrasts: a dozen or so bare-assed-looking men running around the stage beneath a quartet of angels. And at the end, it seems, an age-old Adam and Eve dance the Ice Capades alongside stirring solos, before all of humanity goes naked (again, in appearance only, with clever costuming) and packs the stage, given over to free will beneath the enormous wheel of fortune. It’s like the Nutcracker ball, only naked and weirder. 

This show is not subtle. It bursts with drama and flourish and spectacle — a full choir looking on, three soloist singers, dozens of dancers, and a ceiling-mounted, stage-length contraption looming over all of them — and yet it all flows so fluidly. And it doesn’t force anything. What you take away is up to you. 

If I had known that ballet could do this, who knows, I might have actually liked it as a kid. 

The epic was preceded by two shorter works, as different as can be. I usually very much like the combination of Balanchine choreography with Tchaikovsky’s dramatic compositions, which is what we have here in Allegro Brillante, but this one felt a little hollow, the music disjointed. But a statuesque Jonathan Batista (promoted at opening night to principal dancer), who is a joy every time I’ve watched him and immediately commands the stage, and Angelica Generosa, whose sharpness is the picture perfect ballerina, is always worth a view. As a duo, the intimacy of their performance is so practiced it appears the opposite: natural and effortless. 

In contrast to the age-old classic pairings of Balanchine and Tchaikovsky was the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Wartime Elegy, a piece created amid and about present strife in Ukraine. Visual art by Maria Prymachenko and Matvei Vaisberg sets wide-ranging moods of struggle, levity, and morosity, accentuating the moody musical compositions by Valentin Silvestrov and Ukrainian village music. Wartime Elegy paints a picture of a resilient people characterized by helpfulness and humor, even as they’re darkened under a hardened gray of war. But then, skies brighten. Hope prevails.

Under the title of Carmina Burana, PNB’s evening-length trio of works strikes a beautiful balance of challenging and inviting. It’s a rich and varied showcase of what ballet can do.

View full designer credits and dancer information in the digital program, here.  

Carmina Burana  runs through 10/2 at Pacific Northwest Ballet (in McCaw Hall, Seattle Center/Mercer side). Tickets ($44-$202) hereAccessibility notes: main restrooms are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms available by most of them. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility note: Pay-what-you-choose tickets and reduced-price “Beer and Ballet” tickets are available for Thursday night’s performance; see info here. A streaming version is available 10/6-10; see info here.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of