Pacific Northwest Ballet closes its 50th anniversary season with a triple-bill of new works and a party on stage. It runs through June 11 (then streams through June 19).
The company’s season-closing tradition, the one-night-only Season Encore, follows the closing show on 6/11.
The bold, cutting-edge programming for Worlds to Come, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s sixth and final rep of the 2022-23 season, hints at a new stylistic era of concert dance for the half-century-old company. A far cry from classical works like Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake and George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (which are still part of next season – don’t worry!), Worlds to Come features world premieres from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and recently promoted Associate Artistic Director Kiyon Ross, and the (in-person) stage premiere of a piece created by BalletMet’s Edwaard Liang right at the beginning of 2020.
As PNB prepared in early 2020 to present new works at Seattle’s McCaw Hall for the 2020-21 season, pandemic shutdowns shuttered theatres across the world. Liang’s new work, The Veil Between Worlds, was half-finished when PNB returned to the studio in small groups for the 2021 digital season, and Liang had to reimagine the piece with a smaller cast of dancers; it receives its live performance premiere this week, at last. Liang’s choreography and Olivier Davis’ score are dreamy, flowing creations that match the airy flow of gigantic silk veils carried on and offstage by the dancers throughout the work. While the veil props connect the title of the work to the movements, their inclusion is awkward at times and difficult to predict – such as the ebb and flow of life affecting live art, perhaps.
Sections of The Veil Between Worlds provide a fantastic lens to view new developing partnerships of dancers. Principal dancer Angelica Generosa and corps de ballet member Kuu Sakaragi’s duet in section IV sparks with the electric energy both dancers exude with their exceptionally tight, exacting jumps and turns. Principals Leta Biasucci and Jonathan Batista are well-matched in the same section, their onstage chemistry visible on their faces and in their lifts and turns.
Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s work, Khepri, imagines the dancers as manifestations of the Egyptian deity of the same name. Khepri’s symbolism centers around the scarab beetle, the sun, and the life cycle. In Lopez Ochoa’s piece, dancers clad in identical sparkly black and gold costumes by Mark Zappone alternately scurry and glide across the stage to music by Karl Jenkins, Georgs Pelēcis, and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance fame.
Khepri’s identical costuming across gender lines allows for an interesting combination of playful role switching. As lines of dancers travel the back of the stage in furtive, buglike movements, soloists break off and perform slower duets. Rather than flowing together, this choreographic design creates several shows in one, so that audience members may have different experiences depending on who they’re watching. Intentional or not, this design is effective in communicating that various parts of the life cycle – birth, death, and resurrection — are all happening at once at any given point.
The opening night performance happily included incredibly beautiful work by principal dancer Elizabeth Murphy, whose pas de deux with fellow principal James Kirby Rogers featured one of her strongest performances to date. Murphy’s technique has always been strong but is now matched by a superb artistic edge. As Murphy’s alternately quick and flowing movements melded the varied moods of the piece into a single, spiritual dance, I was reminded of Lopez Ochoa’s program reference to Einstein’s view of dancers as “the athletes of God.”
The final piece of the evening – and an apt way to finish off the season – is Associate Artistic Director (and former PNB soloist) Kiyon Ross’s … throes of increasing wonder. Ross’s work, a celebratory homage to the close of the company’s 50th anniversary season, is classical ballet birthday cake. There is glitter, a boxed birthday present, the pinks, blues, and pale greens of cake decorations, and pure, unadulterated joy on the faces of the dancers. Their love for their work and their choreographer is evident.
Ross commissioned composer Cristina Spinei to make the music for his new work, and listening to the PNB orchestra play it at the close of a sunny Seattle day was icing on that symbolic dessert. Spinei’s score transports the audience into a Parisian springtime love story, with the drama, bliss, and jauntiness of youth. As the curtain comes up on … throes of increasing wonder, a gigantic, three-dimensional box appears onstage with the words “OPEN ME” written above it, in intricate stage lighting from PNB lighting designer Reed Nakayama and scenic designers Norbert Herriges and Nakayama. Dancers in shiny white costumes accented with the aforementioned birthday cake colors spring from the box. Perfectly topped with sparkly tiaras, the costumes by PNB artist Pauline Smith (resplendent at opening night in her own purple petticoat) are a ballerina’s dream. Maybe a few audience members’ dreams, too.
Worlds to Come runs through 6/11 at Pacific Northwest Ballet (in McCaw Hall, Seattle Center/Mercer side). Tickets ($44-$202) here. Digital version also available for viewing 6/15-19; see info here. Accessibility 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 available for Thursday night’s performance (6/8); see info here.