Theatrical, affecting, timely. The slate of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current triple-bill cover those and more; and the world premiere work by a Northwest-based choreographer is particularly stunning. Love & Loss runs through this Sunday.
Dani Rowe’s world premiere, The Window, was inspired by a story of voyeurism that grabbed a lot of attention — and controversy. What are the ethics of watching someone? What are the ethics of blasting their business out to the world, if they leave that window open to neighboring eyes? And was any of it even true?
Barely into the performance, though, I didn’t care about any of those questions anymore.
The Window grabs immediately. It’s the most theatrical ballet I’ve seen; somber and a bit dark, aided by the haunting music by Shannon Rugani, without going too creepy or voyeuristic.
The cast drives this three-person dance more so than in other works (view the latest casting info here), but the cast I saw is fantastic. Soloists Christopher D’Ariano and Leah Terada together embody an unmistakable vitality as “The Man” and “The Woman.” It’s a sense of life and connection that pulls in “The Watcher” (principal dancer Leta Biasucci), and why she can’t look away. And then, though the viewbox is one-sided, The Watcher becomes part of the couple’s world, at least from her side of the window. To her, they’re an emotional fixture as much as a physical one. When they’re gone, she’s missing something.
The Window is theatrical, but it’s dance theatre nonetheless, and Rowe’s choreography delivers the story’s most significant emotions. Excitement from watching through the window activates The Watcher, and we see that in Biasucci’s lightning-quick and inexhaustible pointe, skittering around the stage in careful control, her blades a bold contrast under a flowy skirt. D’Ariano and Terada’s dances are the picture of life and vitality — until they’re not. The unique staging through rotating perspectives keeps each other in their orbits, allowing their connections to evolve in a way that’s intense and human; and it allows the worlds to mesh when both The Watcher and The Woman confront profound and jarring loss.
Rowe arrived recently in Portland as Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new Artistic Director, and she’ll premiere work there in the spring; this premiere marks her PNB debut. Here’s hoping we get a lot more from her.
Joining The Window on the Love & Loss slate are two returning works that also had their world premieres at PNB in recent years. The triple-bill leads off with Alexei Ratmansky’s Wartime Elegy (2022), and ends with the program’s title work, Donald Byrd’s Love and Loss (2019).
People like Ratmansky’s Wartime Elegy a lot, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a new work, created of a deep connection during a pivotal moment, by a big-name choreographer.
Ratmansky’s love for his homeland and his people is obvious in this piece. Indeed, it’s the fabric of it.
But as a work of art, it feels disjointed — both on this and in last year’s viewing. The euphoric center, full of light and warmth and tradition, is a lovely tribute in sentiment but feels quite frantic in pacing. For me, the heart and artistic core of the piece lie in its gray and gloomy start, full of beautiful poses; the dancers’ movements are at once severe and fluid, somehow, and strong. What follows feels like separate compositions hooked onto it; and the transition to, and from, the ebullient middle could use some blend. (I’m certainly not alone in noting the abrupt transitions.)
There’s a time to be generous with an in-the-moment work, and Ratmansky’s assuredly is one. But not revisiting the work in the year since its premiere seems like an opportunity missed. Wartime Elegy could be a brilliant manifestation of country and tradition and heart and pride. Absent sentimentality for the moment, however, it’s not there yet.
Read more about the Ukrainian dancer-choreographer in the excellent, just-released biography ‘The Boy From Kyiv: Alexei Ratmansky’s Life in Ballet’ by Marina Harss. See book info here.
In contrast, Donald Byrd’s returning work, Love and Loss, feels like a piece that has found its home.
I’m a big Byrd fan, often, and it was that name recognition that led me in the PNB door when I was decidedly not a ballet person. (It still feels weird to suggest that I am, despite the mounting evidence.) As it turned out, I loved Locally Sourced, but Byrd’s wasn’t my favorite work on the bill.
Love and Loss has found its bill with this one. Here, the Love & Loss themes blend with Byrd’s show-closing work, the slate providing a beautiful emotional build for the piece that lends the show its name.
Love and Loss could mean a lot of different things. It’s at once approachable and cryptic, universal and pinpoint personal. And is the set supposed to be an elevator lobby? Who knows, but that’s what I’ve seen each time I’ve viewed it, and that take on it jives with the themes that appear most pervasively in the work: the transience or repetition of encounters; the possibilities of connections, whether practiced or fleeting, obvious or unexpected. The familiar, almost mundane scene of an elevator lobby (where others might use a train station) is a brilliant setting for those themes that are at once mysterious and universal.
But Byrd’s also up to something else here. This is not a land of the usual pas de deux, at least not exclusively. In this lobby, male connections are uniquely explored, with a soft masculine energy, male vulnerability, and, in small slices, male attraction. Feminine dancers are woven throughout, with the most impressive physicality (Leah Terada and Amanda Morgan put up the most stunning and impossible poses from the cast I saw), and plenty of opposite-sex dancers pair off for those moments. But it’s a rare dance that delves into male vulnerability, connectivity, and longing (platonic or otherwise), and Byrd’s Love and Loss gives a welcome look.
Love & Loss runs through 11/12 at Pacific Northwest Ballet (in McCaw Hall, Seattle Center/Mercer side). Tickets 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.
Run time: 2 hours 10 minutes, with two intermissions.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.