Theatre People, This Ballet’s For You

The theatre magic in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s One Thousand Pieces is as prominent as the dances themselves. It makes for a great show. PNB’s latest contemporary mixed rep runs through this Sunday. 

For digital season subscribers, the streaming version is available March 28 – April 1. 


Between the story ballet and the shorter, (often) newer, more abstract stuff, it’s usually the story ballets that sound most like theatre. There’s a plot arc, defined roles, maybe even a Bard involved.

So it might come as a surprise that it’s often the shorter stuff that reminds me most of what I like best about theatre. It’s the twists, the unpredictability, the room for interpretation, the cool staging and pronounced sense of “I’ve never seen this before” and “I’ll never see this again.”  

Miles Pertl in ‘One Thousand Pieces’ at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Last season, a standout mixed bill on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s stage was as much theatrical and playful as it was any recognizable ballet. That four-piece lineup, collectively titled Plot Points, featured childlike exploration in a world premiere from Robyn Mineko Williams (whose Harold and the Purple Crayon takes stage next at PNB); a suspense film-inspired cinematic wonderland by Crystal Pite; the high-wattage contemporary classic Caught by David Parsons; and the sneaker ballet The Times Are Racing by Justin Peck. (The latter, tacked on at the end of that rep, felt somewhat out of place. It returns as the title work in a perhaps-more-fitting slate to kick off PNB’s just-announced 2024-25 season.) There, the first three works gave overt theatrical nods, using set design, dynamic interactions with stationary set pieces, and dramatic lighting to move the choreography and drive each piece’s energy and mood. 

On opening night of PNB’s current run, I happily recalled those pieces from Plot Points, along with this season’s dramatic new work from Dani Rowe, called The Window. (Rowe, who now helms Portland’s Oregon Ballet Theatre, will have the stage debut of her Wooden Dimes there next month. Like One Thousand Pieces, Wooden Dimes premiered in digital form during the pandemic shutdowns.) 

Channeling that theatricality, One Thousand Pieces is another welcome playful rep in a season that began with “the most playful ballet I’ve ever seen.” With theatre magic and dramatic surprises stepping in to accentuate the dancers’ hallmark strength and grace, this isn’t your typical ballet.


Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Elizabeth Murphy and James Kirby Rogers in ‘Bacchus’. Photo by Angela Sterling.

The opening piece is Bacchus, choreographed by Matthew Neenan, which had its world premiere in 2019 at PNB. The 30-minute work takes viewers in an arc of moods through seven distinct scenes. Scenes four and five feel like the heart of its sense of playfulness, but there’s much to be found on either end: an opening with a strong sense of carefree (with some attitude); sudden shifts and speed changes; little moments of suspense; a Hella Shirtless James Kirby Rogers. Principal dancer Leta Biasucci, who dazzled recently in Rowe’s dramatic world premiere, was paired with Lucien Postlewaite on opening night, and the result is stunning: effortless leaps, a wholly lifeless drape while carried high. 

Playing out on an unadorned stage, Bacchus‘ moods are accentuated by dramatic hues from the lighting design great Randall G. Chiarelli, whose work has colored many a PNB stage before his passing just two months ago, and a gorgeous score by Oliver Davis. Flowy costumes by Mark Zappone scream purple!, and with them flows a sense of regality and gender fluidity. Standout dancer Ashton Edwards, who often crisscrosses traditional gender lines in both attire and pairings, bolstered that sense of fluidity in the opening night cast.  


The title work, One Thousand Pieces by Alejandro Cerrudo, leans much more heavily on staging accouterments; and while arguably tipping into gimmicky, I found its surprises landed mostly with good effect. 

The piece opened tongue-in-cheek, with a single dancer lifting the mighty curtain, then plopping down from it, before the stage came alive. That same dancer (soloist Miles Pertl), would later descend from the rafters, a ballet ringmaster, to a recitation of lines from Einstein on the Beach, a Philip Glass opera. (That sequence is very cool, showcasing a type of strength and balance the dancers don’t often get to show off. It’s also too long, as the borrowed passage’s intriguing initial lines — The day with its cares and perplexities has ended; and the night is now upon us — devolve quickly into the maudlin and stay there.) 

Throughout act one’s many sequences, One Thousand Pieces is a veritable dance funhouse, with its dangling ringmaster, its dancers entering and exiting every which way (including from panels at center stage), its literal smoke and mirrors. Midway through, a full stage of sharp synchronicity unexpectedly recalled another recent favorite, The Seasons’ Canon, Crystal Pite’s dazzler that returns to PNB’s stage next month

This piece’s big stunner closes its first act, as a misty waterfall shrouds the stage. Two dancers play like mermaids on its watery floor; later, dancers are shadows against its dramatic backdrop, the curtain a blackout to the second intermission of the night. 

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in ‘One Thousand Pieces’. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Cerrudo’s piece is split up by a full intermission, and the reason is obvious: so they can clean up the water hazard left all over the stage. That 30-minute act that follows the 20-minute intermission contains two scenes, which are equal in length only. That first scene tells a story, its army of dancers appearing first as robotic factory workers stuck between gears, and exiting with the confident stride of superheroes. Many of them emerge from the shadows, an appearance that’s sudden and eerie. One of the coolest parts of the piece and surely the centerpiece of the second act, it reminded me of some of PNB’s epic Carmina Burana’s most dramatic bits.   

But the final scene, characterized by 15 minutes of really monotonous piano, is just about the worst place to sit this evening: in utter boredom. It can’t compete with the drama of the scene before it or anything in the first act, let alone the water scene, which would have made for a much more powerful closer. 

Not a great ending. But for a thrilling 85 minutes of dance in the 2.5 acts before it, the tradeoff of a thud at the end is an easy one. 

One Thousand Pieces runs through 3/24 at Pacific Northwest Ballet (in McCaw Hall, Seattle Center/Mercer side). Tickets ($45-$217) herePay-what-you-choose same-day rush tickets are offered for the Thursday night performance (3/21); 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.

Run time: 2 hours 25 minutes with 2 intermissions 

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of