Sarah Ricard Orza, Leta Biasucci and Cecelia Iliesiu in Jessica Lang’s Her Door to the Sky. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Marion Oliver Mccaw Hall, Seattle – March 18th, 2017, matinee.

The program for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Director’s Choice presented three works which were all created within the last five years – Empire Noir by David Dawson, New Suite by William Forsythe, and Her Door to the Sky by Jessica Lang.  These works showed the variety of voices in contemporary ballet.

David Dawson’s Empire Noir, created in 2015, is dramatic. From its supercharged choreography, to Greg Haines’ rhythmic, driving score, to the expansive and imposing set by John Otto, it’s an exciting piece that seemed brazen in its intention to impress and provoke.

Responding to the technical difficulty of this piece, this afternoon’s cast was heavily weighted in the company’s Principal dancers – Noelani Pantastico, Benjamin Griffiths, Batkhurel Bold, Lesley Rausch, Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz, with soloists Leta Biasucci and Joshua Grant, and holding her own among them, corps de ballet dancer Elle Macy who met the challenge with aplomb.  Dawson’s physically demanding choreography built momentum with partnering work of lifts and spins that traveled across the stage.  Their arms were frequently pulled back behind their head, yet the direction of their steps kept them clamouring forward.  Interrupting this momentum, the dancers snapped into arabesque.  Such movement cut with abrupt precision created an exhilarating contrast that was also reflected in the set – a large, swerving elliptical frame in grey and black that divided a brightly lit upstage from a downstage space that was partially shadowed by the frame.

Karel Cruz and Lesley Rausch in David Dawson’s Empire Noir. Photo © Angela Sterling

The costumes, designed by Yumiko Takeshima, dressed the women in black leotards with asymmetric necklines and the men in black tank leotards and tights, which made them look like shadowy forms. The world of Empire Noir presented a struggle between the upright and the off-balance, the definitive shape and the fluid – with the defiant dancers holding this conflict in precarious balance.

Jerome Tisserand in David Dawson’s Empire Noir. Photo © Angela Sterling

  • William Forsythe’s New Suite was created in 2012, and this was its second presentation at PNB. It was a more intimate expression compared to Empire Noir, and comprised of eight duets danced one after another. Four of them were set to compositions by Handel, three were to pieces by Luciano Berio, and one was set to an allemande by Bach. The dances by each pair were like conversations between intimate partners, each with their own dynamic that ranged from touching to quirky, playful to seductive, and even confrontational. Each expressed a unique vocabulary too – the first duet to Handel was mainly performed with delicate one-handed partnering, while one of the duets to Berio emphasized weight and momentum through its partnering.  New Suite demonstrated a range of neoclassical ballet language, and the impressive fact that all of these pieces were created by the same choreographer.

The program ended with Her Door To The Sky, Jessica Lang’s breathtakingly beautiful piece that was created for PNB and which the company premiered at the Jacob’s Pillow Festival in 2016. Lang was inspired by the works of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, namely, her collection of works in the ‘Patio Door’ series. Lang also designed the set, which was simply a light beige panel with square cutouts like the patio doors and windows in O’Keeffe’s paintings, through which a backdrop of changing gradient colours – including teal, violet and blue – complimented the equally colourful costumes. Designed by Bradon McDonald, the long-skirted dresses worn by the women were of the lightest fabrics that drifted through the air like a breath, while the men wore three-quarter length-sleeved shirts and pants; all the costumes were dyed in gradient blends of ochre, green, violet, red and teal. The piece is set to the equally uplifting Simple Symphony, Op.4, by Benjamin Britten.

Lang’s harmonious choreography took the smiling ensemble of five women and five men, led by soloist Sarah Ricard Orza, through phrases of light steps and spirited jumps, their arms framing their faces in graceful port-de-bras.  Sometimes, they playfully showed their faces through the square cutouts; other times a dancer leaned through the ‘patio door’ to be carried off by the ensemble waiting behind the panel.

When it seems that much of current conversation is burdened by discord and conflict, Her Door is a reminder of the faithful presence of beauty.

Sarah Ricard Orza and company in Jessica Lang’s Her Door to the Sky. Photo © Angela Sterling