PNB’s Season Encore Performance celebrates the artists and the audience.
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle – June 12, 2016
PNB’s Season Encore celebrated its 2015-16 season with excerpts of seven pieces from this season and two other works from the company’s repertoire. Artistic Director Peter Boal gave great praise to its departing dancers – Soloist Kylee Kitchens and Corps de Ballet member Jessika Anspach – who have danced with the company for 16 and 12 years, respectively, and Principal Maria Chapman, who, after 20 years, retired after her last performance this past November. Chapman, a few months pregnant now, gave a heart-felt speech from the stage that thanked the audience, pointing out the rare chance that a dancer has to express one’s gratitude so directly. Thus, set the tone for the evening – the audience who celebrated the dancers’ gifted performances, and the dancers who celebrated the audience who came on this journey with them.
One of this season’s most anticipated moments was the PNB premiere of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. The first notes of the Overture brought me from a warm, sunny day in June to the wintery feeling of Christmas-time. PNB accompanies the Overture with a film that takes the audience flying over a snowy mountain village. Then, with all the dreaminess and indulgence that the music suggests, it followed with the Opening of Act Two, featuring 12 students of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School as gliding angels and Elizabeth Murphy as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
In the other Balanchine piece of the evening, Jessika Anspach danced the role of Preghiera in Mozartiana. This excerpt has a slower, more meditative quality, and less of the brisk footwork that Balanchine is typically known for. Anspach, reaching up and looking longingly outward, captured beautifully the spiritual aspiration expressed by Tchaikovsky’s orchestration of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus.
For Kylee Kitchens, she chose Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux for her final performance, partnered with Seth Orza. The tender moments they expressed, such as when Orza gently lifted Kitchens from a precarious back-bridge, which in their quirkiness seemed even more intimate, narrated perfectly the quiet notes of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel.
Year of the Rabbit is the second of Justin Peck’s works to enter PNB’s repertoire, and I am certain it won’t be the last. The beautifully crafted pas de deux, Year of our Lord, danced by Principals Noelani Pantastico and Benjamin Griffiths, has an articulate vocabulary that gave visual expression to the music (clearly influenced by Balanchine) which hummed along with gentle crescendos. But when the choreography pulled unexpectedly ahead or held slightly behind the music, the dancers seemed enlivened.
Pantastico is simply enrapturing. The way she imbues her roles with depth and honesty is quite rare – perhaps something she picked up in her eight years at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. We are fortunate that she returned this season, and in February she reprised Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette (the role that led her away to Maillot’s company). I hoped to see the duet in the Season Encore – with Principal James Moore as her Romeo – but I guess the program is already quite full.
Moore’s return, after last season off with injury, brought back his boyish charm to the repertoire. He’s also a seasoned artist with exactitude and range, and the company has been quick to cast him in many lead roles, from the Son in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son to the Father in Twyla Tharp’s Waiting At The Station, the last scene from which was performed this evening.
Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump was a surprising charmer that made its PNB premiere in March. Though it is full of theatrical effects – spinning blocks, smoke, stark spotlights, and even two velcro panels – dance is still its central form of expression. The eleven dancers portrayed characters that are thoroughly captivating, and that this piece would be performed in its entirety this evening was the reason I got excited about this Season Encore.
Jessica Lang’s The Calling is a short but evocative piece, danced tonight by Corps de Ballet member Dylan Wald – he might be the one to watch next season. The evening also celebrated its in-house talents with excerpts from Sum Stravinsky by Kiyon Gaines, who retired from dancing last season but is still much involved with the company, and Signature by current Corps de Ballet member Price Suddarth. It was only Suddarth’s first creation for the company and his cohesion in choreographic phrasing shows great promise from this budding talent.
There was certainly much to celebrate this season, and it leaves me in anticipation for what might come in the next.