Pacific Northwest Ballet
Dance Happens Everywhere, 20/21 Digital Season
Rep 1: Five Minute Call video and excerpts from Dances at a Gathering, Foil, One Body, Swan Lake, Jewels (Emeralds, Diamonds, Rubies), Mopey, The Calling, The Trees The Trees, Red Angels
Filmed at McCaw Hall, Seattle
15-20 October 2020
Company responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have inevitably taken to the digital world and Pacific Northwest Ballet, the resident company in Seattle led by Peter Boal since 2005, is no exception. The 2020/21 season was to have been held under the banner title of “Dance Happens Here” but it has gone online to be rebranded “Dance Happens Everywhere” and – despite the fact that the company’s operating budget has halved and there will be no live audience – it will feature world premieres and revivals just like any other season. Each “rep” will remain live for just five days.
It kicked off in October with a gala that was the first performance on the McCaw Hall stage since February, a mixed programme that showcased an ensemble of excellent dancers in both classical and contemporary choreography, prefaced by a brief film (made by dancer, Dylan Wald) entitled Five Minute Call, in which five dancers spoke from their dressing rooms about their performances in George Balanchine’s Jewels. This was a charming mix of the excitement of a debut (Leta Biasucci in Emeralds) and the measured maturity born of a twenty-year career (Lesley Rausch, who was to lead the excerpt from Diamonds). Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Kyle Davis are natural performers on camera and their animated chat about Rubies promised a sparkling performance!
The programme of two acts commenced with an elegant opening solo from Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, performed by Lucien Postlewaite (with Christina Siemens at the piano). This was followed by two extracts from Foil, choreographed by Eva Stone in 2019 to music by Nadia Boulanger. In the Be Still section (the second part of the full ballet) three women wearing voluminous skirts (Amanda Morgan, Cecilia Iliesiu and Juliet Prine) perform topless under an elaborate chandelier, but discretely facing away from the audience. They even took their bows without turning to face the auditorium. Abby Jayne DeAngelo led an extract from the fourth section, Wait, wearing an ice blue dress split to the hip on both sides, surrounded by male attendants in black silhouette, bearing light sculptures. I was hitherto unfamiliar with Stone’s work but on this brief teaser it seems to be reminiscent of Kylián and places an emphasis on spectacle.
Next up was an excerpt from Albert Evans’ One Body; an ethereal, floating solo danced by Christopher D’Ariano, performed to a soundscape that included a female voice and jingles. This led into a series of excerpts from Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, performed in front of a giant moon, beginning with the male variation from the pas de trois (Kyle Davis), then Odette’s Variation (Elizabeth Murphy) and finally the Black Swan – minus the opening pas de deux – with the variations and the coda danced engagingly by Steven Loch and Angelica Generosa. It was certainly an innovation to see these particular extracts shorn of their accompanying parts!
The promise of the opening Five Minute Call prologue proved to be as satisfying as I had hoped since the most impressive parts of the programme were these lengthy excerpts from Jewels with Leta Biasucci’s cool debut in the Emeralds solo; a tremendous Rubies pas de deux by Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Kyle Davis oozing with panache, expression and drive; and a bracelet of Diamonds led commandingly by Lesley Rausch, supported by a female quartet. As Rausch’s escort, Jerome Tisserand’s lightness of ballon was impressive.
The second act began with James Moore demonstrating the musculature of his back in a lengthy extract from Marco Goeke’s Mopey (initially to a Cello solo by Page Smith). The piece started in darkness as an arm slowly extended from the wings and Moore appeared, back to the audience wearing a hoodie (soon discarded) and black trousers. His solo grew in intensity, the freneticism of the exhausting movement matching the repetitive lyrics in The Cramps Surfin’ Bird, eventually finishing in silence and stillness.
This burst of explosive energy was followed by another male solo but of a very different style, with Dylan Wald performing an extract from Jessica Lang’s The Calling, enhanced by the voice of Mezzo Soprano, Sarra Sharif Doyle. Wald also began with his naked back to the audience (this seemed to be a permanent theme of the modern works in this programme) but wearing a long white skirt spooling out into a perfect circle on the black stage (an opening that was reminiscent of the pattern of Lescaut’s cape in the opening of Manon).
A soft romantic duet from Robyn Mineko Williams’ The Trees The Trees, performed by Elle Macy and Dylan Wald to the music of Kyle Vegter led into the final movement from Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels, danced by Cecilia Illesiu, William Lin-Yee, Amanda Morgan and Lucien Postlewaite in Holly Hynes’ startling, tight red costumes. Michael Jinsoo Lim performed the perky electric violin music of Richard Einhorn for a series of consecutive solos before the striking quartet brought this eclectic event to a close.
I was especially impressed with PNB’s thoroughness in providing support materials to enable an enhanced enjoyment of the event including illuminating pre-performance and post-performance discussions and insights into the creation of some of the works. One silver lining to the current situation is that companies are able to reach places that they have never been before. There may have been zero audience in Seattle’s McCaw Hall but PNB had subscribers to this opening event in 40 US States and eight other countries. As Executive Director, Ellen Walker noted in her introduction – “we are cheered by the thought of our subscriber in Wales!” The next “Rep” will start streaming on 12 November and includes new works by Jessica Lang and Penny Saunders plus a Twyla Tharp classic.