In a fortieth season that goes from strength to strength, Pacific Northwest Ballet brings back three modern triumphs as well as showcasing a new work from ballet master and choreographer Paul Gibson.
The program also weaves together the strengths and traditions that the company’s founding aristic director Francia Russell brought to Seattle as well as its continuing commitment to growth under the tenure of current artistic director Peter Boal.
Gibson’s elegant Mozart Pieces, danced by seven men and two women, owes its leaps and turns to the beginnings of ballet history. Although it carries an echo of court dances in its execution, the same crisp choreography moves in ways that only can be described as modern.
Gibson began his career at PNB in 1994 as a soloist and rose to the rank of principal dancer in 1996. In 2004, he stepped into a new role at PNB as Ballet Master for the company. Mozart Pieces is his fifth world premiere here.
Gibson worked with two longtime cronies for this production. Mark Zappone, formerly shop supervisor and wardrobe master for PNB, designed the stylish black ensembles for the dancers (Zappone discusses his vision in the video left).
Resident lighting designer Randall G. Chiarelli bathed the stage of Mozart Pieces with his usual amazing glow. Dancers at PNB describe Chiarelli’s work as enabling them to literally swim in light.
Certainly none moved through the light with more panache than Kaori Nakamua, who has been amazing all season. But equally enchanting was Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz. In particular Cruz looked magnificent, evoking a Mozartian Don Juan promising devilish delights to any who linger on the stage with him.
Mozart Pieces is lovingly paired in the first part of the evening with a piece that has been in the company’s repertoire since 1977: George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. A graceful meditation in blue and white, this outing was staged by Russell. Directly chosen by Balanchine to stage his works, she has taught his choreography to dancers around the world as well as here.
Under Russell’s tenure, the company, particularly the women, became known for their crisp interpretation of Balanchine. Carrie Imler, who joined the company when Russell was artistic director, and Carla Korbes, who came to Seattle during Boal’s tenure, created a lovely symmetry all their own during the opening night performance of Concerto Barocco.
The second half of the evening belongs to two works brought to the company by Boal, artistic director in 2005 following the retirement of Russell and her husband Kent Stowell (also artistic director of PNB from 1977 to 2005).
Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven brought one of the masterworks of American choreographer Ulysses Dove to Seattle in 2006. On opening night, Maria Chapman, Rachel Foster, Lesely Rausch, Andrew Bartee, Seth Orza, and Jerome Tisserand demonstrated that Dove is as firmly in the company’s DNA as Balanchine these days.
The evening concludes with In The Upper Room, created by Twyla Tharp for her own company in 1986 (the work first appeared at PNBA in 2007).
The piece has been restaged for this 2013 performance, including an increased outpouring of the mist that envelopes the audience — the opening night outpouring was particularly heavy although subsequent “clouds” were reported to have been less dense. The dancers appear and disappear like the phantoms of dance past and future in this evocative work.
The omens remain good. This is a company unafraid of its past and sure of its future, ready to blend both in an evening designed to delight fans.
Modern Masterpieces continues this weekend at McCaw Hall. For times and more information, see PNB’s website.