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PNB scores with "Director's Choice"
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PNB scores with "Director's Choice"
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Director's Choice"
June 5-7
McCaw Hall


Pacific Northwest Ballet's current "Director's Choice" mixed repertory program thrilled opening-night crowds last week. Seattle dance fans were delighted to find a rave review of the program in June 2's New York Times. Alastair Macaulay, the Times' major dance reviewer, has a special appreciation for PNB - he has visited seven times in the past two years, an incredible number of trips for the national publication.

Like Seattle fans and reviewers, the new-to-Seattle Dances at a Gathering was the focal point. The 1969 Jerome Robbins classic is long overdue in Seattle. Peter Boal, PNB's current artistic director, danced as "The Boy in Brown" early in his career. It has been one of his goals as artistic director to bring the works of Robbins and other major contemporary choreographers to PNB - a welcome addition to the company's vast repertoire.

Danced to numerous short piano works by Chopin, Dances at a Gathering is first-rate in every department. The hour-long work - long by contemporary standards - uses five couples who rotate in and out of each short sequence. "The Girl in Pink" will partner with "The Boy in Brick," but return with another partner (in another color), giving the work endless pairings. An abstract ballet, Dances uses classic steps, classic costumes, and classic choreography to create a wonderful work. It will be great fun to see it again in coming seasons.

Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain pas de deux, from 2005, was another audience pleaser. Danced on opening night by Maria Chapman and Batkhurel Bold, the short work was another PNB premiere. Danced to music by Arvo Part, the compelling abstract work is scored for only piano and violin. The bare-chested Bold was stunning in his physical feats, and Chapman seemed weightless in their pairings. (The Times reviewer, in an untypical criticism, noted that another of the three men who danced the role over the first weekend lacked "the firm waistline the bare-chested role calls for." Hard to believe since dancers, by their very nature, always seem solid muscle.)

Balanchine's beloved Symphony in C, danced to an early work by Georges (Carmen) Bizet, ended the program. A favorite with PNB's loyal audiences since its 1987 Seattle premiere, the 1947/1948 work is always a huge success. A showcase for the full company, the "all white" ballet is a staple of the Balanchine repertory. Interestingly, the work, which premiered in Paris in 1947 as Le Palais de Cristal was originally costumed in vivid colors. When Balanchine restaged the work in New York, the company was smaller than the Paris Opera Ballet company and the members of the corps de ballet had to reappear in each movement so quickly that the dancers could not change costumes - and colors - quickly enough, so the work was reimagined as an "all white" work. (There is another version of the tale which finds Balanchine's passing off a work created for Paris a year earlier as a new work for New York, but few really seem to care about the mysterious creation of the classic contemporary work.)

Conductor Stewart Kershaw and the PNB orchestra deserve special praise for their work with the early Bizet symphony.

PNB continues the second week of "Director's Choice" with performances Friday and Saturday (June 5-6) evening and at matinees Saturday and Sunday (June 6-7). Check for details and times at (206) 441-2424. Tickets start at just $25.

Just hours after the Sunday matinee, A Celebration of Louise Nadeau marks the official retirement of the PNB principal dancer, who is ending a 19-year career with the company. She will dance in multiple roles on the Sunday evening program along with excerpts of other works by the company. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. and should be an emotional and artistic highlight of the season. Tickets and information at (206) 441-2424.
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