McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington; June 9, 2013

Dean Speer

SeasonEncoreBows_2013_LT_019As I’ve been going through my father’s house, sorting, clearing, and cleaning, I came across a lovely fundraising solicitation letter personally signed by Francia Russell, stating how proud and accomplished they felt after only 12 years of work since landing in Seattle from Europe, where they had been previously, with an emphasis on how far the PNB School had come.

1977 to 1989 to 2013!

A retrospective is a chance to look back, reflect, honor, and remember milestones. Some out-of-town balletomane friends were amazed that Pacific Northwest Ballet holds, as they put it, an end of the year Gala. This has become a tradition and it’s an evening that I particularly hold dear – it’s balm for my eyes and soul, not at least for the reason that I inevitably am racing to it from having stage managed a commencement for a University of Washington department. How nice it is to be able to go to something and have someone else do all the work!

This year’s edition, while it didn’t pay tribute to any single dancer, did pay tribute to a season that had been strong, offering both some excellent choreography and dancing. It launched with the last two movements of Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” lovingly staged by Francia Russell and here performed by the tall cast of Laura Gilbreath, Lindsi Dec, and Joshua Grant.

This was followed by the concluding duet – replete with falling glitter – from Kent Stowell’s “Cinderella” with Rachel Foster and Jerome Tisserand.

A strong offering that shows off PNB’s male contingent, “Mozart Dances” by Paul Gibson is bright energy with a hint of Baroque courtly formality. Benjamin Griffiths and James Moore were the male partners of a brio trio where the ever amazing Kaori Nakamura continued to show us what a powerhouse she is and how readily she can adapt to the stylistic demands of PNB’s varied and vast repertory.

What is not to like about “Swan Lake?” One excerpt from Act II showed off PNB’s superb corps de ballet with Maria Chapman doing the honors as a limpid Odette with Tisserand as Prince Siegfried. Notable as the precise Cygnets were Leta Biasucci, Jenna Nelson, Liora Neuville, and Carli Samuelson.

Electrifying [this is the first time I’ve used this word in a review – so you know it’s special] were Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold presenting their considerable dance wares from the Act III Black Swan pas de deux and coda. The duet was attacked with élan – which got us all charged up and anticipating the fireworks of the coda, which they more than delivered – Imler with regular double fouettées and Bold with his ballon and strength. This audience was primed and when Imler finished, erupted with cheers and screams.

Kiyon Gaines made his first ballets through PNB’s Choreographers’ Showcase and his “Sum Stravinsky” is his second to be added to PNB’s mainstage repertory season. Inspired by Stowell’s work [whose own ballet to the same score, “Dumbarton Oaks” was a mainstay of PNB’s early years], the third movement seen again featured Grant this time with Lesley Rausch and a small corps of three couples.

Andrew Bartee’s skill makes one want to rush to see him execute just about any assignment, particularly when it’s elevated subject matter and parallel choreography – this time the somber “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” by Ulysses Dove. The ‘goodbye’ duet with Tisserand is among the best and is so heartfelt as he and Dec, Kylee Kitchens, and Elizabeth Murphy comfort and send him on his ‘journey home.’ I liked it and was struck by how, in some ways, this is similar to the conclusion of the wonderful “Serenade” where a female figure is hoisted up and carried into ‘the light’ by a supporting corps.

While not perhaps exactly my own cup of tea, the work and singular vocabulary of Frenchman Jean-Christophe Maillot is encapsulated well with the Balcony pas de deux from his full-length “Roméo et Juliette” which PNB adopted to much acclaim in 2008. Here, Nakamura gets to show her emotional acting depth, supported by Moore.

What could be a better way to send us off into the night than the Scherzo and Polonaise from Balanchine’s “Diamonds?” Imler this time in a relaxed and elegant duet with another of PNB’s male powerhouses, Seth Orza. Thrilling right down to my toes.

Also thrilling was enjoying the all-too-brief sighting of 70 former PNB dancers crowding onto the stage as they were thanked and all of whom, including us, who paid tribute then to Stowell and Russell as they too came on for valedictory bows. My only suggestion would have had each one’s name stated as they came on – just as we started to figure out who was who, the curtain came thundering down. We wanted to linger longer and to continue to thank them.

The mighty PNB Orchestra opened the program with the music from “Diamonds” which accompanied a slide show – a fitting retrospective to the many who’ve worked so hard and successfully to give PNB the stature it enjoys today.