Pacific Northwest Ballet
McCaw Hall
Seattle, WA

September 22, 2018, afternoon and evening
Jerome Robbins Festival: Programs A and B

Dean Speer

I had been greatly looking forward to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Jerome Robbins Festival for quite some time, and seeing its two programs was a sublime experience.

While I thoroughly enjoyed each of the seven ballets presented, I have to publicly admit that my favorite was Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering (1969). I knew from previous viewings that it’s a great, poetic ballet. Indeed, folks around me were openly weeping following its conclusion. An hour-long work to Chopin piano music, it is a work of power and beauty — of the nature that compels one to travel long distances just to see it. One of my seatmates observed it’s a ballet that at once is about nothing, yet is about everything.

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers in Jerome Robbins's "Dances at a Gathering" Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers
in Jerome Robbins’s
“Dances at a Gathering”
Photo by Angela Sterling

I adored every minute of it and its colored-coded “A-level” cast of the evening’s “B” program:  Pink (Sarah Ricard Orza); Mauve (Elizabeth Murphy); Apricot (Noelani Pantastico); Green (Laura Tisserand); Blue (Elle Macy); Brown (Lucien Postlewaite); Purple (Seth Orza); Green (Jerome Tisserand); Brick (Kyle Davis); and Blue (Joshua Grant).

Program B concluded with a work at the other end of the artistic spectrum, a comedic ballet — The Concert (or the Perils of Everyone), also set to some iconic Chopin. Robbins reveals what is really going on in people’s minds as they enjoy a piano recital in the salon of a department store. From a soul who is carried away by the music to a hen-pecked husband who’d really rather be anywhere else, to the late comers who disturb everyone else. What a riot too is the now-famous “mistake waltz ballet” where six corps de ballet females display to very humorous effect all the foibles of dancing a ballet where, yes, mistakes are made such as going in the wrong direction and having a lone dancer who just cannot quite get the ensemble movements on the correct side or with the correct timing.

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers in Jerome Robbins's "The Concert (or The Perils of Everyone)" Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers
in Jerome Robbins’s
“The Concert (or The Perils of Everyone)”
Photo by Angela Sterling

This cast  included: Ballerina (Lesley Rausch); Shy Boy (Benjamin Griffiths); Wife (Lindsi Dec); Husband (Ryan Cardea); Angry Lady (Angelica Generosa); Matinee Ladies (Emma Love Suddarth and Sarah Pasch); Usher (Miles Pertl); and Steven Loch plus Joshua Grant.

Both programs opened with Circus Polka done for 48 ballet school students, in three different batches of levels, each group coming in one after the other, with the youngest group skipping in to many “ahhs” from the audience. The Ringmaster for the matinee was Jonathan Porretta and for the evening, it was former and much-beloved Principal Dancer Ariana Lallonne, whose entrance was loudly welcomed and whose bow was madly applauded.

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers in Jerome Robbins's "In the Night" Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers
in Jerome Robbins’s
“In the Night”
Photo by Angela Sterling

In The Night is a series of three pas de deux, each one depicting a couple in different stages of their relationship — from young tender love, to a mature one, to one that is combative yet dependent, with the couple apparently still in love with each other. These were danced by Elizabeth Murphy with Dylan Wald; Lindsi Dec and Steven Loch; and finally Rachel Foster (in great form and rarely better) and Ezra Thomson.

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers Noelani Pantastico and Seth Orza in Jerome Robbins's "Other Dances" Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers
Noelani Pantastico
and Seth Orza
in Jerome Robbins’s
“Other Dances”
Photo by Angela Sterling

Afternoon of a Faun‘s premise is a glimpse into a ballet rehearsal studio, beginning with a young man napping and then stretching, whose reverie is interrupted by the entrance of a ballerina. They both look at the “mirror” (audience) in the rehearsal way, dance with each other, and then after the young man gives her a tentative kiss on the cheek, she dissolves away, retreating, perhaps back to her dressing room. Principals Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand were ideally cast.

Other Dances was a nice surprise. I had seen photos from its 1976 premiere with Baryshnikov and Makarova, done for a gala, but had not seen it live nor on TV. I was very pleased that it was much more than a showcase duet but an extended pas de deux with depth. At the crest of her amazing career, one of my favorite PNB Principals, Noelani Pantastico, more than “took” the Makarova part and Seth Orza proved that today’s male dancers are on par with the wonder of Baryshnikov from 40 years ago. Orza showed power, clean control, clarity and élan.

For musical theatre power, Robbins’ apex might be his West Side Story Suite, a re-telling and re-setting of Romeo and Juliet. Robbins extracted and pulled together the dance scenes from the movie musical and made this West Side Story Suite that highlights the dancing yet still tells the story; kind of a Reader’s Digest version.

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Ezra Thompson (center) and members of the company in Jerome Robbins's "West Side Story Suite" Photo by Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer
Ezra Thompson (center)
and members of the company
in Jerome Robbins’s
“West Side Story Suite”
Photo by Angela Sterling

It must be a fun challenge to stretch oneself to not only execute demanding dances but to also have to sing, act, and absorb and produce the necessary style. Leads in the cast included: Tony (Lucien Postlewaite); Riff (Ezra Thomson — who was superb); Bernardo (William Lin-Yee — who at the post-performance discussion reported how much he enjoyed doing this part; fun being the bad guy); Anita (Lindsi Dec); and as Maria, Angelica Generosa.

This Festival drew friends and colleagues from far and near, including two former students and their respective daughters (who both now take ballet), and three from Augsburg, Germany, who now live in the Northwest United States. We all had such a great time. We rejoiced in each of the ballets and re-affirmed that we are so lucky to have one of the top ballet companies right here in our own backyard.

The superb pianists for the programs included Cameron Grant, Mark Salman, and Christina Siemens. When full orchestra was called for, the mighty PNB Orchestra was led by Emil de Cou.