McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; 8 June 2014

Dean Speer

Kaori Nakamura in "The Sleeping Beauty" Photo © Angela Sterling

Kaori Nakamura in “The Sleeping Beauty”
Photo © Angela Sterling

There are comings and goings, those starting a career, retirements, and then there are a handful that give us pause. One of the latter has been the long-announced retirement of Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Kaori Nakamura, following 17 years here and seven years at Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Each of the excerpted ballets that she danced on the Season Encore program was very well chosen and showcased a different aspect of her abilities. The Rose Adagio from “Sleeping Beauty” was a particularly apt conclusion to this brilliant career. It showed off her innate sweetness, good nature, abundant technical resources, thrilling balances, and how this artist can build a phrase.

First seen in Act IV’s bittersweet pas de deux with Seth Orza, this white swan nugget allowed us to enjoy depth of feeling and the tragedy that comprises “Swan Lake,” while the Balcony scene from Maillot’s rendition of “Romeo et Juliette” showed us, with James Moore, youthful playfulness in discovering love for the first time and its conflicting emotions and desires.

The program began with Susan Stroman’s 2008 “TAKE FIVE…More or Less” and I was impressed at how well it’s held up since its premiere during PNB’s Laugh Out Loud Festival, being more than a one-off for the original cast, especially surviving the later departure of Noelani Pantastico.

Pacific Northwest Ballet in "Emergence" Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet in “Emergence”
Photo © Angela Sterling

I was happy to see again last Fall’s “Emergence” by Canadian dance maker Crystal Pite. I found this work to also have held up well upon second viewing and enjoyed its structure – building through several sections [duos, short solos, small groups of alternating men and women and then, one large group “buzzing”] its trajectory of a couple of dancers leaving the hive at the end through a tube – a scenic element used to great effect.

The program included both verbal and video expressions of recognition and thanks – not only for Nakamura but also for retiring executive director D. David Brown and departing dancers Andrew Bartee and Liora Neuville. Nakamura received many single flowers from not only former dancing partners but many female company members, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, plus her former husband and longtime dancing partner and probably her number-one fan, Olivier Wevers – who after giving her a big hug, forgot to give her his flower – of which she reminded him. Laughing, he gave it to her. It was all very sweet and a great send-off. I was also charmed by her parents who came on stage and bowed to the audience in the Japanese way and by her young daughter who is far too young to completely comprehend her mom’s retirement and its significance but whose cute factor was way off the charts, much to the delight of the audience.

Accompanying everything but “Emergence,” the mighty PNB Orchestra was led by maestri Emil de Cou, Allan Dameron and Ian Eisendrath.

It’s comforting to know that Nakamura is joining the PNB School faculty – how wonderful that she’ll have opportunities to pass along her considerable knowledge, experience, technical prowess, and artistry. I’m confident she’ll be as devoted to this aspect of her career as she has been to performing.