Originally published on Nov. 5, 2018.

PNB dancers hold planters pulsing with subtext in Alexander Ekmans Cacti.
PNB dancers hold planters "pulsing with subtext" in Alexander Ekman's Cacti. Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet's All Premiere, which runs through November 11, drags us from depths of freaky darknesses into a world of light and humor and dick jokes with a trio of ballets, all of which are brand new to Seattle audiences. In terms of tone and style, the ballets couldn't be more different from one another. But they're all connected by their innovative and varied uses of lightning, vocals, and humor.

The evening begins in a dark and lonely space with the world premiere of Kyle Davis's A Dark and Lonely Space. The PNB company member's first major foray into choreography, with music from Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Jurassic World, Ratatouille), looks like Eyes Wide Shut shot in a Caravaggio. In case that comparison is meaningless to you, here's another try: Kyle Davis's A Dark and Lonely Space looks like the marching hyenas scene from The Lion King, but instead of hyenas it's an ancient Latin sex cult.

Leta Biasucci walks in the shadow of the valley of very good dancers.
Leta Biasucci walks in the shadow of the valley of very good dancers. Angela Sterling

Soprano Christina Siemens stands centerstage the whole time and sings (very beautifully) occasionally while wearing a 15-foot tall dress, which serves as a backdrop for the action. Scene designer Reed Nakayama projects a craggy hellscape onto the oversize skirt, plunging the audience into a chiaroscuro underworld that eventually fills with masked, robed, kinda vampiric dancers. Judging by the title and the galaxy-colored pants the men wear, I think this ballet might also be set in space? But two choirs stand in the box seats flanking the audience and belt out some Requiem-type chorale numbers, which adds to the fire and brimstone feel of the piece.

In these extremely goth environs, a hero wearing a white tunic, danced on Saturday by Ezra Thomson, rises up from the muck of despair. He spends a lot of time doing a Hamlet impression—basically running around and being surprised/scared by everything—until halfway through the action. At his point, a woman, Clara Ruf Maldonado, springs forth from him, fully formed, Eve-like. This moment provides the most tender and moving bit of choreography in the piece, with Maldonado gracefully hobbling around the stage like a baby giraffe freshly dropped six feet from the womb onto the cold and unforgiving earth.

The elaborate galactic/hellish costumes (courtesy of Elizabeth Murphy), the truly epic score, and the hectic but powerful group scenes all speak to Davis's considerable and commendable ambition. But that shared moment of warmth and understanding between Thompson and Maldonado shows Davis's ability to create effective moments of smaller, more personal human dramas, too.

Before I move on: props must go to Angelica Generosa, who defied gravity by jumping from the ground and landing in a sitting position on Benjamin Griffiths's shoulder, and props go to Griffiths for the effortless catch. That was one of those feats of strength and grace that made me want to jump out of my seat and woop real loud.

After wallowing in Davis's indecision, Alejandro Cerrudo's Silent Ghost felt like waking up after a nightmare and realizing that the day is actually bright and good and not entirely full of space demons. In terms of choreography, design, and emotional appeal, the ballet is the equivalent of rolling around in bed on a Sunday morning with nothing really to do later. Light designer Michael Korsch pours golden light over the dancers, some of whom literally roll around on the backs of their partners. Quality, contemporary, indie country music from Dustin Hamman, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, and others score the dance. The whole time you're watching it you kinda feel as if you live in a clean and modest apartment at the back of a beloved hardware store in the midwest, and that though your work is hard and your world is small, your life still feels full of love and rich human experiences. You know, like rolling around on a Sunday.

Noelani Pantastico taking a roll over Lucien Postlewaites back. Well-executed reverse piggyback rides like this one dominate the show.
Noelani Pantastico taking a roll over Lucien Postlewaite's back. Well-executed reverse piggyback rides like this one dominate the show. Angela Sterling

Though the music is often slow and sweet, the dancing doesn't look easy. Cerrudo contrasts the early morning vibes of the piece with fast-paced, rhythmic, athletic movement that keeps the heart racing and the eye engaged. Notable moments include a heartmelting pas de deux from Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite, and another from Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald. Cerrudo also has several dancers doing a low-key, low-profile version of the worm, which seemed much more...uhh..intimate than the breakdance version.

Alexander Ekman's Cacti was so in love with itself it was hard to really love, but it's delightfully playful and fucking hilarious—which is not something you get to say all the time about ballets! Black skull caps, flesh toned t-shirts that match each dancer's skin so they read shirtless, and black pants render all the dancers pretty androgynous. As the orchestra plays some enlivening, Classical/Romantic music, the dancers, fixed to white platforms, bang rhythmically and occasionally chant. At a couple points, a disembodied voice pipes in through the speakers and starts ironically launching into an academic critique of what's clearly a silly (but exhausting-looking) performance.

The whole thing feels like one big troll of dance critics, self-seriousness, and elitism in dance. I laughed the hardest on the inside and on the outside during a comedic bit where a recorded voice describes in layman's terms the dance moves that two dancers, Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Christian Poppe, are doing as they're doing them, Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style. That scene alone is worth the price of a cheap seat.

I don't know if I'd care to see Cacti a second time, but I'd definitely want to take ballet-shy friends to this trio of shows, if only so they could see how funny and unpretentious and sweet dance can be.