I don't really know why Pacific Northwest Ballet called its latest production, which runs through next weekend, Love and Ballet. Only two of the four pieces directly engage with the vicissitudes of that second-hand emotion, and though all ballet is about ballet, the ballets didn't seem to have much to do with ballet-ness, either.
However, a loose ~summertime romance~ theme does seem to link the pieces together, so I will use this mighty platform to rename PNB's production PNB's Summertime Fling Ballet Performance Thank You for the Good Dancing, and describe to you the sunny brilliances of this production accordingly.
Joby Talbot's Tide Harmonic, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, starts off our summer fling at the beach, where we watch PNB's principal dancers transform their bodies into a variety of sea life.
In the first movement the dancers froth and buck and layer parallel jumps like rolling breakers. They swirl like whirlpools and pop up suddenly like waves against a rock. In the second movement they become bubbles lightly bouncing off one another. Later on they sway and twist like sea grass. At one point the men carry the women around on their backs, as if they were hermit crabs carrying around newly found shells. When the men lift the women, the ballerinas kinda click their feet together like elegant crabs. And during the finale, they all turn into playfully seductive mermen and mermaids, continuing 2018's obsession with promoting sexual attraction between human beings and creatures of the sea.
In the performance I saw, Leta Biascucci and Elle Macy seemed particularly capable of moving with awe-inspiring superfluidity. Ditto Price Suddarth and Miles Pertl, who's normally a study in the powers of rigid strength.
After the playful beach romp, the first few nocturnal notes of Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel begin to play as we move onto Wheeldon's second offering, a pas de deux from After the Rain. It took all of about 14 seconds of watching Rachel Foster dance with James Moore in this before I started welling up.
In this brief duet about the pains of trying to stay together "after the rain," two lovers begin the piece apart, moving together but separately. She resists his attempts to draw her in, but she also keeps running back to him. There's lots of balletic trust falls in this one, plus weird, almost double-jointed movements. All conspire to tell the story of a relationship that fits together awkwardly but still somehow fits together.
Aside from the athleticism and grace displayed by Foster and Moore, certain costume choices and movements link this piece to other romantic stories, which I believe contributed strongly to the amount of salt water in my eyes during the performance.
Foster's long, unbound, brown hair with a middle part and her pastel peach leotard recalled the look of Olivia Hussey's Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare's tale of woe. Moore, who often plays Romeo in PNB's production of Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette, danced the role on opening night, which underscored this association. Add in the moment when Foster climbs onto Moore's thigh and morphs into the "I'm flying!" scene between Jack and Rose in Titanic, and now you've got the allusive power of two majorly doomed summer flings charging this pas de deux.
As I mentioned two years ago, Beethoven's Appassionata, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied (the guy who did Black Swan), is about colors having sex with each other. For this performance, Elizabeth Murphy and Karel Cruz reprised their roles in the pas de deux, and they haven't lost a step. The production is as good as it ever was, and there's not much else to say except that Murphy is the only person I ever want to see dance the pas de deux in this piece. After a colorful display of partner trading in the first act, Murphy and Cruz take the stage wearing all white. The two project pure bliss, as if they were on a very successful honeymoon, but Murphy's character seems especially wild with ebullient love-feelings for her partner. She exhausts herself with happiness, and then dances through her exhaustion. Her performance says everything that can be said about the electric thrill of finding true happiness in love, and of course she doesn't even say a word. Again I found myself daubing my eye with a handkerchief and thinking, "She's just so happy, she's just so happy, and I'm just so happy she's happy" like an aunt at a wedding.
After those two emotional rollercoasters, Justin Peck returns us to the summer camp joys of the season with Year of the Rabbit. Sufjan Stevens's score juxtaposes expansive, sweeping string passages with intimate sylvan moments that seem lit by firefly. In general the production looks like a Wes Anderson movie about cheerleading, one that reminds us that ballet really is a team sport. That said, Angelica Generosa's incredible precision and explosive energy stood out among the crowd, and Stranger Genius nominee Noelani Pantastico blew my mind in her pas de deux with Jerome Tisserand. Look at how effortlessly she executes this jump/spin/half-rotation/land-in-the-splits thing:
Seeing this incredible suite of performances got me very excited for the Seattle summer that's been in progress for like a month already, but that we're not talking about publicly yet because we don't want to jinx it.