Elizabeth Murphy and Jerome Tisserand looking like mountains on the move.
Elizabeth Murphy and Jerome Tisserand looking like mountains on the move. Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet closes out its season with four wildly different ballets. In the show's program, PNB artistic director Peter Boal makes a compelling argument for variation of movement as the unifying theme of Themes and Variations, which runs through the weekend. I like that idea, and would only add that each ballet also juxtaposes flashes of folk dance and pedestrian movement with luxurious elegance. George Balanchine's Tarantella gives us a high modernist's take on a traditional Italian street dance. The dancers in José Limón's The Moor's Pavane are draped in lush velvet, but they also throw fists and weird kicks. The evening's titular performance is a raspberries-and-cream explosion of classical opulence set beneath a chandelier-strewn pavilion in a Gatsby garden, but—okay, there's nothing really folksy about that one.

In any event, the real belle of the ball here is PNB soloist and choreographer Price Suddarth's Signature, a piece that seemed to take the dramatic landscape of the Pacific Northwest and transform it into an impressive contemporary ballet.

Once I saw Suddarth's piece as the balletic manifestation of a glacial stream cutting through a valley in the Olympics, I couldn't stop seeing it like that. Groups of dancers spin like whirlpools in a current with each violin flourish of Barret Anspach's moody, lively, sylvan score, which mixes his own composition with bits from Vivaldi. The ambitious choreography seemed to push the dancers to their limits, with lots of big leaps, triple turns, and complex sequences. In the performance I saw, Lindsi Dec, William Lin-Yee, and Joshua Grant were on fire the whole time, hitting their marks with terrific speed and grace.

In an interview with PNB, Suddarth says the piece shows off the individuality of the dancers, which was absolutely apparent during the big group scenes, where each of the dancers seemed to be encouraged to perform the same moves with their own stylistic flair. But it had me thinking that maybe the particular pristine and rugged qualities of the PNW landscape have had some influence on all of PNB's dancers; they're all different mountains, but they're in the same range.

Or maybe it was just the blue and green leotards. Anyway, it's fun to watch! Go see it!

The Moores Pavane looked like a Renaissance panting come to life.
The Moore's Pavane looked like a Renaissance panting come to life. Angela Sterling

Highlights from the other ballets include wondering which limb the dancers will use to hit the tambourine in Tarantella, marveling at Cecilia Iliesiu bending all the way back in The Moor's Pavane like Neo in the Matrix and then also pivoting (with support Jonathan Porretta) so that her back swept across the floor a quarter turn, and also just enjoying the straight-up music box ballerina stylings of Lesley Rausch in Balanchine's Themes and Variations.

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