Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Noelani Pantastico and James Yoichi Moore have launched a brand-new company called Seattle Dance Collective. PNB principals and soloists I've gushed over in these pages—including Angelica Generosa, Elizabeth Murphy, Dylan Wald, Miles Pertl, and others—join Whim W'Him's Liane Aung and Jim Kent to compose the first iteration of the group, which will likely morph over the years.
At a recent rehearsal for their first show, Program One—a medley of six contemporary dance pieces that premieres at Vashon Center for the Arts on July 12—Pantastico told me the company allows her and Moore to do work they've always wanted to do but couldn't, work that allows them to express themselves as individual artists and directors.
"I get to share a little bit of myself, and not just be this ballerina that everyone sees as some kind of creature onstage," Pantastico said, shuffling around the rehearsal studio in the giant poofy slippers she wears between practice runs. "We're all very human, and we have these stories."
The decision to start the company also comes as both Moore and Pantastico are considering retirement. "I think we're both getting to the point in our dancing careers where we can see the end. Hopefully it's not so close, but it's there," Moore said. "I think we both want to stay in the dance world after retiring, so we're looking for ways to continue contributing to that world."
Appropriately enough, Anamnesis, an intimate solo show written by Pantastico and choreographed by Bruno Roque, takes on the issue of difficult transitions. In the piece, Pantastico presents a series of vignettes about her childhood. She can't stop sucking her thumb. She can't stop wetting the bed. Her father dies and the grief overwhelms her at unpredictable times. Her voice sounds reticent but also fed up with being reticent, and the whole thing feels like listening in on a particularly artful therapy session. There's a moment I love, where she frantically feels the edges of herself—the contours of her collar bone, underneath her ribs—as if to make sure her body is really there and not lost to the past.
Some of the program choices are deeply personal to Moore, too. Growing up, he watched the San Francisco Ballet perform Shogun, a duet about handing down traditional Japanese culture from one generation to the next by Brazilian Japanese choreographer Ivonice Satie. Moore said he didn't think he'd get the opportunity to perform the show at PNB, so he's particularly excited to produce an excerpt now.
Moore has always wanted to work with Penny Saunders, a choreographer currently based out of Michigan, so they're also putting on her moody and romantic Sur le Fil (By a Hair's Breadth). The incredible thing about Saunders's piece is that it somehow makes me have positive feelings about fedoras. Throughout the show, dancers perform various hat tricks that recall 1940s street toughs and stage magicians. But as the show progresses, the hat becomes less a goofy object and more a powerful, ever-shifting metaphor for real human emotions—the desire to hide, the desire to reveal, and the desire to preserve an almost untouchably tender affection. The gorgeous acoustic/electronic music by Salt Lake City composer Michael Wall that bookends the show had me nearly sobbing. "You could be eating potato chips and still cry to that music," Saunders said in a brief interview after the rehearsal.
Saunders first premiered the piece with much younger dancers, which she says was great. But she's excited to watch it performed by dancers who have been so rigorously trained. "These dancers, because they have the experience, have all these layers to them that are beautiful. They're just very, very interesting to look at."
I couldn't have said it better myself.