Pacific Northwest Ballet offered all sorts of pleasures this past season, but none more than its last mixed bill which opened Thursday night at McCaw Hall.
The program, which runs through June 7, is a deft coupling of works new to PNB’s repertory and a standard bearer of its reputation. Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” opened the evening in a sublime fashion, followed by Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain Pas De Deux,” first seen in Seattle this fall at the company’s annual gala. The summation of the night was Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” which has been a part of PNB’s artistic profile for 22 years.
They all represent dance at its highest level. The language may change as do costumes and music, but the works are examples of what makes dance unique. They cut across time zones easily, with Balanchine’s great ballet choreographed in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet, Robbins’ “Dances” two decades later, in 1969, for New York City Ballet, and “After the Rain,” only four years ago, also for City Ballet. None offers a hard edge, for which many in the audience, was probably grateful. Instead they offer — well, Robbins and Wheeldon — romantic images, along with a blithe spirit. “Symphony in C” is crisper that that, although the slow movement for two dancers is as softly appealing at Robbins and Wheeldon.
“Dances at a Gathering” is one of Robbins’ most important works, not only for its inventive movement but the manner in which Robbins makes so many steps so seamless. And the way he links his choreography to a wide collection of Chopin — waltzes, mazurka, etudes, a scherzo and nocturne. He finds something new to say with every piece, a different way of presenting a couple or a threesome or even larger numbers. Sometimes one is touched and other times amused, but rarely bored. Two elements illuminated Robbins’ choreography: PNB’s dancers and pianist Allan Dameron’s reading of such diverse Chopin. The women were no less than men, or vice-versa. Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta, Lucien Postlewaite and Karel Cruz turned in some bravura dancing that was clean, even dazzling on occasion. The women were no less. Kaori Nakamra is a dancer who seems to improve every season, with greater depth and longer line. She has always possessed virtuosity. Chalnessa Eames is also becoming a dancer of greater proportions. Louise Nadeau, who retires from the company in a special performance June 7, was true to form — elegant, supple, beautiful. And Mara Vinson should be not be forgotten.
Carla Korbes and Batkhurel Bold danced “After the Rain” at the gala with simplicity and admirable polish.. They were scheduled to do so Thursday night. However, Korbes injured herself at the dress rehearsal, and Maria Chapman stepped in. The effect of the two in Wheeldon’s choreography was poignant and electrifying, the sort where you hold your breath. The movement is beautiful, achingly so, and in perfect harmony to Arvo Part’s music, “Spiegel im Spiegel,” scored for violin and piano. The music barely moves, the dance more so, but slowly and deliberately. It is as if the entire work is one long phrase. Certainly, that is the way Bold and Chapman read their parts. A nod to the musicians — violinist Tom Dziekonski and pianist Christina Siemens — for their contributions.
“Symphony in C” is a staple at PNB, brought out at all sorts of functions. It is a spectacular piece that speaks to Balanchine’s imperial background. It looks as fresh today as it did more than two decades, helped considerably by Mark Zappone’s superb costumes, the midnight blue for the men but particularly the dazzling white tutus for the women, created 22 years ago. The cast is large and the credits are necessarily large as well. Carrie Imler was brilliant, as one would expect, in the first movement, with Stanko Milov, her able partner. In the Adagio Nadeau was predictably musical and expansive, with Olivier Wevers her exemplary partner. Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta danced with flair and pizzazz and Mara Vinson and Seth Orza likewise.
It was very good to hear the PNB Orchestra in the Bizet “Symphony in C,” conducted by Stewart Kershaw, after which the ballet is now named. One doesn’t want to forget what an excellent orchestra this is.