For 28 years, Pacific Northwest Ballet has presented its school at the end of the season, from the very youngest to the professional division, at its performance home, first the Opera House and now McCaw Hall. This year was not any different, with performances Saturday afternoon and evening. The format changes somewhat from year to year to offer variety and a chance for the hundreds of students in the Seattle Center and Bellevue facilities to be on stage. Always the program begins with the youngest and continues chronologically.
This year the afternoon proceeded in a fairly typical fashion, with Level I as the start and an obscure Balanchine ballet, from 1968, titled “La Source,” the finish. In the evening was a choreographers’ showcase which used Level VIII and professional division students in works by members of the company and faculty. All together, there were many pleasures. Boys were in short supply. Curiously nothing suggesting modern dance in the afternoon. It was needed.
For the matinee were pieces devised by members of the faculty for the collective talents of students. Some were inevitably more interesting than others. Elaine Bauer, one of the great teachers of the school and coach with the company, made a telling piece for VII students. “La Source” found Balanchine not in a particularly inspired mood, but a refined one. Set to music of Leo Delibes — taken from a full-length ballet choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon of the same name — the work is a lesson in subtlety, thus its value to young dancers. Set for a couple, a soloist and eight members of the corps de ballet, the piece is filled with exquisite delicacy and nuance. Its principals, Robbie-Jean Arbaczewski and Ezra Thomson and Chelsea Adomaitis were exemplary.
The performance was dedicated to Jane McConnell, a longtime trustee (a part of PNB for decades, not just years) and tireless advocate for the school within the structure of the institution. There is an appreciative statement in the program book of her many contributions by Francia Russell, former co-artistic director of the company and director of the school, who led the school to its current eminence.
As always, a special place was made for students in DanceChance, an admirable program that takes children who would otherwise never be exposed to dance and incorporates them into the school. They all excel, and look it on stage. Some move into a professional life.
There were seven pieces offered in the evening, all by members of the company as well as Sonia Dawkins, who teaches at the school. Some were trying out their choreographic ambitions for the first time, and others were old hands, like Dawkins, who has her own ensemble. Her piece, “where ART thou?” was typical in its range of imagination and sophistication in music (a prelude and fugue by Shostakovich paired with a prelude and fugue by Bach). She always goes beyond the conventional and the expected. Set for eight women dancers, dressed in white, the work is substantive and exploratory of human emotions. The whole piece has the air of expectation and wonderment and feminine searching. The question is asked but not answered.
Wevers’ “That one dance about that one thing #2” and Kiyon C. Gaines’ “NO HOLDS, barre’d” framed the second half. Of the dancers making choreographic contributions to the evening, they are the most experienced. Their pieces are slam-bang outings, in terms of speed and vitality. Wevers’ chose the outer movements of Philip Glass’ Concert Fantasy. The music finds the composer in a fast-driving mood. Wevers too. Dancers come and go with great rapidity, and some might think of Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” which recently entered PNB’s repertory. “That one dance” readily holds the eye with its ever-changing movement which Wevers manipulates with impressive facility. The drawback is that after awhile one looks for some variety in temperament, but it is not there because there is no room in the music for that kind of expressive expansion. PNB has been generous to Gaines in offering him considerable opportunities. “No Holds” is his best piece. It has well-tooled energy and is remarkably coherent for all of its variety.
Between those two burning pieces was Jonathan Porretta’s “Courte et Deuce,” a sweet little piece that is not what would expect from a dancer of such electricity. It is a little bit of sorbet between the game course and the meat course. Stacy Lowenberg’s “Loving You” gets the prize for the most fun: a guy, danced by the appealing Jake Lowenstein, chasing four women across the stage. He is fickle in his taste, and the women respond in kind. It has a slightly predictable quality to it, but not always, which makes it amusing to watch. Stanko Milov’s “Dimensions” opened the evening in an engaging manner, with music provided by Peter Gabriel and Milov himself. Barry Kerollis’ “Pariah” was among the most dramatic works offered all evening .
Special notice needs to go to Randall G. Chiarelli who lit every work with his customary aplomb. Some would not have looked so good without his eye for illuminating movement.
Even though there were very few men, several stood out, including Ryan Cardea and Ezra Thomson, the latter in three works not including his contributions in the afternoon. They have plenty of talent, particularly Thomson who is equipped with a bravura technique — speed and clarity — and good stage presence. Both will be spending a month this summer at the Royal Danish Ballet. Thomson joins PNB as an apprentice in the fall, the only one from this current crop of students. Last year six became apprentices. I don’t know whether that says more about talent or available money. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly, dancers in the evening gave their all, which was considerable.