By R.M. Campbell
For some June represents weddings while others it is graduations. At Pacific Northwest Ballet, the month signifies a time to bid farewell to not only dancers but artistic directors and conductors as well. No other arts organization says goodbye quite so well. They are grand affairs with plenty of tears and flowers for everyone. The first in recent history was dedicated to Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, co-artistic directors of the company for more than 25 years. Then came Patricia Barker, one of the greatest talents PNB ever fostered, followed by the beloved Louise Nadeau a couple years later, among others. On Sunday at McCaw Hall, the company bid adieu to Stewart Kershaw, who created the PNB Orchestra 20 years ago, as well as dancers Mara Vinson and Jordan Pacitti.
Last fall Kershaw, after a run of “Romeo et Juliet,” announced he was leaving his company immediately. In his late 60’s, the British conductor decided he had enough ballet and wanted to enjoy life. The announcement took everyone by surprise. No one was more identified with the musical affairs of the company than Kershaw, who joined it in 1983. Prior to the PNB Orchestra, the ballet shared musicians with the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera. That was a good arrangement for the musicians and the three companies, ensuring work for the individuals and a pool of talent for the companies. Gradually PNB became dissatisfied, believing it was getting the short end of the stick, always playing third to the larger, at the time, symphony and opera. So it struck out on its own. There were peaks and valleys over the next two decades but slowly Kershaw developed one of the best ballet orchestras in the country, also one of the few. It has never sounded better. The orchestra is an achievement in which Kershaw can take great pride. Also in his resume are dozens of ballet orchestras, in Europe and America, that he has conducted; celebrated dancers for whom he has been in the pit, and hundreds of “Nutcrackers” he has led, so much so he had the entire score memorized. Kershaw has not left the scene entirely. He still has his Auburn Symphony, a professional orchestra he founded, composed of many musicians from the PNB Orchestra, that has a regular series in Auburn. PNB is continuing its search for a new music director.
One cannot say goodbye to Vinson so easily. She is at the peak of her career, all of which she has had at PNB. Only a month or so she announced, also abruptly, that she was leaving the company at the end of the season. Thank goodness not a moment before so we could witness her loving and brilliant portrayal of Swanilda in PNB’s new production of “Coppelia,” which finished its immensely successful run this past weekend. The pas de deux and finale from the ballet closed the program Sunday night, with Vinson in the leading role, and her superb partner James Moore at her side. She has offered no public reason for leaving PNB of which she has been a member since 1992. Seeing her dance Sunday was even greater realization of what the company has lost in her departure.
Pacitti does not have the position or glamor of Vinson. He spent slightly more than a decade with PNB as a member of its corps de ballet. However, he danced all sorts of roles, some of them principal ones. It was obvious he has resonance with the PNB audience and took any number of curtain calls. Jordan’s departure was not a surprise. He is leaving the company, and the world of dance, to continue his pursuit of a line of his own fragrances. It was readily apparent Sunday that people wished him well in his new life.
The evening of performance was real and had much to offer. The orchestra, led by Kershaw, opened each half with excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Glazunov’s “Raymonda.” The dancing began with “The Rose Adagio” from “Sleeping Beauty.” Lesley Rausch took the mantle as Aurora and displayed the reasons why she is being given greater and greater responsibilities in the company — especially grace and balance and eloquence. Benjamin Griffiths was to have danced Marco Goecke’s “Mopey,” which gave Moore his first brush with company fame. Unfortunately just before the curtain was to go up, he tore a ligament, and the piece was immediately eliminated from the program. There was a pause, rather a long one, as the dancers in Val Caniparoli’s “The Seasons” had to get ready, and they did, with Ariana Lallone and Karel Cruz in the leading roles.
Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments” has been a part of PNB’s repertory for nearly 30 years. On Sunday Lindsi Pec danced the fourth variation, “Choleric.” She rose to the challenge. Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels” was revived. It has been a widely admired work since its premiere. There was no reason to change one’s mind after the Sunday performance with Carla Korbes and Batkhurel Bold and Carrie Imler and Pacitti. It was riveting start to finish. Mary Rowell played the all-important violin part with great skill.
PNB can take great pride in what it presented on Sunday, even that unexpected silly encore that was so much fun.