Goodbye, as they say, is sweet sorrow, particularly in the hands of Pacific Northwest Ballet.
In recent years, the company in June does what it calls a “Season Encore,” which means a single performance dedicated to departing dancers. This season the class was especially large, with eight, possibly a record, including four principals: Ariana Lallone, Olivier Wevers, Jeffrey Stanton and Stanko Milov. The others were Stacy Lowenberg, Chalnessa Eames, Josh Spell and Barry Kerollis. On Sunday the performance at McCaw Hall went on for three hours. The air in the full house was exuberant and grateful for what these dancers had contributed to the company. Everyone was in top form, which made the farewells even more bittersweet. It was a swell evening of dance handsomely mounted. There were all sorts of flowers and kisses and hugs.
Peter Boal, artistic director for the past six years, made introductory remarks on stage in which each dancer was given his, or her, moment in the sun. Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, his predecessors at the company, wrote warmly and well in the lavishly illustrated and handsomely produced program. Stowell and Russell appeared on stage, as well as Patricia Barker, PNB’s prima ballerina until her retirement and now interim artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, as part of the flower brigade. Val Caniparoli, who choreographed “Lambarena” talked about Lallone, and a lovingly-made film about her was shown.
An amazing 12 ballets, mostly excerpts, were performed, not only by those saying goodbye but also their colleagues. Inevitably there was a lot of George Balanchine — “Agon,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” “Who Cares?” and “Rubies” — Kent Stowell — “Silver Lining” and “Carmen” — and other works from the repertory such as Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort,” Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels” and Caniparoli’s “Lambarena.” There were two other offerings, both from departing dancers: Wevers’ “Monster” and Lowenberg’s “Rushed Goodbye.”
Everyone danced in at least one work, some multiple works, except for Milov who was out with an injury, and Wevers, who was represented by a pas de deux from “Monster.” The good news about Milov, who has had a lot of injuries these past few seasons is that he will continue his association with the company as a member of its faculty. That is terrific because he has a lot to impart to boys and young men about stage presence and carriage. He looks and dances like a genuine “danseur noble” while others only work at it.
Kerollis danced ably in a solitary work — “Rubies” — and Eames in a couple — “Petite Mort” and “One for My Baby” from “Nine Sinatra Songs”; Jerome Tisserand was her appealing partner in the latter. Spell also danced in a pair of works — “Petite Mort” and “Rubies.” He will be remembered for a number of roles, especially Puck in Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where he was, in a word, puckish — quick and lively and mischievous.
The affection by which Lowenberg is held by members of the audience was revealed with all sorts of bouquets and flowers thrown on the stage at the end of her piece “Rushed Goodbye,” a pas de deux with Karel Cruz. The work was premiered four years ago at the Choreographers’ Showcase at the PNB School where she occasionally taught. It’s a good piece and well-crafted, a fine beginning. She, as well as Eames, looked splendid and danced with polish.
Even though Stanton has not danced much in the past few years because of injuries, the hold he has on the audience was palpable Sunday night. He danced in five works, the most of anyone, for which everyone was grateful. A member of the corps de ballet at San Francisco Ballet, he came to PNB in 1994 making him the most senior member of the company, except for Lallone. He brought smooth elegance to everything he did as well as a quiet, almost self-effacing style. He was beloved by his many partners. Sunday’s program demonstrated his range, from the rigors of “Agon” to the jazz inflection of “Slaughter,” where he made an inedible impression three years ago and managed to finish the performance in spite of an injury that landed him in the hospital the same night. He danced with a casual panache and understanding that Balanchine wanted. So too Tharp in Stanton’s reading of “Who Cares?” He closed his dancing career in “Silver Lining,” a solo that Stowell set on him 13 years ago. He danced with the lightness and silky grace we have come to admire.
Lallone and Wevers are special cases. They were pushed out. Wevers, who joined the company in 1997, and Lallone, in 1987, were major figures at PNB. Their departure from the company is unhappy because neither one wanted to leave. Each would have liked another season. Lallone was nudged out by Boal earlier this year. She said it in an interview and he did not disagree, a sentiment subsequently confirmed by ballet officials. Wevers has been cast less and less over the past couple of seasons, he said. “He (Boal) wants me out. Although I was offered a contract for next season in December, there were no major roles for me.” Wevers said he told Boal, “What is the point (of my continuing) if I am not dancing? How can I be positive and stay in shape? He is pushing the younger dancers.”
These dancers will be not easily replaced. Each had a strong, individual presence on stage that almost no one else in the company possessed. They are still dancing with all the skill and talent at their command, as Lallone demonstrated on Sunday. Wevers had extraordinary versatility that served PNB well for a long time. He had charisma, a virtuoso technique, an extraordinary comedic flair, a sense of theater and poise. Fortunately he has a place to go: his own company, Whim W’him, which has taken off like jet over the past couple years, cultivating dancers and choreographers and winning audiences and patrons in one fell swoop. It will be doing a pair of performances June 24-25 at Intiman Playhouse.”Monster” is a striking example of what he is up to.
No one ever missed Lallone on stage. It is hard to imagine her as a member of the corps because she is so tall — well beyond 6 feet on pointe — and distinctive. She danced many roles, all with theatricality and a firm commitment to the theater. She was vivid in whatever she did, such as “Petite Mort,” “Rubies” and “Carmen,” infusing every gesture with importance, even wit on occasion and imagination.” She did a lot of showy pieces with great aplomb, but she chose a poignant solo from “Lambarena” to end her PNB career as well as Sunday’s performance.
Lallone may be leaving PNB but she can be found in the not distant future across Mercer at Teatro Zinzanni.