Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), one of the nation’s largest and most highly regarded dance companies, led by the erudite Peter Boal, Artistic Director, celebrated 50 years of excellence in dance with a three-day residency July 15-17, 2022 at the Music Center. Along with live dance and the finale of the 19th season of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, The PNB Dance Film Festival had its premiere in association with Dance Camera West on the Jerry Moss Plaza. An exciting new iteration of dance in the film capital of the world.

On that Friday, the 15th, the company, with the live PNB Ballet Orchestra, began their challenging program with their resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump.” This piece originated with the contemporary dance company,Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In the original execution of Hubbard Street’s version, it can be described as dangerous and spirited. The communication, the movement was feral, the tempi and artistry unbridled…it was not perfect, but it was exciting! With PNB, this beautiful company, and Cerrudo’s piece, was  “perfect” and that perhaps is the problem. The spunk, the raw playfulness, the romp of the spirit and musical phrasing, did not quite live up to its origin at Hubbard Street. The amusing Velcro couple was done well, but somehow without the dynamics and timing of the “tongue in cheek” and definitely good humor that is Cerrudo’s mark. The dangerous dance of the cubes at the end of the piece got us closer… but not quite. It looked a bit unwieldy and, at points, careful.

PNB principle dancers Elisabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald in Alejandro Cerrudo's "Little Mortal Jump" - Photo by Angela Sterling

PNB principle dancers Elisabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump” – Photo by Angela Sterling

However, there was an exception, the connection of Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald, who in the midst of their effortless entangling designs managed to touch not only each other but the audience. The String quartet #3, by Phillip Glass was a partner in this exquisite endeavor.

Crystal Pite’s “Plot Point,” a work of genius, takes the characters, the drama, the movement, and challenges the overall artists individually. PNB and Pite released “Plot Point” during the pandemic so it could only be seen streaming. One might think this confinement was a handicap, yet it left a stunning impression which may have brought some of the audience out to see this piece again… LIVE. Yet the power of filmic intimacy, and risk was missed in the Chandler’s grand house. Film Noir is intimate. The sense of dark and light, the sense of no space to hide or breath, not knowing what’s behind each door, was lost. The humor of the setup, the inciting incident, contextual shift, each step to the climax needed to bring the audience closer until finally they were hooked.

PNB principal dancer James Moore with company dancers in Crystal Pite's "Plot Point" - Photo by Angela Sterling

PNB principal dancer James Moore with company dancers in Crystal Pite’s “Plot Point” – Photo by Angela Sterling

The work revealed Pite’s directorial sensibilities, along with each dancer’s facile characterizations (the Jones, Miles Perti, Elizabeth Murphy; The Smith’s Lucien Postlewaite, Elle Macy, Fernando, Ezra Thomson; Celia, Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan; Thug 1 and 2, Ryan Cardea and Jonathan Batista…and the “Replicas” Christopher D’Ariano, Leah Terada, Kyle Davis, Lesley Rausch, Noah Martzall, and Angelica Generosa). It was fascinating, whimsical and brilliant. This piece can certainly be appreciated by Southern California, Hollywood, and the film industry. It’s what it knows, it’s what it does. The value of this work and its screen readiness can best be done on screen or in an intimate theatre with confined space. No matter! The company did a masterful job in the use of small subtle movements; a nod, a shrug, a step or flick, a knife, a crawl, even the credits. All challenged the audience to follow the passing suitcase, or gun, then suddenly finding oneself running through a forest, and perhaps resolution. No doubt, this was one of the major pieces of the evening.

PNB principal dancer James Moore with company dancers in Twyla Tharp's "Waiting at the Station" - Photo by Angela Sterling

PNB principal dancer James Moore with company dancers in Twyla Tharp’s “Waiting at the Station” – Photo by Angela Sterling

For the closer, Twyla Tharp’s “Waiting at the Station” ends the evening with a universal theme, passing a personal legacy from one generation to another. In Tharp’s piece, the Father, beautifully danced by James Yoichi Moore, attempts to connect and hand down his “steps” to his son. The son is played by the cool capable but interior Kyle Davis. Swirling around the story are the three leggy Guilded Fates, performed by Amanda Morgan, Sarah Pasch and Genevieve Waldorf. They gingerly move through spinning threads of human fate, then dispensing of it, and finally cutting that thread and determining the moment of passing and riding that train to the next world. Weaving throughout are two lovely dance couples, Joshua Grant and Elle Macy, Elizabeth Murphy and Miles Perti. They layer a subplot of rivalry, jealousy and celebration over their love for dance and their partners as they do the gambol, waltz, spar and swing. Behind all these goings on, Tharp has included a kind of Greek Chorus (the corps) who reacts and responds to the narrative, and in good form, punctuates the action.

The music by New Orleans R&B artist Allen Toussaint, is a lively romp. The sets and costumes, circa 1940’s, by Santo Loquasto, are reminiscent of American Ballet Theatre’s Americana beginnings, and because of this, the company seemed comfortable dancing and presenting it. PNB certainly is beautiful and capable, and L.A. would love to have them back. Hopefully, next time bringing one of their masterful Flag Ship pieces, Robbins’ lyrical, Dances at a Gathering that fully shows their thrilling technique, romanticism and freedom.

To learn more about Pacific Northwest Ballet, please visit their website.

To find out more about Presents Dance at the Music Center, please visit their website.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Dylan Wald and soloist Elle Macy in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Curious Kingdom” – Photo by Angela Sterling