To celebrate its 50th anniversary season, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Artistic Director, Peter Boal have brought “Worlds To Come,” an exuberant trio of ballets to the Marion Oliver McGaw Hall stage. I was lucky enough to watch this performance on Saturday, June 17th via their streaming services. If one cannot get to Seattle to see them live, this is the next best thing.
“The Veil Between Worlds,” was the first work for PNB by choreographer Edwaard Liang. Created and seen digitally during the pandemic, this is the ballet’s live onstage debut. Program notes state, “Liang explores our common search for spiritual and physical connection.” Though this is a noble idea it can sometimes be intangible and this was the case here. This lack, however, did not make the work any less enjoyable.
An enormous flowing gold cloth heralds the start of the ballet, as the dancers fill the stage to the spritely first movement of the nimble score by composer Oliver Davis. The choreography suits the music with light jumps, turns and busy yet sometimes static staging. Lighting design, expertly rendered by Reed Nakayama enhances the many moods of the music. The creative costumes in shades of brown with blue accents, by Mark Zappone, are unique, and flattering to one and all.
Slow to start, the ballet builds in strength eventually drawing one into the sheer joy of movement and music. Surprisingly touching, were gorgeous adagios by Elle Macy and Dylan Wald and by veteran dancers Lesley Rausch and James Kirby Rogers. Also impressive were beautifully rendered solos by Dylan Wald and Johnathan Batista. The beauty of Davis’s music and the lyrical playing of violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim perfectly supported Liang’s vision. The PNB orchestra conducted by Josh Archibald-Seiffer excels as always.
There was no lack of pleasing, sometimes playful choreography, well executed by the dancers, though occasional unison movement faltered along with some awkward lifts and dismounts. Still, this is a lovely piece, easily enjoyable without being deeply meaningful and sometimes dance for its own sake is enough.
The terrific additional dancers were; Leta Biasucci, Cecilia Lliesiu, Ezra Thomas, Angelica Generosa, and Kuu Sakuragi.
The premier of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s, bold new work “Khepri,” brought the house down. “Khepri,” takes its inspiration from an Egyptian Deity, the scarab beetle. The beetle used “the sun as a navigation system and was therefore considered a symbol of life, death, birth and resurrection.” Again, this is an abstract idea that does not entirely come to fruition on the stage. However, what we do see is a brilliantly danced, mesmerizing piece that will hold you in its grip.
The mood is set when the curtain rises to reveal a dark stage with a brutalist sculpture hanging overhead like a malevolent cloud by scenic designer Norbert Herriges and Leah Harris. Dancers in effective black and gold costumes again designed by Mark Zappone, huddle center stage as superb lead dancer Ashton Edwards is lifted above the fray by Lucien Postlewaite and we are off on a mysterious Ochoa journey.
Ochoa has an innate sense of staging for large groups but can also pare it down to solos or duets without missing a beat. One such moment was the adagio featuring Elizabeth Murphy and James Kirby Rogers, gorgeous in all its nostalgic beauty. Not to be missed was the quick and agile performance by the gifted Kuu Sakuragi. The rest of the company meets every expectation with energy, wonderful technique and aplomb. Soloists include; Madison Rayn Abeo, Christian Poppe, Luther DeMyer and, Sarah Gabrielle Ryan. Ensemble members are; Ryan Cardea, Mark Cuddihea, Melisa Guilliams, Connor Horton, Zsilas Michael Hughes, Juliet Prine, Yuki Takahashi and Lily Wills.
While keeping the stage in constant motion, Ochoa never resorts to busyness. Every facet is carefully attended to in precise detail. With a slight Egyptian flair, the choreography feels new and inventive and in perfect synch with the intriguing score, composed by, Karl Jenkins and George Pelecis with an additional track by Lisa Gerrard. The music runs the gamut from ominous and regal to lively, and romantic, ending with a dose of melancholy. Again, the PNB orchestra, led by Josh Archibald-Seiffer is terrific as is violinist, Michael Jinsoo Lim.
Rather than a story Ochoa has created an atmosphere of the dark yet exalted world of the scarab of long ago. With her deep command of movement and musicality, we are with her and these remarkable dancers all the way.
Rounding out this trio is a new work from resident choreographer Kiyon Ross. “throes of increasing wonder” with music by Cristina Spinei, excellently conducted by Emil de Cou, is exactly as the title suggests. Though fully orchestrated the music has the bright refreshing feel of a ‘60’s movie matinee, which in turn informs the choreography of Ross, as well as the costumes of bright white with colorful accents by Pauline Smith. By using flats for depth scenic designers, Norbert Herriges and Reed Nakayama have added dimension to the stage, which is further enhanced by the saturated lighting design of Reed Nakayama.
The company of dancers seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they delve into the choreography, having enough fun to bring the audience along. Leaping, twirling, running on and off stage in a buoyant puzzle, they make complexity look easy. However, Ross smartly changes things up with a wistfully beautiful pas de duex for retiring ballerina, Leslie Rausch accompanied by the always elegant James Kirby Rogers. The final lift when Rogers whisks her off stage is a perfect end to this gorgeously emotional duet.
Overall, this light and airy pastiche is a joyous way to end the evening while still giving us something to think about.
Pacific Northwest Ballet has given its audience yet another season of glorious dance. Let us see what they do next. Whatever it is I hope to be there.
The radiant dancers for “throes of increasing wonder” were; Cecilia lluesiu, Miles Pertl, Johnathan Batista, Angelica Generosa, Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, Ezra Thomson, Madison Rayn Abeo, Price Suddarth, Christian Poppe, Juliet Prine, Dammiel Cruz-Garrido and Amanda Morgan.
The Ensemble included; Malena Ani, Ryan Cardea, Mark Cuddihee, Luther DeMyer, Ashton Edwards, Connor Horton, Kuu Sakuragi, Yuki Takahashi, Lily Wills and Destiny Wimpye.
For more about Pacific Northwest Ballet, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Dylan Wald with company dancers in the stage premiere of Edwaard Liang’s The Veil Between Worlds – Photo © Angela Sterling