Monday, February 4, 2019

Jonathan Porretta, I never want to say goodbye!

Jonathan Porretta, center stage as Carabosse in PNB's "The Sleeping Beauty"
photo @ Angela Sterling

A few years ago, Jonathan Porretta's misfortune was my good luck.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer had a severe injury; he'd finally opted for surgery that put him out of commission for months. While Porretta was sidelined, a good friend decided the time was ripe to approach him about being the subject of a book she tapped me to write. He agreed to a series of interviews.

Long story short, I spent a lot of time with him, talking about his early childhood, his amazing mother Jane, how he was bullied, and how ballet saved his life. Our conversations resulted in a book called “Out There: Jonathan Porretta’s Life in Dance,” designed by Rosie Gaynor for Seattle Scriptorum, with Angela Sterling's beautiful, beautiful photographs.

I’m telling you this because at the time, I asked Porretta what kind of plans he was hatching for his life OUT of dance. He couldn’t answer because, I think, he didn’t want to consider the future.
Jonathan Porretta, right, is Puck in George Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
photo @ Angela Sterling

For 20 years, Jonathan Porretta has been a fixture at PNB, dancing roles from Puck in Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a sailor in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free,” to Mercutio in Jean Christophe Maillot’s “Romeo et Juliette” to the masterful soloist in Molissa Fenley’s “State of Darkness.”
Porretta in Molissa Fenley's "State of Darkness" for PNB
photo @ Angela Sterling

Unfortunately, ever since his surgery, Porretta has struggled with a parade of other injuries, most recently to his Achilles tendon. Earlier this year he announced he would retire from the stage in June.

We get a chance to see him this week in PNB’s final production of Ronald Hynd’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” He’s cast as the evil fairy Carabosse, the one who doesn’t get invited to Princess Aurora’s christening and is so angry he casts an evil spell on the baby. You know the rest of the story, right?

On opening night, I barely restrained my applause when Porretta took the stage, face shrouded in a ragged cloak. Once Carabosse throws off the hood to reveal her face, Porretta stole the show, whirling like a dervish with a snake in hand, fingers wriggling like a pot of eels, cursing everyone he saw. My very favorite moment comes at Aurora's 16th birthday party, when Carabosse is seated downstage center, the hood covering her identity. She lifts her head and peeks out at us as if to say 'hey y'all, it's ME!' 
PNB Principal Dancer Lesley Rausch as Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty"
photo @ Angela Sterling

There’s no denying that Lesley Rausch was a beautiful, and technically stunning, Princess Aurora; her Florimund, Jerome Tisserand, was as princely as ever. Lindsi Dec was a lovely Lilac Fairy, and her retinue of fairy friends were all gorgeous, but special props to Angelica Generosa as the Fairy of Joy, Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan as the Fairy of Temperament, and newly promoted soloist Elle Macy (congratulations) as the Fairy of Generosity. Big kudos as well to Dylan Wald on his promotion. 

But frankly, I had come to watch Jonathan Porretta chew the scenery, to revel in his joy onstage. PNB has six more Sleeping Beauties this week at McCaw Hall; Porretta will dance in four of them, Thursday through Sunday evenings. Get a ticket to one of those shows; it may be your last chance to see him in his element, seemingly larger than life, a true performer.