Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Moving, Feeling, Thinking

PNB dancers Cecelia Iliesiu and Dylan Wald soar in Donald Byrd's "Love and Loss"
photo @ Angela Sterling
Celebration and lamentation. Love and loneliness. Beauty and the persistent strength of women.

All of this is onstage in Pacific Northwest Ballet's current offering, "Locally Sourced."

PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal commissioned three Seattle-area choreographers to create work for the company: Donald Byrd, Miles Pertl and Eva Stone. Byrd, who leads his own Seattle dance troupe, Spectrum Dance Theater, is an award-winning, internationally known artist. Stone, a respected teacher and dance maker, also heads her own company and runs an annual dance festival called Chop Shop. Pertl is better known as a dancer; he's a member of PNB's corps de ballet.

These three artists approached their commissions from their own life experiences; their deeply personal works allow the fine PNB performers to stretch technically and artistically. The result is a thought-provoking, emotionally resonant program.
Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite in Eva Stone's "FOIL"
photo @ Angela Sterling

Eva Stone's beautiful FOIL opens the bill. Stone divides her ballet into five distinct sections, which she thinks of as individual rooms in a house. They're delineated by a moving collection of chandeliers, and illuminated lovingly by the talented Amiya Brown. Each section is set to music by a different female composer, and performed by seven women and four men.

In a post-show interview, Stone said she chose the title, FOIL, as a comment on the role women play in society, and more specifically in the dance world, where female dancers comprise the vast majority, but are a distinct minority when it comes to artistic decision-making at either the choreographic or administrative levels.
PNB dancers in Eva Stone's "FOIL"
photo @ Angela Sterling

This artistic motivation might sound defiant, and Stone most certainly is aware of the challenges that have faced her during her long career. But her dance is a gossamer creation, made of pastel colors, delicate crystal chandeliers, and above all, lovely evanescent movements.

Of particular note, a trio performed by Cecelia Iliesiu, Margaret Mullin and Emma Love Suddarth. The women wear long ivory skirts that are draped over what look like antique hoops; their bare backs face us throughout this section, and as they braid around one another, their muscles ripple, revealing the strength that underlies this delicate beauty.

In a dance full of striking images, I particularly enjoyed the pas de deux for principal dancers Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite. These longtime friends and partners imbue their movements with technical grace as well as deep emotion, so satisfying to witness. Soloist Margaret Mullin also shines.
Postlewaite and Leta Biasucci in Donald Byrd's "Love and Loss"
photo @ Angela Sterling

Donald Byrd's "Love and Loss" is second on the program. This is a contemplative---and heart breaking---rumination on relationships, set to music by Israeli composer Emmanuel Witzthum.

Seattle audiences may know Byrd best for his work addressing racial and social issues. But Byrd has a long legacy of work inspired by both his love of music and his fascination with human interactions.

"Love and Loss" features more than 20 dancers in an unfolding series of duets and trios. In the first, Lucien Postlewaite emerges slowly from the rear of the stage, through one of five "doorways" created by set and lighting designer Randall G. Chiarelli. His spiky movements are full of longing. Leta Biasucci comes from the shadows to join him in a passionate duet that conveys all the highs and lows of first love. Ultimately, though, when he reaches his hand to her, she spurns him.

This dynamic is repeated in other onstage partnerships: Madison Rayn Abeo and Benjamin Griffiths; Joshua Grant and Christopher D'Ariano; Amanda Morgan, Ryan Cardea and Price Suddarth. Byrd guides us through one slow heartbreak after another. Ultimately Dylan Wald and Cecelia Iliesiu dance a, perhaps, more optimistic expression of love.
PNB dancers in Byrd's "Love and Loss"
photo @ Angela Sterling

"Love and Loss" was affecting and evocative, but its power is diluted by its length. I'd love to see it tightened a bit because this is a ballet that deserves to be presented beyond PNB.

The program ends with Miles Pertl's love letter to his hometown. "Wash of Gray" starts and ends with rain and mist and mountains. The dancers move in front of two large screens that project images created by Pertl's sister and artistic partner, Sydney.
PNB dancers in Miles Pertl's "Wash of Gray"
photo @ Angela Sterling

Although Pertl deploys more than a dozen of his fellow company members, the strongest sections of his ballet are two duets and a brief, surprising solo performed by Sarah Pasch, who is seven months pregnant. She is always a strong presence onstage, but she has never looked more radiant.

Each of these three ballets showcases the dancers lovingly, and presents the talents of the homegrown choreographers and their collaborators. The result is a satisfying evening that presented far more beautiful moments than I can catalog here. And yet, at both shows I attended, there were rows of empty seats. Perhaps it's a fear of risking precious dollars on an unknown program? I'm here to tell you this show will satisfy both lovers of the classical idiom and those whose tastes are more adventurous. "Locally Sourced" is a window into the ways dance, and dancers, can express what it means to be human.

"Locally Sourced" is at McCaw Hall through Sunday, November 17.