Sunday, March 19, 2023


Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet member Genevieve Waldorf, left, with soloist Christopher D'Ariano in Penny Saunders' Wonderland. Photo @ Angela Sterling


Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal made a good choice when he named the company’s latest program.

Boundless means limitless, according to my dictionary; an apt description when I think back on the three dances that make up the Boundless bill.

Boal has made it his practice to bring audiences two contemporary ballet programs each year, in November and March. Sometimes those dances are imported from other companies. In the case of Boundless—and thanks to the season-long celebration of PNB’s 50th anniversary--we get two world premieres plus the stage debut of Penny Saunder’s witty Wonderland, originally commissioned and presented as part of PNB’s 2020-21 digital-only artistic season.

Saunders, PNB resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo and the internationally acclaimed dancemaker Jessica Lang offered up three completely different works, each showcasing the company dancers to their best advantage.

PNB Principal Dancer Lucien Postlewaite, left, with company members in
Penny Saunders' Wonderland. Photo @ Angela Sterling

Wonderland, a love letter to theaters and the artists who inhabit them, originally was videotaped in various locations in the empty McCaw Hall, where PNB (and Seattle Opera) regularly perform. In 2020, when Saunders created the dance, the world had been shut down for months, and nobody knew when we’d all gather again in person. In revisiting Wonderland almost three years later, Saunders had to address our changed circumstances while retaining the essence of her homage to the magic that can happen in a theater.

The new Wonderland is bookended by the always fabulous Elle Macy. She emerges from the orchestra pit at the beginning, baton at the ready, to conduct a set of white-gloved hands that have poked their way under the heavy red velvet curtain. Macy reprises her conducting role at the end of the dance. In between, we revel in soloist Christopher D’Ariano and corps de ballet member Genevieve Waldorf’s duet on the stage, as well as principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite’s pas de deux with corps member Mark Cuddihee, performed in separate box seats above and across the sea of audience members.

Elle Macy, left, with Dylan Wald in Wonderland.
photo @ Angela Sterling

Saunders’ work not only survived the jump from small screen to live stage, it transcended, providing haunting moments of pure beauty along with the whimsy. One of the highlights was welcoming back principal dancer Dylan Wald, who’s been out for almost a year with a serious injury. Saunders made Wonderland with him in 2020, and it was truly a joy to see this talented artist back in his element.

If Wonderland left us feeling upbeat, Alejandro Cerrudo’s new Black on Black on Black, a combination of demanding, sometimes confounding, stage wizardry (kudos to the backstage crew and stage management for what had to be a monumental evening of scrim jockeying) and moments of simply lyrical dance.

Watching the sheer beauty of Leah Terada, perched atop Chris D’Ariano’s behind, slowly surfing a sea of dancers lying prone onstage is something to behold.

Luminous Angelica Generosa with James Kirby Rogers in
Alejandro Cerrudo's Black on Black on Black. Photo @ Angela Sterling

Two other sections linger: principals Angelica Generosa and James Kirby Rogers performed a lovely duet that showcased both their technical prowess and their artistry. (In fact, Generosa danced in all three pieces on opening night, and shone equally (and blindingly) in each).

The other highlight was a solo for corps de ballet member Noah Martzall. I wish I had a picture to show you, but you’ll have to content yourself with this photo of Martzall in Crystal Pite’s amazing The Seasons’ Canon. He’s definitely a rising presence in a ballet company that boasts any number of talented dancers.

That's Noah Martzall in the middle, surrounded by fellow PNB dancers in
Crystal Pite's fabulous The Seasons' Canon. Photo @ Angela Sterling

The program’s final work was Jessica Lang’s Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee, (LMMTWT for short) set to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, performed by the always wonderful PNB orchestra with singers Christina Siemens and Sarra Sharif Doyle. LMMTWT couldn’t be more different from the two dances that preceded it.

PNB dancers in Jessica Lang's Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee
photo @ Angela Sterling

The 18th century Stabat Mater is about Mary’s grief at the death of her son, Jesus. While there’s no mistaking the Christian symbolism in this ballet, Lang intends her work to transcend this particular story. But with the dancers clad in flowing costumes in faded gold, peach and blue and re-creating what look like Renaissance-era Church frescos, it’s hard to think beyond the New Testament. As a non-Christian, religious artworks like this often leave me cold. The assumption of the universality of their message is ignorant of the experiences of those of us on the outside. 

PNB company members in Jessica Lang's Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee
Photo @ Angela Sterling

But mid-way through, the cast swaps the pastel tights, skirts and flowing shirts for costumes rendered in super-saturated purple, blue, green and red. Despite the gigantic crucifix set piece, the costume change is where this ballet opened up for me.

I don’t want to give much away, but choreographically (and musically) the end of LMMTWT is magnificent; it is Lang’s visual rendering of the fugue we hear the orchestra play. The intricacy and the dancers’ grace truly are something to behold.

LMMTWT is an ensemble work; opening night featured some solid performances from several of the company’s newer members including Audrey Malek, Clara Ruf Maldonado and Kuu Sakuragi. They were as strong as such veterans as James Yoichi Moore, Elizabeth Murphy and Generosa, who truly was luminous. 

Angelica Generosa with James Moore in Jessica Lang's Let Me Mingle Tears With Thee
Photo @ Angela Sterling

Boundless, onstage March 23-26 at McCaw Hall, offered a smorgasbord of new work. There were those moments of transcendent beauty, the ones I always hope to see; there were also times when I wondered what I was watching.

What I am certain about is that PNB’s dancers look great right now, from the five newly-hired apprentices to accomplished principal dancers like Macy, Wald, Postlewaite and Generosa. Watching Martzall, D’Ariano, Terada and Sakuragi on opening night left me excited for the company’s future, whatever choreography comes their way.

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