Pacific Northwest Ballet kicks off their 2020-2021 virtual season, aptly titled “Dance Happens Everywhere,” to a thundering and glorious start with their October showing of Rep 1. Featuring a series of nine excerpts, Rep 1’s range in style and choreography showcases the company’s ability to champion ballet in the era of Covid-19. All rehearsal, performance and filming occurred in the past few months, made possible by separating dancers into pods of four, paring down the orchestra, and implementing strict safety protocol.

Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s <i>The Calling</i> © Angela Sterling
Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s The Calling
© Angela Sterling

In a brief pre-show video, the dancers show how they place makeup and masks in personal containers next to the stage. Rather than seeming bleak or post-apocalyptic, the dancers speak of hope and gratitude. It seems there is much to be excited about at PNB – the digital performance showcases a series of solos and socially distant dances, with one PNB premiere, seven role debuts, and a diverse set of choreographers.

The performance is split into two acts and boasts classics such as Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, George Balanchine’s Jewels, and Swan Lake, as well as a premiere and a variety of works that push the boundaries of ballet. Precise editing allows the viewer to enjoy the articulation of the dancers from varied perspectives. In fact, the digital format allows for a rare closeness normally reserved for the coveted orchestra seats.

Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake takes on new life as the camera allows the viewer to watch repetitions from different distances, following the dancers from far away and then closer. Set against a minimalist backdrop, the crisp technique is all that is left. The excerpt showcases the pas de trois male variation, the Odette variation, and the “Black Swan” pas de deux, with all dancers debuting these roles for the first time. Notable was Angelica Generosa’s perfectly syncopated performance of the Black Swan, with her fouettés appearing even more magical having not seen them for months.

Leta Biasucci in <i>Emeralds</i> © Angela Sterling
Leta Biasucci in Emeralds
© Angela Sterling

Other debuts include Christopher D’Ariano’s cloudlike performance of One Body, a PNB premiere choreographed by Albert Evans and originally performed in 2003 by PNB Artistic Direct Peter Boal. Leta Biasucci debuted a gorgeous and even-keeled Emeralds solo, and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan stole the show with her spunky smile in the Rubies pas de deux.

Particularly striking were the sections of Eva Stone’s FOIL. The first, Be Still, featured three dancers facing upstage. The entire section only revealed their backs, with the occasional side profile. Their attentiveness to their performance quality gave way to the second section, Wait, a solo performed by Abby Jane DeAngelo. Gone is the dainty ballerina and in her place is something far more magnificent. The dancers easily slip into a rendering of individuality usually attributed to 20th-century modern dance. Perhaps this is further facilitated by the way the digital format allows the viewer to see the dancer’s facial expression with increased clarity.

James Moore in Marco Goecke’s <i>Mopey</i> © Angela Sterling
James Moore in Marco Goecke’s Mopey
© Angela Sterling

Other standouts include Marco Goecke’s Mopey and Jessica Lang’s The Calling. In Mopey, principal dancer James Moore performs a musical rendition of Goecke’s choreography. His gestures carefully observe the changes in music, which shift from silence to Bach to the American punk rock band The Cramps. The piece showcases his ability to alternate between moments of extreme restraint and other moments of an utter lack of control.

Directly after Moore’s intentionally erratic performance, soloist Dylan Wald finds a statuesque tenderness in The Calling. Framed by a long white skirt that spills across the stage, Wald performs a solo generated almost entirely of upper body movement, twisting and pulling as if to grab onto the sky. He unfurls into one lone arabesque before gently collapsing in on himself.

A theme of the night appears to be escaping confinement. Each excerpt takes a balletic trope and turns it on its head, questioning the traditions of ballet as much as the show reaffirms these very traditions. The dancers burst across the stage with renewed hope, recalling a world of packed theaters and looking toward one that reimagines ballet. Surely, Pacific Northwest Ballet is leading the way.


This performance was reviewed from the PNB video stream.

****1