Pacific Northwest Ballet is a choreographer’s mecca, a company which believes in embracing new work without neglecting the past: not just recent choreographers already well known, such as Crystal Pite and Justin Peck, but works created within the PNB company. Such a one is Price Suddarth, who joined PNB in 2010 and whose choreographic skills have been nurtured and encouraged there. Recently his work has been performed by several companies and this weekend his Signatures was included in Seattle along with masterpieces by George Balanchine and José Limón.

Pacific Northwest Ballet in Price Suddarth’s <i>Signature</i> © Angela Sterling
Pacific Northwest Ballet in Price Suddarth’s Signature
© Angela Sterling

Signatures is composed along classic lines with two pairs of principal dancers, four more couples and three more women. It begins arrestingly with a single dancer moving silhouetted in a pool of light, joined by a partner. Gradually the numbers and the pools of light grow to include everyone. Clad simply in Mark Zappone’s blue leotards, nude legs and pointe shoes for the women and blue tights for the men with a close-fitting top, the dancers move in couples, as groups of men and women, apart and together, sometimes as singles. Suddarth uses classic lines and choreography but it still feels individual in the way he puts moves together. Nothing seems contrived, all is fluid, there is plenty of variety. He makes excellent use of stage space and the music, this last commissioned from Barrett Anspach (whose sister used to be a company member). Randall G. Chiarelli’s lighting enhances the whole. This is a good, solid work, perhaps a few minutes too long, but worth seeing again.

Angelica Generosa and Kyle Davis in Balanchine's <i>Tarantella</i> © Angela Sterling
Angelica Generosa and Kyle Davis in Balanchine's Tarantella
© Angela Sterling

Balanchine’s Tarantella followed, a delicious, all too short work which appears easy when well danced but is anything but thanks to its quicksilver moves, split second timing and essential musicality. Angelica Generosa (who was taught this role by Patricia McBride) is one of those dancers who rivets the eye when on stage, and this was perfect for her. With every move clean and balance excellent, she exuded joy and a coquettish delight. Her partner, Kyle Davis, equaled her ability with his own dazzling display.

Lindsi Dec, Steven Loch, Joshua Grant and Elizabeth Murphy in <i>The Moor’s Pavane</i> © Angela Sterling
Lindsi Dec, Steven Loch, Joshua Grant and Elizabeth Murphy in The Moor’s Pavane
© Angela Sterling

The total contrast of Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane, which followed, showed off other attributes of the company, this time as much actors as dancers. This performance was one which shook the watcher in its intensity, all within the grave movements of Purcell’s music and Limón’s choreography. Staged by Jennifer Scanlon, the four characters imbued their characters so clearly that the audience would have had no need to know the story of Shakespeare’s Othello, here in its essence. Steven Loch as The Friend (the Bard’s Iago) gave off a duality of skin-crawling servility mixed with evil. His Wife, Lindsi Dec, appeared a combination of venality and sexual response, while Joshua Grant, The Moor, portrayed superbly the refusal to hear the Friend’s accusations, then the doubt, the pain, the anguish, lastly the explosive rage of belief and its horrific aftermath. Elizabeth Murphy, the Moor’s Wife (Desdemona) contrasted the emotions swirling around her with innocence and bewilderment. This performance of a masterpiece was a masterpiece in itself.

Jerome Tisserand and Lesley Rausch in Balanchine's <i>Theme and Variations</i> © Angela Sterling
Jerome Tisserand and Lesley Rausch in Balanchine's Theme and Variations
© Angela Sterling

It was hard to imagine what could follow, but also hard to imagine sending an audience home on that note. Boal chose the elegant classicism of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, with its formal salon backdrop and large cast in classical costume to calm everyone down while being absorbed in the gradually increasing complexity of Balanchine’s variations. Led by Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand, two of the company’s strongest and most elegant dancers,

it also showed off the quality of PNB’s corps de ballet. Its dancing and fine precision faltered only once during this, when edges seemed a bit ragged, but all evening what was also notable was the musicality shown by everyone in their timing. It was helped of course by the quality of PNB’s orchestra, directed by music director Emil de Cou which had a chance to show off by itself earlier with the overture, curtain down, to Theme and Variations.


*****