This brief programme has brought to an end an excellent digital season from Pacific Northwest Ballet, which has been as varied and exciting as any during the pandemic, including several world premieres (one of which, Ghost Variations by Jessica Lang was rated so highly by UK dance critics that it has been nominated for Best Digital Choreography in this year’s National Dance Awards). This Season Encore was both a culmination of these digital offerings and a farewell party, since it was a tribute to seven dancers who are either retiring or moving on to pastures new.

It was therefore high on sentiment with valedictory statements introducing each work either from artistic director, Peter Boal, his predecessor, Francia Russell (joint artistic director with Kent Stowell, from 1977-2005) or another colleague. In between these talking heads, each departing dancer featured in an excerpt from the repertoire. Since these were mostly brief (the whole programme was less than an hour) the overall dance content, whilst having personal significance to each of the leavers, was on the skimpy side.

Clara Ruf Maldonado in Miles Pertl and Leah Terada’s Happening
© Noel Pederson

The programme opened with a re-run of Happening, a digital film made last year, with choreography by two members of the PNB corps de ballet, Leah Terada and Miles Pertl, featuring ten of the company dancers, amongst whom was the departing Angeli Kiana Mamon-Urrea, who had joined the corps in 2016 as the first female from PNB's DanceChance programme to graduate into the company. Happening was shot mostly in and around the streets and parks of the company’s home city of Seattle, featuring fountains, the Puget Sound and some impressive street art, interlaced with studio rehearsal footage and Zoom experimentation, lining up different dancers within their little digital boxes, performing the same movements in separate streets or inside their various homes. It was occasionally charming and a good example of the early pandemic pioneering of digital dance but fifteen months’ into the age of coronavirus and such films now appear commonplace.

The second dancer to be celebrated was soloist, Steven Loch, who is moving on to Miami City Ballet following a decade with PNB. Loch was showcased in two filmed extracts from different productions of Swan Lake: first, a fleeting solo from Alexei Ratmansky’s staging of Alexander Gorsky’s choreography, performed last month; followed by part of the “Black Swan” pas de deux, paired with Angelica Generosa, in Stowell’s choreography, which had been part of this season’s earlier repertoire, back in October 2020. 

Laura Tisserand with Bathkurel Bold in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake
© AngelaSterlingPhoto (2015)

Leah Merchant – who joined the company as an apprentice in 2007 – was given a world premiere in the dance film, For You, a brief signature piece created for her by fellow PNB dancer, Christopher D’Ariano, to music by Thomas Nickell and Fiona Stocks-Lyons. This film also juggled interior scenes with Merchant dancing enigmatically in a dark space, wearing a long, halter-necked, plush, purple dress, followed, in stark contrast, by a sunny day with the dancer holding a baby (her baby?) on a beach by the Puget Sound. 

Another world premiere, Salt of the Earth, was a curious piece by Ezra Thompson, created for his colleague, William Lin-Yee – who joined PNB in 2008 and was promoted to principal in 2016 – and danced by both of them, together with Ryan Cardea and Jerome Tisserand. Thompson celebrates the softer side of male camaraderie, progressing from a quartet, approximating centre work in class with the guys encouraging and applauding each other, before Thompson and Lin-Yee took the bonding into another artform by playing on two back-to-back grand pianos. Appropriately, it all ends in an affectionate hug.

Laura Tisserand and Jerome Tisserand in Edwaard Liang’s The Veil Between Worlds
© Lindsay Thomas

The three remaining works featured Laura and Jerome Tisserand, initially with each of them partnered by a third party, and concluding with the departing couple together in Edward Liang’s The Veil Between Worlds. Jerome partnered another leading principal, Lesley Rausch, in a dreamy interpretation of George Balanchine’s La Valse; followed by a film from 2015 of Laura as Odette (offsetting Generosa’s earlier Odile) partnered rather stiffly by Batkhurel Bold (then in the twilight of a 21-year career with the company). It was an odd choice and something more recent would have been preferable. By contrast, the Liang duet was strongly expressive and superbly danced with sensitivity and strength. Filmed this month, it was a fitting farewell to the company for two superb dancers who have given great service over many years. Laura (née Gilbraith) joined PNB in 2003; Jerome in 2007; they both became principals in 2014 and they leave together to join Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo for the 2021/22 season.  

Kudos is due to Boal and his artistic team at PNB for marking the departure of these seven dancers in such an even-handed way, honouring each one with their own segment of the show, irrespective of rank. The dance content was a mixed assortment of oddments but it was brought to a dramatic conclusion with that stunning Tisserand duet. 

This performance was reviewed from the PNB video stream