It’s clear in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new repertory program, Locally Sourced, that cultural creativity flourishes in the Pacific Northwest. With three world premieres from local choreographers working with 15 other local artists creating music, lighting, scenic and costume designs, the results at opening night were a triumph. And that’s not to downplay the contributions of the dancers, fully two thirds of the company.

<i>F O I L</i> © Angela Sterling
F O I L
© Angela Sterling

The theme of the evening was not just local, but collaborative. All three choreographers know each other, from the internationally known Donald Byrd, for 20 years resident here and artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater, to Eva Stone, 25 year resident working as modern dance choreographer and teacher with her own company, on the faculties of both PNB and Spectrum Dance and founder and curator of Chop Shop, a local contemporary dance festival, and Miles Pertl, PNB company dancer and rising choreographer who studied with Stone as a boy, then danced in Europe before coming home to Seattle.

Opening the program, Stone’s work, F O I L, used ten women and four men in sections which flowed into one another, punctuated by the rising and falling of 13 chandeliers in different numbers, the work beginning with one dancer blowing alight one small chandelier, and at the end, blowing it out.

Without using moves particularly unusual and without pointe shoes, F O I L held the attention for the shape of the whole piece and the fluidity which inhabited the dancers’ work throughout, including the third section with multiple lifts in turn by four couples. It changed from groups in light filmy pastel-coloured tops over briefs to three dancers with full length transparent panniered skirts and a striking sight: one dancer surrounded by increasing numbers of plate-sized fibre optic fairly lights which sparkled, ten moving pairs held by darkened dancers, spotlight just on the one.

Stone’s gifted team included her assistant Sarena Fishman Jimenez, costume designer Melanie Burgess, lighting designer Amiya Brown and a string quartet from the PNB orchestra playing works by five women composers drawn from four centuries.

<i>Love and Loss</i> © Angela Sterling
Love and Loss
© Angela Sterling

Byrd chose to provide no programme notes for his Love and Loss. It spoke for itself. While Stone’s work emphasised the female dancers, Byrd’s was notable for showcasing one after another of PNB’s male dancers, in which the company has for years been very strong, several of the performers still corps members. In four movements, to music composed by Byrd’s frequent collaborator, Emmanuel Witzthum, Byrd explored the feelings engendered by love and loss in all their relationship aspects. The music, which had no rhythm but moved slowly from one harmony to another, could have been no help to the dancers’ movements, instead being backdrop to the emotions portrayed.

Lucien Postlewaite’s painful anguish in movement to his reaching out to Leta Biasucci like a lifeline, from their eye-lock to her departure, riveted the attention near the start. Different feelings, different attitudes from the tumultuous to the light-hearted ensued with different couples, sometimes a sense of waiting or wondering, one woman playing two men, two men together.

It was a marvel of constant illustrative movement, with glacially slow walking times to or from a relationship, the women on pointe gliding in or around the men. The dancers used all they had to show these emotions, from slow lifts, some difficult requiring controlled strength by both partners, to slight head or hand gestures which changed a mood, to frenetic agony of despair. Byrd worked with three assistants, plus costume designer Doris Black and Randall G. Chiarelli for scenic and lighting design, while Josh Archibald-Seiffer conducted a small group of musicians. The work is a masterpiece.

<i>Wash of Gray</i> © Angela Sterling
Wash of Gray
© Angela Sterling

Miles Pertl’s Wash of Gray celebrates Seattle and Pacific Northwest. His sister, Sydney M .Pertl, designed with Maxfield Woodring and Eli Lara a moving cityscape and environs in black strokes washed on grey, even a lighted cruise ship. With music by Jherek Bischoff plus sounds of trains, planes, birdsong, waves, Wash succeeded in being an evocative piece. There was no need for titles to recognise the city, its underground, ubiquitous rain (yes, rain as typical Seattle light drizzle continued throughout much of the work), the mountains.

The twenty dancers also reflected Seattle weather. The washes of grey in the title showed up in Patrick Stovall’s costumes, flowing tunics for all of graduated off white (fog?) descending to greys or soft blues, all but four dancers whose tunics graduated from white to red or yellows, perhaps celebrating Seattle’s flowers in fleeting sunlight.

Pertl’s choreography mirrored the environment astonishingly well in the way he designed moves, enhanced briefly by an earth mother, 28 weeks pregnant dancer Sarah Pasch. The only quibble might be the section where the backdrop traveled across as though seen from a train, fast enough to feel disorienting.

The work was added to by lighting designer Reed Nakayama and costume designer Patrick Stovall while Emil de Cou conducted the PNB orchestra. The whole is the sum of its parts, all equally important. It’s perhaps the first work quite like this to be mounted at PNB and congratulations are due to the visionaries who saw its potential.

*****