For this season's Director's Choice, Pacific Northwest Ballet's artistic director Peter Boal selected works by three choreographers whom he regards among the "truly gifted" of this era. The program presents: Year of the Rabbit by Justin Peck (New York City Ballet), Little Mortal Jump by Alejandro Cerrudo (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), and Rush by Paul Gibson (PNB). These works show an exploration into choreographic language that perhaps emerges when choreographers work among the dancers for whom the pieces are created.

Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand in Paul Gibson’s <i>Rush</i> © Angela Sterling
Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand in Paul Gibson’s Rush
© Angela Sterling
Gibson's Rush opened the program. The neoclassical style and connected movement patterns recall Balanchine's influence, but the choreography frequently appears in tension with the music, Bohuslav Martinu's Double Concerto For Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Tympani. While the eighteen dancers seem at ease with the steps, the choreographic phrases never really settle with the tempo, which ranges from frantic to melancholy. Although, deliberately off-kilter balances do evoke this uneasy state. The vocabulary favours straight-legged arabesques and arms in outstretched third position, and a proud carriage in the upper body. These intersecting limbs create interesting visual images made more dramatic by the shadows of the ensemble downstage, while the leads, Lesley Rauch and Jerome Tisserand, remained lit in the centre (lighting design by Linda Pinkham). Rauch and Tisserand, in leotards in ochre and purple stand out from the ensemble in dark red. Against the matte costuming, the women's sparkly red earrings were a nice touch. 

Alejandro Cerrudo's Little Mortal Jump, a PNB première, is delightfully theatrical, and its dance vocabulary is no less expressive. With the house lights still up, Price Suddarth, in a collared shirt, suspenders and dark pants, like someone of the 'Newsies' era, runs down the aisle to get onto the stage. Cerrudo's choreography is full of playful surprises – immediately after Suddarth jumps into the orchestra pit, James Moore pops up, light and airy in his steps, from behind a black box onstage, lit dramatically through fog effects (Cerrudo is also the scenic designer). With the atmosphere of an early 20th century cabaret, tender narratives are expressed through each duet. 

Price Suddarth in Alejandro Cerrudo’s <i>Little mortal jump</i> © Angela Sterling
Price Suddarth in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump
© Angela Sterling
Cerrudo's choreographic vocabulary and the dancers' characterization develop distinct personalities and add depth to the duets. One is more physically complex, with interlocking limbs and lifts that were outwardly expressive, and another is more dreamy and delicate – the man's light touch initiates the woman's gestures as they fall into each other's arms. Yet another continuously twists and turns – even in a pause, the dancers' presence seems expansive. A diverse soundscape – from composers Max Richter and Philip Glass, to the band Beirut – complement Cerrudo's choreography and staging. The costumes, designed by Braminira Ivanova, dress the ten dancers in grey shades, with the women in short shift-dresses with lace pattern overlay. Props, including a velcro wall, are never overbearing. The moveable large black boxes are simple forms that can frame a pair of lovers, or separate them. As the stage darkens over the blocks, spinning hypnotically by an unseen force, we slowly awaken and bid the dancers farewell.

Year of The Rabbit was Peck's first creation for the New York City Ballet. In a nod to Balanchine and Robbins, this piece impresses with structural complexity and charm. 

With eighteen dancers, Peck builds shapes and structures that come to life with injections of wit and humor. The women swing from the men's arms and slide gleefully on their bums. Traveling to downstage right, the ensemble takes an index finger to their lips and makes an audible 'shhhhhh' upon exit. With a concerted slap of their hands to the ground, the dancers change up the momentum. Out of the ensemble, solos and duets of ample personality emerge. Angelica Generosa's theatricality is unmatched and her footwork is swift and precise, with energy to spare. Noelani Pantastico and Benjamin Griffiths perform a touching duet – Pantastico in particular has a captivating warmth that stands out against the cool, modern ensemble. The music, composed by Sufjan Stevens, is mainly strings-based and richly-textured, bringing out the range and personality in the choreography.

Angelica Generosa with company dancers in Justin Peck’s <i>Year of the Rabbit</i> © Angela Sterling
Angelica Generosa with company dancers in Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit
© Angela Sterling
Solid-coloured backdrops are decidedly simple, changing colours with each tableau. Peck also designed the costumes of turquoise tops and tights for men, and leotards and pleated skirts, edged by a white stripe, for the women. The last scene recalls that of Balanchine's Serenade, where the protagonist departs mournfully towards an upstage light. Here, Generosa runs between the ensemble of two parallel diagonal lines, and leaps into the arms of four men who catch her above their shoulders. Instead of departing, Generosa looks confidently back at the ensemble as if to declare that she is here to stay.  

****1