Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the great American dance companies, and it has lots of talent. In terms of movement and style, the company most ressembles New York City Ballet. The women especially move with speed and sharp attack, but Artistic Director Peter Boal’s greatest gift is his shrewd ability to choose dancers who are interesting to watch, even when the choreography is less than stellar. PNB has a number of wonderful dancers at the core, and some really intriguing performers.

Rachel Foster and James Moore in <i>Tide Harmonic</i> © Angela Sterling
Rachel Foster and James Moore in Tide Harmonic
© Angela Sterling

Travelling with just half the company and using recorded music is probably a necessary cost saving move, but it does lessen the experience. I missed seeing the full company but more importantly, there is something about the extra distance that a live orchestra provides that raises the action onstage to a more exalted level. That separation might have helped to elevate Christopher Wheeldon’s Tide Harmonic. It’s a well-crafted piece that seeks to make aquadynamics visible and mostly succeeds at doing so. It was well danced, especially by PNB’s iron man, James Moore (dancing in all three ballets that night) who convincingly portrayed the whirls and eddies of water. There is nothing wrong with the ballet, but ultimately, it was the least fulfilling work on the program.

It was with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Memory Glow that I understood that what was lacking in Tide Harmonic was the human connection. Cerrudo’s work is passionate and gave the dancers opportunities to engage with the push-pull of human relationships. It was dramatic without being melodramatic, sweet without being treacly. The selection of pieces (by various composers) fits together seamlessly; with some of the best dancing moments actually happening during the extended silence between musical numbers. Here again, James Moore was strong; and his duet with Angelica Generosa was touching and poignant. Elizabeth Murphy also stood out. Memory Glow was the clear favorite and drew the strongest ovation.

Carla Körbes, who danced in Justin Peck’s 'non première' of Debonair , is PNB's undisputed star. In what was billed as a preview rather than a première, Körbes ruled the stage. She is the one dancer in the company that we could easily imagine taking the stage and holding her own with the New York City Ballet’s elite. She is a top calibre dancer, and it’s always a pleasure to watch a dancer who moves with such assurance and lyricism.

Jérome Tisserand and Carla Körbes in <i>Debonair</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Jérome Tisserand and Carla Körbes in Debonair
© Yi-Chun Wu
Debonair had plenty of non-narrative dramatic posturing, which ultimately, had little effect. George Antheil’s music, Serenade for Strings and Orchestra, no. 1, is reminiscent of Prokofiev's. While moody and colorful, it didn’t support the occasional dramatics of the dance; and the emotions portrayed on stage seemed to come from nowhere. At one moment, Körbes and Jerome Tisserand were happy and flirtatious and then quickly became fraught with anxiety but with no clear reason for the transition. Emotionalism like this without a dramatic context is somewhat hazardous  and can seem to be affectation, which, for me, was the case here.

Overall, it was a fine performance and showcased the strengths of the ensemble. PNB is a company that is well worth going out of your way to see. Hopefully budget constraints will loosen up to enable them to tour more frequently with the full company and orchestra. It’s an expensive proposition, but the extras are definitely worth it, and a live orchestra would have added a great deal to the experience of this otherwise fine performance.