In its first full repertory run in 28 months, Pacific Northwest Ballet presented to an almost full house four contemporary works, two seen here before, one new to PNB and one world premiere... and none of which required pointe shoes! Over the hiatus, the company has lost none of its renowned flexibility, versatility and willing ability to dive into new and unexpected dance moves.

Elle Macy in David Parsons’ Caught
© Angela Sterling

The new work was Robyn Mineko Williams’ Before I Was, created in collaboration with composers Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham and built on the dancers over the past six weeks. Williams’ jumping off moment was the fresh curiosity of children exploring their environments beside a house façade, and to that end she used two adult dancers mirroring those inquiring minds, plus two children, while the composers drifted on and off stage as they sang quietly to their orchestral score, which was conducted by Josh Archibald-Seiffer.

Christopher D’Ariano and Leah Terada, dancing on and beside a very steady chair, were exquisite to watch, the connection between them seamless as they twined over, around and above each other and the chair in smooth synchronization and complex, often sinuous moves. In three sections depicting childhood, teen years and adulthood, Williams created a sense of fun and wonder in the first part and the push-and-pull of teens discovering themselves in the second, but the adults seemed still to be discovering themselves. Throughout, D’Ariano and Terada wore casual clothes, he in long shorts and shirt, she in skirt and shirt. The whole was mesmerizing and beautiful. However, the two young students included seemed extraneous to the focus of the work. They appeared at the start, playing a seated game, and thereafter ran or walked across the stage at intervals with flashlights more like searchlights they shone on the audience.

David Parsons’ Caught is always thrilling to watch. His concept is flight, using strobe lights to catch a single dancer mid-pose in midair. It requires split second coordination between dancer and lights, more an athletic spectacle than a dance, per se. Elle Macy did the honors here with perfect timing.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Crystal Pite’s Plot Point
© Angela Sterling

Crystal Pite’s Plot Point was first seen here in 2017, a work I didn’t get then and still don’t despite knowing more now about Pite’s intentions for it. Her cinematic approach is a collection of episodes, as on a storyboard brought alive, with at times a house façade or trees, and two groups of people, one the actual actors, the other their ghostly replicas dressed completely in white, faces and all. Are the replicas the wishful thinking of the actors? The work includes stalking, ghostly guns, fights and stylized violence, a cocktail party, a briefcase, arguments, along with laughter, party noise, heartbeats, barking, bright lights and one piece of solo dancing. Can this be called dance? It's more like unconnected sections of a play. The music is taken from Bernard Hermann’s Psycho, with additions by Owen Belton and the PNB orchestra was conducted by Emil de Cou.

Finally, Justin Peck’s The Times are Racing received its PNB premiere. Danced in sneakers and gender-fluid – a chance for dancers to explore more roles – it was led here by Kyle Davis and D’Ariano who undertook the exuberant tap-dancing section – albeit in their sneakers – and Elizabeth Murphy and Lucien Postlewaite in a pas de deux where the two principals used perhaps more classic moves but imbued with warmth and humanity.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Justin Peck’s The Times Are Racing
© Angela Sterling

From the start, where one dancer stands in the midst of a tight crouching circle of 19 others, like a flower about to open with a tall stamen in the midst which then explodes outwards, Peck brings all the different aspects of contemporary dance into this free exposition of life as it is might be lived outside the theater, with moods, joy, love, anger all transformed in to an arresting whole, performed to Dan Deacon’s music. Humberto Leon created street clothes which are anything but drab.