An Amateur’s Look at a Celebration of Ballet

Review of Worlds to Come at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Written by Yoon Lee and edited by Gabrielle Nomura Gainor

Pacific Northwest Ballet recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, a fact evident to anyone passing McCaw Hall’s front-door sign. Part of this commemoration included an experimental new performance: Worlds to Come, displayed every time I passed by the hall on my way to TeenTix meetings in the Seattle Center. Despite having little experience with PNB, or with ballet at all, this celebration drew in my curiosity—later, I found myself celebrating 50 years with them and anticipating many years to come.

Worlds to Come presents exactly what the name implies: choreographers on the cutting edge of the ballet world, imagining what the art form may yield in the coming century. Altogether the three segments of the performance—two of them world premieres—came together at about two hours long. Although the three varied in terms of tone, style, and classicality, all came together for a remarkably inspiring experience that toed the line between classical and innovative.

The first of the three performances was The Veil Between Worlds, scored by Oliver Davis with choreography by Edwaard Liang, scenic and costume design by Mark Zappone, and lighting design by Reed Nakayama. Exploring a search for spiritual and physical connection, this performance was the most classical of the three—the music feeling most inspired by that period from 1750-1820. The choreography deftly complimented this feel, though the tone would drastically alter from act to act. For example, the first act was showy yet elegant, with one dancer atop another wielding a massive, bright red cloth in large, sailing sweeps above their heads that then introduced the rest of the cast; the second brought the scope down, mostly to two leads in an intimate rapport of embraces and mutually-supported twirls and leaps, before the third brought out an entire horde of dancers for an explosive finale of swirls and leaps.

All three performances used the same general format, but as a newcomer to ballet, The Veil Between Worlds most closely met my expectations for the night. That, however, is far from an insult, as I exited the theater for the first intermission having enjoyed it — the music was pleasant, the choreography fit like a glove, and the dancers were flawless to my decidedly non-expert eyes.

Khepri draws its name from the Egyptian deity inspired by black-and-gold scarab beetles, symbols of life, death, birth, and resurrection. It immediately drew my attention for its scenic design, by Norbert Herriges and Leah Harris, using a black-and-gold net suspended above the stage. The music by Karl Jenkins and Georgs Pelecis combined with the scarab-themed attire designed by Mark Zappone to give a colorful first impression that was maintained throughout the performance.

Fitting with the theme of deification of dance and use of brash, bold colors, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s choreography is noticeably energetic, dramatic, even, with more Romantic-inspired music to match. Even the slower, more intimate act compellingly kept with the heightened tensions, spiky-yet-silky choreography that went hand-in-hand with the insectoid theming and modern-leaning music.

The final act, fitting with the theme of life, death, and resurrection, felt almost circular, ending with a truly explosive finish combined with impressive golden lighting and music that made it feel truly deific, almost holy.

Nothing can accurately describe the feeling I had when the third act to Worlds to Come opened on a light blue box, projecting the words “Open Me” in fancy font. The context that this box was a literal present, a gift for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 50th anniversary, only made the rest of the performance better, as dancers filed out of the opened box in a light-blue aura of brightness and delight. Sides of the box remained as a set piece through which dancers filed out from behind, and provided a fun way for the double-size cast to file in and out, using the sides of the stage as well. Cristina Spinei’s score shimmered in the night’s greatest departure from what I imagined is the norm for classical ballet, ending with a two-dozen-dancer-strong stinger with confetti raining from the ceiling. It was bold, endearing, and a lovely celebration of PNB and ballet as a whole.

Altogether, this novice in the world of ballet and dance came away remarkably entertained, and thoroughly impressed. As a musician I admittedly found a place to nitpick with the orchestra, which made a few errors that seemed to indicate a need either for practice or more runs-through—it was the first night, after all—but nothing that took away from the experience in a meaningful way.

Moreover, and most importantly, though, I exited McCaw Hall optimistic about the future of ballet, and visual performing arts as a whole. Although I’m disappointed to be heading off to college away from Seattle, unable to keep track of PNB’s progress, I’m excited to see where it goes from afar, and catch a performance when I’m in town.

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