A review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's "All Wheeldon" program, devoted to four dances by Christopher Wheeldon. The festive program included the announcement of two promotions (Rachel Foster and Lesley Rausch); a tribute to late arts patron Bagley Wright; and a stunning performance of a pas de deux from "After the Rain."

Share story

Dance Review |

A sense of occasion and even gravity marked the opening of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new season Friday night at McCaw Hall. Before the curtain rose, artistic director Peter Boal stepped on stage to announce the promotions of ballerinas Rachel Foster and Lesley Rausch to principal status — the company’s highest rank — and also paid affectionate tribute to arts patron Bagley Wright, who died in July.

If Wright was looking down at McCaw on this glowing, Indian-summer evening, he would have been pleased. The company provided ample evidence that art and beauty are thriving in this bright house in a far corner of recession-dimmed America.

Through next weekend, PNB is showcasing the work of Christopher Wheeldon, a young, British choreographer in high demand on stages around the world. The four dances on the “All Wheeldon” program, ranging from a wisp of a pas de deux to a one-act story ballet, reveal an artist of imagination, depth and an immaculate sense of design — an artist, in short, worthy of the hype.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The most arresting piece is the shortest and sparest: An excerpt from 2005’s “After the Rain” — a gentle, twining duet performed by Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz in costumes so whisper-light the dancers appeared almost nude.

At times, their gestures suggested images from nature, such as autumn leaves wafting to the ground; or a fern’s frond, uncoiling toward the sun. But mostly, the dance looked like what it was: an exquisitely formed man and woman coming together with a connection so electric that, by the end, the air in the theater felt charged and dry, like the sky before a lightning strike. Next came thunder: a roar of adulation from the audience.

The program overall is longish (nearly three hours) but never dull. “Carousel (A Dance)” is a colorful, impressionistic take on the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name. “Polyphonia,” a suite of dances for four men and four women, hearkens back to some of George Balanchine’s more abstract “black-and-white ballets” (though in this case, the dancers are clad — sleekly and fabulously, by costumer Holly Hynes — in purple). “Variations Sérieuses” is a ballet-within-a-ballet, ingeniously designed by Ian Falconer so the audience feels it’s watching the action from the wings. Alternately comic and sincere, the dance tells a star-is-born story of a young woman plucked from the corps to become a prima ballerina.

From start to finish, the company looks smashing, and there’s a palpable mood of excitement as artistic director Peter Boal moves into his seventh season.

Do we miss the strong, colorful personalities who have retired since his arrival? Yes, and the younger dancers filling their pointe shoes have yet to make as deep a mark. But no matter. They will. And if for some reason not, there is plenty of budding talent in this troupe, waiting in the wings.

Lynn Jacobson: 206-464-2714 or ljacobson@seattletimes.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.