PNB’s “Ballet on Broadway” repertory was inspired by “On Your Toes,” “Carousel” and “West Side Story.”
A dance-hall girl, her fishnet-clad legs kicking to the sky, melts into the arms of the hoofer who loves her. A pair of rival gangs — one clad in reds and purples, the other in yellows and blues — face off at a dance, their stomping feet and whirling legs as sharp as any weapon. And a carousel made of dancers slowly revolves beneath twinkling lights, as a boy and girl find each other in the crowd.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s spirited, colorful “Ballet on Broadway” repertory, on stage through April 23, dips its pointed toe into the world of the American musical, visiting two classics and one fascinating curiosity.
The latter — George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” from the 1936 Broadway musical (and 1939 movie) “On Your Toes” — is a ballet-with-a-ballet, involving a showgirl (Lesley Rausch, on Friday’s opening night), a hoofer (Seth Orza), gangsters, guns and a playfully dark Richard Rodgers score that you’ll never (trust me) stop humming. “Slaughter” was re-created by Balanchine for New York City Ballet in 1967, to showcase Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell, and later restaged for NYCB in the 1980s in conjunction with the show’s revival on Broadway.
‘Ballet on Broadway’
Pacific Northwest Ballet, through April 23, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$187 (pnb.org or 206-441-2424).
It’s a complicated history for a quirky little period piece that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense out of context (particularly a pre-curtain scene involving Jonathan Porretta, though he performs it with such wickedly timed zest that all is forgiven). But it’s a joy to watch, particularly Rausch’s expert wrangling of her endless hair and even-more-endless legs (those kicks are almost surreal); Orza’s loose, breezy charisma; and the goofiness of the supporting cast, especially Ryan Cardea, Kyle Davis and Ezra Thomson as a trio of cops determined to leave no stone unturned.
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“Carousel (A Dance),” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is inspired by rather than taken from the musical “Carousel,” and its pas de deux (elegantly danced by James Moore and Rachel Foster) isn’t one of Wheeldon’s most memorable. But the ensemble work — particularly that merry-go-round of dancers held aloft, posing like carousel horses — is inventive, and Rodgers’ “Carousel Waltz” and “If I Loved You” score, played by the PNB Orchestra, had a shivery loveliness.
The evening ended with “West Side Story Suite,” adapted by Jerome Robbins from his Broadway choreography and set to Leonard Bernstein’s iconic score. You could quibble, and I would, with the choice of having dancers sing several of the songs (which wasn’t helped at all by microphone problems on opening night). But the emotional power of these dances and this music shone through, particularly the quietly soaring “Somewhere” ballet. It’s a work that should — and surely will — live forever.