Christopher Wheeldon’s “Tide Harmonic,” making its world premiere with Pacific Northwest Ballet Friday night, began and ended with its dancers in black silhouette; the lighting, wonderfully realized by Randall G. Chiarelli, elongated their figures and made them mysterious, like night creatures dancing in the shadows. Though the light quickly becomes brighter — we see the cast of eight clad in shades of marine blue, with just a hint of kelp-like tendrils — the dance still seems to be taking place in shade; the dancers, particularly in the central section, seem to be moving through water, finding an occasional shimmer of light.
Joby Talbot’s music (also titled “Tide Harmonic,” and newly arranged for this work) has been described by the composer as a kind of water symphony; Wheeldon’s piece, likewise, is something of a water ballet: the dancers’ arms and legs corkscrew (at one point seeming to screw into the floor) like eddies in the tide; couples walk with one slumped over the back of the other, like a four-legged creature of the ocean floor; hands seem to be gently ever-swimming, stroking the water. It’s an invigorating work, with a particularly lovely pas de deux by Carla Körbes and Joshua Grant (a new pairing, and a promising one), and the audience greeted it with a roaring standing ovation. It’s an 18-minute ballet that’s over in a flash, and all I wanted was to watch it again, immediately.
Wheeldon’s work was bookended with two Balanchine ballets; an appropriate conclusion to the 40th-anniversary season of a company known for its mastery of Mr. B’s work. (The evening began with a nostalgic photo montage: 40 years, 40 Balanchine ballets.) “Agon,” as always, looked like it was born yesterday: the jazzy, arm-swinging walks, the arabesque up on a heel, the legs flying like arrows (Maria Chapman’s, in particular, look wonderfully dangerous), and the stately yet spiky central pas de deux, danced with elegant remove and impeccable technique by Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold (an unruffled last-minute substitute for an injured Karel Cruz).
The curtain went down with “Diamonds,” in a whirl of Tchaikovsky, cream-colored tutus and diagonal lines, suggesting the grand formality of Imperial Russia. Long live Mr. B. — and Mr. W., too.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org