As “Black Swan” reminded us in the movie theaters not long ago — ballet, with its spindly pointed feet and endless limbs, can easily cross into the realm of creepy. Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite makes use of this quality in “Emergence,” a ballet that darkly plays with the idea of the swarm. It made its Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere Friday night, sharing a bill with three dances by Netherlands choreographer Jiri Kylian — and, while “Emergence” was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation, it was the Kylian works that remained with me, days later.
A black-clad army of dancers — 38 strong; nearly the entire company — crowds the stage in “Emergence,” following a vivid prologue in which an insectlike creature (Rachel Foster) emerges, arms grotesquely trembling, from an apparent womb. The lighting (by Alan Brodie) is dim; the music (Owen Belton) an eerie array of electronic chords and mysterious sounds of marching. Legs stagger in trembly bourrées as dancers whisper the counts, like threats. The women, at one point, form a chorus line of pointed legs; it’s a formation we’ve seen many times before, but never looking quite so malevolent.
Pite’s choreography is inventive and intricate, each movement flowing into the next as if inevitable — particularly in a late quartet, with Foster and three men — but there’s a dark heaviness to “Emergence” that makes it a vaguely off-putting work; it both intrigues and pushes away.
The three Kylian works (interestingly, none of which were danced on pointe) showed the range of the longtime choreographer, who’s been making dances since the 1960s. “Forgotten Land,” the oldest ballet shown here (from 1981), made its PNB debut; an achingly dramatic work set to music by Benjamin Britten and performed before a backdrop depicting a gray seascape and a setting sun. Foster and Jerome Tisserand danced a pas de deux in which they seemed to merge as one, whirling together in an endless lift that seemed to ride the ocean’s waves. Carrie Imler and Kiyon Gaines displayed effortless, uncanny speed as the dance ebbed and flowed, ending on a slow, quiet plié as arms floated to the sky.
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“Petite Mort” and “Sechs Tänze (Six Dances)” opened the evening, set to glorious Mozart and featuring sterling performances from a sextet of wheeled black gowns, both occupied and solo. “Petite Mort” is a slow, delicate meditation on the idea of partnering, in which the men dance both with women and with fencing foils. By contrast, “Sechs Tänze” is a frothy collection of nonsense, complete with powdered wigs, unexpected entrances and exits, dancers peering out as if puzzled to find an audience, and a very well-placed fig leaf. Like all of the Kylian works shown, it makes you yearn for more.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org