An interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite, who is moving on to Les Ballets de Monte Carlo at the close of this season.
For nine years Pacific Northwest Ballet audiences have watched Lucien Postlewaite grow up on stage, from a teenage student to a confident, lyrical principal dancer with a rare dramatic gift. He’s dazzled us with the youthful abandon of his Roméo in “Roméo et Juliette,” his quiet introspection in “Dances at a Gathering,” his noble Prince in “Swan Lake,” his airborne playfulness in “Square Dance,” his delicate awakening in “Apollo” — so many moments, woven together like shining threads in a tapestry.
Now Postlewaite’s time at PNB has come to an end: Sunday’s “Season Encore” performance will be the 28-year-old’s last as a company member. He’s accepted a position with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, the company led by Jean-Christophe Maillot (choreographer of “Roméo et Juliette”).
“I’m opening a window to a different world,” he said in an interview last month.
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Postlewaite said he’d considered a move to Monte Carlo several years ago, after working with Maillot in “Roméo et Juliette” and finding it “a transformative experience.” He and husband Olivier Wevers (a former PNB principal) considered going there together but decided against it: Wevers was about to found the contemporary company Whim W’Him here in Seattle; Postlewaite didn’t feel quite ready to leave PNB. Now, “it just felt like the timing was right,” said Postlewaite.
He’s excited to work with Maillot again, and to travel the world. Unlike PNB, the Monte Carlo ballet is primarily a touring company, with only a few resident programs and much of the year spent traveling. “I start Aug. 27, and I think Sept. 15 we leave on a monthlong tour that goes to Buenos Aires, São Paulo and then Belarus. Throughout the year we’re going to Israel, Germany, Spain, Lebanon … I’m excited about that.”
Living far from Wevers will be difficult, Postlewaite said, but the two have agreed that the Monte Carlo opportunity is one that Postlewaite should embrace. He hopes to return for occasional performances with Whim W’Him, and says a guest appearance at PNB next season in “Roméo et Juliette” is in the works.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, Calif., Postlewaite was always a kid who loved to move; his parents, noting his energy, enrolled him in dance classes when he was 4. Two turning points, he said, shaped his early career. At 13, overscheduled with dance, soccer and violin lessons, he asked his parents whether he could quit dancing. They already had paid for the year’s ballet tuition but said that he could quit if he repaid them. “So I started thinking, ‘What jobs could I pick up; what could I do?’ And I realized that sticking with ballet was a lot more rewarding.” That year, he attended his first summer program at the School of American Ballet in New York, and “that was when I think my eyes opened to what dance could be.”
One of his teachers there was Peter Boal, now artistic director of PNB. “He was already something special,” Boal remembered last week. “He had a willingness to learn and a confidence about him. You could see the dancer that he might become.”
After several years at SAB — and a summer at the PNB school — Postlewaite achieved his dream: a coveted apprenticeship at New York City Ballet. And then, two days later, it disappeared. The 17-year-old went out with friends to celebrate the achievement, “and there was drinking involved. I got caught.” He was expelled from the school; lost his apprenticeship; and went home to California, devastated — “my whole spirit just imploded.” Remembering a previous offer of an apprenticeship from PNB, he called Seattle and was invited to come spend a year in the school. He did so and joined the company a year later, in 2003.
The experience, he said, of facing disappointment and building himself back up again, “really led me to who I am.” His first principal role here was in George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” and Postlewaite said he brought that emotion to the role. “If that [experience] hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have had that range.”
Moving quickly through the ranks, Postlewaite became a principal (in 2008) and an audience favorite. Looking back over his many roles with the company, he said they’re all special to him — “I have to fall in love with them in order to dance them.” But he’s especially drawn to roles that allow him to express raw emotion, like Roméo and the Prodigal Son. “I love being completely vulnerable on stage.”
He’ll dance both of those roles in his farewell performance, as well as his most recent challenge: Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which he performed for the first time earlier this spring. Boal, coaching him in the role, saw echoes of that 13-year-old dancer long ago: “a boyishness, a willingness to learn, a willingness to fall and experiment.”
Postlewaite’s special appeal, said Boal, is that he “seems to live in that moment on stage. He’s not doing it for the audience; he’s just doing it because he’s inspired in the moment and the choreography. We’re privy to that, we’re a part of that, it just lifts us up.”
Though Postlewaite looks forward to the next phase of his career, right now he’s focused on Sunday’s final performance, and on saying goodbye to the family he’s made at PNB. He’ll close his nine years here, appropriately, with the balcony pas de deux from “Roméo et Juliette,” danced with his longtime partner and friend Kaori Nakamura — giving us one more chance to see him transformed into a love-
struck boy, throwing himself into the sensation of a beloved’s touch, moving as if drowning in passion.
Smiling, Postlewaite remembers that the first time he performed “Roméo et Juliette,” his mother asked him afterward how he learned to act. “I said, ‘I’m not acting, I’m just being who I am. I’m being this facet of who I am.’ “