There’s a special kind of silence in a theater, just before the curtain comes up. Anticipatory and thrilling, it comes after a series of familiar noises: the murmuring hum of a crowd, the melodic yet admonishing chime of the lobby gong reminding latecomers to take their seats, the last-minute rustle of programs and coats. And, at McCaw Hall on Friday night, as Pacific Northwest Ballet returned to the stage after 18 months away, that silence felt as velvety and gorgeous as the stage’s sparkling crimson curtains: It signified a gift that we were about to unwrap, after a much-too-long wait.
“Singularly Cerrudo,” the repertory opening the company’s 49th season, was made up of three works by PNB’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, with two of the ballets comfortingly familiar. “Silent Ghost,” a mood piece danced in poetic shadow, premiered at PNB in 2018, and I remember being dazzled by Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite in its gorgeous central pas de deux; their bodies seeming to swim around each other, their heads connecting and breaking apart, their legs swinging into delicate, inventive shapes (most notably a heart-stopping moment where she, balanced on his back, seems to become his wings). And how lucky were we, on Friday night, to see Pantastico and Postlewaite on stage again — two of PNB’s most eloquent and longest-serving artists, telling us a quiet story together. We’ve endured, the ballet seemed to be telling us, after a long pandemic winter. We’re still here.
“One Thousand Pieces” brought its own poignant PNB story: It was rehearsed in the spring of 2020 but never performed for an audience, just for a few invited guests at a filmed dress rehearsal on the eve of the March shutdown. I was one of those lucky guests, never dreaming at the time that it would be 18 long months before I’d see this dance again. On Friday night, PNB presented just an alluring excerpt; presumably we’ll see the full version at a later date. It’s a ballet made up of smoke and water — the dancers slide on a wet stage, letting rivulets of water form delicate punctuation around them, as smoke pours from above — and it disappears too quickly, like a lovely dream.
“Little mortal jump,” a PNB favorite, ended the evening, with its cinematic black-and-white costumes, playful positions (how many ballets feature a crucial use of Velcro?) and creative partnering. Some were new pairings — have Angelica Generosa and Christian Poppe, a duo of immense charm, danced together before? — and some familiar, such as the warm ease of Elle Macy and Dylan Wald. It’s a dance full of quirky surprises, and it seems to create a magical world of spinning boxes and delicately superhuman dancers, their movements glimmering in the dim light.
Attending “Singularly Cerrudo,” of course, felt different from The Before Time. Those attending — subscribers only; individual tickets aren’t available for this or the November rep — had to present ID and vaccine proof before crossing McCaw’s doorway, and masks were worn throughout the evening. (Unfortunately, a few PNB patrons needed to be reminded that a mask must cover both mouth and nose. When you consider that PNB’s dancers took daily class and spent grueling hours of rehearsal in masks, it doesn’t seem that much of a hardship to wear one for a seated 90 minutes.)
But ultimately, it was an evening of joy — people seemed more dressed-up than usual, and before the performance the aisles rang with muffled laughter as friends greeted friends. “Singularly Cerrudo” — and, really, any work of art these days — felt like an act of optimism, a reminder that beauty never left us. It was just waiting for that curtain to rise.