Sometimes a standing ovation feels rote, like something predetermined and dutifully executed; sometimes it feels like a jolt of lightning, as if a mesmerized audience had no choice but to leap up, to physically get a little closer to the art that so moved them. The latter was the case after Pacific Northwest Ballet’s premiere of Crystal Pite’s “The Seasons’ Canon” on Friday night. Set to Max Richter’s re-imagining of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” (played beautifully by the PNB Orchestra, with Michael Jinsoo Lim’s assured solo violin), it was a reminder of Pite’s remarkable gift for inventing movement that seems entirely otherworldly.
The ballet’s enormous cast (it uses 54 dancers, including nearly the entire company plus a squad of PNB School Professional Division students) morphs and shape-shifts; sometimes it seems like a hundred bodies, sometimes they all seem to merge as one. In one sequence, Amanda Morgan (newly, and deservedly, promoted to soloist) seemed to become the prow of a ship, with an undulating sea behind her; in another, the dancers formed a single, seemingly infinite line perpendicular to the audience, their arms weaving in and out in lacy formations. In the dim, evocative light created by Tom Visser and Jay Gower Taylor, every lift seemed utterly weightless; every movement — a crablike shuffle, a head bob, a slow walk up a staircase of backs — felt entirely new. The seasons, this dance reminds us, are an endless and beautiful cycle; I found myself wishing “The Seasons’ Canon” could be endless, too.
The evening began with the world premiere of Dwight Rhoden’s “Catching Feelings,” also set to a re-imagined classical score (in this case, Bach, with Peter Greyson and Johan Ullén); it’s music that feels comfortingly familiar, like it’s already engraved in the dancers’ bodies. It’s a ballet both warm (it ends with embraces) and spiky, full of moment that showcase the talents of its cast: Ashton Edwards’ beautiful lance-like arabesque; Kuu Sakuragi’s gift for flight; the electric partnership of Angelica Generosa and Jonathan Batista. Rhoden crafts some lovely, intimate pas de deux — in one particularly striking moment, Morgan and Christopher D’Ariano (also a new and well-deserved soloist) delicately whirled together, like dreamy skaters alone on a dark pond. This is Rhoden’s first work for PNB, and his choreography looks great on the company; here’s hoping more is in the wings.
“Duo Concertant,” a 50-year-old work by George Balanchine, rounded out the program with an inventive simplicity: just two dancers (Lucien Postlewaite and Lesley Rausch), two musicians (Christina Siemens at the piano, Lim standing with his violin) and Stravinsky. And we needed nothing more. Postlewaite and Rausch, whose mere presence on the stage evokes the joy of seeing old friends (these two have thrilled PNB’s audiences for many, many years), at times just listen to the music — and then, stepping away from the piano, they become it. Their arms stroked the music like the violin’s bow; their bodies intertwined, like the piano and strings. The lights faded on a lovely final image of arms reaching for each other. In the past, PNB’s contemporary rep evenings have sometimes been a mixed bag; this one was pure joy.