The latest program at PNB ranges from “The Calling,” Jessica Lang’s quiet solo piece anchored by a giant white skirt, to the chaotic symphony of Crystal Pite’s “Emergence.”
Dancer Dylan Wald stands alone on a bare stage, dressed only in a vast white skirt that extends in swirls on the floor around him. For five minutes, accompanied by a haunting, undiscernible chant, he doesn’t exactly dance — the skirt anchors him to the ground — but reaches and stretches in a message of yearning with his long arms and eloquent shoulders.
At one moment, unexpectedly, he raises his leg in an arabesque while lifting the skirt with the opposite arm. It’s a sudden, beautiful moment of stillness, the skirt’s folds looking like sculpture in the quiet light.
This is Jessica Lang’s “The Calling,” a minimalist work that’s part of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current repertory program of four contemporary ballets. It’s a clever contrast to the evening’s showpiece, Vancouver-based choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Emergence,” previously seen here in 2013: a gentle white-clad solo vs. a dark swarm of dancers in an insectlike, chaotic symphony of movement.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, though Nov. 15; $30-$187 (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
No one ever seems to hold still in “Emergence” — like the creatures that inspired the work, the dancers hover, ever-quivering, pointe shoes trembling. The movement often has a raw violence to it (at one point, a dancer seems to be pulling her own head off); the music, a soundscape of throbs and marches (by composer Owen Belton) and eerie whispers (by the dancers, counting aloud), holds a look-over-your-shoulder threat.
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And yet, the more I see this ballet, the more weirdly beautiful it becomes. Its striking, spiky lines suit this long-limbed company; its unblinking focus keeps you mesmerized and a little dazed afterward — like the best works of art, it transforms its audience, as well as its participants.
Also on the bill were another contrasting pair of dances, both created within PNB. “Sum Stravinsky,” choreographed by Kiyon Gaines (a 14-year veteran of the company, now a faculty member at PNB School), is a playful work that’s all casual lightness, pleasantly showcasing its dancers (particularly the sprightly pas de deux work of Benjamin Griffiths and Angelica Generosa) while never quite leaving its mark.
More compelling is “Signature,” by PNB corps member Price Suddarth. Set to a score by local composer Barret Anspach that appealingly channels both Vivaldi and Philip Glass, the dance, framed by low-hung beams of light, is the kind you get lost in. What remains: a gorgeous image of two pairs of dancers whirling, as if figures dangling from a string; a flurry of windmilling arms; an intriguing study of how two dancers can perform the same moves and yet seem utterly different; and a desire to see more of Suddarth’s work — soon.