Sometimes, art can simultaneously take you somewhere you’ve never imagined, and yet somehow take you home. That’s what happens, beautifully, in Penny Saunders’ “Wonderland,” a world premiere work that leads off Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Rep 2, streaming through Nov. 16.
It takes place in the now-familiar setting of an empty theater — PNB’s usual home, McCaw Hall — with the camera panning over the velvet rows of quiet seats. But Saunders, whose dance is elegantly filmed by Lindsay Thomas, Jack Taylor and Seattle Center Studios (Thomas was the video editor), shows us the theater in ways we haven’t seen it before. Look up — there’s Lucien Postlewaite, dancing an eerie, reaching solo in one of the upper-level loges. Look down — there’s Yuki Takahashi, Elizabeth Murphy and Angelica Generosa, filmed from above as they lie on the floor of the orchestra pit, slowly rotating like time spinning on a clock.
It’s hard to imagine “Wonderland” performed live; in fact, it’s hard to imagine it performed at all — it seems to emerge from a dream, the kind a lot of us who love and miss theaters and performance are having. McCaw becomes, in “Wonderland,” a place of magic; one where dancers pop up out of nowhere, create a tiny world (Elle Macy and Dylan Wald, letting their arms float like wings, make time pause), and vanish. This is a place of beautiful ghosts, haunted by a woman in a long red skirt who we only see as she’s retreating; an enormous space, made small. (In lovely contrast is a companion piece to “Wonderland,” created by Saunders for Seattle Dance Collective: “Alice,” in which Noelani Pantastico finds herself in a tiny room, dancing with her reflection in a table. It’s available as part of the program’s bonus material.)
As we settle into this season of all-digital entertainment, PNB’s format already feels comfortingly familiar: the introductory images of dancers stretching and putting on makeup; the “applause” from an empty theater; the showcasing of members of the PNB Orchestra; the dances that seem separated from us by a wall of time and technology and yet addictively intimate, letting us see faces, muscles, nuances. And while Rep 1 last month was mostly newly filmed performances of familiar work, Rep 2’s offerings are mostly new — only the ebullient excerpt from Twyla Tharp’s “Waterbaby Bagatelles,” with its zippy sequence of male solos, is something the company has done before. Susan Marshall’s brief, knife-sharp “Arms,” which Leah Terada and Miles Pertl perform almost entirely while standing in place, is from 1984, but looks completely fresh here.
And the evening — or afternoon, or whenever you’re watching it; time has no meaning anymore — ends with another haunting world premiere: Jessica Lang’s “Ghost Variations,” set to piano music by Robert and Clara Schumann. (The score is played movingly by Christina Siemens, whose mask during her bow reminds us, startlingly, of the world outside the theater.) The dancers are clad in black; the women in wonderfully dramatic black tulle skirts, which seem to become an airy character in the dance. It’s a neoclassical work with an eerie twist: the dancers often share the stage with ghost partners, dancing in silhouette behind a scrim, or with their own shadows.
In a program of work created by female composers, it seemed right that the women especially stood out in this piece. In particular, I didn’t want to see the end of a lovely central section featuring the powerhouse trio of Leta Biasucci, Generosa and Murphy — all pinpoint whirls and airy leaps and eloquent arms as they dance for a ghost audience. Lucky ghosts, us.