Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its 2016-17 season with two works from Bordeaux, France-born, much-in-demand dancemaker Benjamin Millepied, and one by George Balanchine that premiered in Paris.
Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its 2016-17 season Friday night with a French twist. Two of the evening’s three works came from Bordeaux-born dancemaker Benjamin Millepied, who currently ranks among the most in-demand contemporary ballet choreographers in the world. (And likely will be for some time; he’s still under 40.) The third, George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” premiered nearly 70 years ago — at the Paris Opera Ballet.
Millepied’s “3 Movements,” which opened the evening, made its world premiere at PNB in 2008, and it’s clearly the work of a young choreographer — irresistibly so. Set to a busy, urgent score by Steve Reich, it’s a high-energy mixture of dance flavors: pirouettes and arabesques blend with “West Side Story”-style walks, ballroom-dance positions, tango-flavored slides, square-dance positions, and even a taste of a Rockette-style kickline.
It’s all breathless movement, right down to the costume details — the flying ponytails and neckties, the flipping skirts — with things slowing down just a bit for Laura Tisserand and Miles Pertl’s languid, soft pas de deux.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, through Oct. 2, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$187 (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
“Appassionata,” set to a Beethoven piano sonata and created for the Paris Opera Ballet (where Millepied was formerly director) earlier this year, feels both more classical and more adventurous. Three color-coded couples — in red, blue and purple for the first half, and neutral white/gray/black for the second — dance together and apart. A story is told, through evocative movement: the eerie melancholy of a backward bourrée with head rolling; a series of horizontal lifts, as if the ballerina were about to take flight.
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Karel Cruz (who reminded us again that he can hang in the air for a happy eternity) and Elizabeth Murphy beautifully performed the ballet’s emotional central pas de deux, seeming to be dancing in moonlight. Pointe shoes have been cast off, and the dance becomes so quiet you could hear their breathing. It’s a work of uncanny intimacy, and it casts a spell that’s not immediately shaken.
The evening concluded with the welcome return of “Symphony in C,” a classic that’s been absent from PNB’s stage for nearly a decade. (Also a happy sight: the superb Carrie Imler, back from maternity leave to smoothly lead the ballet’s first movement.)
It’s a showcase for ballerinas, particularly the exquisite second-movement adagio — performed with swanlike grace by Tisserand and Cruz — but I always watch it with attention drawn to the ever-unfolding shapes created by the female corps de ballet. By its end, the ballet becomes a glorious ocean of legs, working together in joyful flurry — a perfect image on which to kick off a new season of ballet.