Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Emergence" program features the return of Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little mortal jump," the PNB debut of Yuri Possokhov's “RAkU,” and the return of Crystal Pite’s swarm ballet, “Emergence."
Sometimes a ballet, without you really knowing it, gets under your skin and nestles there. The first time I saw Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little mortal jump” I was intrigued and charmed by it, but a bit puzzled by how its various pieces (set to a floated-together score including works by Andrew Bird, Philip Glass, Alexandre Desplat, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan) fit together. The second time — I saw it twice during its 2016 Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere — I loved it. The third time, on Friday as the opening ballet in PNB’s “Emergence” program, it was like a reunion with a beloved friend, one who had grown even more beautiful in absence.
For each of us, the meaning of Cerrudo’s dance, with its floating cubes and changing moods, might be different, as it slips us into its world. It’s a ballet of unexpected wit: Early on, a soloist coolly vanishes into the orchestra pit; a duo, sweetly waving at each other, find themselves Velcro-ed to a wall. Like life itself, the ballet’s early sections are playful, and its later ones more urgent. A pas de deux with two women, their legs echoing each other as if in dialogue, has a reaching, yearning quality to it; a later pas de deux features a series of spiraling lifts, barely connected to the ground. And, in its most emotional moment, a sudden yellow bright light shines from stage left, with a rapt group of dancers in velvet movement toward it; it’s both shocking and poetic. The music, the light, and the dancers flow into one; you wish they could keep moving forever.
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“RAkU,” choreographed by San Francisco Ballet’s Yuri Possokhov to a score by Shinji Eshima, made its PNB debut as the centerpiece of this program; it’s a brief narrative ballet about a Japanese princess (Noelani Pantastico), her samurai husband (Seth Orza), and a monk (Kyle Davis) who assaults her when her husband is at war. It’s an inventive and visually striking work, with fluid use of projections (at one moment, the projected images zoom in, giving us the princess’s sense of claustrophobia) and the flowing costumes created by Mark Zappone. (Though it seems a bit tone-deaf to see non-Japanese dancers in samurai topknots.)
Despite a somewhat melodramatic story (an unusually graphic one for a ballet), “RAkU” was transformed by Eshima’s rich, layered symphonic music, and by the performance of Pantastico, who turned cavernous McCaw Hall into an intimate, tiny place, as if each of us were alone with the princess and her pain. Her pas de deux with Orza, early on, was delicate and tender, as if this newly married couple are performing only for each other. And later, after the assault, Pantastico’s dancing entirely changed; this is a woman broken, unable to move in the way she could before. Like her work in “Roméo et Juliette” in past years, this was an emotional tour de force of acting, and we in Friday’s audience were privileged to see it.
The evening concluded with the return of Crystal Pite’s swarm ballet, “Emergence,” which seems to grow more powerful every time it’s staged. It’s a work that brilliantly plays with the idea of the pointed foot as something faintly grotesque and malevolent; the female corps, marching on point with arms down, seem like a dark army, speaking their counts aloud in ominous whisper. Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz, always electric when partnered, deployed their endless limbs like weapons. It’s both over-in-a-flash and endless; you might hear that marching later in your dreams.
“Emergence,” through April 22 at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $37-$187; pnb.org or 206-441-2424.