At PNB's Jerome Robbins Festival, ballet after ballet, flowing from the stage like soft water, showed us dancers creating delicate connections with each other, telling intimate stories together, accompanied by music often so lovely it seemed to transform the air.
If you spend the weekend immersed in the ballets of Jerome Robbins — which I did and you can, thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s wonderful Jerome Robbins Festival currently running — you might emerge from it thinking that the world is a better place. Ballet after ballet, flowing from the stage like soft water, showed us dancers creating delicate connections with each other, telling intimate stories together, accompanied by music often so lovely it seemed to transform the air. Perhaps the famously difficult Robbins, a man perpetually at war with himself, was trying to create the world as he wished it could be.
Most of the seven dances making up the festival (in two separate programs) have been performed at PNB before; only “Other Dances” was making its local debut. But seeing them all together shows us both the range of his talent — the poignant lyricism of “Dances at a Gathering,” the theatricality of “West Side Story Street,” the dreamlike “Afternoon of a Faun,” the sly wit of “The Concert” — and the common themes that run across his work. You see a few trademarks (he was, for example, quite fond of horizontal lifts and flowing dance skirts), but mostly you see those human connections. A Robbins dancer, raised high off the floor, smiles not at the audience but at the man lifting her; the couple performing “Other Dances” seem to be alone in a room together, with the dance as a gift each is giving the other.
The festival’s two programs have in common “Circus Polka,” which showed off 48 precise PNB School students (some of them very young indeed) and a ringmaster — and what a treat to see former PNB principal Ariana Lallone, on Saturday night, gleefully cracking that whip. Otherwise, Program A contained “In the Night,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” “Other Dances and “West Side Story Suite”; Program B was “Dances at a Gathering” (the longest piece in the festival) and “The Concert.”
Certain dancers stood out over opening weekend. Noelani Pantastico, whose dancing continues to be infused with an infectious warmth and joy, shone in “In the Night,” “Dances at a Gathering,” and, with partner Seth Orza, in “Other Dances.” The latter dance was originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, two of ballet’s greats, but Orza and Pantastico make the roles their own; it’s a grand pas de deux with moments of folk-dancey playfulness, and of the pleasure dancers find in each other. Angelica Generosa made a sweetly wistful Maria in “West Side Story Suite” and was wonderfully funny as the bespectacled Angry Lady in “The Concert.” Lucien Postlewaite, electric as the “WSSS” Tony, set the mood for “Dances at a Gathering,” moving as if through a silky fog of memory.
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And the PNB orchestra delivered beautiful renditions of the Debussy score for “Afternoon of a Faun,” with its delicately coiling music seeming to wrap around the wafting dancers. Robbins frequently choreographed to Chopin on solo piano, masterfully played here by Cameron Grant (“In the Night” and “The Concert”), Mark Salman (“Other Dances”) and Christina Siemens (“Dances at a Gathering”).
Both programs left us on a high note. I’ve never been truly fond of “West Side Story Suite” — it seems unfair to require brilliant dancers to demonstrate that they do not have Broadway-quality voices — but I always forgive it everything by the time the “Somewhere” ballet arrives, with its joyously jumping circle of dancers and its earnest hope for a better place. “The Concert” concludes Program B with an entirely different mood of inspired silliness, with winged dancers dodging a fed-up pianist’s butterfly net. And is there a more perfect four minutes in ballet than the delicious Mistake Waltz? I laughed. I cried. I loved being in Robbins’ world.
Jerome Robbins Festival, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. $30-$189; 206-441-2424, pnb.org. Program A returns Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.; Program B Sept. 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 at 2 p.m.