Strange how quickly you get used to things being different. Pacific Northwest Ballet this weekend presents the fourth program of its all-digital season, and by now, watching ballet at my desk feels familiar. Not ideal, mind you, but I’ll take ballet wherever I can get it these days, appreciating the front-row seat that a digital ticket provides. Rep 4 brings three contemporary ballets — two world premieres made for PNB, one from the archives — and you watch them wondering what they would have been like in-person; would we have been lost in the quiet they created, or caught up in the breathlessness of the movement? Instead, we’re viewing tiny time capsules; frozen moments, brought to us by both the magic and the distance of screens.
Seattle-based artist Donald Byrd’s “And the sky is not cloudy all day,” danced by six PNB men in full cowboy regalia, is inspired by the choreographer’s musings on the idea of the West; a place of myth and masculinity. Performed in front of an image of an endless prairie, dancers appear and disappear like magic (filming ballet does bring its gifts), with two soloists finding different, less rigid movement when they remove their cowboy hats. Despite some lovely, fluid dancing from Kyle Davis and Dylan Wald, the ballet doesn’t quite hold together; the ensemble work, in particular, seemed unfocused. But the quiet of its ending was moving; perhaps, like many works created during this very challenging era for artists, this piece needs a little more time to grow.
“Future Memory,” from PNB resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, was danced on a mirrory floor that looked like it could be a dark pond; it’s a quiet, meditative work for two couples, ending before you want it to. Cerrudo’s gift for intricate, unexpected movement is on display here; both in two slithery pas de deux and a series of solos in which the dancers seem partnered by that eerily shiny floor. Wald and Elle Macy at one point seemed to be gliding like skaters on that pond. The mood is dark — a voice-over speaks of anger, the set design feels like a claustrophobic box — and there’s no sign of the playfulness some of Cerrudo’s earlier ballets have shown; it’s a brief, elegant work reflective of difficult times.
The program ends on a brighter note: a 2017 recording of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The dancers whirl in front of an ever-changing backdrop inspired by colorful Wassily Kandinsky paintings, as PNB pianist Allan Dameron plays the regal Modest Mussorgsky score. It’s like a message from the past, showing us a few old friends: former company members Carrie Imler and Jonathan Porretta dance a joyful pas de deux; and that masterful partner Karel Cruz raises Elizabeth Murphy to the skies in a lift so lovely you’ll want to pause and appreciate it. Near the ballet’s end, the ensemble of dancers pauses, looking up in wonder, like they’re part of the art. It reminded me of being in an audience, of that thrill of realizing that the art is right there with you. May that thrill return, soon.