“Art helps us through challenging times,” says Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Elle Macy, in the “5 Minute Call” video that opens the company’s sixth and final digital repertory of an unprecedented online season. It’s a lovely summation of what the season has meant during this pandemic year-plus, both for the dancers who were given an opportunity to move and create again, and for an audience who couldn’t gather, but yearned for the solace and beauty of dance.
Watching at home took a bit of getting used to — most of us don’t have perfectly dimmed lights and regal velvet curtains — but quickly became a treasured ritual; a little bit of normal in a world where everything, for a while, was different.
PNB saved some heavy hitters for this final rep, which features world premieres from Christopher Wheeldon and Edwaard Liang and a new-to-PNB work by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. The Cerrudo work, “PACOPEPEPLUTO,” is a mere trifle; a few minutes of Christopher D’Ariano, James Yoichi Moore and Lucien Postlewaite romping near-nude (they’re just wearing dance belts; PNB rightly describes the work as “cheeky”) in dim light, set to some dusty but charming Dean Martin/Joe Scalissi tunes. Not much to it, but these men are all beautiful, dreamlike movers; a slow-motion, almost magical lope by Postlewaite was quiet perfection.
Wheeldon’s work, “Curious Kingdom,” which opens the rep, combines the music of Satie, Ravel and Edith Piaf (with piano soulfully played by PNB’s Christina Siemens) in a series of solos and pas de deux. The costumes seem to be carrying a little too much of the weight — as the ballet proceeds, the initially minimal clothing becomes more elaborate and distracting, like plumage — and the message of the work is a little muddy, but the movement is inventive and often breathtaking. Macy and Dylan Wald, in whose pas de deux you could easily forget where one dancer left off and the other began, stood in a series of beautifully birdlike poses; in a repeated one, their bent legs formed an eloquent triangle as they morphed into one shape. Like so many of PNB’s digital offerings this season, this ballet is artfully filmed; the dancers seem to be swimming on the stage’s shiny floor.
Liang’s joyful, airborne “The Veil Between Worlds” begins with a literal veil tossed into the air: a vast banner of red silk that dances as beautifully as anyone in the ballet’s cast. It’s a neoclassical work, set to a propulsive score by Oliver Davis, and it’s all delicate joy; you think, watching it, of the veils between us that have dictated life in the past year, and of the weightlessness we are beginning to feel. And it offers a special gift: Laura and Jerome Tisserand, who are rarely paired together due to height issues, dancing a silken pas de deux that shows off the quiet elegance and rapture of their dancing. The Tisserands are leaving PNB, after many years, to dance with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo; this makes a poignant, intimate farewell. Art helps.