In a display case in the McCaw Hall lobby is a little bit of Pacific Northwest Ballet history: a 1999 photo of Noelani Pantastico, then a corps de ballet member still in her teens, costumed as Spring for her first “Cinderella.” Three years later, she made her debut in the title role. Fast-forward to 2020 and here Pantastico is on opening night, making something warm and joyous and deeply moving from the fairy-tale story of a motherless girl who dreamed of going to the ball. So many years, gone in a flash; you’d think, watching Pantastico, that time had stood still.
Choreographed by PNB co-founding director Kent Stowell and designed by Tony Straiges (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) and Randall G. Chiarelli (lighting) in 1994, this “Cinderella” is a familiar one to PNB audiences. And while it’s not a perfect ballet — it feels a bit padded for length, and some of the group scenes seem unfocused — it’s a perfectly lovely Valentine. The Prokofiev score, a shimmery cousin to his exquisite “Romeo and Juliet” ballet, speaks of gentle beauty and wistful romance; the costumes are a witty rainbow (those red ballgowns that open Act 2 never fail to elicit a gasp); the light seems magical.
And the dancing, on opening night, was a joy, from Laura Tisserand’s ethereal Godmother to Benjamin Griffith’s soaring Jester (his corkscrew-perfect pirouettes were, as always, astonishing) to every last tiny Bug from the PNB School. Seth Orza, who punctuates every step and every (delicious) flourish of a cape with elegant precision, made a noble Prince.
But the stage belonged to Pantastico, whose dancing ability (and beautifully light feet) hasn’t faltered a bit in two decades, and whose radiant presence seems, if anything, even brighter. There’s a kind of abandon to her performances, a way of both disappearing into a role and yet showing us herself, that was clear in every scene: Cinderella’s gentle connection with her father (William Lin-Yee), her kindness to her stepsisters (Nancy Casciano, Abby Jayne DeAngelo), her dazzlement on entering the ball, her dreamy little head-roll on the morning after, remembering. And in the final Act 3 pas de deux — a brief, rapturous duet that’s one of Stowell’s loveliest creations — she and Orza made joyous silk together. Amazing how quickly, and how beautifully, 20 years can go by.
“Cinderella,” through Feb. 9; Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $30-$190; 206-441-2424, pnb.org