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Over the past year, local dance companies have found innovative ways to share work under less-than-ideal conditions: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s all-digital offerings transformed unforeseen constraints into a new paradigm for engaging with dance. The newly formed Seattle Dance Collective reframed virtual performance as an opportunity that allowed for collaboration with far-flung artists like New York City Ballet’s Sara Mearns. At Spectrum Dance Theater, artistic director Donald Byrd framed the change as “not a substitution for how things used to be but rather something new.”
Now, dance companies are returning — at least partly — to the stage, but you can still tune into many performances virtually. Here’s what to watch this fall.
New work at Whim W’Him
Contemporary dance company Whim W’Him has had no shortage of creative responses to the pandemic, from summertime outdoor performances to its own online streaming service, In-with-Whim. Now, the group begins its 12th season with new “hybrid dance creations” to see in-person or on-screen.
The season’s debut will feature choreographers Rena Butler and Mark Caserta, alongside “Nova,” created in May by Alice Klock and Florian Lochner, previously of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, who collaborate as leaders of their own dance company, FLOCK. The performances, though live, will also be available to stream from home, thanks in part to Quinn Wharton, the genius dancer/filmmaker/photographer behind the monotony-busting “Quinn-Tessential Dance Scenes” quarantine video project. In addition to these performances, Whim W’Him plans to continue its free pop-up outdoor dance events into fall.
Live performance Sept. 18; Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 565 Camano Ave., Langley; $5-$60; dance films released virtually Sept. 23 on In-with-Whim digital platform; subscriptions from $120; whimwhim.org
With dancers back in the studio — some just returning from Jacob’s Pillow after performing in the dance festival’s “Ballet Coast to Coast” program — Pacific Northwest Ballet’s forthcoming season is a departure from last year’s all-digital model. The company’s 49th year kicks off Sept. 24 with an innovative lineup dedicated exclusively to resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. With stirring music and ensemble work, “Silent Ghost” and “One Thousand Pieces” offer plenty on their own. But “Little mortal jump” pushes the quality of this bill over the top. Deeply felt but straight-up fun and pleasantly weird, “Little mortal jump” employs music from Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, Beirut and Max Richter (among other music not typically used in ballet), and a set piece reminiscent of a theme-park Gravitron: Dancers stick to it. Everything else in “Little mortal jump” is equally compelling, and defies easy description, which is how live art should be.
Sept. 24-26; Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; season subscriptions from $150, digital subscriptions $249 (no single tickets available); 206-441-2424, pnb.org
Chamber Dance Company’s 30th Anniversary Season
The University of Washington’s Chamber Dance Company is a treat for dance nerds: Housed in UW’s MFA program in dance, the company stages important works from key modern and contemporary choreographers from the days of Martha Graham to more recent creators like Brian Brooks. This fall, the program celebrates 30 years with an inquiry into “the empathy, intimacy and confusion that comprise human relationships,” focusing on choreography from Camille A. Brown, Joe Goode, Zvi Gotheiner, Shapiro & Smith and Doug Varone.
Oct. 21-24; Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater at Meany Hall, 4040 George Washington Lane N.E., Seattle; $10-$22; 206-543-4880, dance.washington.edu
After opening with Cerrudo, PNB continues its streak of foregrounding innovative work, this time from choreography giants Ulysses Dove — whose “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” will be required viewing for anyone dazzled by the athleticism and power of last season’s “Red Angels” — and Alonzo King — who will premiere a brand-new work, “The Personal Element.”
Sandwiched between these two, Jessica Lang’s “Ghost Variations” will also be something of a premiere: It’s never been performed in front of a live audience. Lang created it amid the COVID-19 pandemic in August of 2020, in a painstaking process that involved, per her contemporaneous program notes, “protocols of two pods of four dancers, donned in masks, physically distanced, and never touching (unless cohabitating), sometimes behind plexiglass.” Incorporating the last piece of music Robert Schumann ever wrote before being institutionalized in 1854, when “Ghost Variations” was released digitally last season, it was a mirror held up to the pandemic and a product of a strange, uncertain time. “Even though our only way to experience this world premiere is on a screen right now,” Lang wrote at the time, “‘Ghost Variations’ will seamlessly transfer to the stage for live performance when it is safe for all of us to gather in theaters again.” That transfer begins now.
Nov. 5-7; Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; season subscriptions from $150 (single tickets unavailable), digital subscriptions $249; 206-441-2424, pnb.org
In 2020, viewers were treated to an archival recording of the sugary fever dream, but this year, the colorful production design and sentient candy of Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” have all been cleared for their return to the stage. The holiday tradition starts again on seasonal cue just before Thanksgiving. After the year audiences have been through, it may appeal to even the grinchiest of balletomanes.
Nov. 20-Dec 28; Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; not included in in-person season subscriptions, single tickets from $27; digital season subscription for $249 includes access to digital performance of “The Nutcracker,” single tickets for digital presentation of “The Nutcracker” will go on sale at a later date”; 206-441-2424, pnb.org