Batkhurel Bold and Carrie Imler, PNB audience favorites for their virtuosity and flawless partnering, will take the stage for the final time in June. The company, says Bold, “gave me everything in life that people can wish for or dream.”
“It’s like anything in life, you know — everything has a closing date,” said Batkhurel Bold. “Everything has a deadline.”
Bold and Carrie Imler, both principal dancers with Pacific Northwest Ballet, have been dazzling performers and audience favorites for more than two decades: he for his soaring leap, quiet charisma and elegant partnering; she for her lightning-fast turns, powerful technique and dramatic flair. But dancers’ careers are finite, and Bold and Imler are approaching their last dance: Both are retiring from PNB at the end of the season, making their final performances with the company in the “Pictures at an Exhibition” repertory beginning June 2, and in a special Season Encore tribute performance on June 11.
“It was always kind of in the books that this year would be the end,” said Imler, as the two longtime colleagues and friends took time between rehearsals for an interview earlier this month. “It has a lot to do with the body — my knees aren’t as great as they used to be, the cartilage is wearing out, things like that.” She was out for most of the 2015-16 season on parental leave (son Markus is now a year old), and returned last fall.
‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ and ‘Season Encore’
• “Pictures at an Exhibition” includes George Balanchine’s “La Source,” Jerome Robbins’ “Opus 19/The Dreamer” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” all of which are PNB premieres. 7:30 p.m. June 2-3 and 8-10 2 p.m. June and 1 p.m. June 11, tickets are $30-$187
•“Season Encore” is 6:30 p.m. June 11 tickets are $40-$210.
• Carrie Imler is scheduled to dance June 2, 3 (evening), 8 and 10; Batkhurel Bold is scheduled to dance June 3 (matinee) and 9. All casting is subject to change.
Both performances at McCaw Hall, Seattle; (206-441-2424 or pnb.org).
“I felt I needed to prove to myself that I could come back after having Markus,” she said. “But now that I’ve done that, I can relax!”
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Bold, likewise, said he’s ready to go. “I had an extremely, amazingly long career for a male dancer,” he said of his 21 years at PNB. “But I knew [the end] was going to come, and I’ve been preparing myself the last two years.”
Currently the two senior dancers in the company, Imler and Bold arrived here on very different roads. Imler joined PNB as a teenage apprentice in 1995; originally from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she trained at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, the School of American Ballet in New York and PNB School.
Bold, born in Mongolia to ballet-dancer parents, was sent to Russia as a child to train at Perm Choreographic Academy. At 17, he went to Washington, D.C., (a cousin helped him get a visa), where he caught the eye of PNB artistic directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, on tour with the company at the time. They promptly offered him a job, and he joined the company as a corps de ballet member in 1996.
Now married to fellow PNB principal Lesley Rausch, “I’ve been extremely lucky,” Bold said, of his journey. “21 years, with a single company that fostered me and gave me everything in life that people can wish for or dream.”
Frequent partners over the years — they even did an impromptu third act of “Swan Lake” together long ago, after Imler’s original partner was injured on stage — the two laughed as they looked back on their PNB era. Young dancers together in the company in the 1990s, they began in the background, but clearly Russell and Stowell had their eyes on them.
“We were doing our corps parts, but they were pushing us,” said Bold. “We used to always be fourth cast.” (PNB routinely rehearses multiple casts of large ballets; first cast gets the opening-night glory, while fourth cast might perform a matinee or two, or be on standby in case of injury.)
“I remember always being in the back, thinking, it’s really awesome that we’re learning these ballets,” said Imler. The two moved up quickly in the ranks, performing together and with numerous other partners; Imler was promoted to principal — a ballet company’s highest ranking — in 2002, Bold in 2004.
Among her favorite ballets over the years, Imler named Ronald Hynd’s “Merry Widow,” and “pretty much any story ballet because I just love the acting aspect and the dancing aspect. I love the challenge of it.” The ever-smiling Bold said “all of them” are his favorites; “I enjoyed every single one of them extremely.”
They’ll be revisiting a few of those favorites for the Season Encore on June 11, where together Bold and Imler will perform George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” and the Black Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake” — in which Imler can show off, one last time, her famously fleet fouetté turns (immortalized in a YouTube video, with more than a million hits).
Bold will also perform the “Cinderella” pas de deux with Rausch, and Imler will dance, with Jonathan Porretta, an excerpt from Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” and a new work commissioned for the occasion from local choreographer and former PNB soloist Kiyon Gaines.
After that last dance, what’s next? Imler will join the PNB School as a full-time faculty member, but she’s also looking at other possibilities. “I went back to school a few years ago and got an associate degree in arts and sciences, and I’d like to continue that,” she said, possibly in physical therapy. “I would love to have a little PT office somewhere down here for dancers, knowing their hours.”
Bold is less specific — “The sky’s the limit!” he said cheerfully. He and Rausch have a home in Honolulu, where they’ll head as soon as the season ends; he’s planning some work with Ballet Hawaii, and says he’s interested in the hotel industry, but “I could be so happy working at the Whole Foods in Honolulu!,” he said. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to take a six-month break. I think I deserve it after 21 years in one company. I’ve been lifting people for 20 years!”
Emotions are mixed, as they look toward the end of their final season; Imler, tearing up a bit, says that her decision feels right but “There are moments where I hear ‘Merry Widow’ playing, or certain ballets that I’ve loved, and I just break down like this.” Bold’s outlook is sunnier. “I’m just very thankful and happy. I’ve been so blessed compared to all the millions of dancers around the world — literally, who would teach a boy from Mongolia?”
One last question, as they dance off into their new lives: What’s it been like for them to dance together? “It’s easy,” said Imler, of partnering with Bold. “Even if we had to do something tomorrow that we’d never done before, I’d feel comfortable, just because we know each other so well.”
“It’s very, very easy,” agreed Bold. “And it’s exciting as hell.”
Catch that excitement, one last time, on June 11. And, perhaps, bring a tissue or two.