A shy young woman extends her hand to her lover, and then snatches it away before he can catch it. The lover dances for her, trying to impress, while she awaits her turn to show off for him. Together, they embrace then pull apart as if embarrassed by the physical closeness.
These are some of the most stirring moments in Justin Peck’s “Debonair,” which had its world premiere on Friday night at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The 15-minute ballet may not be Peck’s most striking piece yet, but “Debonair” reveals many of this rising star’s choreographic talents.
Chief among these are his ability to subtly suggest character and story, skillful use of the ensemble and sophisticated musical taste.
In George Antheil’s complex “Serenade for String Orchestra No. 1,” played with intensity and flair by the stellar PNB orchestra, Peck has found a multicolored score that lends itself to “Debonair’s” changing moods.
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In the first sections, Antheil’s hints of jazz rhythms and cowboy tunes provide the perfect backdrop for exuberant ensemble dancing. The gorgeous costumes by Reid Barthelme and Harriet Jung — long, shimmering dresses for women, tights and vests for men — have the formality of 19th-century ballet but serve as a surprisingly successful juxtaposition to the jaunty score.
Visually it seems almost as though we’ve been dropped into the ballroom scene from “Romeo and Juliet,” with the young couple’s friends replacing the warring families. Each pair expresses its own love dynamic until they all peel off, leaving one couple alone on stage.
The music changes and hints of Prokofiev creep in (more “Romeo and Juliet”?) as the young lovers, danced by Carla Körbes and Jerome Tisserand, begin their duet. Körbes is PNB’s most graceful ballerina, shaping a phrase beautifully and inflecting even the tiniest movement with intense feeling. Tisserand, growing into the company’s most elegant male, is able to match her in warmth and charm. Together they make Peck’s ode to love and longing memorable.
The first three works on the program — David Dawson’s breakneck “A Million Kisses to my Skin,” Nacho Duato’s ”Rassemblement” and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Before After” — offer a complete contrast. All three are compelling, but “A Million Kisses” is the blockbuster.
The real stars of this program, however, are the corps members and soloists who are often overshadowed by PNB’s dynamic principals. From Margaret Mullin, who dances with an almost scary ferocity, to Angelica Generosa, Raphaël Bouchard, Leah Merchant, Chelsea Adomaitis and virtually everyone who performed on opening night, it’s clear the entire company deserves the national attention it is now receiving.
Alice Kaderlan is a Seattle-based arts writer who writes about dance and other subjects.