Pacific Northwest Ballet's lovely rendition of Jerome Robbins' masterwork "Dances at a Gathering" elicited sighs of contentment from a McCaw Hall audience on Thursday night, May 28. Also on the program: Christopher Wheeldon's wistful "After the Rain" and Balanchine's joyous "Symphony in C," reviewed by Seattle Times arts writer Moira Macdonald.

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Dance Review |

A dancer steps quietly on to a bare stage, in silence. A solo piano begins to play a gentle Chopin selection, and the dancer, remembering something from long ago, begins to etch out a waltz, with a partner only he can see. Much later, within a group, that same dancer reaches down to touch the ground, as if something sacred had happened there. The group of 10, in a moment of unison, raise an arm to the sky; watching it, like time, float away. And in the end, five couples walk away together, lost in their own worlds.

This is Jerome Robbins’ 1969 masterwork “Dances at a Gathering,” making its local premiere in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Director’s Choice” repertory evening (which closes the 2008-2009 season). In its hour of interwoven solos, pas de deux and group dances, the piece ranges from wistful nostalgia, giggly silliness, folkloric stomping, lyrical romance, effortlessly complex lifts, and simple movement in which walking melts into dance. The women’s airy dresses float in the breeze the dancers create; the mood is intimate, as if performed unobserved.

As artistic director Peter Boal noted in the program, a company must earn the right to perform this piece, and PNB’s many recent Robbins performances have all been leading to this lovely rendition of “Dances.” Like much of Robbins’ work, it requires an intense emotional connection between the dancers and with the music (played with great delicacy by Allan Dameron).

Lucien Postlewaite (whose introspective solo opened the work) and Kaori Nakamura danced a soft, flowing pas de deux featuring what can only be described as a traveling embrace. Jonathan Porretta and Chalnessa Eames caught fire in a teasing duet, ending with her reckless dive into the wings. Seth Orza showed off some soaring jumps, and Louise Nadeau — whose retirement is imminent, yet who looked as if she’d love to dance all night — sparkled in a lighthearted solo, ending with a happy shrug. At each dance’s conclusion, quiet sighs of contentment rose from the audience.

Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” pas de deux also made its local debut; a wistful, lovely series of splayed-leg lifts and unexpectedly poignant body sculpture. Accompanied by Arvo Pärt’s yearning score (played by violinist Tom Dziekonski and pianist Christina Siemens), Maria Chapman and Batkhurel Bold wove an unbroken thread of movement. At one point, he knelt before her and she fell toward him, smoothly as a waterfall; at the dance’s end, they literally seemed to melt together into one.

These two quiet, inward-looking works were nicely set off by a showy and joyous finale: George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” with acres of fluffy white tutus and miles of precise arabesques.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com