The show opens with a relatively short piece inspired by the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Those familiar with the Broadway hit will recognize the strains of “Carousel Waltz” and the main characters of Julie and Billy (though not named here). Will they ever fall in love? Opening night leads Rachel Foster and James Moore make us believe they will with innocent but palpable chemistry. Set against a deep-blue backdrop with strands of twinkling lights — a simplistic representation of a nighttime carnival — joyful dancers frolic around the stage in duets and impressive contagions, constantly intersecting the two lovebirds who finally meet for a beautiful duet tinged with melancholic undertones in both the music (“If I Loved You”) and the way they tenderly reach for one another.
The titular carousel is featured throughout the choreography, first by dancers prancing in smooth circles and finally as ballerinas holding wooden dowels are lifted up and dipped down again, rotating slowly in a circle. This enjoyable 15 minute introduction is much more uplifting than its source material.
A post-war love story gives way to a 1930s dance hall in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, a piece George Balanchine choreographed for Rodgers’ musical On Your Toes. The theatrical elements appear in abundance, beginning with a spandex-clad Jonathan Porretta affecting a Russian accent as he gives murderous instructions to a fedora-wearing gangster. The curtains rise to reveal a detailed, era-specific set stuffed with opportune props — like the bar behind which bartenders can hide dead bodies or the stage where the Showgirl appears to charm her onlookers. There is a reason why principal dancer Lesley Rausch is featured in all the advertisements for Ballet on Broadway as the Showgirl; her incredible extension is shown off to full effect in the role’s jazzy choreography and costuming of fishnets and fringe.
Slaughter is a chance for the dancers to engross us with their acting, humor and — in the case of a few roles — their tap dancing. While not always the crispest or clearest sounds, the hoofing adds a level of entertainment and, at the end, comic relief.
The most-anticipated piece of the night was, without a doubt, Westside Story Suite, which takes us through the familiar territory of rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. Their battling serves as the backdrop to Tony and Maria’s Shakespearean love story, doomed from the start. Everything about PNB’s staging brings to mind the fan-favorite musical, from the three-dimensional sets of New York City streets to the extraordinarily energetic rendition of “America” led by opening night’s Anita, Lindsi Dec. Supported by the live orchestra and four live singers, Jerome Robbins’ original and distinctive choreography brings the audience to their feet.
Ballet on Broadway is on stage at McCaw Hall through April 23, 2017. For more information or to buy tickets visit Pacific Northwest Ballet’s site at pnb.org.
Top image: Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance), which PNB is presenting as part of “Ballet on Broadway,” April 14 – 23, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.