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‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ Brings the PNB Company Dancers on Stage for a Well-Deserved Encore

June 7, 2017

Pictures at an Exhibition brings the Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers on stage for a well-deserved encore, and says farewell to two principals: the breathtaking Carrie Imler and stalwart Batkhurel Bold.

All three pieces in this encore are Pacific Northwest Ballet premieres. Artistic Director Peter Boal acts as the stager for the first two works, having danced both for many years with the New York City Ballet, but also making her PNB premiere as stager for the piece this rep takes its name from is renowned ballerina Wendy Whelan. Whelan is an award-winning ballerina and is widely considered to be one of the greatest dancers this century. She danced for 30 years with the New York City Ballet, retiring in 2014, and has a repertoire of over 50 ballets. Just last month, a documentary about her career and retirement, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, was released. As Boal states in his director’s notes to the audience, “If the name Wendy Whelan doesn’t sound familiar, you need to get out more.”

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Elizabeth Murphy (center) with company dancers in La Source (choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust), which PNB is presenting as part of PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, June 2 – 11, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The experience of the company’s stagers for this performance no doubt helped to shape this encore into the beautiful farewell that it is. The show begins, appropriately, with the traditional, delightful La Source, choreographed by George Balanchine and set to several pieces by Léo Delibes. It features technically challenging solos and pas de deux for its two leads, not to mention the demanding choreography for the corps, which PNB’s dancers perform with aggressive ambition.

The tone shifts in the second piece, Opus 19/The Dreamer, a contemporary and somber exploration of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 19 by the incomparable Jerome Robbins, which indeed evokes a dreamlike state with soft gradients of blue and purple in the lighting and costuming. We the audience experience the dream with the lead male, dressed all in white, a role which Boal himself chose for his retirement performance with New York City Ballet.

I had the good fortune to see a Saturday performance of the ballet which featured corps dancer Dylan Wald in the lead, with soloist Sarah Ricard Orza as the ballerina tasked with being both an evanescent aspect of his dream, disappearing as quickly as she joins the dance, and a tangible partner with whom he can interact. Wald completely commits himself to this alternate reality during the moments Orza is on stage, while at other times visibly trying to fight the influence of the dream. Nevertheless, he ends up exploring the same refrains, more often than not as a solo. It gives off a lonely sense of déjà vu that is never truly resolved, supported by the ethereal music featuring sublime violin solos played here by Michael Jinsoo Lim.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Noelani Pantastico and James Moore with company dancers in Jerome Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer, which PNB is presenting as part of PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, June 2 – 11, 2017. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The encore concludes with Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, set entirely to solo piano music by Modest Mussorgsky (played by Allan Dameron). A newer work, originally set on New York City Ballet in 2014, Pictures is a wonderful mesh of always-changing, digital scenery and comfortable costuming, and the choreography masterfully follows the emotional, artistic arc of the music.

“Color Study. Squares with Concentric Circles” by Wassily Kandinsky is the featured artwork, which shows up both in its entirety and as deconstructed geometric shapes to match the dancers on stage. Sometimes they become a piece of artwork, sometimes they frolic together — a group of friends indeed viewing artwork at an exhibition.

“Color Study. Squares with Concentric Circles” Wassily Kandinksy, 1913.

For tickets and more information on this performance, visit Principal dancers Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold will have their last performance on Sunday, June 11. 


Morgan McMurray

Morgan McMurray is a writer and editor based in Seattle. A 2013 graduate of Iowa State University, she has a Bachelor of Arts in English, Journalism, and International Studies.

Read more of her work on her personal blog and at Law Street Media.

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