Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Miles Pertl’s 'Wash of Gray', premiering as part of PNB's 'Locally Sourced'. Photo by Angela Sterling.

With a Trio of Inventive New Works, PNB’s ‘Locally Sourced’ Is Ballet for We Who Don’t ‘Do the Ballet’

With elegance, precision, and an army of highly trained dancers, the slate of new works up now at Pacific Northwest Ballet will satisfy — and excite — frequent-goers, too. But the appeal of Locally Sourced is much broader.

Welcome to a new way of seeing ballet.

 

If you’re looking for technical ballet critique, I am not your guy. The long and short of my buttoned-up ballet experience: I hated The Nutcracker in eighth grade, dozed off while dancing mice did their thing all around me, and never deigned to go back.

But if you’d like to see ballet through a brand new lens, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Locally Sourced, a triple-bill of world premieres featuring short dance works with added visual flair, on now through Sunday at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

The evening-length show includes new work by three Seattle-area dance-makers: Bellevue-based choreographer Eva Stone, founder of The Stone Dance Collective and the CHOP SHOP: bodies of work festival; Donald Byrd, acclaimed choreographer and Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater; and the sibling team of choreographer/dancer Miles Pertl and visual artist Sydney M. Pertl (collectively, the “SeaPertls”).

The biggest name recognition among the lineup no doubt belongs to Byrd, the long-time dance-maker and newly minted Doris Duke Artist, who’s known for his own blend of insightful, urgent works, delivered in an assertive style of modern dance exemplified in works like SHOT (see NWT’s review here), IM(PULSE), H.R. 3244, and this season’s wrenching Strange Fruit, all created for his Spectrum Dance Theater. But Byrd is no stranger to the ballet stage; indeed, his new work, titled Love and Loss, marks his sixth showing at PNB.

The evening opens with Stone’s work, called F O I L, which is presented in five distinct sections (each “like a different room in a house,” as she put it), called Now, Be Still, Hold, Wait, and Exhale. Stone compiled a design team of women (Melanie Burgess on costumes and Amiya Brown on lighting design), and drew from musical compositions by all female composers, each “room” using a different composition, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the three choreographers, Stone’s work had decidedly the most classically ballet feel to it, emphasizing the elegance of the form. But she gives it a twist, with 13 chandeliers, above and surrounding the dancers, dominating the scene — elegant and classical, gaudy and excessive, and shifting to dramatic and stark when reduced to one small chandelier (the “runt”, she calls it) to light the massive stage.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Donald Byrd’s ‘Love and Loss’. Photo by Angela Sterling.

Byrd’s follows, and the feelings which the chandeliers elicit in F O I L is much like the range Byrd’s Love and Loss employs with the dancers’ bodies themselves: an alternating richness of a full stage, and the dramatic loneliness of a near-empty one.

With a name as broad as Love and Loss, it may as well be a choose your own adventure story: affix whatever personal sentiment you wish to it, for we all have our own stories of love and loss (people, places, objects and memories). Byrd’s choreography — both severe and elegant, sharp but flowing — is deepened by sound and scenic elements that give it an unexpected emotional intensity.

The original musical composition, by Emmanuel Witzthum, soars and pulses, sweeping seamlessly from one mood to another much like the dance itself. The most breathtaking element of Byrd’s work here is its sneakiness. At points the stage is stunningly full, electric and robust from the full cadre of 22 dancers. Its slip into emptiness is all the more stark. The loneliness is tangible. The two dancers huddled in the corner, downstage right, are suddenly tiny, swallowed by the stage.

Whether by design or my imagination, the backdrop for Byrd’s work resembles a grand, modern elevator lobby in a hotel; and busy yet businesslike costumes by Doris Black accent Randall G. Chiarelli’s stately scenic and lighting design. It’s fitting, for just as dancers appear — often via the shadows where the elevator doors would be — they pass through just as easily, moments after filling the stage with life. The lobby look and feel highlights the sense of transience throughout the work.

 

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And Miles Pertl’s Wash of Gray — which begins with the whimsical contrast of a slug greeting the crowd in a love letter to Seattle — is especially memorable in its pairing of dance with the sweeping, gorgeous visuals projected onto the walls behind, animated like live-action drawings in gray and white. (Pertl’s sister, Sydney M. Pertl, designed the backdrop, with Maxfield Woodring and Eli Lara.)

Amid the sounds of pelting rain battering a roof, dancers clad in gray dance before a massive backdrop of the city, which pans across the skyline, Space Needle to ferry dock, before the distinctive wail of a foghorn sounds out against the soft lap of Puget Sound. We’re ferried across the Sound into nature, as a lighthouse looks on and the dancers don brighter hues.

On the ground it’s easy to see in Seattle a place radically changed. The skyline pan is a reminder of the change, yes — a city many of us remember, passing. Yet it’s still there. The happenstance of having a dancer visibly pregnant at its center just completed the feeling of rebirth.

Throughout the run, Wash of Gray‘s visual art components are highlighted all around the building, with a pop-up gallery from local artists. Like in the performance, many of the works in the lobbies are recognizable portraits of Seattle’s many distinctive elements.

Combined, Locally Sourced — in performance and visual art — is a love letter to the makers of the Sound. The ones resilient on a near-zero budget; the ones who have come from other places to a place they are freer to explore; the ones who draw on local family and place to celebrate its uniqueness in their art.

Even with its polish, Locally Sourced is intimate Seattle — grittiness, beauty, quirks and all — told with elegance and precision on a massive stage. It’s a unique mashup; and a ballet I heartily recommend.


Locally Sourced runs through 11/17 at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center. Tickets $37-$190, available here.  For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: main restrooms are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms available by most of them. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.