Lallone stands tall at PNB

The myth of classical ballet is that all dancers must fit a set mold, and there is no room in a company for anyone else.

The truth is somewhat less rigid. Some ballets do call for a certain uniformity of look; others just require terrific dancing.

As the tallest woman in the Pacific Northwest Ballet, principal dancer Ariana Lallone knows what it's like to stand out from the crowd. At 5-foot-11 in her satin slippers, Lallone is usually dressed in some bright shade of red and is always easy to spot on stage.

Her leading roles at PNB have included a number of contemporary roles choreographed on her, including a stunning Carmen, as well as classical roles. With her black hair and striking good looks, Lallone is most often costumed in brilliant colors.

"We have always had a costume-shop joke about me and red costumes," Lallone said. "Some seasons it seems like I'm only dressed in red, but I don't mind. It's a good color and the costume for 'Rubies' [opening June 1] is one of my favorites."

At PNB, Lallone find a company willing to work with an 18-year-old female dancer who was taller than some of the men and most of the women.

"I knew my height was a problem, but I knew that I wanted to dance. It just took someone seeing something in me that I maybe didn't see in myself. Very early on, Kent [Stowell] and Francia [Russell] started talking to me about becoming a soloist," recalled Lallone, who joined the company as a professional student in 1986 after training in Southern California.

She started taking ballet lessons at age 7. An early foray into gymnastics had ended at age 5 when a teacher called her "uncoordinated" and suggested her mother try taking her tall daughter to dance classes. The minute Lallone looked through the window at the studio and saw the dancers at their lessons, she felt "an intense connection."

Lallone played sports and participated in normal school activities, but she kept up the ballet lessons, too. After graduating high school, she decided to try PNB's school, to see if she could make ballet a career.

"One thing that we talked about very early on was that I could not spend my career in the corps, because it was not going to work," Lallone remembered. "It was too hard to keep placing me some place where I wouldn't stand out. So it meant missing out certain corps parts, and of course that is where your growth as a dancer is happening, out there on the stage."

The early years at PNB were frustrating, Lallone said, "because I wasn't ready [to dance solo roles] and they couldn't give a promotion just because I didn't fit."

Eventually "some very hard work" and the encouragement of PNB's artistic directors paid off. Lallone became a soloist with the company in 1993.

"I got to that soloist point, and that's all I had ever talked about with Kent and Francia. Then the next year I was promoted to principal. I did not see that coming. That was something that they saw in me, and I was very grateful. Out of that came more opportunities and a wonderful life. I didn't know about any of that when I wanted to dance as a young girl," said Lallone, who has no intentions of retiring any time soon.

"It's the dream of every dancer to have opportunities to do different types of repertoire, different types of dancing," she said. "There are still parts I want to improve on, things I want to learn."

"Something like Lilac Fairy in 'Sleeping Beauty' is challenging for me in a way that is almost nerve wracking," she said, "because it is so classically technical and structured. Whereas the most contemporary rep has the technical basis but a lot more freedom in the body - but it has its own pressure, too. I love being able to dance both."

Having been with PNB as a student and a professional dancer for 20 years, Lallone has seen many changes. The move of the school from the quaint Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford to the gleaming building at the Seattle Center, the exodus from the Opera House to Mercer Arena as the company's performance space was torn down and rebuilt as McCaw Hall, and finally the retirement of Stowell and Russell, two people Lallone calls "a constant" in her life as a dancer.

"I was so nervous starting out the season - having worked with Kent and Francia for so long - but Peter Boal made it a seamless change for us. It's just been a wonderful season. At the beginning of the year, it was so great to work with him on 'Red Angels.' It was nice to just have that time alone with Peter in the studio, working on a piece that he felt so passionate about. I felt lucky to start the season out like that," she said.

PNB ends this season with the all-Balanchine program known as "Jewels," which fills the evening with three very different ballets, all based upon a certain gem and music that Balanchine thought fit the mood of that gem.

For "Emeralds," set to Fauré's "Pelléas et Mélisande" and "Shylock," Balanchine created a romantic piece carrying echoes of the French Romantic tradition, right down to the three-quarter-length skirts worn by the ballerinas.

"Rubies" is the "modern" center of the trio, based on Stravinsky's Capriccio for piano and orchestra, while "Diamonds" is the most "classical" piece with the music of Tchaikovsky and the look of the great Russian classics. This section of the "Jewels" had been previously performed by PNB in 1995.

"I was really hoping to revisit 'Rubies' again. But we've never done all of 'Jewels' before, so it is an exciting way to end the season," said Lallone.

For first week of "Jewels" (June 1-3), the lead roles in "Rubies" on opening night and June 3 will danced by principal dancers Kaori Nakamura, Jonathan Porretta and Lallone.

"'Rubies' is contemporary classical. There are pirouettes and jumps and all those things, but you'll see classical movement along with jazzy, stylized moves. The best of both worlds," she observed. "It's a powerful role to do."

On Friday, June 2, Lallone will be partnered by corps de ballet dancer Karel Cruz in "Emeralds."

"It is completely different from 'Rubies.' It is very flowing and very romantic. I dance a solo, a pas de deux and ensemble - and in a green costume!" said Lallone

But whether her dress is red or green, Lallone knows she will feel the same adrenaline rush the moment that her shoes hit the stage. "It is one of the greatest moments of performing. The curtain goes up, and there you go!"

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