The little girl seated in front of me whispered to her mother, "Which one is the princess?" To which her mother re-plied, "There are none tonight."
Which last Friday was only partially true. Although Pacific Northwest Ballet's latest program "Wheeldon, Duato & Balanchine" contains no fairy tales, there was royalty to be found that evening.
Poised to become one of the major wearers of a tiara at PNB, principal dancer Carla Körbes arrived at the company last year from New York City Ballet. Wheeldon's "Polyphonia" on Friday beautifully showcased her flexi-bility and grace. As Körbes wrapped around her partner, principal dancer Batkhurel Bold, slithering down and between his legs like a blond python, the pair formed a momentary human knot, causing gasps from the audience and thunderous applause.
"Polyphonia," a series of short pieces choreographed set to 10 piano pieces, also demonstrated the strength of several interesting partnerings on Friday night. Principal dancers Olivier Wevers and Louise Nadeau are regulars together and looked, as always, perfectly balanced and assured. More unusual was to see principal dancers Le Yin and Kaori Nakamura. Nakamura, possessor of the most expressive feet in PNB, looked radiant, and Yin was a strong partner for her. (He had a terrific evening; more about that later.)
I tend to remember principal dancer Jonathan Porretta in solo roles: a prodigal son, a Puck or a jester. But he was a lovely match for principal dancer Noelani Pantastico, reining back his trademark big smile to waltz her across the stage with an elegant restraint. Both seemed to float through the steps, and both make such gorgeous use of their shoulders and arms. Not that Porretta can't toss himself into the jumps and turns with equal high energy, as he demonstrated with abandon in "Rassemblement" after the intermission.
As masterly as the dancing was, the Grand Duchess of "Polyphonia" was pianist Dianne Chilgren, always wonderful and a member of PNB for more than 20 years. Piano soloist Christina Siemens joined her for "Polyphonia," and the pair were a wonderful reminder of why live music adds so much to a performance.
Having said that, Nacho Duato's pieces always bring the most intriguing sound-tracks to McCaw Hall. Whether it's the gypsy wailing of "Jardí Tancat" or the Haitian laments of "Rassemblement," the man knows how to turn the sorrows and joys of world music into wonderful movement.
Celebrating her 20th anniversary at PNB, principal dancer Ariana Lallone was definitely the Voodoo Queen of "Rassemblement." Her gravity-defying, perpendicular-to-the-floor pose graces the poster for this program. Her long, lean legs and arms seem built specifically for Duato's fondness for right angles, whether it's feet jutting at right angle from the ankle or elbows pointed toward the ceiling, turning arms into wings to carry his dancers out of their grief.
Standing ovations concluded "Rassemblement," definitely a tribute to Lallone's work at PNB but also an acknowledgment of every dancer's wholehearted embrace of Duato's work. Duato creates the opposite of the glittering princesses and princes of his fables of backbreaking labor, everyday brutality of poverty and the relief of the frenzied joy brought out through dance and music in a harsh life. Dancers sweat by the end of Duato's work, and audiences are emotionally wrung out. And that's a very good thing.
Far more traditional is Balanchine's "La Sonnambula." This final piece of the evening is an odd tale, almost a ghost story, of a poet who abandons a rich man's coquette to follow a mysterious sleepwalker to his doom. The orchestra and conductor Stewart Kershaw appeared for this last piece, set to music based on themes by Bellini.
In the difficult role of the Sleepwalker, Nadeau stayed on point and blank-faced as she wafted around, over and, at one challenging moment, through the circle of the Poet's arms and legs. Dancing with a partner, but not reacting to that partner, takes some serious acting concentration, yet Nadeau makes the role seem natural and eerily real.
As the Poet, Yin was allowed to be more expressive, reacting with increasing passion to the mysterious young lady in white wafting past him with her candle always held before her.
As the Coquette, Pantastico is the perfect flirt, nicely matched by principal dancer Christophe Maraval as the villainous Baron.
In smaller roles, corps member Kiyon Gaines showed off his terrific jumps as the Harlequin while soloist Lesley Rausch and corps member James Moore performed a splendid pas de deux to entertain the Baron's guests.
And even without a single princess or prince in the evening, the audience went home royally entertained by it all.
'WHEELDON, DUATO & BALANCHINE'
Through Sunday at McCaw Hall