Pacific Northwest Ballet's new Director's Choice might also have been called "Dim Sum." The mixed repertory program resembled one of those classic Chinese brunches where a little bit of everything went wheeling by, and everyone in the audience got a taste of something that they liked.
For those looking for something American and not too strange, artistic director Peter Boal has added Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" to PNB's repertoire. This 1944 classic of three sailors out on a spree in New York marked the first collaboration between Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein. Besides inspiring the Broadway musical "On the Town," as you can plainly see, the ballet (and Robbins) influenced all musical theater dance of the next decade, particularly the athletic and very masculine styling of stars like Gene Kelly.
On Friday, principal dancer Jeffrey Stanton and corps de ballet dancers Josh Spell and Kiyon Gaines took to the stage as the three sailors. Principal dancer Carla Körbes and corps de ballet dancers Lesley Rausch and Lindsi Dec performed the female "Passers-by." The Bartender was PNB apprentice Sokvannara Sar.
As happens in brand-new pieces, the dancers seemed a little hesitant at moments, and there were a few rare missteps.
Gaines, however, particularly shone in this selection. With his athletic build and enormous grin, he had no trouble inhabiting the role of the showoff sailor who can somersault and leap a little higher than the other dudes.
Stanton's neat solo rumba in "Fancy Free" was a part that Robbins danced in the première. Stanton gave this moment just the right amount of twinkle in the eye and wiggle of the bottom. It's a joy to see a dancer better known for his classical princes have such fun.
Those seeking a post-classical flavor could focus on William Forsythe's "In the middle, some-what elevated." There's no argu-ing with the technical brilliance of Forsythe's choreography but, as always, I regretted not having ear plugs to block out the pound-ing and relentless cacophony of Thomas Willems' score. Every time this piece returns to the PNB stage, I remember why I dislike the music so much, and yet the dancing leaves me gasp-ing with the rest of the audience at its sheer ferocity.
Judging by the sustained ap-plause after the curtain, the rest of the audience does not loathe Willems' score as much as I do (or maybe a few were applauding with relief that the next piece would feature Tchaikovsky).
Forsyth's "In the middle, somewhat elevated" featured principal dancers Batkhurel Bold, Körbes and Casey Herd with soloist Maria Chapman and corps de ballet dancers Rachel Foster, Chalnessa Eames, Benjamin Griffiths, Lindsi Dec and Kara Zimmerman.
After sending the sweat literally flying in Forsythe's difficult piece, Herd returned to dance with great control with principal Noelani Pantastico as the lead couple in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations."
The latter is one of George Balanchine's nods to the grand ballet traditions of his native Russia. For those who like their ballet seasoned with tutus and tiaras, this is a sweet reminder of the great classical traditions.
As always, the company looked completely relaxed yet beautifully poised during this glittering piece. Eames, John-ston, Kylee Kitchens, Rausch, Karel Cruz, Jordan Pacitti, Anton Pankevitch and Lucian Postle-waite made lovely couples on Friday night, moving with ele-gance through the "demi-soloists" parts of "Theme and Variations."
Director's Choice continues through Oct. 1 at McCaw Hall.