Voices of a new generation: DIRECTOR’S CHOICE 2019

“New work is a key part of our ecology,” says Artistic Director Peter Boal one afternoon in February, chatting with staff about our upcoming performances of DIRECTOR’S CHOICE. Boal knows ballet students dream of dancing at PNB because of its artistic direction – the push for growth and appetite for bold, breathtaking new dance.

So each year, when we announce the lineup for DIRECTOR’S CHOICE, and each time you buy a ticket and see those bold and breathtaking works onstage, know that PNB is growing before your eyes.

This year, DIRECTOR’S CHOICE includes three young choreographers: Robyn Mineko Williams, Matthew Neenan, and Justin Peck. Williams & Neenan bring brand new works to the company, while Peck (recently named New York City Ballet’s Artistic Adviser) brings to Seattle his “highly caffeinated” (Huffington Post) In the Countenance of Kings, created in 2016 for San Francisco Ballet.

Learn more about each work and the creative teams bringing them to the stage!

Elizabeth Murphy, Leah Merchant, and Robyn Mineko Williams in rehearsal for The Trees The Trees. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

The Trees The Trees by Robyn Mineko Williams

Robyn Mineko Williams is a Princess Grace Award winner and one of Dance Magazine‘s 2014 25 To Watch. Her piece is inspired by a book by Heather Christle, whose work can be found in The New Yorker and beyond.

Williams selected Kyle Vegter as the composer for The Trees The Trees, a fellow Chicagoan who has worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Composer’s Orchestra, and Manual Cinema, his own Emmy-Award winning theater and film company.

Vegter, whose composition for The Trees The Trees requires a portable radio, recruited Alicia Walter to perform live vocals. Walter, formerly based in Chicago, now resides in New York City and is known for her art-pop project Oshwa.

Luna Pham assembling costumes by Branimira Ivanova. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Another Chicagoan on the Trees team is Branimira Ivanova, whose costume design work will be familiar to those who have seen Little mortal jump and Silent Ghost. Ivanova owns her own clothing company, House of Idolatry.

Rounding out Williams’ team is our own Rico Chiarelli, the lighting and scenic designer for The Trees The Trees. Peter Boal describes the scenery for this piece as a “Mad Men style living room,” featuring a mid-century-modern couch.

Elizabeth Murphy and Seth Orza in rehearsal for Bacchus. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Bacchus by Matthew Neenan

The second piece in the DIRECTOR’S CHOICE lineup comes from BalletX founder Matthew Neenan, who has been resident choreographer for Pennsylvania Ballet since 2007. He works efficiently in the studios; he spent just a few weeks creating and preparing Bacchus for the stage.

Once Peter Boal heard Bacchus composer Oliver Davis‘ music, he was hooked. Perhaps inspired by Philip Glass, the dreamy composition for Bacchus both relaxes the listener and drives the piece forward. Davis is a young British composer with experience in Hollywood scores.

Elizabeth Murphy is fitted for a costume for Bacchus by Larae Hascall and Mark Zappone. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Mark Zappone’s work is familiar to PNB audiences through works like Twyla Tharp’s Afternoon Ball, Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU, and our own production of George Balanchine’s Tarantella. His deep purple pieces for Bacchus are ethereal and flowing, with intricate cutouts in the bodices.

While this is Neenan’s first work for PNB, we know we’re in for a treat; the choreographer’s recent work with New York City Ballet earned a rave review from The New York Times. “You can see [Neenan’s] compositional expertise,” Alastair Macaulay writes. “Changing and intricate geometries, arresting dynamics, multiple dramatic incidents. There’s plenty to see here that will repay rewatching.”

Perhaps audiences aren’t familiar with Neenan’s work yet, but hopefully, you’re familiar with Peter Boal’s selections, and you’ll trust us that this piece is not to be missed.

Margaret Mullin, William Lin-Yee and Steven Loch in rehearsal for In the Countenance of Kings. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

In the Countenance of Kings by Justin Peck

In a relationship that’s been compared to choreographer Jerome Robbins’ collaborations with composer Leonard Bernstein, Justin Peck creates gorgeous movement set to the tune of Sufjan Stevens’ compositions.

In the Countenance of Kings is a prime example of that collaboration. Stevens created the score, The BQE, in 2009 inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. “I intended to create a non-personal, non-narrative piece,” he said about The BQE, acknowledging his stray from typical Sufjan Stevens songs: folksy, anecdotal ear-worms. “I refused to incorporate one of my strengths, which is the song…my greatest weapon.”

Since Kings, Stevens and Peck have directly collaborated on three pieces: Everywhere We Go, The Decalogueand Principia. One might think Peck is just super into indie music, but in fact, he’s deliberately seeking out collaborators whose work is relevant to a younger generation of ballet-goers.

“If you see yourself in the poster, you’re much more likely to buy a ticket,” Boal said regarding Peck’s creative team and its resulting work. What 20-something doesn’t see their own reflection in Peck and his real-life partner Patricia Delgado, dancing to his choreography in the music video for The National’s Dark Side of the Gym? This 20-something blog author sure does.

Digging deeper into Kings, we find a plot surrounding one Protagonist and his three Muses: Botanica, Quantus, and Electra. The corps de ballet are called “The School of Thought” on the casting list, so one can only assume they’ll be acting in synchronicity.

Peter Boal witnessed Peck’s dancing abilities when he attended PNB’s Summer Course during Boal’s first year as Artistic Director. He wasn’t the best classical technician, Boal says, but his work has a fluidity that classical ballet does not.

Laura Tisserand and William Lin-Yee in rehearsal for In the Countenance of Kings. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

“[In the Countenance of Kings] is an exhilarating demonstration of the illusions that the relatively limited vocabulary of ballet can create,” writes Carla Escoda in Huffington Post. Maybe Peck’s lack of classical prowess, combined with a knack for fluid movement, could transform modern ballet for his generation.

In the Countenance of Kings …is going to be the one people talk about when they trace the early career of this ridiculously talented young dancemaker. It’s life, and it’s terrific,” writes Janice Berman.

March 15–24
McCaw Hall

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