Language changes based on the times we are living in. New words are introduced. Words that used to mean one thing take on a whole new meaning. This past year has provided a watershed of new terms. Let’s start with “Zooming” and “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoom bombing” and then add double-masking, social distancing, quarantining, isolating, podding, bubbling, and covidiot (someone who ignores health advisors).
One new word we’ve been using at PNB is “mainstage.” I think I’m to blame for this one and full disclaimer: I’m not sure one stage is more main than another. This year we’ve performed on our main stage, aka Marian Oliver McCaw Hall, for a handful of cameras, camera operators, and a few staff with the sole purpose of bringing these filmed performances to our subscribers and single ticket purchasers. You’re out there—all 4,000 plus households in 50 states and 36 countries. You’re also discovering performances from other “stages,” and these features are as important to us as they are to you.
Our dancers have been all over Seattle, from Gas Works to Golden Gardens, from Discovery Park to Downtown, in our rehearsal studios and on the Sound. Clara Ruf Maldonado performed in a piece with the elevated Fremont Bridge looming behind her, and Kuu Sakuragi danced on worktables at PNB’s scenic shop in Georgetown. James Moore found a partner in a bench at Shilshole Marina. Yeah, we’re everywhere.
These settings provide inspiration. And, as choreographers find the need to keep casts small in order to navigate a maze of protocols, outdoor and studio projects have kept our Company working. I hope you will take the time to watch all of our bonus content, and enjoy these creative collaborations between dancers, choreographers, costumers, and videographers. It has been challenging to find projects for artists this year, and though we seem never to have enough, these opportunities provide fulfillment and food to sustain creative growth and audience appetite.
Watch for an introspective new work by one of our top students, Margarita Armas, filmed in one of our Phelps Center studios two weeks ago. I’d also like to direct you to a charming and insightful interview with our Level VII students asking PNB’s Resident Choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo a few tough questions. Like Margarita, each of these Level VIIs is an accomplished choreographer in her own right. They are part of the New Voices, a composition class led by Eva Stone where they spend 38 weeks a year learning and practicing the art of choreography. They are no strangers to creating in studio and in outdoor locations, and they offer an in-depth, no-holds-barred interview with Alejandro.
Back on the mainstage, we see Alejandro’s world premiere, titled Future Memory. This marks his sixth work for the Company and second premiere. The piece focuses on four individuals and becomes an intoxicating meditation on movement and mood. Alejandro has the unique ability to delve into humanity and emotion with a single gesture, leaving us exposed and heard all at once.
We’ve also pulled an impressive archival performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to show you. I wanted to offer this ballet to you in the theater this year, but you’ll find great rewards in the 2017 performance full of PNB favorites. Alexei also finds a bond and play between dancers that seems tailor-made for PNB. The work covers a range of emotions, but to me, in this most challenging of times, it seems optimistic and reminiscent of the precious joys of human interaction and contact. As the world starts to open up, it seems to capture a new spring after a long, dark winter’s night.
The third piece on the program is a world premiere by Donald Byrd. This work highlights an optimism that inspired many in our country throughout the 20th century: the dream of the American west. Tragically the dream of one group resulted in the conquest and genocide of another. As we grapple with our failures as a nation of many people—some privileged and included, and some persecuted and excluded—we also look for strands of hope, inspiration, and even dreams.
In our path forward, we still inhabit our mainstage, and we also embrace new ones. Ballet needs a fresh approach and PNB is cognizant of that need, addressing it in a myriad of ways. You’re there, too, taking it all in, applauding and supporting us at every new turn as we test, try, and explore new frontiers. Thank you for joining us on this extraordinary journey.
Photos (top to bottom): Dancer Christopher D’Ariano in Donald Byrd’s And the sky is not cloudy all day; Leah Terada and Miles Pertl in rehearsal for Alejandro Cerrudo’s Future Memory; Dancers Mark Cuddihee and Ezra Thomson with Rehearsal Director Otto Neubert and choreographer Donald Byrd. All photos © Angela Sterling.