Returning to McCaw Hall last Friday night was not a return to the old days--it felt more meaningful than that. The pre-performance buzz of the audience was softer, due in part to limited seating capacity and maybe also to a general awe of the moments we lost during the long months since the pandemic irrevocably changed, well, everything.
But the excitement and energy of an audience hungry for live performance was thick in the air. With mask-muffled shrieks of recognition, we greeted beloved artists and company administrators, ushers, fellow arts fans. And with this new sense of appreciation for the things we love the most, the opening performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet's 49th season didn't need to harken back to old times. On Friday night we were given a gift: a powerful new lens through which to gaze at our grief and our joy. Through the deeply emotional choreography of PNB resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, PNB dancers performed three pieces that captured their greatest technical gifts and artistry, along with an immense love of art and people that every facet of the company has shown over the last year.
PNB decision makers could have packed every seat in the house and boosted much-needed revenue. Instead, they limited ticket sales to ensure safe social distancing. Some ballets were staged with real-life couples performing pas de deux to limit physical contact between artists' households. None of the ballets that opened the season required a huge amount of dancers onstage. And everyone rehearsed in masks.
But after so many long months away from the studio and stage, the dancers still have it. Some of them even got stronger. I had a hard time tearing my eyes away from corps member Leah Terada in "One Thousand Pieces," her leg strength and musicality so fined-tuned into the soul of the ballet that she seemed alone onstage at times. Soloist Elle Macy, forever one of my favorite dancers for her exquisite combo of grace and power--like a fairy who could fight off a whole army with one fierce gaze and a few pointed roundhouse kicks--danced through "One Thousand Pieces" as if there was not a single drop of rain onstage.
Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite's duet in "Silent Ghost" pushed Cerrudo's choreography to new limits; Pantastico balancing on Postlewaite's back until it seemed she would flip over his head onto the stage, but remaining still long enough to appear that she floated in midair. This balancing act and the grace with which Pantastico and Postlewaite perform captures that magical balance of movement and stillness that we've all struggled with personally and socially during the pandemic. It was a perfect way to open the season, with perfect dancers at the helm of the performance.
Most of the music for the "Singularly Cerrudo" program was pre-recorded, including pieces from Philip Glass, Max Richter, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and the rock group Beirut. But that "singular" moment for me came at the very end of the performance, when I looked down into the orchestra pit and glimpsed PNB musician Alexander Grimes on his viola. As I watched him play, it sank in that I was in the same room as the beautiful music hitting my ears. I was back. We were all back in the theater, the place where we remember what we love, why we love it, and what we are fighting for.