New Kid in Town

PNB's new leader settles in, and local dancers take their show on the road.

The arts season is usually like a school year, starting fresh in September and finishing with a rush sometime in June. A January–December view goes from midterm to midterm, so a report this time of year is more an evaluation than a final grade.

This time last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet was still in the throes of introducing its new artistic director, Peter Boal—by now he's been here long enough to shift the focus away from the person to the changes he's been making with the company. The artistic roster has stayed much the same, but the overall intensity has increased—PNB's added repertory by 20th-century icons Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp, cultivated the next gener-ation of choreographers through new commissions, and reached out to younger audiences with programs like $5 Fridays. After ending last spring with a pair of milestone ballets (Sleeping Beauty and Jewels), PNB charged into the autumn season with two powerful mixed-rep shows, including company premieres of Robbins' seminal Fancy Free and an experimental ballet/break-dance hybrid work by Victor Quijada.

Alex Martin of BetterBiscuitDance had a great performing year, onstage and in her personal life. Her dance opera The Onion Twins, at Hugo House last January, was a charming and childlike translation of an old folktale. And in July she brought her life/art experiment Little Brown Dress (in which she challenged herself to wear the same dress for an entire year) to a raucous close with a birthday/undressing party.

Several artists got out of town in 2006, taking Seattle dance on the road. A contingent from PNB went to the prestigious Jacob's Pillow festival in August, and then again to New York City's Fall for Dance festival in September. Lingo Dancetheater and Mary Sheldon Scott/Jarrad Powell Performance both made New York appearances, Spectrum Dance Theater went all the way to Italy to perform at the Spoleto Festival, and Zoe Scofield was another Jacob's Pillow guest. And after touring to several different venues, Pat Graney brought her eerie Vivian Girls back to Seattle for a closing set of performances.

Mark Haim's Goldberg Variations, at On the Boards, was a program full of exquisite moments. Whether he was dancing his solo version or was joined by a stellar cast of local dancers, it was beautiful enough to make you weep. The revival of Buttrock Suites, on the other hand, led by Diana Cardiff and Matt Mulkerin, had people laughing so hard they cried.

ConWorks, an occasional dance presenter, may have closed its doors, but some new spaces and opportunities opened up, including the Apostrophe series at Gallery 1412 and a preshow dance series at ACT Theatre. These were both nurtured by promoter-about-town Michelle Steinwald, who has, alas, moved on to Minneapolis and a fancy job at the Walker Art Center.

Another loss for the community is Flemming Halby, who retired last spring from his positions as school principal and character artist for Pacific Northwest Ballet, bringing a long and varied career to a close. Halby arrived in Seattle in the 1970s as a dancer in the First Chamber Dance company, with a unique combination of classical training in the Danish tradition and a curiosity about other dance styles. Since then, he'd done a little bit of almost everything: teaching around the Northwest, founding the Dance Lab studio, running his own ensemble (Halby Dance Theater), and staging works by the renowned August Bournonville. The Danish school is known for its detailed character performers, artists who are actors as well as dancers, and Halby brought those skills to a series of roles in the PNB rep, including a benevolent Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet and his last performances (pictured) as Gallison, the feckless tutor in Sleeping Beauty.

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