Opening Nights: New Works at PNB

Showing off a company's versatility.

Peter Boal is fond of saying that he wants audiences to know how many different kinds of dance Pacific Northwest Ballet can do, and he's been methodically adding works to the repertory that prove just that. Two of the three dances in the ongoing "New Works" series would be at home in most modern-dance ensembles today, but one, David Dawson's A Million Kisses to My Skin, is most definitely a ballet.

Some of the most beautiful dances in the world, and some of the hardest, are set to Bach, and Kisses can be included on that list. It's a stellar example of neoclassical ballet, influenced by George Balanchine and William Forsythe (Dawson previously danced works by both), an essay in speed and facility. We see the outlines of classical traditions opened, stretched, and twisted around, yet without losing the rhythm of the vocabulary or the logic of the structure. The cast of nine is more than up to the challenge, flashing through the space in sequences that change direction and accent fiendishly, but continue to accumulate momentum. On opening night, Seth Orza and Carla K├Ârbes were particularly beautiful in an exposed adagio. During the Sunday matinee, Margaret Mullin covered the length of the stage in a pair of leaps. The title of Kisses refers to the exhilaration of performance, but we in the audience felt that tingling, too.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Victor Quijada bring differing amounts of ballet material to the mix. Lopez Ochoa's Cylindrical Shadows, developed last year for Olivier Wevers' local company Whim W'Him, is a even amalgam of elements. The weighted momentum of modern dance is organized around a ballet-influenced skeleton of extended shapes and fluid phrasing. Her stated themes are isolation and grief, and you can certainly detect those emotions onstage, yet the work also reads as an exploration of hybrid movement style. She keeps the liquid virtuosity of ballet in the foreground while altering traditional patterns.

Quijada again employs his break-dancing background for PNB (as in 2006's Suspension of Disbelief), and his world-premiere Mating Theory also features the same articulate floor work and dramatic isolations. Significantly, however, he's now organizing the stage space and developing his characters with more traditional theatrical tools. At its heart, Mating Theory is about control and dominance, expressed through groups that pass through each other, then separate again. They seem to be governed by the rules of an animal pack. The sudden solos and relatively short phrases are set off by a stillness, in which you could discern a fable about caution and aggression. Groups turn into tribes. Relationships become contests. By the end, when Rachel Foster and Lucien Postlewaite find an uneasy counterbalance, it's not so much a happy ending as a break in an unending conflict.

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