By Jackson Holtz
The excitement about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s innovation in dance started Friday night before the curtain went up and the dancers took the stage.
Peter Boal stepped through the curtain with Linda Shelton, the executive director of The Joyce Theater Foundation, to announce that PNB is the second recipient of the prestigious Rudolf Nureyev Prize for New Dance. The award comes with a $25,000 grant to stage a new dance by Alejandro Cerrudo.
The award is a sign that Boal will continue to bring diverse, contemporary artists to the McCaw Hall stage, like he does with “New Works,” the latest subscription program which opened Friday.
Making its world premier Friday, “Mating Theory,” was the most avant-garde piece of the night. Set to a score by hip-hop DJ Jasper Gahunia, where he blends classical orchestrations as if they were dance tracks, even adding a record playing hiss. It wasn’t the hip-hop I expected, which I feared would jar audiences, and instead was mix-up of music we’re accustomed to hearing in the concert hall.
The frenetic moves reminded me of the fight scene from Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story,” but here the dancers are exploring love. Or are they? Is that choreographer Victor Quijada’s meaning in the title, “Mating Theory?” Perhaps the mating is the mix of new ways to make music with the classical dance stage.
While the piece may push boundaries, it’s exquisitely interesting.
The most emotional piece of the night was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Cylindrical Shadows.” Loosely based on grief, and the weighty considerations of life and death. The dancers evoke sadness and loss in a seemingly drug-induced heaviness. The company embodied the emotions and left me profoundly moved.
“A Million Kisses to my Skin,” set to Bach and choreographed by Allan Dameron, is expansive, large and danced with true athleticism. It was the most traditional piece of the night, accompanied by a small orchestra.
Don’t go expecting lush sets or costumes, but go expecting to be touched deeply. Go see how dance is evolving and adapting to contemporary culture and music. What you’ll find, I believe, is that modernity finds new ways of exploring love, loss and joy.
The best news is that Boal plans to continue to bring Pacific Northwest audiences these new works next year. Only two of six planned programs include classic dances. And, Everett-native Andrew Bartee’s new work will debut along with works by Margaret Mullin and Mark Morris. That’s scheduled to open on Nov. 2.
“New Works” continues through March 24. Buy tickets at pnb.org.