PNB Blog Entries

Below are past entries from the PNB Blog. Visit the blog for for insider information on what's happening, commentary by artistic staff, and news & events! You can also follow PNB's recent blog entries on PNB's Facebook Fan Page.

NEXT STEP Choreographer: Ezra Thomson

By (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Thursday, Jun 12 at 11:11 AM

As has been discussed on this blog before, Company dancer Ezra Thomson’s interests are diverse to say the least. In addition to dance and music, Ezra enjoys cooking, working on his family’s Gig Harbor farm, fixing up his 1965 Mustang, and creating goods to sell in the Etsy shop he runs with his girlfriend Sarah Pasch, who is also a member of PNB's corps de ballet.  “I can’t not do something,” he says.

Ezra Thomson with PNB School Professional Division students at Next Step 2013

INFLUENCES: Ezra’s omnivorous tastes extend to the musical influences he drew on for his Next Step premiere, titled Win Lose or Draw. Blues, Spanish, and jazz guitar melodies composed by Ezra himself accompany and accent his choreography, which he describes as “pedestrian movements turned into dance.” Inspired by his own experiences, Win Lose or Draw presents a loose narrative based on the everyday events in a relationship – “You bump into each other in the kitchen, or throw a pillow, or have a funny hug” – but left ambiguous enough for audiences to create their own interpretation.

Ezra Thomson rehearses in the PNB Studios with Elle Macy.

INSPIRATION: The title Win Lose or Draw resulted from Ezra’s own experience choreographing the piece. Beginning with nine dancers, injuries and other commitments ultimately left him with two dancers and required a rethinking of his concept, which evolved into the piece as it is now. He moved from a straight narrative concept to more of a collaborative process with “two fantastic dancers, open to new ideas.”

Jahna Frantziskonis and Andy Garcia in Passages, Ezra's 2011 NEXT STEP premiere.

COLLABORATION: Ezra's openness to change is reflected in his choreographic process, which has evolved over the years. He talks about the need to follow his own style and not necessarily adhere to classically prescribed methods in his own work. To that end, it makes perfect sense that the perfect accompaniment to Ezra’s choreography would be his own compositions. Starting from a practical standpoint – “It removes constraint and makes it easier to fit what I want into the piece,” – composing his own music also allows Ezra the freedom to write for specific dancers, movements, and moods without being bound by a particular musical genre or time frame. When composing and playing, he strives for a simple yet lush sound that keeps the focus on the dancers’ movements.

Kaylee Skelton in Ezra's 2012 NEXT STEP premiere, ich Liebe dich.

COMING UP: Ezra’s next project is right in line with his style, which is to say something totally different at which he will no doubt excel. Collaborating with Massive Monkees’ Jerome Aparis, Ezra will present a new commission combing ballet and street dance Friday, June 20th at the Seattle International Dance Festival. We can’t wait to see this new work, and what Ezra does next!

See the premiere of Win Lose or Draw on NEXT STEP 
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 pm. 
Only at McCaw Hall! 


Photos by Rex Tranter. Blog post by Kristen Ramer Liang.


NEXT STEP Choreographer: Margaret Mullin

By (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Wednesday, Jun 11 at 9:16 PM

Company soloist and NEXT STEP choreographer Margaret Mullin sat down with me recently to discuss her upcoming premiere of Rorshach, a contemporary duet for two women based on the famous psychological test. Moving to music by Bartók, the two dancers command the audience's attention as they mirror each other's movements while staying true to their own idiosyncrasies. The result is a captivating piece that manages to be simultaneously thought-provoking and playful.

Professional Division students Jessica Pelluer and Abby Cockrell rehearse
Margaret Mullin's premiere Rorschach at PNB's annual Teen Night
“I was definitely trying to have a bit of fun with this piece…I wanted it to be quirky, I wanted it to be a little odd, to tap into the diversity of what a young female dancer can do that may not be instantly thought of when you think of a ballet student…I wanted to bring out a lot of versatility in them, and a lot of ferociousness that they have.”

Professional Division students Andy Garcia and Jahna Frantziskonis rehearse
a premiere by Margaret Mullin at Teen Night 2011

The Rorschach test, a psychological test involving the subject’s interpretation of a series of inkblots, provided the inspiration for Margaret’s choreography.

“I’m definitely playing with their [the dancers’] ability to hold the audience’s attention in many different ways, and I think that played a lot to the Rorschach concept, because it’s all entirely based on perception.

Last year it was all male choreographers and there were a lot of questions about why there weren’t any women. I’ve received a lot of encouragement to do what I do, but there’s still some thought that women don’t do it [choreograph] because we’re not comfortable with authority. So I was thinking, we’re gonna do an all-girls’ piece this year, for girls by a’s been something that really interests me and it’s a fun idea – it lends itself so well to creative movements. [In rehearsals] we spent a lot of time talking about the other participant and thinking about how they perceive your work – the basis of the test is all about that.”

Professional Division student Jessica Pelluer rehearses Rorschach at Teen Night 2014

Margaret brings a wealth of experience to the studio when working with PD students, having choreographed on both students and Company dancers at Ballet Tucson and PNB.

“I think I enter the studio with that [teaching] frame of mind, where I enjoy an authority position as much as I enjoy nurturing other dancers. A lot of my choreographic process is that too, which actually helps me feel more creative...when I feel like they’re engaged and I’m helping them, I feel more energized, and I can tell that they’re more energized. I think the love of teaching and nurturing has been the biggest factor in my process and shapes what I do.

Margaret Mullin rehearses with Jahna Frantziskonis and Andy Garcia at Teen Night 2011

They’re students so you want them to feel their best, to enjoy themselves, and have the chance to be seen…Everyone is so different and that’s the part that I enjoy a lot.”

"Choreography, for me, is something I feel like I can’t help but do…whenever I try to stop is when I start getting more ideas than I should...artistically there’s an undeniable need to do it. I really enjoy working with the students on NEXT STEP…it’s the ultimate tying-in of those things where I’m creating a new work, and they’re students so it’s a huge learning time for them still versus seasoned professionals, so it’s something that marries my two loves.”

 Andy Garcia and Jahna Frantziskonis perform at Teen Night 2011

Next up for Margaret is something completely different: for the next few years, in addition to dancing, teaching, and choreographing, she’ll be working on a documentary with Nel Shelby (resident videographer for Jacob’sPillow) about dancer and choreographer Ian Horvath, whose passion for the art form helped to further dance in America. 

See Margaret's premiere on NEXT STEP
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 pm. 
Only at McCaw Hall! 


Photos by Lindsey Thomas and Rex Tranter. Blog post by Kristen Ramer Liang.

NEXT STEP Choreographer: Matthew Renko

By (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Wednesday, Jun 11 at 9:13 PM

Company dancer and NEXT STEP choreographer Matthew Renkohas been choreographing for several years, but his upcoming premiere will provide a new experience for him: working with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, who will accompany his piece at this Friday's performance.

Professional Division student Julia Turner rehearses Matthew's premiere at PNB's annual Teen Night 

His NEXT STEP premiere is Matthew’s first for PNB School; as he explains, choreography has been “a way to stay creative when I was sidelined [with a knee injury].” Matthew brings a depth of experience to his work with Professional Division dancers, having choreographed on students at both the School of American Ballet and the New York Choreographic Institute. He has made the most of his time with his dancers, explaining, “I like to work quickly…you don’t want to forget ideas or talk yourself out of an idea.” Watching him polish the piece, it is evident that the dancers are eager to translate his creative vision and that everyone involved is finding joy in the work.

Professional Division students Julia Turner and Laura Gunder rehearse at PNB's annual Teen Night
Matthew selected the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor for this premiere, his first onstage at McCaw Hall. The Tchaikovsky was a work with which he had been familiar for years but his concept had long remained “a choreographic idea put on the backburner” as he waited for the right opportunity. Renko describes the music, which has a Russian folksong-like feel, as “perfect for dance.”

Professional Division student Deana Bortnik rehearses Matthew's premiere at PNB's annual Teen Night
Working with a trio of dancers, Matthew has combined “a series of ideas, how my body wanted to move,” with the intricacies of his chosen music into a playful piece en pointe that celebrates “moments of quirkiness, or feeling a bit odd.”  Weaving their way across the stage, Renko’s dancers strike poses reminiscent of birds, flirtatious showgirls, and even fencers mid-joust. The result is an enchanting premiere, one you don't want to miss!

See Matthew's premiere on NEXT STEP
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 pm. 
Only at McCaw Hall! 


Photos by Lindsey Thomas. Blog post by Kristen Ramer Liang.

NEXT STEP Choreographer: Andrew Bartee

By (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Wednesday, Jun 11 at 9:12 PM

Before departing Seattle to join Ballet BC this summer, PNB Company dancer and seasoned choreographer Andrew Bartee will premiere a new work, Peace Out Girl Scout, on this year's NEXT STEP program. The piece will be his fourth for PNB's annual choreographic showcase.  
Andrew Bartee rehearses in the PNB sudios. 
As Seattle dance audiences know, Andrew is passionate about contemporary dance. He is often featured on the Seattle dance scene with  Whim W’Him and at Velocity, a creative epicenter for local dance artists like Kate Wallich and The YC, Bartee's collaborative partners for this past February's premiere of Super Eagle

Super Eagle was a huge success. Great buzz, great reviews, sold out houses including the bonus show…It’s definitely among the very best things I’ve seen in Seattle that was actually made in Seattle. Loved the rigor, the technique, the strong aesthetic and the compelling performances.” — Jeffrey Frace

Kate Wallich and Andrew Bartee in Super Eagle. Photo by Jacob Rosen. 

Bartee’s penchant for modern and experimental dance has been seen in his previous works like arms that work, which he choreographed on PNB Company dancers in 2012, and in last year’s NEXT STEP contribution, I don’t know what to call it

“I am optimistic about Bartee’s future as a choreographer and dancer. He’s young and he’s definitely working to incorporate elements that will appeal to a more youthful audience, which is important for the longevity of dance.”  — T.S. Flock, Seattle Art News

PNB School students in the 2013 premiere of Bartee's I don't know what to call it. 
His contemporary style will be on display with the premiere of  Peace Out Girl Scout during this year's NEXT STEP program on Friday, June 13. Set to minimalist composer Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2 “Company,” Peace Out Girl Scout has four movements. Each movement for Bartee represents a subtle yet opposing movement quality. Each quality will be represented by a solo, duet, trio, and quartet. The quartet will morph into the combination of all these qualities. The minimalism of Glass' music inspires the simple and experimental quality in Bartee’s choreography. He has chosen pedestrian and simple costumes to correspond with his concept. If you thoroughly enjoy contemporary dance works, then you do not want to miss the next work by this exciting, young choreographer!

See Peace Out Girl Scout on NEXT STEP
Friday, June 13 at 7:30 pm.

Only at McCaw Hall!

Blog post by Elisa Jordan.

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