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.

Laura Tisserand on Suzanne Farrell

By (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Monday, Aug 18 at 2:15 PM

Suzanne Farrell & Laura Tisserand
              I’ll never forget how I felt walking into the studio at the Kennedy Center so many Augusts ago. I was an eager 14 year-old ready to start my three-week summer intensive at Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell (EBSF). For me, this was the chance of a lifetime. I knew that Suzanne only picked about thirty young dancers to participate in the program, and the day my acceptance letter came was one of the happiest days in my young life. I had attended School of American Ballet for four summers prior to attending EBSF, so I was not new to Balanchine technique, but this was going to be a completely new and wonderful experience—learning from Mr. Balanchine’s muse herself! This was the person I had devoted an entire science fair project to and whose book (Holding On to the Air) was visibly worn from being read so much. Needless to say, she was my idol; I knew it would be an enlightening as well as challenging summer. EBSF was all that and more, and every day proved to be a test both physically and mentally. Suzanne’s classes were unlike any I had experienced before. She would demonstrate a confusing combination at the barre once, very quickly, and then look at you and ask, “what’s the pattern?”  I was thrilled and terrified. Back then I don’t think I could fully recognize the benefit we gained from this unorthodox way of teaching, but as I think about it now, it’s quite clear to me what she was trying to achieve. She never wanted a dancer to perform the same combinations by rote; rather she wanted dancers to always be “on their toes,” so to speak, and ready to pick up challenging choreography quickly. But the fourteen-year-old in me still gets heart palpitations just thinking about it!

Laura Tisserand in Diamonds © Angela Sterling

            Fast-forward fifteen years: a little (okay a lot) older and with an established professional ballet career under my belt. You would think I would be as confident as can be upon returning to the Kennedy Center, but as I entered that exact studio I was in all those years ago, I had the same butterflies and feelings of excitement and anticipation I’d had as a young student about to be in the presence of a legend once again. I wasn’t sure she would remember me, but it turned out she not only remembered me, but also recalled the audition city where she had first seen me. I was astonished at how good her memory was, since she sees hundreds of students every year at audition tours. She simply said, “I never forget a face.”  This is one of the amazing things about Suzanne—she couldn’t care less about how many pirouettes you do or how high you jump. To her, spirit, musicality, and individuality are what make great dancers, not perfect technique. At EBSF, I remember her saying that there would always be dancers better than you, but there is ONLY ONE YOU. I love that she celebrated us all as individuals and didn’t see us as faceless, nameless dancers with no personality.

Suzanne Farrell in Diamonds
This struck me working with her this time on Diamonds. She definitely clarified steps and cleared up some musicality that has become murky throughout the years, but she made it known that there is room for interpretation. When I asked her about whether or not there was a glissade before the developpe in the scherzo section, she kind of shrugged her shoulders and said, “well one night the music might be a little slower and you will probably need the glissade to fill the time, where the next night it might be faster so no glissade is needed.” In other words, listen to the music and let that always be the driving force in your dancing. It seems like such a simple concept, but nowadays music is often overlooked by dancers and treated as an afterthought to the movement. This was definitely not how Mr. Balanchine felt about music, as is evident in his genius choreography. He made the music and the steps harmoniously blend as one, and Suzanne continues to pass on these ideals to future generations of dancers. When the CD we were using was so ridiculously fast I didn’t know if I would be able to keep up, she said that in rehearsals she likes to put in a really slow CD one day and a fast one the next, so that her company never becomes too comfortable with one tempo. Dancers have to be adaptable and able to dance at any tempo since you never know how the orchestra will play from night to night. And even though it was probably not my cleanest dancing or the most technically proficient I’ve ever been, it was kind of thrilling to see how fast this 5’10” body could move!
Laura Tisserand in Diamonds © Angela Sterling
              As I reflect back on my time with Suzanne as a young student, and now as a professional dancer, I’m struck by what a full circle moment this is in my life. It drives home how lucky I am to have had both of these experiences. Not many people get the chance to share with their idol how much they mean to them, much less be coached by them. A career in ballet is fleeting, so it’s important to soak up every ounce of inspiration and knowledge that we can. As I embark on these rehearsals and performances of Diamonds, I’ll be focusing on musicality and, above all, individuality. Suzanne always said you have to be fascinating before you’ve even done anything, so that’s what I will be thinking of the moment I slip that glittery tiara on my head.

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.

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