Artistic Director’s Notebook: Wonderland, Waterbaby Bagatelles, Arms, Ghost Variations

We are all keenly aware we are living through an unprecedented and historic time. Yes, I’m referring to a national reckoning on social and racial injustice, a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, stark political division, surging unemployment, the calamitous effects of climate change, and let’s not forget those murder hornets who seem to be working their way into the lower 48. Perhaps as a consequence of all of this, ballet is feeling the tectonic plates shift beneath the satin tips of its pointe shoes. As one who’s held classical ballet close to my heart since I was nine, I can say ballet needed a reckoning of its own and we’re up for the challenge.

Twice weekly I join my peers on a Zoom meeting to discuss how our companies (National Ballet of Canada, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet, Joffrey, Boston, Houston, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and many more) are navigating these times. We all have different plans and none of us have the answers. Perhaps one day, we’ll look back and realize what we should have done, and it will all make sense with the clarity of historical hindsight.

PNB is not waiting for one day. We are forging ahead, taking the hand we were dealt, realizing we are a company of creativity, invention and inclusion, choosing to make new art, explore new forums, offer dance and open doors for artists and audiences. There’s no time to wait, and no time like the present. We need dance now.

The program you are about to enjoy brims with new. It includes two world premieres, one by Jessica Lang and one by Penny Saunders, the PNB premiere of Susan Marshall’s Arms, and a series of delightful solos by Twyla Tharp. Once the main stage program comes to a close we invite you to dive into the extensive bonus content including a beguiling solo Penny created with Noelani Pantastico and videographer Bruno Roque called Alice (as in the famous one from Wonderland). We also offer two additional casts of Arms that allow exploration of the gender-fluidity of roles. There are interviews with choreographers and a site-specific work created just for this program by company dancer Amanda Morgan.

Perhaps when we look back at this season, prompted and shaped by the circumstances and events of our time, we will see a clearer picture. One that was warranted. A complete refresh.

If we look at the works selected and the works created this season, we see the effect of COVID protocols requiring dancers to remain ten feet apart at all times (exceptions for the cohabiters). You may have noticed we placed dancers in pods of four at the start of the season when Jessica created her work and you’ll see when the pod sizes increase to six with the premieres of works by Christopher Wheeldon and Donald Byrd in the spring. You’ll see solos and physically distanced duets and clever camera angles and editing that addresses required proximities. You’ll see the concept of distance move from being a hindrance to being a source of creativity.

As I listed a litany of restrictions and protocols to Jessica before she boarded her flight for Seattle last August, I could feel her trademark creativity starting to churn. The same was true with Penny and Amanda and others. Choreographers thrive on creativity, and incorporating physical distance added another layer of invention. Jessica shared with me the wise words of a lighting designer she had once worked with; “Embrace the problem and make it the concept.”

Brilliant minds have come forward at PNB to help shape this most unusual of seasons. Our musicians recorded themselves playing favorite passages and offered the footage which we’ve incorporated throughout the season. Notice how our newly constructed costumes can be fastened by dancers, without dressers. A shout-out to our videographers for the magic they bring to these programs. Led by Lindsay Thomas and Noel Pederson we were pleased to add the talents of Henry Wurtz, Bruno Roque, Jack Taylor, and Seattle Center Studios to our impressive list of contributing artists for this program. We are also privileged to be working with a six-member creative media committee composed of company dancers. Their ideas and output are everywhere. One of them penned the term “distanced dances.” Watch for the hashtag on much of what we post on social media and on our mainstage. The term captures the moment and the groundswell of creativity that can be felt at PNB right now. It’s a new journey, a road less traveled; but distance defines us at this time, and we are so pleased to go the distance with you. #distancedances



Featured photo: Elle Macy and Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s Ghost Variations. © Lindsay Thomas.