Executive Director’s Notes: Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake

Dear Friends,

Welcome to Swan Lake, one of Kent Stowell’s most stunning contributions to PNB’s repertoire. As rehearsals kicked into high gear and production elements were being planned for load-in at McCaw Hall, we learned of the death of lighting designer Rico Chiarelli. To say we are collectively heartbroken is an understatement. I had included notes in my letter below about Rico, and I’ve left them mostly unchanged because he was so essential to the realization of this Swan Lake, and because he was giving notes on the production until the end of his life. He called me on Christmas Eve to talk about how he was feeling, but mostly to talk about Swan Lake. Rico was a deeply cherished friend, one of my most important mentors, and an artist who has left a singular, lasting imprint on every aspect of PNB.

This production of Swan Lake and I arrived at PNB at the same time, in the summer of 2003. I was struck by the magnitude of the physical production, and still find new details in Ming Cho Lee’s magnificent sets and Paul Tazewell’s opulent costumes. For a new-to-PNB arts administrator, I could not have encountered a more beautiful ballet beginning. Also bright in my memory from that time is what it felt like to witness a truly great artistic team at work. Among Kent Stowell and Francia Russell’s countless contributions to PNB and our art form is their ability to assemble remarkable teams of designers, craftspeople, and technicians. Costume Shop Manager Larae Hascall, Lighting Designer & Technical Director Rico Chiarelli, and Head Carpenter Murray Johnson led the build of Swan Lake, and more than twenty years later we continue to benefit from their focused leadership, incomparable technical skills, and expansive shared vision. Even now, so much of PNB culture is defined by this approach. Just as choreography is passed down from established to emerging dancers, other skills associated with our artform are imparted in the same way. PNB’s current Costume Shop Manager, Meleta Buckstaff, was mentored by Larae. Head Carpenter Jeff Stebbins worked alongside Murray for decades. Resident Lighting Designer Reed Nakayama enjoyed regular collaboration with Rico, who found great joy in working alongside a talented and receptive student. And of course, Kent and Francia continue to spend invaluable time in the PNB studios with PNB Company dancers and artistic staff. Enormous gratitude goes to all of these PNB icons and what they’ve made possible for our organization and community.

Swan Lake is celebrated for many reasons, and notorious for a few as well: the difficulty of Odile’s 32 fouetté turns, the complexity of the patterns executed by 24 swans, and the sheer number of pointe shoes expended during rehearsals and the performance run – about 700 pairs. You’ll see that we’re fundraising now to cover the significant expense of these highly specialized shoes, which cost $120 per pair and add up to a staggering budget line when one considers that we purchase more than 2,000 pairs per season. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit PNB.org/pointeshoes. Thank you in advance for your support, and for all the ways you help PNB thrive.

All my best,

Photo credits: PNB Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photos © Lindsay Thomas.