Returning to the Studios to Celebrate PNB’s 50th

By Leta Biasucci

A Golden Anniversary Season 

PNB is turning 50, and there is much to celebrate! To mark this milestone, Peter Boal has curated a season that pays homage to PNB’s rich past, honors its exciting present, and looks ahead to its bright future. With returning audience (and dancer) favorites Carmina Burana, Giselle, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the American premiere of Crystal Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon, and an impressive total of six world premieres, this is a season that matches the moment. Dancers recently returned to the studios to begin preparation for the jam-packed year ahead, and I caught up with a few of them to see what they were most looking forward to this anniversary season. 

Each dancer’s preference for what they most enjoy dancing varies as much as their preferences for food, books, and fashion. While some dancers relish the classicism of Swan Lake and Giselle, and perhaps find comfort in revisiting the familiar (who doesn’t enjoy a rerun of their favorite show?), others would prefer to spend their days working on a world premiere. Personal preferences aside, there are some ballets that earn the excitement of the majority. 

The Classics: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Giselle 

PNB’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is undoubtedly one of those pieces. Originally choreographed in 1962, Midsummer made its PNB premiere in 1985, while the production PNB audiences know and love today made its debut in 1997. With Pacific Northwest-inspired sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, sweeping music by Felix Mendelssohn, and attentive staging by Francia Russell, the company both takes pride and shines bright in this beautiful ballet at every presentation. For Lesley Rausch, revisiting the beloved classics is where her excitement most lies. “Revisiting A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be a special treat,” she said. “I have danced almost every role possible in the ballet, over the years. The first time was as a student on tour in Istanbul, Turkey as a Hound and Epilogue Fairy. It’s been wonderful to learn and grow into different roles and watch the others around me do the same.” As Ryan Cardea said of Midsummer, “What is there not to love about this one? It brings everything you need for a night at the ballet: laughs, melodrama, stunning sets and costumes, classic Balanchine technique, fairies drugging people in the forest, dancing bugs, and a drunken donkey.” 

Another ballet close to the hearts of classicists is Giselle. PNB first presented Peter Boal’s version of Giselle in 2011, with Jerome Kaplan’s sets and costumes to follow in 2014. For the ballerina in the title role, Giselle is often cited as a favorite full length to perform, as it challenges the technical, dramatic, and artistic capabilities of ballerinas at every stage in their career. “The production was created for PNB, so it feels special to the company,” said Lesley. “The costumes are stunning; Giselle’s second act costume floats like she is truly a ghost. The demands of the classical control in the technique, along with the immense range of character required make it so rewarding.” 

The Seasons’ Canon

For many others, much excitement seems to lie in one new-to-PNB piece in particular: Crystal Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon. PNB audiences are familiar with Crystal’s work from Film Noir-inspired Plot Point as well as audience favorite, Emergence. Choreographed in 2016 on the Paris Opera Ballet and set to Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, PNB will be only the second company in the world to perform this impressive, full-company work. Ryan enthusiastically shared his excitement to both revisit Pite’s choreography and to bring this work to life in Seattle remarking, “For me, working with Crystal Pite has been a highlight of my career, and I can’t wait to get on stage for her The Seasons’ Canon. I was lucky enough to catch it being performed at the Palais Garnier, and now we get to bring Seattle the same spectacle.” If you weren’t lucky enough to see the Paris premiere, you can see a sneak peak of The Seasons’s Canon here!

All Things New

With six world premieres on the docket, much of the season remains unwritten. For dancers and audiences alike, this creates a great deal of excitement and anticipation. “In my 14 years here, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more world premieres and PNB premieres on the calendar,” said Ryan. “The thrill, both for us to perform and for audiences to experience something brand new, is hard to match.” Miles Pertl agrees that not only do these works look ahead to the future, but serve as a fitting way to recognize PNB’s rich history of  new works. “I am most looking forward to being a part of all the new creations that are coming this season,” he said. “What a great way to honor the legacy of 50 years of creating art for our northwest audience.”

Marking the Moment

For senior dancers of the company, this is not their first time celebrating a PNB milestone season. “For the 40th Anniversary, I must have been a Level VII or VIII,” remembers Amanda Morgan, “and I still have the anniversary book in my ballet box today. I remember looking through it and idolizing every single one of the dancers. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get into the company, and now I’m in a role like that. It’s sort of crazy to think about!” For Lesley, celebrating a milestone in the company isn’t a first, but this one does bring about special feelings of pride. “I came to my first summer course at PNB right after they celebrated the 25th anniversary,” she shared. “PNB has been a part of my life ever since, and I will be forever grateful for the richness and joy that it has brought me.” For Destiny Wimpye, an incoming apprentice, joining PNB this season is meaningful for a number of reasons. “Being part of PNB during this time is truly an extraordinary feeling for me,” she said. “I’m very excited to be a part of this company during a time when change is happening. I feel very blessed to be in an environment that is doing what needs to be done to open doors and push boundaries for all artists.” Whether it’s the breadth of this season’s works, the excitement of one particular ballet, or being part of PNB’s legacy during this exciting time, the dancers of PNB undoubtedly meet this season with feelings of honor, pride, and great excitement. 

Photos: PNB Company dancers in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers in Giselle, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers in Alexei Ratmansky’s Wartime Elegy, photo © Angela Sterling.