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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 - Page updated at 02:33 PM

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Dance Review

Pacific Northwest Ballet concocts a winning evening

Seattle Times arts critic

Peter Boal, nearing the end of his second season as artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, is proving himself a master at the art of composition, of concocting an evening of ballets that balance each other artfully. Tuesday's opening night of the Celebrate Seattle Festival's Week 3 (celebrating Northwest choreographers) was a vivid example. Its centerpiece was two works from legendary dancemakers Robert Joffrey and Merce Cunningham, polar opposites in style yet wonderfully complementary; its bookends were more conventional ballets delightfully tinged with wit and promise. Though the evening drew the smallest crowd I've seen at PNB in some years, those who attended were richly rewarded, as the company's dancers keep rising to meet Boal's challenges.

Now playing

Celebrate Seattle Festival, Program A repeats at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Sunday, Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $20-80, 206-441-2424 or

Joffrey's "Remembrances" and Cunningham's "Inlets 2," presented back-to-back, invoke both ends of the rich spectrum that is contemporary ballet — from lyrical storytelling to detached abstraction. Joffrey's piece, costumed in whispery pinks and beiges, embodies romanticism; its spell is powerful, like the way an old song can bring back emotions long forgotten. Richard Wagner's music ("Träume," movingly sung by Jane Eaglen) has a sense of waiting quiet; its choreography is slow and dreamy.

Kaori Nakamura and Jeffrey Stanton, as the lovers, showed beautiful control in their deliberate, soft pirouettes and yearning lifts. The ballet feels like a moment borrowed from a grand drama, with the dancers telling a story all too familiar: Near the end, Nakamura gently raises a hand to her partner's mouth, as if hushing a lover against words that needn't be spoken. Floating away like a cloud, "Remembrances" is over too quickly, leaving only sighs behind.

After a brief pause, the curtain rose again, and we were transported to Cunningham's world, which is about shape and space rather than emotion and story; soft slippers rather than pointe shoes; conch-shell gurgles (composed, if that's the word, by longtime Cunningham collaborator John Cage) rather than orchestral music. Those droplet-like sounds, rising and falling, accompanied seven dancers, each in their own world of shape, shifting like tidepools moved by water's flow. A few signature moves emerged: a run abruptly stopped by a hop with one leg forward; a long-held arabesque (Ariana Lallone's was particularly lovely) like an eagle in flight. Cunningham's piece creates its own meticulous body language, and the dancers performed it with conviction and precision.

The curtain-raiser, Kiyon Gaines' tango-flavored "Schwa," had a playful quality (disembodied arms, at one point, reached from the wings to partner Mara Vinson) and an elegance that speaks well for this 24-year-old choreographer's future. And the closing ballet, Val Caniparoli's "Torque," showed off both PNB's orchestra (playing Michael Torke's vivacious score) and the nimble gifts of Olivier Wevers, who tossed off an impossibly twisty solo as if it were a walk in the park.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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