Five dances into Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Season Encore last Sunday night, I got sick to my stomach. It suddenly became viscerally apparent to me just how much we are losing with the departure of eight PNB dancers: Chalnessa Eames, Barry Kerollis, Ariana Lallone, Stacy Lowenberg, Stanko Milov, Josh Spell, Jeffrey Stanton, and Olivier Wevers.
“The end of an era,” said the couple next to me.
Together, these eight dancers represent 18 percent of the company and a combined 100+ years at PNB. They cover the entire breadth of PNB’s repertory and styles. And while not all of these dancers have garnered regular feature articles in the press, each has had moments of artistic excellence onstage and connected intimately with the audience across the footlights. It is these eight strong connections being severed all at once that made PNB’s show feel less of an end-of-season celebration and more of a funeral, albeit it one with a series of prolonged standing ovations.
Thank goodness, then, for the inclusion of Red Angels on the program. All four of the dancers in this high-energy Ulysses Dove piece—Batkhurel Bold, Laura Gilbreath, Carrie Imler, Lucien Postlewaite—revealed something new and wonderful about the work—and about themselves. It was a comfort to watch them and remember that not everyone is departing.
The program more or less featured Stanton in the first half and Lallone in the second. Highlights included video of a very young Stanton tapping his heart out in a white pantsuit. He followed it up with a lively, live tap solo from Silver Lining, complete with top hat, tails, and cane. Lallone’s performance of Lambarena, the last piece of the night, was another highlight: it’s hard to say who took greater pleasure from the African-dance movements, Lallone or the audience that clapped along in the beginning, happy for a brief moment to see her radiating warmth in this role so many of us love to watch her in.
A huge disco ball twirled above the stage during Eames’s “One for My Baby (And One More For the Road)” duet; its sparkles touched the audience like her personality has in so many memorable performances. Who did not want one more for the road at the end of that dance? Kerollis, Spell, and Kiyon Gaines powered through the runs and leaps in Rubies as if they were one combined force of nature. And Lowenberg and Lindsi Dec danced a refreshing, clean Balanchine Agon duet.
What a relief to experience Wever’s grieving Monster (Part I, danced by Postlewaite and Andrew Bartee); it provided a welcome opportunity to wallow in the sadness of knowing we’re not likely to see these departing dancers onstage at PNB again.
Stellar moments from those thankfully not leaving this year include Postlewaite’s eon-long, expansive balances and virile attack in Red Angels, Jonathan Porretta’s eye-commanding presence in Petite Mort, Porretta and Rachel Foster’s new connection in their Petite Mort pas de deux, Maria Chapman’s airborne, 180-degree splits in Agon, and Lesley Rausch’s unabashed, joyous sensuality in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.
What was missing from the evening? Wevers technically retired from PNB several weeks ago and gave his final performance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it would have been a treat to see him perform some of his terrifying Friar Lawrence from Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.
Boal indicated in his curtain speech early on that Stanko Milov is injured, but we have not seen this noble jumper for more than a season and a bit of video would have gone down nicely. The curtain closed too quickly on Rubies, robbing us of a chance to show Kerollis and Spell how much their contributions have meant to us over the years. And, it would have been nice to clap for the company as a whole.
But to be fair, the program was already nearly three hours long. At some point, the lights go up and the show ends. Literally. And figuratively. How sad.
PS: If The SunBreak had a society photo spread, I imagine the lead image this week would show PNB’s founding artistic directors, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, who brought flowers onstage during Stanton and Lallone’s final curtain calls. There would be a photo of Lowenberg being showered with several florists’ inventory of flowers from the audience during her final bow: very pretty. And one of Patricia Barker, PNB’s glamorous star for so many years, looking stunning in a red dress as she paid tribute to her longtime partner Stanton during his final bow.
Other dance VIPs present included the beloved former PNB ballerina Louise Nadeau (sporting a darling bob), Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director Christopher Stowell looking very dapper, and choreographer Val Caniparoli, who gave a speech about Lallone. I found out later, Lallone’s very first ballet teachers were present, too. There would definitely be a picture of them.