PNB’s “Love Stories” Catches Two Dancers in Bloom

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Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Brittany Reid (in yellow, front) and company dancers in Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée,” choreography by George Balanchine © the George Balanchine Trust. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Carrie Imler in the Black Swan pas de deux from Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake. Presented as part of LOVE STORIES, November 4-13, 2011. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancers Jerome Tisserand and Kylee Kitchens in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. Presented as part of LOVE STORIES, November 4-13, 2011. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite in the Balcony pas de deux from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Presented as part of LOVE STORIES, November 4-13, 2011. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Batkhurel Bold and Lesley Rausch in Aurora’s Wedding from Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty. Presented as part of LOVE STORIES, November 4-13, 2011. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

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Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Love Stories” program (at McCaw Hall through Nov. 13; tickets) could have been considered icing without the cake, but it was artfully designed and it worked. Besides, there is something very exciting about seeing a dancer bloom. On opening night of “Love Stories,” it was hard to take the eyes off two dancers who have been coming up through the ranks, one for four years, one for ten.

New principal dancer Lesley Rausch took the role of Princess Aurora in Act III of The Sleeping Beauty. Not only was she technically secure in all she did, but she appeared to have all the time in the world to complete her movements while miraculously always with the music. It was a pleasure to see her lovely lines, the angle of her head, the way she used her arms. In short, here was star quality. Principal Batkhurel Bold partnered her with splendid support and bravura in his own solos.

In Afternoon of a Faun, the pas de deux choreographed by Jerome Robbins takes elements from Nijinsky’s original ballet set to Debussy’s music. Robbins places the action in a ballet studio, and another Jerome, last name Tisserand, who has been in the corps at PNB since 2007, danced the faun, a male dancer alone in the studio who rests on the floor, then begins to practice, watching himself in the mirror (actually the audience). Tisserand embodied the vanity of the faun, enamoured of his own beauty. Joined by Kylee Kitchens they dance as partners until he kisses her and, as she disappears through the door, he gradually goes back to rest on the floor. It was a mesmerizing performance.

Tisserand moves with grace and musicianship, and showed it again, together with his fine footwork, in the Bluebird pas de deux in Sleeping Beauty. This is another dancer who is arriving and exciting to see as he progresses.

The program opened with Balanchine’s Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fée, choreographed by Balanchine to Stravinsky’s music. It’s said that Mr. B was never very satisfied with what he did here and tinkered with it for years. Some dancers have loved it, but despite having two of the company’s best dancers, Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta, in the main roles, the choreography still seems awkward at times and not particularly inspired in others.

Next came the showy Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, with Carrie Imler and Lucien Postlewaite. It’s a role which suits Imler well. She is quick, decisive, strong  and neat, she acts well, and she came across as the calculating, come-hither bitch she is meant to be. Postlewaite, dressed to die for in embroidered blue velvet knee britches, made the perfect ardent young lover.

These two opening works were succeeded by Faun and then the balcony pas de deux from Roméo et Juliette, both quite different in sensibility from the first two pieces.

Postlewaite and Nakamura danced the young lovers in Maillot’s imaginative choreography to Prokofiev’s equally imaginative score. Postlewaite was, again, the epitome of young passionate love, a role he dances with conviction, taking the audience member with him. These two are dancers at the peak of excellence, and were watched with bated breath as they danced with the joy and delight of youthful enchantment. Both leap and land with ease, so that there are far fewer thuds to ground the action.

The panorama of Sleeping Beauty, with scenery, courtiers, king and queen, and nursery rhyme characters surrounding the central figures of Prince Florimund and Princess Aurora, made a sumptuous end to what turns out to be a highly successful program full of goodies for the eyes and ears.