PNB Principal Dancers Face a Fork in The Road

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite of Pacific Northwest Ballet say that the other one is the perfect partner. Nakamura, now turned 40, is still dancing at her peak after 15 years with the company and 14 as a principal, while Postlewaite, 26, rose to principal level in a very short time from his apprenticeship in 2003. For the past several years he has been one of the company’s most luminous dancers, always beautiful to watch.

“I’ve been fortunate to have her as a partner,” says Postlewaite. “I’ve learned so much from her.”

“He’s my favorite partner, and my best friend,” says Nakamura.

But all good things come to an end, and this summer, Postlewaite is moving on. He will join Les Ballets de Monte Carlo at the end of August. He was invited to join the company as was his husband, then-PNB principal Olivier Wevers, after the performances by PNB of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette in 2008.

Wevers was getting ready to launch his own choreographic career here with his own company Whim W’Him. Postlewaite was promoted to principal that year, and says there was still a lot that he wanted to accomplish here. “I wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready. It’s not that I don’t want to dance here any more,” he continues,” but I see the move as a big growth opportunity I have to take.”

He is leaving Whim W’Him, now an established Seattle company in which several PNB dancers also dance, including Nakamura, but will be back when he can. “There are going to be a lot of sacrifices with this move,” he says soberly. “I know it’s something I want to come back to, and that it will be there for me when I do. I don’t see going as a long term thing, but I’m not trying to predict beyond this year. For now, it’s the strength of my friendships and my husband which suppport me. They are all there for me.”

Nakamura is looking at the winding down of a long and illustrious career. While she has not made firm plans to retire, it is something she is thinking about.

“I don’t know when it’s going to happen,” she says. “There’s just so much to do, being a dancer, being a wife, being mom (to 17-month-old Maya). I love to dance, I don’t want to miss anything, but I don’t know how much longer I can dance, it’s just getting so hard on my body. I get tired more easily and it takes longer to recover.”

“None of us believes her,” puts in Postlewaite, smiling at her. “She’s the biggest trouper. Maybe she’s pulled something, but she goes on (dancing) through it. You’d never know.”

Every dancer has some problems to contend with but it’s part of the job, he says, to find some way around it. “The audience doesn’t want to know. You dance each performance as if it was your last. We all try to mask little aches and pains.”

While Nakamura has had little in the way of serious injury, Postlewaite has degenerative bone damage in his spine, not triggered by any one happening but due, he thinks, to dancing. This will always be with him.

Neither of them would stop dancing because of pain.

“It’s something you almost can’t rationalize,” says Postlewaite. “If you put the problems on paper it’s a pretty long list, but the rewards are so great, the feeling of exhilaration, the joy that comes with it. When we take class every day, it’s like a meditation, and so satisfying on many levels.”  Nakamura concurs.

The move to Monte Carlo is a step into something brand new for Postlewaite, whose entire career so far has been at PNB. Asked about favorite roles, he mentions Basilio the barber in the recent Don Quixote, which is more an acting role than a dancing one. “He’s arrogant and showy,” he says,” I usually do romantic princes, so I felt nervous and insecure at first, but I ended up loving it. I always enjoy a new challenge! I think we have to fall in love with everything we have to do.” Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette is another ballet he found a joy to dance, and also the role of Albrecht (in Giselle).

“It’s great partnering experience, particularly with Kaori. It’s wonderful to make your partner look like she’s flying. A good partnership allows you to be free and not worry about technique. And hearing live music enriches the experience.”

Nakamura also prefers having live music, and for her, it’s the full length ballets which are the challenge. “Sleeping Beauty is three hours of acting. Kitri in Don Quixote needs great energy from beginning to end, with lots of jumps and technique. Romeo et Juliette, I could dance that every day.” Coppelia, which begins next week, is a little less stress.

Both dancers appreciate the variety which artistic director Peter Boal has brought to the company. “I think there was definitely a period of settling in after he came, of the company getting used to him,” says Postlewaite, who likes the responsibility Boal puts on the dancers. “Sometimes we need a push from the outside, but he allows us to be the dancers we want to be.”

“He wants us to take the responsibility and run with it,” says Nakamura.

“He definitely will guide you in the direction he’d like you to go, if you seem to be going in a direction he doesn’t want you to go in,” says Postlewaite.

During summer vacations, Nakamura often goes to Japan, and there she teaches. She would love to teach here after retirement, but there is not time now, what with work and family commitments. Postlewaite hasn’t looked that far ahead. He did take a few classes at the University of Washington in Arts Management, though there has been little time for that recently. What he has been doing in his spare time is networking for Whim W’Him. He has found new friends doing that and has a very enjoyable social life. “Some didn’t even know me as a dancer. It’s kind of fun to be incognito.” He is looking forward to a quieter time in Monte Carlo. “Time to be reflective, for figuring out who I am besides being a dancer. It’s pushing me out the door.”

“I’ll miss him so much,” says Nakamura softly.”After Olivier retired, and now him, it’s going to be really hard for me.”

“One of the hardest things to leave is partnering with Kaori. Those moments on stage, you’re so close, so in tune. I shall miss that,” he says.

And they grin at each other.


Coppelia opens at PNB Friday June 1.