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Director's Choice March 15-16 and March 21-24

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Pacific Northwest Ballet Turns the Spotlight on the Next Generation of Dance Artists with


Featuring works by


March 15 – 24, 2019

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

321 Mercer Street at Seattle Center

Seattle, WA 98109

Seven Performances Only!

March 15 and 16 at 7:30 pm

March 16 at 2:00 pm

March 21 – 23 at 7:30 pm

March 24 at 1:00 pm 

“Presenting and promoting young and diverse choreographers has long been an artistic priority at PNB. These three works represent varied and powerful new voices in choreography and continue to define PNB as a place to discover new talent.” –Peter Boal

Seattle, WA – For the fourth offering of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 45th season, Artistic Director Peter Boal has selected three contemporary works by dynamic young dance-makers. The 2019 edition of PNB’s perennially popular DIRECTOR’S CHOICE program features world premieres by Robyn Mineko Williams and Matthew Neenan, and a PNB premiere from Justin Peck (Year of the Rabbit). “DIRECTOR’S CHOICE can be a wild card,” said Mr. Boal in announcing the program. “Often the line-up includes works recently created in our studios, finished days, if not hours before the curtain rises. There is thrill in the risk and wonder in the unknown. Many audiences will see the work of Robyn Mineko Williams and Matthew Neenan for the first time. We're still discovering the freshness of Justin Peck's ballets, and the roster of creative contributors from composers to costume designers adds to the sense of discovery. DIRECTOR’S CHOICE offers a glimpse into what may define the future of dance and PNB.”                                                     

DIRECTOR’S CHOICE runs for seven performances only, March 15 through 24 at Seattle Center’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Tickets start at $30. For more information, contact the PNB Box Office at 206.441.2424, in person at 301 Mercer Street, or online at PNB.org.

The line-up for DIRECTOR’S CHOICE will include: 

The Trees The Trees  – World Premiere

Music: Kyle Vegter

Choreography: Robyn Mineko Williams

Words: Heather Christle

Vocalist: Alicia Walter

Scenic & Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli

Costume Design: Branimira Ivanova

Running Time: 32 minutes 

“Through soft-spoken direction and articulated phrasing Robyn pulls dancers into expression. Her authority is clear, but so is her willingness to discover through the contributions of others. The experimental quality of her choreography appeals to me. It challenges the body and tradition, pushing gently into new ground. With each new studio and each new stage the evolution of this artist comes to greater fruition.” —Peter Boal

The Trees The Trees sparked a spectacular collage of imagery in my mind that I wanted to bring to life through movement. Each of the piece’s vignettes is built on a poem from the book [The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle, Octopus Books], inspiring a mélange of scenes rooted in the everyday and sprinkled with fantastical, heart-punching moments.” —Robyn Mineko Williams

Robyn Mineko Williams is from Chicago, Illinois. She was a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for twelve seasons. She began choreographing in 2001 for HSDC's Inside/Out Workshop and in 2010, alongside Terence Marling, co-choreographed a full-length narrative work geared towards children, Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure, for Hubbard Street 2. She has since been commissioned by HSDC, Grand Rapids Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago, and The Nexus Project. Her choreography has been presented at venues such as the Kennedy Center, American Dance Festival, and NYC’s Joyce Theatre. She was a winner of Northwest Dance Project's International Choreography Competition in 2012 and was selected as an E-choreographer in 2013 for Springboard Danse Montreal. Williams is a recipient of the 2013 Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship and a Princess Grace Foundation-USA 2014 Works In Progress Residency Grant. Upcoming works include a creation for Malpaso Dance Company to be premiered in spring 2019 as well as a new collaboration with dance icon and founding HSDC member, Claire Bataille. RobynMinekoWilliams.com

The 2019 world premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ The Trees The Trees is principally supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and Deidra Wager, with additional support from Ms. Toni Hoover & Mr. Alfred Nettles and T.R. Ko. Music commissioned by the Charles and Joan Gross Family Foundation.

New Neenan (Title TBA) – World Premiere

Music: Oliver Davis

Choreography: Matthew Neenan

Costume Design: Mark Zappone

Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli

Running Time: 25 minutes 

“Matthew's work is a delicious cocktail of craft, energy and surprise. He has a rare gift for infusing his pieces with refreshing and unexpected humanity. His work, well-known and much admired in Philadelphia and on the east coast, is ours to discover. Matt has long admired our dancers, and the combination of talent and creativity, plus the allure of Oliver Davis' music score, promises to reward.” —Peter Boal

Matthew Neenan began his dance training at the Boston Ballet School and later attended the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and the School of American Ballet. From 1994-2007, he performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet where he was named Choreographer in Residence in 2007. In 2005, Neenan co-founded BalletX with fellow dancer Christine Cox. BalletX has toured and performed Neenan’s work across the United States and internationally in Colombia and South Korea. His choreography has been performed by companies throughout the U.S., and he has received numerous awards and grants for his choreography from the National Endowment of the Arts, Dance Advance funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Choo San Goh Foundation, and the Independence Foundation, among others. MatthewNeenan.com

The 2019 world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s new work is supported by Richard and Lisa Altig, Lyndall Boal, and David & Cheryl Hadley. 

In the Countenance of Kings  PNB Premiere

Music: Sufjan Stevens (The BQE, 2007-2009; orchestration by Michael P. Atkinson)

Choreography: Justin Peck

Staging: Felipe Diaz

Costume Design: Ellen Warren

Lighting Design: Brandon Stirling Baker

Running Time: 31 minutes

Premiere: April 7, 2016, San Francisco Ballet

 “Justin's choreography paired with Sufjan Stevens’ score is like a complete rewrite of the script. The sounds of the violin, the torque of the torso and the asymmetrical architecture of the corps de ballet spring from tradition to chart a new course. Justin keeps us moving forward, not to mention backwards, sideways, upside down and dancing up the aisles at the end of the show. In the Countenance of Kings is yet another joyous step in the long bright path of Justin Peck's career as a defining choreographer of our time.” —Peter Boal

In the Countenance of Kings is the third work by Justin Peck to be added to PNB’s repertory. Peck’s exuberant work for 18 dancers features music by his frequent collaborator, Oscar-nominated indie rocker Sufjan Stevens (Year of the Rabbit), who has referred to his score, The BQE, as “a cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Hula-Hoop.” The ballet’s name is taken from one of the movements of The BQE. Dance writer Carla Escoda explains, “The title can perhaps be understood not as a reference to aristocracy but as a play on (the now ultra-hip) Kings County—as the English renamed the towns it wrested from the Dutch settlers of ‘Breuckelen’ in the seventeenth century.” Peck has even given his dancers character names à la Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrims Progress: eg. The Protagonist, Botanica, Quantus, and Electress.

Collaboration with youthful contemporaries is important to Peck: “My intention is to make sure that the new work being created for the ballet world is relevant. I think it’s really important to keep working with artists of this generation, whether they be visual artists, or designers, or composers.” These words echo the sentiments of Jerome Robbins, who once said in an interview, “Why can’t we dance about American subjects? Why can’t we talk about the way we dance today and how we are now?” Reviewing the first performance of Kings, Janice Berman (San Francisco Classical Voice) wrote, “While Peck’s is an original voice, as is Stevens’, it was impossible not to be reminded of collaborations between Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein such as On the Town and West Side Story;the new piece has that urban thrust, coupled with a persistently glorious rhythmic intensity. And likeability.” [Notes by Doug Fullington.]

Justin Peck is a soloist and the resident choreographer of New York City Ballet. In 2009, he participated in the New York Choreographic Institute, and in 2011, he received its first year-long choreographic residency. He created six works for NYCB in two years and was named resident choreographer in 2014, while continuing to perform. In 2013, he was nominated for the International Benois De La Danse Award for new choreography, and in 2015, Mr. Peck’s ballet Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes won the Bessie Award for Outstanding Production. In 2014, he was the subject of the documentary Ballet 422, which followed him as he created NYCB’s 422nd original dance, Paz de la Jolla. Mr. Peck has made ballets for a range of companies including Miami City Ballet, PNB (Debonair), San Francisco Ballet, L.A. Dance Project, the New York Choreographic Institute, SAB, the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival, and City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, among others. Justin-Peck.com

The 2019 Pacific Northwest Ballet premiere of Justin Peck’s In the Countenance of Kings is principally supported by Bob Benson, with additional support from Rev. Mary Petty Anderson, Lynne E. Graybeal & Scott Harron, H. David Kaplan, and the William & Carole Ellison Foundation.



Friday, March 8, 5:00 pm

The Phelps Center, 301 Mercer St., Seattle

PNB’s popular Friday Previews are hour-long studio rehearsals hosted by Artistic Director Peter Boal and PNB artistic staff, featuring Company dancers rehearsing excerpts from upcoming ballets. Tickets are $15. (Note: These events usually sell out in advance.)  Friday Previews are sponsored by U.S. Bank.


Thursday, March 14, 5:30 pm

Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall

Join Artistic Director Peter Boal for a discussion with our DIRECTOR’S CHOICE choreographers: Matthew Neenan, Justin Peck, and Robyn Mineko Williams. PNB Conversations offer in-depth discussions with choreographers, stagers, designers, dancers, and other artists that reveal much about the creative process involved in the development of a ballet. All conversations begin at 5:30 pm, followed by the dress rehearsal at 7:00 pm. (Tickets $30.)


Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall

Join Audience Education Manager Doug Fullington for a 30-minute introduction to each performance, including discussions of choreography, music, history, design and the process of bringing ballet to the stage. One hour before performances. FREE for ticketholders.


Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall

Ever want to ask what it’s like to dance a masterpiece, participate in the creation of a new work, or wear pointe shoes? Here’s your chance. Skip the post-show traffic and join Artistic Director Peter Boal or a member of PNB’s artistic staff with PNB Company dancers for a lively question-and-answer session immediately following each performance. FREE for ticketholders.


Friday, March 22
Join members of PNB’s Young Patrons Circle (YPC) in an exclusive lounge for complimentary wine and coffee before the show and at intermission. YPC is PNB’s social and educational group for ballet patrons ages 21 through 39. YPC members save on their subscriptions and additional tickets. For more info, visit PNB.org/YPC.

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I look forward to hearing what the PNB audience thinks of Peck's In the Countenance of Kings. I mostly like Sufjan Stevens' exuberant minimalist music.
Interesting that the stager is SFB's Ballet Master Felipe Diaz - I guess there's no one from the 'Peck Trust' to act as répétiteur.  ;)
But that day will come....


What other Peck ballets have been performed at PNB?

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Did anyone go to see the opening weekend? I live overseas so it's rare that I get the chance to watch a performance in person (thank heavens for the youtube rehearsal streams!) and I'm curious about everyone's impressions of this program. Standout dancers? Overall longevity of these pieces in the repertoire? Feeling/mood of the night? 

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I saw two of the opening weekend performances (same cast twice, so no compare/contrast).  Of the three works, I think the Peck was the strongest, both structurally and in performance.  It was full of references to the NYCB repertory, but didn't seem overly worshipful or derivative -- just a reflection of where he was raised and works.  Everyone looked good, with particular standout moments for both Laura and Jerome Tisserand, Joshua Grant, Margaret Mullin and Lucien Postelwaite  (off the top of my head -- if I went back and looked at the program I'd likely list everyone).  The new Neenan has a lot of zest, with some really nice structural development and a bright sense of energy, but he paints himself in a corner a couple of times and has to work hard to get out (a false ending or two, and some funny choices about dancing in silence.  There's a false ending in the Peck as well -- you'd think that by the time you'd made several works, as they both have, you'd learn to avoid that).

Both Peck and Neenan made fairly conventional ballets, relying on the technique and the structures of the dance form.  Robin Mineko Williams comes from a contemporary dance background, and those are the tools she used here as well.  The movement material seemed connected to her experiences at Hubbard Street, and while the PNB dancers are becoming more familiar with it (they've danced a couple of works by Williams colleague in Chicago Alejandro Cerrudo) some of them are still grappling with the elastic push and pull.  Leah Merchant looked quite wonderful, as did Ezra Thompson and Christopher d'Arriano.  Noelani Pantastico was working hard, but for some reason every time I focused on her, she seemed to be having a difficult time.  I know she's coming back from an injury, so perhaps that was part of the equation.  The work itself was much more circular than the other dances in the program, and while there were witty moments in the text (sung onstage) I didn't really feel they were connected to the arc of the work, but that's my opinion.

Coming as it did right after their run of Sleeping Beauty I have a feeling that Peter Boal is really trying to signal about the versatility of the company -- "see everything we can do."

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I went first weekend but I was not feeling well so not in the best shape to observe and take in dance.  The Neenan piece was by far my favorite, but I was pretty much sure that would be the case since I attended the Friday preview.  I *love* that Oliver Davis music (and I already knew that I don't love that of Sufjan Stevens).  In Bacchus, of course it's always great to see my regular standouts, but James Moore has a solo that shows off his unique movement quality and we haven't seen much of him for a long time so I really enjoyed it.  There was a teaser of Seth Orza's power toward the end, but it was way too short.  Margaret Mullin was in a duet with Elizabeth Murphy.  In the post-show Q&A it was mentioned she had had hip surgery.  I saw her as SPF and Marzipan in Nutcracker which looked to be her first roles fully back dancing.  But she danced a ton in this show, in the Neenan and especially in the Peck.  Her role in the Peck was far more fierce than anything I've seen her do before, and I've always admired her clean and precise technique, so am excited to see where she goes from here now that she seems fully recovered.

The Williams, didn't really hold my attention.  Perhaps because I didn't feel well, or maybe because it is a intimate piece more suited to a smaller theater.  I also in general do not like words overlaying dance unless it's a song I really enjoy, it inhibits my ability to create my own personal impression.  The way the vocalist was amplified also made it difficult to discern the words.

The Peck piece had some amazing choreography in some sections for sure, but I care for the cutesy stuff, and I already commented that the music is not my favorite.  I also felt like the production was hard on the eyes.  The starkness of the costumes, which are mainly black and white with the main dancers accented with these horrible combination of stripes of turquoise, red and yellow.  The costumes contrasted with the background, which was black.  The first duet is with Margaret Mullin and Lucient Postelwaite.  There is a snippet posted on FB so I was looking forward to it.  Well, as the Director Notes mentioned, this row of headlights emerged, but they were SO bright and behind the dancers, they were in semi-sihouette.  And from where I was sitting they were shining right in my eyes.  Later the headlights were dimmed and raised thank goodness.  To me, a lot of the Peck pieces look like the same formula, just rearranged.  I know I am in the minority, just my opinion.  Most people are raving about In the Countenance of Kings.  Of the three Peck pieces in the PNB rep, I do really like Debonair.  It's quite different than his other stuff, especially the costumes.

I'll be back this weekend to see both casts and with fresh eyes so I may have different observations and opinions then.  Oh, and I'll be sitting in different places.

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I saw both opening weekend casts.

Mathew Neenan's Bacchus is an opener: to a classical-ish score by Oliver Davis, it's generally upbeat and engaging.   There's a section for the male pair, later joined by the female pair, and then ending with the male pair again that is quirky, inventive, and truly delightful. There is a dynamic, virtuoso solo for James Moore.

I had several issues with the work.  Except for the duet/quartet/duet, I didn't feel like it was a coherent whole, and in that sense, it wasn't really helped by its score, which sounded more like a pops excerpts album.  It did two of my least favorite things in dance: a period of silence to indicate gravitas that neither the movement nor what came before it justified, and a long, meandering pas de deux ending, in this case, after the period of silence.  The man's choice of one of two women of the duet for the final podcast caused the other woman agony, but it wasn't the culmination of what had gone before, but, instead, was just another episode.
There was a central couple, danced by Leta Biasucci and Lucien Postlewaite, and it was busy without bringing out the best of either of them.  Both looked better in the Peck in roles that were not created for them.  There wasn't enough James Moore, but if that were a carefully calibrated "Leave them wanting more," there were other dancers in the work who seemed to flit in and out without a chance to make a lasting impression.  To me it felt unbalanced.
I realize that'this is a lot of negative for something that was mostly pleasurable.  I have a favorite snack, a local brand of real-cheddar cheese puffs that are mouth-watering.  I could consume a bag of them before realizing them, but still be hungry, but have loved every bite.  That's close how I felt watching most of Bacchus.  
That duet/quartet/duet, though...  Cecilia Illiesiu and Elle Macy at the matinee and Elizabeth Murphy and Margaret Mullin in the evening were all stellar and really well-matched.  Mullin even made something compelling out of the agony at the end.  The male pairs were Ezra Thomson and Steven Loch in the afternoon and Price Suddarth and Kyle Davis in the evening.  Suddarth and Davis are more of a physical match, both bringing great energy, with Davis especially precise and funny in his timing.  Thomson and Loch, who are two of the most interesting movers, aren't an obvious pairing, either physically or stylistically, but they were awesome together: it was like watching two great dance intelligences riff off each other.
The second piece, Robyn Mineko Williams' "The Trees The Trees" had some wonderful performances, particularly from Leah Merchant and Christopher D'Ariano, but for me it was, "Yes, Virginia, Another Angst-filled Sock Ballet."  I spent a lot of time re-casting it with dancers from contemporary companies, not because of the PNB dancers, but because I was trying to distract myself from the music (by Kyle Vegter), like when you dig your nails into your palms to distract yourself from harsher pain.  First, if someone is going to sing with amplification for 28 minutes, I should be able to understand more than three lines and an occasional word.  (For me, these were "microwave" and "refrigerator.")  Second, I can listen happily to acoustic versions of gnarly vocal scores, like Pierrot Lunaire, but I hate being yelled at over amplification. The singer, Alicia Walter is an incredible singer -- she was part of the piece, wandering and sitting among the dancers -- and I'm certain she did exactly what the Vegter intended.  And it ended with another meandering pas de deux, only this time, Elle Macy's long lines were cut off by blue, mid-shin socks.  But I'm not bitter.
My favorite parts were the brilliant set by Rico Chiarelli and a series of cycling planches the dancers did in slow-motion sequence on their backs on an upstage couch. 
The highlight for me was Justin Peck's "In the Countenance of Kings."  As always, Peck does incredible work with his corps.  My favorite part was as background to a pas de deux where, in a pack, moving slowly around the stage, they raised both arms suddenly in the touchdown pose and then slowly lowered them.  As they did, they reminded me of the accordion gates that New Yorkers have on their windows -- an alternative to vertical bars -- to keep people from breaking into their apartments, but which would let them get out quickly down the fire escape.
A lot of Peck watchers look for strides in his pas de deux work.  "In the Countenance of Kings" has three main couples, and I think he hit a high in what I've seen so far in the one danced by Leta Biasucci and Steven Loch in the afternoon and Margaret Mullin and Lucien Postlewaite in the evening.  There's something about the energy that each of these pairings bring that is so much more than Biasucci and Postlewaite together, which, on paper, would seem to be perfect.  Biasucci and Loch, especially, are magical together, having a dialogue through movement and a simpatico that is spectacular and moving to watch.  They and Laura Tisserand, in the third couple, danced the roles as if they had been choreographed for them. 
To me Peck's work does have a strong kinship to Jerome Robbins', although
with a very different voice, but he was also trained in the House of Balanchine.  It was fascinating to watch the two different interpretations of his Hero character:  in the afternoon, Dylan Wald was all legato development as a through-line, very much in temperamental vein of Opus 19: The Dreamer or Tony's music in West Side Story.  Jerome Tisserand's interpretation was much more like Apollo, in each scene, trying different things on, and it was a very different kind of evolution and really compelling to watch.  
As a note, Rachel Foster is cast in Leah Merchant's role in The Trees The Trees on (second) Saturday evening and Sunday matinee.  The rest of the casting for the matinee is the same as Opening Night.
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I loved this rep. I saw all 3 performances on the 1st weekend. Strangely, my favorite was different at each performance: Bacchus on Friday night, The Trees on Sat afternoon, and Kings on Sat night. I'm sure part of that is where you sit. I sat in the front row for The Trees when it became my favorite, and I sat in the Dress Circle when Kings was my favorite. I really, really do think that The Trees should be seen from close rather than from far.

Most of all I was just in awe of how fabulous our PNB dancers are. Is there anything they can't do.....and do superbly? All seemed to be having the time of their lives....just plain having fun. They work so well together as a team.

If I had to pick a stand out from all the many, many terrific performances, it would have to be Elle Macy in Kings (Merchant right behind in Trees). That Elle Macy floors me these days is no surprise....she's been the apple of my eye for a couple of seasons now 😏

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Errata from an Unreliable Narrator on Bacchus:

1.  The women in the quartet weren't the two women in the female duet, Macy and Iliesiu in one cast, and Mullin and Murphy in the other:  they were Sarah Pasch and Emma Love Suddarth with Steven Loch and Ezra Thomson and Angelica Generosa and Sarah Gabrielle Ryan in the other.

2.  There was more than foreshadowing of the final trio in which Macy and Murphy dance the final pas de deux, and Mullin and Iliesiu are agonized:  towards the beginning of the work, they already do this, but without the pas de deux, before they dance a lovely duet together.  If I had seen it once and missed this opening because my cell phone went off, I'd have an explanation, but I saw it twice first weekend, and have no idea why I mis-remembered it as I did.


A few more things:

I had left out a striking part of Bacchus:  in her first entry, across upstage, holding her skirt, Leah Merchant did a perfect Titania walk.  She did an abbreviated version of the walk later in the piece.

My ticket this afternoon was in the fifth row on the left side of the theater, which I thought was safe, but the woman in front of me was blocking downstage right.  After first intermission, I grabbed a seat in the second-to-last row, which is under the overhang of the Dress Circle.  The amplification was mitigated by the overhang, and Walter's singing didn't sound nearly as piercing from there.  (Being on the left side, I heard a lot more of the percussion from there as well.)  The Vegter is the most coherent of the three scores.

The part that Rachel Foster danced this afternoon felt bigger, which isn't surprising, because she's such a great dramatic dancer.  The pas de deux with Thomson was especially fine and central.

I liked the Peck from the beginning, but liked it better and better each time I saw it.  Everyone in both casts danced superbly. It was a joy to watch a dance that brought out the best in everyone.

In the Q&A this afternoon, someone asked about the order of the program.  Peter Boal said that the order it was performed in was his original plan, but the tech director said that there wasn't enough time during intermission to get the set up.  (That is why Empire Noir was, and may be next season, an opener.)  Boal agreed reluctantly until Neenan said that he saw his as an opener, and Boal went back to the tech director, who said he'd need another stagehand.  They hired the stagehand and went back to the original order.  

Elizabeth Murphy was the guest, and she talked about the costume design she did for some Next Step pieces and Kyle Davis' A Dark and Lonely Space in November for the mainstage.  She also said she has an Etsy store and would like to work in the Costume Shop someday.

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Program order is such an interesting topic, and so many different elements go into it.  Some of them are purely functional:  set changes/, shared performers.  Some are financial: musician time, extra stagehands (as above).  And of course some are aesthetic. 

I think the order for this program was probably the strongest one for these three works.  Peck is a pretty obvious closer, but the Neenan has a similar vocabulary and energy in parts -- I think it would have made each of them look weaker if they ran side by side.  The Williams might be considered an obvious opener as a more naturalistic work with a softer dynamic (not to mention a set that needed to be installed and checked), but I think it showed best by having two contrasting works surrounding it, like a crispy frame.  (the fact that dancers don't like to go from bare feet/socks to pointe shoes is a mark against either of those orders...)

In this case, the best aesthetic choice winds up being a bit more expensive -- I'm glad they have the budget for these kinds of exceptions.

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