Pacific Northwest Ballet is closing its season with a flourish—a trio of works new to the company that reflect three distinct approaches to the art form. Opening with La Source, an homage to the French classical style by George Balanchine, joined by Jerome Robbins’ folk-inflected Opus 19/The Dreamer and Alexei Ratmansky’s recent Pictures at an Exhibition, the program is packed with juicy roles for multiple casts from refined to raucous.
La Source is a deceptive bonbon, as challenging for the dancers as it is charming for the audience. Set to a selection of works by Léo Delibes, the score has his signature sweetness, but it’s also very exacting musically, requiring a phenomenal level of clarity and precision from performers. On opening night, Carrie Imler and Jerome Tisserand set a high bar for their colleagues to meet, and subsequent casts over the weekend met it.
Opus 19 is almost a 180-degree shift from the Robbins we saw in West Side Story Suite earlier in the season—the challenges for the principal man are more existential than absolute. As he struggles within himself, his troubles are amplified by an ensemble that may just be part of his dreamscape. He strives to fit into the group and to find a relationship with a woman, but at key moments he misses the mark, until finally at the end of the ballet he seems to connect with her in a kind of symbiotic pose like a two-headed, four-armed Shiva. It’s a coveted role for a man, and PNB has three different artists cast in it: James Moore and Benjamin Griffiths both have an explosive quality that helped underline the sense of frustration through the work, while Dylan Wald has a more attenuated style, making the shapes easy to see.
Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is almost too familiar—a piece of program music we think we know inside and out. But Ratmansky manages to short-circuit our standard responses and show us a new set of possibilities. The freewheeling translation of the score, in the original piano arrangement, bounces all over the stage. The work opens with a childlike quality as the dancers show off for each other. They romp through the space, teasing and squabbling as often as they play “nicely”—and the sections of the work that are more charged with adult qualities read more vividly because of the contrast. The work was filled with excellent performances in its two casts.
Despite this, the weekend had a bittersweet feeling, since this repertory marks the retirement of two long-term company performers. Carrie Imler has been an exemplar of classical style and contemporary daring during her time with PNB, while Batkhurel Bold has more than lived up to his nickname “Air Bold.” They both joined the company in the 1990s, and have been central to the development of its national reputation. Their performances in this repertory and the season-ending Encore show June 11 remind all of us what we will be missing. Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., 441-2424, pnb.org. $30–$187. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., June 8– Sat., June 10, 1 p.m. Sun., June 11.