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Gorgeous purple ballet bacchanalia

The world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s Bacchus drove the March 15 audience into a near Dionysian frenzy of applause at the end. From gorgeous music by Oliver Davis to intriguingly purple wardrobes by Mark Zappone to the twenty minutes of sublime ensemble dancing by the company, this addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet's repertoire stole the show.


The "Director's Choice" evening at Pacific Northwest Ballet generally offers a strong program. After all, these are artistic director Peter Boal's personal picks. Usually, but not always, this means a certain emphasis on the male dancers (oft relegated to princess arm props in classical ballet) as well as choreographers that intrigue Boal.

This year's selections include the world premiere by Neenan as well as another world premiere, "The Trees The Trees," by Robyn Mineko Williams and a new-to-PNB piece, "In the Countenance of Kings," by Justin Peck.

While a big party mood was set by Neenan's work, especially by the terrific partnering in nonconformist ways and, yes, male dancing, then Williams' work felt a bit like the morning after the love affair ends. The latter allowed the ballet dancers to show their character acting talents, as mini-vignettes of modern angst played out upon the stage.

One unusual and welcome addition to an evening at the ballet was the live performance of singer/composer Alicia Walter, who wandered through the dancers like a post-modern Edith Piaf commenting on life, love, and microwave ovens in "The Trees The Trees." It's all based on the poetry of Heather Christle, which luckily is reprinted in full in the program. Thus helping the second intermission discussions of "what did it mean?"

The ballotomanes were there for Peck. Featured everywhere from  CBS Sunday Morning to GQ, it's impossible to find a bigger star in ballet at the moment. Besides winning a Tony for his reworking of Rodger and Hammerstein's Carousel, Peck has a shelf full of other awards, has been named New York City Ballet's Resident Choreographer, and has 73,000+ followers on Instagram. Or as the New York Times likes to say "young Mr. Peck can do anything he wants with choreography." And he does.

"In the Countenance of Kings" was originally made for San Francisco Ballet (2016) and receives its Northwest premiere in this program. A lively work for 18 dancers, it features the music of indie rocker Sufjan Stevens and nicely showcases Peck's efforts to move ballet audiences away from stuffy notions of tutus and classical music.


"Director’s Choice" continues through March 24 at at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. For more information see