By Moira Macdonald
18 August 2020
“All creative people love a good challenge,” said Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal in a recent interview. His challenge was one that might seem unthinkable even months ago: to create an entirely digital season.
On Tuesday, PNB announced a 2020/21 season that in some ways looked like a typical one: six repertory programs from October through June; two of them full-length story ballets (“Roméo et Juliette” and “Coppélia”), the other four mixed-works programs. The choreographers represented are a blend of long-familiar names (Balanchine, Robbins, Tharp) and contemporary dancemakers presenting new work: Donald Byrd, Alejandro Cerrudo, Jessica Lang, Edwaard Liang, Penny Saunders.
But, like so many other things during this very strange year, this upcoming ballet season is entirely different: Due to restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, this season will take place online. Most of the works presented will be newly filmed, under appropriate social-distance guidelines; ballets too large to be newly performed safely, such as the story ballets, will be presented in archival footage of previous performances or dress rehearsals.
Once it became clear that the new season would need to be presented this way, Boal said he “combed through the repertory” looking for works that would be appropriate. His challenges were multiple. First, he needed to choose work that could be rehearsed and performed allowing for distance: solos, pas de deux danced by performers already living together, small-scale works in which dancers are well spread out (such as the four-dancer final movement of Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels,” included in the season’s Rep I). He needed to be conscious of using as many of the company dancers — newly returned to work after furlough — as possible.
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