Ballet Review

All Premiere Goes to Outer Space and Back

The trio of new works from Pacific Northwest Ballet features a rare opportunity to see classically trained dancers wield phallic cacti.

By Darren Davis November 6, 2018

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers strike a pose in Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. 

A Dark and Lonely Space conceptually began with the idea that the anthropomorphizing of a birth of a planetary system could shed light on human behavior.”

This is what company soloist Kyle Davis writes about his Pacific Northwest Ballet debut as a choreographer. Go ahead, read it again (I had to). If anyone encouraged Davis to start small for a mainstage premiere, he proudly ignored such warnings. A Dark and Lonely Space is woo-woo galactic epic all the way down, set to music from the bonkers sci-fi romp Jupiter Ascending and incorporating an opera singer belting atop a craggy monolith, and a quintet of what can only be described as Space Witches—their garments floating to the choreography as if in zero gravity.

With A Dark and Lonely Space as its opener, All Premiere seems to declare from the get-go that it intends to eschew pretty, bite-sized ballet in favor of something more provoking. And while that might be a tough sell for a production featuring three new works from largely unfamiliar choreographers, it's actually a real blast that ends triumphantly weird. 

After Davis’s space opera, Alejandro Cerrudo’s Silent Ghost offers a bit of repose. Lulled by prerecorded electric guitar, soft piano, and the intimate murmurings of a cafe, partners roll on and around one another as if each were a bed, gazing and pawing and doing the arms-straight-up universal sign for “please take my shirt off.” 

Kyle Davis’s A Dark and Lonely Space.

What Silent Ghost really nails, as did Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump performed last season, are light and silhouette. Dancers appear out of an onyx curtain of shadow. Dramatic cones of light appear to cut human forms out of physical space like a 3-D popup book. The whole effect is warm and carnal, like watching ballet through bedroom eyes.

Then there’s Cacti. Where to even begin with Cacti? How about this: PNB’s previous production Robbins Fest asked dancers to do a lot in a bad way. Cacti makes its performers do a whole lot more, but with winning results. What a weird meta opus, one in which choreographer Alexander Ekman deconstructs the staging and even the act of viewing ballet with gleeful obnoxiousness.

A highfalutin academic voiceover offers dense close readings of the piece during the piece. A string quartet wanders about on stage. The lighting physically shifts as dancers try out absurd poses and react to each other and the audience, as if the whole production must figure out through trial-and-error what exactly the production should be. There’s a very conversational pas de deux and some phallic cacti. Listen, you’re just going to have to see this one.

If there’s one through-line that organizes All Premiere, perhaps it’s in the works’ respective approaches to storytelling. A Dark and Lonely Place attempts at plot via sweeping images and symbolism. Silent Ghost sides with expression over narrative. And Cacti smashes “meaning” with spiky desert flora and earns a lot of laughs in the process. Either way, you’ll want to meet at a bar after and do some mental unpacking. See it before the pageantry of Nutcracker season returns.

All Premiere
Nov 2–11, McCaw Hall, $37–$189

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