Christopher Wheeldon’s new work for Pacific Northwest Ballet is called “Curious Kingdom.” Since the music is all French, the title might refer to France, though it’s been a long time since that country had a king. Or perhaps the alliterative phrase and its “Alice in Wonderland” adjective allude to contemporary ballet.
Whatever the title means, what matters is that Wheeldon has created a distinct and memorable realm. That can’t be said for the other premiere on Pacific Northwest’s latest digital program (available until Monday on the company website): Edwaard Liang’s “The Veil Between Worlds.”
“Curious Kingdom” is appropriately chic. The tops of unitards by Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme are cleverly shaded to appear like the bodices of strapless dresses. As the music progresses from piano pieces by Satie and Ravel to songs of Edith Piaf, the dancers accessorize with mesh overlays, short or elbow-length gloves, tulle skirts, big bows in rose. In Reed Nakayama’s lighting design, the stage floor gleams like a reflective pool, backed by a succession of single hues: gold, green, blue, purple.
Elegantly dressed, Wheeldon’s choreography, mostly solos and duets, maintains a glamorous languor and achieves moments of exquisite beauty. Satie’s “Gnossiennes” connect the work to the poetic purity of Frederick Ashton’s “Monotones,” a link it earns with long lines that suddenly break. One duet is a wonder of interlocking flamingo shapes. Others are more mirrorlike, taking a cue from the music, some of which is drawn from Ravel’s suite “Miroirs.” To all this, the Piaf sections add a little color and cabaret. The excellent Lucien Postlewaite, a kind of faun in his opening solo, ends with a stylish suggestion of drag.
Liang’s “Veil,” by contrast, is characterless. The music, a new composition by Oliver Davis, sounds like a paint-by-numbers contemporary ballet score, and Liang’s neoclassical choreography looks like something that any skilled dancemaker might have created in the last few decades. There is a literal veil — a big piece of silk tossed like a parachute or the handkerchief of a giant magician. But nothing in the light and harmless choreography works any magic.
Still, the dancers — especially Dylan Wald, who also shines in the Wheeldon, and Jerome and Laura Tisserand, who are about to leave the company — look good and happy in it. And that also matters.
Among American troupes, Pacific Northwest has been one of the most successful in converting to digital programming, keeping its dancers active and its audience engaged. Its latest offering is characteristic: handsomely filmed and packed with extra features, including music-only selections by the company’s first-class musicians. Apart from “Curious Kingdom,” the season’s new works have struck me as unexceptional, but as someone who lives far from Seattle, I have been grateful for the chance to see these dancers and get to know them a little.
In a program note, Peter Boal, the artistic director, boasts that the digital season has attracted subscribers in 50 states and 36 countries. “We will not turn our back on you,” he writes, promising not only that the company will return to live performance in the fall but also that its digital programming will continue. Both parts are good news.
Pacific Northwest Ballet, Program 6
Through Monday, pnb.org