Seventeen years ago, Peter Boal took his final bow as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater. Now, he is returning to his former artistic home, this time with his company, Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, where he has been artistic director since 2005.
The engagement, presented by The Joyce Theater Foundation, has not been an easy undertaking. Originally planned for June 2020, it was postponed due to the pandemic. But PNB and The Joyce resumed planning this year and, since so much of the groundwork had already been completed, were able to quickly reschedule.
Linda Shelton, The Joyce Theater’s executive director, acknowledges the risk of presenting PNB at a large venue like the Koch, rather than its smaller Chelsea theatre. “But I think it’s important for us to do this, so that New York audiences can see these bigger companies,” she says. Shelton adds that the size of the Koch allows PNB to bring Twyla Tharp’s 2013 Waiting at the Station, a large-scale work with sets by Santo Loquasto and music by Allen Toussaint. “When I saw the premiere, I immediately thought of how wonderful it would look on the Koch stage.”
Boal says he’s proud to showcase the company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next season, with two mixed-bill programs. In addition to Tharp and George Balanchine, he’s bringing works by three choreographers closely associated with PNB: Crystal Pite, Ulysses Dove, and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Below, he shares his thoughts on this special homecoming.
You spent 22 years performing at the Koch Theater with New York City Ballet. How does it feel to bring your own company here?
It’s a strange feeling. I walked into this building at age 10 to perform in the Nutcracker, like so many School of American Ballet students, and then had a long career here. I have a great fondness for it. There’s also this incredible history, particularly as a house of Balanchine, Robbins, and so many other NYCB choreographers and visiting companies.
For this tour I wanted to bring PNB signature works. I think our program is going to be a little different than what you see from other classical ballet companies. The pieces that we’re bringing offer moments of real humanity—not just pure choreography, but real human interactions and relationships.
Twyla Tharp’s Waiting at the Station is making its New York premiere. Can you tell us about it?
It’s really a substantial work, one we haven’t toured extensively. Twyla had a wonderful collaboration with musician Allen Toussaint, who has since passed but who played for the first performances. There are wonderful moments in the ballet of what it means to have knowledge and to realize that it’s time to pass that on. Twyla set it in New Orleans, which was Toussaint’s hometown and where much of his music was created, and the sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto capture that perfectly. And we have dancers who have been performing it for 10 years, so there’s a real level of familiarity among them.
Ulysses Dove is someone you personally worked with as a dancer. What does his Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven mean to you and to this time that we’re living in right now?
It’s such a powerful work. It was created to address what was happening in New York and in Ulysses’ life during the time of the AIDS epidemic, but it’s interesting how it can take on new meaning for people emerging from the current pandemic, and the tremendous feeling of loss so many are feeling. When we performed it in Seattle last fall, it was the first time people had stepped back into the theatre to see dance again. You could feel a different meaning, or maybe the same meaning, but through a different lens. That’s the sign of a great work. It’s one of the older pieces we’re bringing, but it feels relevant.
Meanwhile, Crystal Pite’s Plot Point, which features Bernard Herrmann’s score from Psycho, brings a whole different energy.
Yes. She was fascinated by the emotions of fear and anxiety captured in film noir. She works three loose plot strains through the piece, but you’re meant to get lost. You don’t need to follow them, you just sink into the emotion and the anxiety that you’re left with, regardless of whether you understand what’s happening or not. It has an analytical take on violence that’s fascinating.
Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump is beloved by audiences in Seattle. What can we expect?
I first went to meet with Alejandro when he was with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, when they were performing the premiere of Little mortal jump. I thought, “this piece is amazing.” There are comical moments and joyous moments, and really emotional moments that sneak up on you. He has a way of expressing emotions that pierce you when you least expect it.
You’re also bringing Balanchine’s “Diamonds” for The Joyce Theater Foundation’s annual gala. Does that make you nervous?
It does, particularly since Jewels premiered in this theatre. We’ve brought Balanchine to New York before, and I think we do it well, but I also think there’s an ownership that NYCB deserves of his works. But we’re also looking forward to performing a ballet that showcases the entire company, including our orchestra. New York is a big deal—it’s such an honor to be here.
Amy Brandt is the Editor in Chief of Pointe.