Professional Division students from Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Kiyon Gaines’ [NO HOLDS] barre’d, presented during the 2009 Choreographers’ Showcase.  Photo © Rex Tranter
Professional Division students from Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Kiyon Gaines’ [NO HOLDS] barre’d, presented during the 2009 Choreographers’ Showcase. Photo © Rex Tranter

For my money, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Choreographers' Showcase is one of the best dance deals in town. With ticket prices topping out at a trifling $20, this year's showcase June 13 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall was a rare chance to see mostly high-voltage brand-new works by seven choreographers in divergent stages of development plus performances by up-and-coming dancers in the company's school.

The Choreographers' Showcase was created in 2004 to encourage the company's dancers and faculty to create ballets. As Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal noted, new choreography is vital to a thriving ballet company.

While the organization's Professional Division students exhibited the occasional ragged moment, they were more than offset by skilled performances and intriguingly dynamic new works.

The evening's ensemble work was a delight, beginning with "Dimensions," choreographed by Stanko Milov to a rhythmic score written by Milov with Peter Gabriel. Driven by the music, the work was replete with curving body sculpture that pulsed like breathing, intimating submission to the group versus the arduous attempt to break away into individuality with arms. In one of the most visually arresting moves, the dancers' arms arced and lifted in throbbing motion like large birds fighting gravity to pull away from the earth.

Somehow, I expected more from faculty member Sonia Dawkins, founder and artistic director of S.D. Prism Dance. Her work "Ripple Mechanics," from a previous Choreographers' Showcase, became part of PNB's regular repertory. This year's "where ART thou?," set in a ballet rehearsal room, was pleasant enough with its flowing movement passing from dancer to dancer like falling leaves eddying gracefully in the wind. Yet even when an element of grieving entered the piece, there were no emotional fireworks.

Choreographed by Barry Kerollis to excerpts from the unnerving "American Beauty" film soundtrack, "Pariah" offered the strongest narrative of the evening's works and an eerie framework of alienation. As the girl shunned by the others, Erin Crall was a standout, swinging between her growing sensuality and her yearning to fit in, and going so weak at her lover's touch that he literally molded her body into whatever shape he desired.

Tipping its hat to ballroom dance, Stacy Lowenberg's amusing and light-on-its-feet "Loving You" displayed as much panache as Jake Lowenstein, the fickle object of four ballerinas' combative attention. His crowd-pleasing spin ended with a stumble of theatrical dizziness provoked by his multiple dalliances.

Olivier Wevers' "That one dance about that one thing #2" is a work of frenetic, perpetual motion that was already in progress as the curtain raised and continued as it dropped. To the strains of Philip Glass and lighting suggesting nebulae forming and dissolving, dancers swirled, coalesced and pulled apart like the excited atoms of interstellar dust composing those space clouds.

Set to new music with a bygone sound by Gunnar Madsen, Jonathan Porretta's "Courte et Deuce" was traditional and delicately romantic. Both the courtly choreography and costumes, including a fairytale princess and prince, swept the audience into an earlier era of dance-but sans stodginess.

A crowd favorite, Kiyon C. Gaines' slyly mocking and acrobatic "[No Holds]barre'd" was yet another take on a ballet rehearsal, with ballet barres used for everything from seats to monkey bars for somersaulting. One of the evening's highest points was the piece's titillating battle of wills between a male and female dancer, performed with captivating synergy by Ezra Thomson and Nicole Ciapponi.

Freelance writer Maggie Larrick lives in the Seattle area and is the former editor of the News.