When asked about his early interactions with famed American choreographer Jerome Robbins, Peter Boal responded, “He was the painter, I was the paint.”
During his twenty-two years dancing at New York City Ballet, and earlier as a student at the School of American Ballet, Boal often found himself the “paint” that choreographers used to create masterworks, i.e. the very first dancer who translates the idea into art through movement.
Today, Boal wants the dancers at Pacific Northwest Ballet to have that experience of being part of the creation process, to interact with a “genius in the building,”
This goes beyond the standard of commissioning a choreographer to visit and create a single new work. This is more like having a Robbins or George Balachine roaming the halls, working in the studio, chatting in the costume shop, just there to spark and inspire the current and the next generation of PNB dancers.
So Boal, the company’s artistic director, created a completely new Artist-In-Residence position and invited the legendary Twyla Tharp to be that genius in the building for the first year.
“Obviously the dancers already have some familiarity with her work,” said Boal, who has added a number of Tharp’s works to the company’s mainstage repertoire since he began in 2002. Last summer saw the professional company take an all Tharp program to the Spoleto festival in Italy. Her Sweet Fields was part of the June school performance.
But with Air Twyla opening tonight, Seattle audiences will get to see the real fruit of this collaboration, the world premiere of Waiting at the Station with an original score by jazz great Allen Toussaint,
Also on the bill are Tharp’s Scottish-inspired Brief Fling, performed by the company for the first time, and Tharp’s homage to Frank Sinatra and ballroom dance: Nine Sinatra Songs.
“I don’t know whether it is her dances, books, films, or Broadway shows, but people just seem to connect to her,” said Boal. This is the one program that he guarantees “reaches every segment of the audience.”
Just as he expects Tharp’s influence to continue with the dancers, the costume shop, the set builders, and all the others who make up the company. “We have had a great artist in the building,” he said. “Everyone has had a chance to hear about how this premiere is unfolding.”
For an art form that has always been and always will be “one body that knows the dance passing it to a body who doesn’t know it,” Boal said, that inspiration truly can’t be measured in days or months. It remains for a lifetime.
Air Twyla runs through October 6 at McCaw Hall (Seattle Center). For tickets and more information, see PNB’s website.