Forget “Chorus Line” or the many recent dramas about dancing in the corps de ballet. Being part of the group who normally back up the leads doesn’t mean being anonymous. According to a member of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s corps, every dancer counts and the whole individual, rather than any one skill, creates the beauty that is ballet done with heart.
Price Suddarth’s newest piece, “Signature,” explores that dynamic of the dancers as individuals contributing to the art. “Simply being there is the dancers’ signature,” he explained. “No signal characteristic is unique—it is our entire person that makes us unique.” Of course being tapped to create a new work for a distinguished company’s mainstage program when you’ve been dancing there for only five years might be counted as little more unique than normal. Suddarth became a PNB apprentice in 2010 and transitioned to the corps in 2011.
Suddarth choreographed his first piece while still a student at the School of American Ballet. “It was really small but fun. I realized that this is a puzzle that I enjoy.” Once employed at PNB, he participated in the company’s Next Step program, where the company’s dancers choreograph new works for PNB School’s Professional Division students. Suddarth was invited to present his works at the 2012 Regional Dance America Gala performance and at the 2014 Chop Shop: Bodies of Work Contemporary Dance Festival. This year, PNB artistic director Peter Boal asked Suddarth go one farther and create a new work for the company’s fall mixed rep program of modern works, putting Suddarth on the same footing as choreographers Kiyon Gaines, Jessica Lang and Crystal Pite.
“Next Step is incredible and it is a very safe environment. But to get this chance to be a ‘real choreographer’ when I still call myself an aspiring choreographer,” Suddarth paused a moment to reflect. “This has kicked it into gear for me.”
The experience of creating a piece with 15 dancers also was a bit like sky diving, said Suddarth. “Absolutely terrifying to jump out of the plane but once you’ve done it, you automatically want to go up again!”
But most of all, it gave Suddarth a chance to show off people who are more than fellow dancers in the corps. “I know all of these people so well. There’s a piece of me in ‘Signature’ but there’s also a piece of each dancer in it. I didn’t want to put anything on anyone. It’s nice to work with each one as an individual style. Everyone has been incredibly supportive.”
The final work incorporates an original score by Barret Anspach that “sounds as if Vivaldi was writing music in 2015,” said Suddarth. Elegant black costumes were designed by Mark Zappone and lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli add to the mood.
Being responsible for one quarter of the evening’s entertainment made dancing in the other pieces a little easier, said Suddarth. “I have a solo role in Pite’s ‘Emergence’ (the ballet which lent its name to the evening). I love that ballet and I was really concerned about doing that at the same time. But I found it easier than I expected. ‘Emergence’ is a very specific type of movement and requires a lot of thinking. It helped me to dissect things—how to tear apart a dance, figure out all the moving pieces, and put it back together.”
Back in the studio, explaining his ideas to the dancers in “Signature,” Suddarth also discovered that “it takes a lot more effort to have words coming out of my mouth than talking with my feet. I’m a visual learner but as a choreographer I have to verbalize what I want.” But the talking is coming easier and faster these days as he thinks ahead to creating more works as well as dancing in new pieces. “I feel so much more in control,” he said.
“Signature” can be seen now through Nov. 15 at McCall Hall at the Seattle Center. Also on the program are Gaines’ “Sum Stravinsky” and Pite’s “Emergence” as well as the PNB premiere of Lang’s “The Calling.” For more on tickets and times, see PNB’s website.