Former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite are back in Seattle this, week preparing to dance "Romeo et Juliette" with PNB on Saturday night. They originated the roles at PNB, when the company premiered the ballet here in 2008.
For both, working with the ballet’s creator Jean-Christophe Maillot was a transformative experience and both are now dancing with Maillot’s Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Pantastico joined that company five years ago and Postlewaite started last August. They recently finished five weeks on the road with Monte Carlo, two in Brazil and three in Switzerland and France, where they appeared for the first time in Maillot’s new version of Swan Lake called LAC. Pantastico danced the Black Swan role (Maillot uses different dancers for the white and black swan roles) with Postlewaite as her prince.
Alice Kaderlan: When Lucien got to Monte Carlo, It had been 5 years since you’d danced Romeo et Juliette together. What has it been like to do it together again?
Lucien: Noe had been dancing it with other partners, so she has been doing it a certain way. For me, it felt like going home.
Noelani: We didn’t rehearse it very much because it fits like a glove. But it does feel different because I’m very “Maillot” now and it shows in the work.
What does “very Maillot” mean?
N: Jean-Christophe is the heart and soul of the work. You have to learn his technique and certain phrasing to keep it interesting. We did our best 5 years ago, but there is only so much you can learn in a few days. Now I know exactly what he wants.
L: It is like learning a new language. 5 years ago, we didn’t know what we didn’t now. I thought I got it and we gave it our best, but now, having more time with Jean-Christophe, with the ballet and with the company, we can go deeper.
Will the Seattle audience notice anything different?
N: Only if they really know dance [laughs] and if they’re sitting really close. Hopefully, it will be better.
When we did it before here, I felt like I was acting it. But with Jean-Christophe, a lot of the work we do is in our heads, about intention. Every step must have meaning to it. In one of Juliette’s first entrances, she comes out and does an arabesque. Recently, Jean Christophe asked me, “What are you thinking at that moment?” I said I didn’t know, so he told me, “You’re waking up.”
What are some other ways that working with Jean-Christophe is different from being at PNB?
L: In my previous training, my focus was on “Is my foot pointed here? Is my turnout right?” But with Maillot, there’s no room for paying attention to things like that, what the company calls “bacteria.” Your pointed foot is a given. Also, in traditional ballets, there are steps and then transitions between steps when you can let down a bit, like when you prepare to do a pirouette. In Maillot’s work, there are no transition steps and [he’s not happy if] he sees you shut down even for a moment. That is not allowed.
And we have mandatory company class. We usually work Saturdays so you can miss 1 class a week, but for any other class you miss, they deduct 30 euros from your salary.
How about the technique? You were both trained in the Balanchine style, but that’s not what you’re doing at Monte Carlo.
L: Our teachers rotate every two weeks and come from all over like Paris Opera, La Scala, National Ballet of Canada. So our technique class is always changing, even though it uses the Maillot technique.
How is that different from the Balanchine style?
L: Combinations are slower, more about lengthening your muscles. In a Balanchine class, you hold a lot of tension and it’s faster, with sharper angles. But you can still move very quickly with less tension because you use your muscles more efficiently. I was more “grippy” with my muscles at PNB; now I’m learning to break apart my muscles, like using only a part of my thigh and not the whole thigh. This lengthens your muscles, which is why most European dancers have longer bodies than Americans.
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