If Seattle has a ballet superstar, it’s Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lucien Postlewaite. During his nine years with PNB, Postlewaite has performed a wide range of leading roles and won various awards, including the prestigious Princess Grace Award. Postlewaite recently announced that he’s leaving PNB at the end of this season to join Monaco’s Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. He sat down with Alice Kaderlan to reflect on what he admits has been a difficult decision but one that fulfills his dream of an international career.
Alice: You worked with [Les Ballets de Monte Carlo Artistic Director] Jean-Christophe Maillot several years ago when he was setting “Romeo and Juliette” on PNB. Is that what inspired you to join his company?
Lucien: To some extent. Olivier [Wevers, Lucien’s husband and a former PNB principal dancer] and I were looking at going there a few years ago, but the timing wasn’t right because Olivier was just starting Whim W’Him [Wevers’ dance troupe]. I had been thinking about what I needed for my artistic growth and decided that if I left PNB I wanted it to be for something that would fill in the gaps in my career.
Alice: How does Les Ballet de Monte Carlo do that?
Lucien: First of all, it means working closely with a director who’s also a choreographer. Jean-Christophe is an inspirational leader with great charisma. He really cares for you and wants to help you look the way he wants given his vision. His work isn’t purely classical and his dancers dance expansively with full extension through the fingertips. He also gets great humanity out of his dancers so that the work isn’t so presentational but very natural and emotional.
Alice: What were some of the other things you were looking for?
Lucien: I really wanted to dance with a company that does international touring. Next year for example we’ll be in Buenos Aires, Belarus, São Paolo, Beirut, Germany, France, Italy, Mexico and Israel. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along very often and I wanted to take advantage of it when it did.
Alice: Did you also have some personal goals for your next stage?
Lucien: Definitely but they are goals which will affect my artistry. I’ve grown up at PNB and I’ve created something very comfortable here but I wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable position. In Monte Carlo, I’ll be working with new dancers [except Noelani Pantastico, another PNB alum], watching them and learning their style — the expansiveness, the eyes being wide open.
Alice: In so much of classical and modern ballet, the eyes seem to stareoff into space and the dancers rarely look at each other. But in Jean-Christophe’s “Romeo and Juliette,” the only ballet of his I’ve seen, you and Juliette look deeply at each other and that really adds to the emotion.
Lucien: Yes, Jean-Christophe understands that the eyes can be so important to drawing the audience in and that there’s huge power in directing the audience’s attention with your own focus.
Alice: You’ve been a principal at PNB for a number of years now but you’ll be a soloist at Monte Carlo. Will that be hard?
Lucien: (laughs) Well, I will have to check my ego at the door a little bit but principal status there is reserved only for those who have been in the company forever and it’s not in the culture of the company any more to promote people to principal. But I think I will be dancing Romeo and maybe some other principal roles, although Jean-Christophe can’t decide much until I get there and he sees what I can do.
Alice: How will your status there affect your income?
Lucien: I’m taking a substantial pay cut — it’s like being a soloist at PNB and I won’t have income from my outside projects. But it’s a 12-month contract and they tour so there’s a per diem. Also, to live and dance in Europe, to travel the world, to work with Jean-Christophe means starting a new chapter with different goals.
Alice: PNB is unionized but Monte Carlo isn’t. What difference will that make?
Lucien: Monte Carlo is like a small company inside a big company. Everyone is responsible for themselves and there’s very little bureaucracy. And because Jean-Christophe reports directly to Princess Caroline, if he wants to keep the dancers at rehearsal until all hours, he can.
Alice: The good news, though, is that the company is very heavily subsidized by the government of Monaco and is in good financial shape.
Lucien: Absolutely. It’s not the ‘90’s and Jean-Christophe is a little more limited now but Monaco still has plenty of money. The company just spent a lot on a rigging that didn’t work and in the end they couldn’t use it in the ballet. That wouldn’t happen here; we have to be much more careful about spending on productions.
Alice: What about language? Your mother is French so do you speak the language?
Lucien: I spoke it fluently until I was 5 but then I rebelled. I still comprehend it fluently and Olivier [who is Belgian] and I have been practicing speaking but the Monte Carlo company uses a lot of English and although company meetings are in French, rehearsals are in French and English. And I’ll be living in France so another reason to go to Les Ballets de Monte Carlo is to improve my French.
Alice: Your mother must be happy that you’re moving to her native country.
Lucien: Not really. We’re a very close family and I see my parents and sister a lot. I hear from my mother about how hard it will be for me but if I don’t do this now, I might regret it later. And once I’m in Europe there’s a world of possibilities there.
Alice: So you’re leaving with a heavy heart?
Lucien: Yes and no. I like to be in control and I’m anxious about all the details of my daily life there, like where I’ll be living, how I’ll adapt to the more relaxed lifestyle. Everyone keeps saying “don’t worry, take it easy” and I know I need to learn to let go a little and trust that things will be ok.
Alice: And of course you’ve made your whole career at PNB and built a very full life in Seattle.
Lucien: Yes, my life here is very busy and I have good friends. I’ll miss my colleagues, especially Kaori [PNB prinicipal Kaori Nakamura] and actually thought about staying just to dance with her. I have a lot of loyalty to PNB and will miss dancing such a varied rep. I also feel a lot of responsibility to W’him W’Him and it will be hard not to be part of that. But I have to establish myself in Monte Carlo and be fully committed there.
Alice: How are you and Olivier going to manage such a long-distance relationship?
Lucien: W’him W’Him is still growing so Olivier has the flexibility right now to spend some time with me although he will be getting busier and busier. But it’s the right time for Olivier to focus on his professional goals me to focus on mine. And there’s Skype, texting, cell calls and e-mail. Besides, it’s too daunting to think about the rest of my career. I just have to take it a year at a time.
NOTE: PNB will be bidding farewell to Postlewaite during its Annual Encore performance at McCaw Hall on Sunday, June 10 at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $28-168 and are available at pnb.org, by phone at 206-441-2424, or in person at the box office, 301 Mercer St.