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Friday, March 16, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dance Review

A Balanchine debut, and appreciation for a veteran

Seattle Times arts critic

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"Wheeldon, Duato & Balanchine" 2 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. today and March 22-24; 1 p.m. March 25. Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $18-145 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).

Ariana Lallone, whose eloquent arms seem to reach to the sky, usually dances alone. Too tall for most conventional partnering, she's most often seen in featured solo roles that show off her soulful quality (sometimes melancholy, as her trademark "Nutcracker" peacock) and loose-limbed abandon. Thursday night, as Pacific Northwest Ballet paid tribute to her 20th anniversary with the company, she showed us two sides: the contemporary, barefoot dramatic artist, and — a side we rarely see — a romantic ballerina.

After Nacho Duato's "Rassemblement," a Haitian-inspired dance that showcased Lallone's powerful, deep plie and lightning-quick turning, she took center stage to a thunderous ovation; showered in roses tossed up from the orchestra pit, she gasped for breath and beamed with joy. Then, after a brief intermission, she was transformed. As the Coquette in George Balanchine's "La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), " Lallone danced with the Poet (Olivier Wevers) as if melting into his arms; with the Baron (Stanko Milov), she was cool and scornful, snatching a hand away from his kiss. The role fit Lallone like a long, dark glove, and it was she who received the final curtain call.

Making its PNB debut, Balanchine's strange, haunting 1946 work takes place at a masked ball. The Vittorio Rieti music features mysterious chords that seem from another world; the mood, despite some playful divertissements, is dark and foreboding. Its central character, the Sleepwalker, was movingly danced by a seemingly floating Patricia Barker, whose tall, pale beauty made her resemble the candle she perpetually held before her.

The evening began with Christopher Wheeldon's tantalizing pure-dance ballet "Polyphonia." Wheeldon pays tribute to Balanchine (the beautifully entwined "Agon" pas de deux comes to mind) but makes the ballet his own, with partnering inventive and often dazzling. Batkhurel Bold lifted Carla Körbes, her arms and legs splayed, gradually sculpting her with his hands into an upside-down split. In another excerpt, the two seemed to merge into one insectlike creature, her legs beating above his head. It's the kind of dance that creates a "hey, can I watch that again?" excitement; may it be the first of many PNB works from this gifted dancemaker.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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