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Originally published November 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 1, 2006 at 12:57 PM

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Choreographer wants to stretch PNB

In rehearsal for Victor Quijada's new work "Suspension of Disbelief," the classically trained dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet look like...

Seattle Times movie critic

In rehearsal for Victor Quijada's new work "Suspension of Disbelief," the classically trained dancers of Pacific Northwest Ballet look like a modern-dance troupe. The cast of 11, in socks rather than ballet slippers, spins low on the floor, pushes into handstands, jumps sideways into a partner's grab, fluidly shifts weight from limb to limb. Knees are bent, arms hang, and traditional ballet technique, with its pulled-up and precisely aligned vertical plane, is mostly absent.

And that's how Quijada wants it: His dance, which will debut as part of PNB's "All Premiere" repertory program opening Thursday, is taking the company on a new journey. For dancers accustomed to airily flirting with gravity — and audiences used to the seeming weightlessness of classical ballet — it's a different vocabulary. "It's the transition of weight, there's always weight," he explained last week. "There's never a moment when they're on one vertical line, they're always moving ... never in a static place."

His dance incorporates the floor as a partner, introducing the dancers to a different plane. "A lot of what I've been concentrating on is the transition from standing to going to the floor and coming back up," said Quijada. "Letting them change their bodies into the horizontal plane, even before they get to the floor, even moving off the floor but in that horizontal plane."

From the interview room above PNB's largest dance studio, Quijada's gaze kept drifting to the window, watching the company's daily class. Dancers moved across the floor in a pirouette combination, their bodies precisely straight and their heads whipping around perfectly every time. Quijada smiled, watching.

"You see how many times they do a pirouette," he said. "You do it over and over and over again — they're masters at it now. [My work] is a completely different use of their body, finding, 'Am I using too much strength here?' Kind of delegating the workload to different parts of the body that they've never had to think about before."

Though the 30-year-old Quijada's done his share of daily class — he was a company member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal for several years — he got his start in an entirely different kind of movement. Growing up in Los Angeles, Quijada frequented hip-hop clubs, where his rubbery movements earned him the nickname Rubberband. Other forms of dance beckoned, and while still in his teens he joined Twyla Tharp's company. Dance, he explained, became a guiding force in his life.

"I found myself surrounded in it and by it," he said. "It was really the avenue that I felt would allow me to express the most, in the most ways. Finally I did end up kind of really in love with the idea of becoming a classical dancer, so that was the only goal in my life for a bit." After a stint with Eliot Feld's company, the young dancer joined Les Grands Ballet, immersing himself in the classical repertory. At age 26, though, he paused, wondering if it was time to change directions.

Coming up

Pacific Northwest Ballet's "All Premiere," including Ulysses Dove's "Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven," Peter Martins' "Valse Triste," Victor Quijada's "Suspension of Disbelief" and Twyla Tharp's "Waterbaby Bagatelles," 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Nov. 9-11, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Nov. 12, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle Center; $18-$145 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).

"There was a point where I thought, do I continue with that goal of being the best classical dancer that I can be?" he remembered. "I was living kind of dual lives, at the ballet company all day and then at night I'd go out with my friends and we'd be in every hip-hop club in the city."

Choreography, he felt, might be "something that was next, exploring that world of bringing those [forms] together."

Forming the company Rubberbandance Group (from his old nickname) in 2002, Quijada began focusing more on choreography, creating work for a number of groups — including the New York ensemble company Peter Boal & Company. Boal, now artistic director of PNB, invited Quijada to come to Seattle to create his first work for the company. He's excited to be working with PNB's dancers — "They're just gorgeous, and for me so inspiring. They're the top." And he hopes "Suspension of Disbelief" might be a step in a larger process.

"In the United States," he said, "there's modern companies and there's ballet companies. Not much crossover. But in other places, in Europe especially, it's not like that. The ballet companies are contemporary ballet companies and they do work of today. So, I imagine this work being the exact right thing for the future contemporary ballet dancer."

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

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