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Originally published Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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PNB turns 40 with Mark Morris premiere and more

Pacific Northwest Ballet announces its 40th season, which will include premieres by Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon and Mark Morris. Morris' new ballet will take its inspiration from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Seattle Times arts writer

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'New Works'

PNB tosses aside the tutus Friday, as its current season continues with an all-contemporary evening titled simply "New Works."

"A Million Kisses to My Skin," making its PNB debut, is choreographed by British dancemaker David Dawson and set to Bach's Concerto No. 1 in D Minor; the lyrical title, Dawson has said, evokes the bliss dancers can sometimes feel in their work.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Cylindrical Shadows" is an expansion of an earlier work presented last year by Seattle company Whim W'him, staged for PNB by Whim W'him artistic director and former PNB principal Olivier Wevers. The new version, a world premiere, is also set to Bach, along with music from Henry Purcell and David van Bouwel.

RUBBERBANDance Group's Victor Quijada, whose "Suspension of Disbelief" was created at PNB in 2006, returns with another world premiere: "Mating Theory," scored by composer/ hip-hop producer Jasper Gahunia.

"New Works" will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and March 22-24, 1 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. March 24, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. Tickets are $28-$168, and available through www.pnb.org or 206-441-2424.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet will celebrate its 40th anniversary season, starting in September, with a mix of old favorites and new works — including a world premiere from a homegrown star.

For the first time, the company has commissioned modern-dance legend and Seattle native Mark Morris to create a new work, which will make its debut as part of a November program. Morris, who's previously been represented at PNB by "Pacific" and "A Garden," is dedicating the piece to another local anniversary: the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. Though Morris said in a statement that the new ballet will have "absolutely no relationship with the World's Fair," he fondly remembers attending the event as a child and said he is "delighted to think about that strange and distant time."

And choreographer Twyla Tharp will return to PNB in a new capacity: as artist in residence for the year 2013, during which she will create a new work for the company, to premiere in the fall.

Boal hopes that having an artist in residence will become a new tradition for the company, citing the inspirational presence of designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno for "Coppélia" two years ago, as well as Tharp herself on her last visit.

"When Twyla was here, she sat down with Kiyon [Gaines] to talk about choreography; she worked with marketing on what would be an effective poster; she worked with lighting, costume, and on and on, and you realize that there's great advantage to having one individual working with one institution." Tharp will spend, said Boal, "up to eight weeks" with the company, spread throughout the year, giving public lecture/demonstrations as well as working with the dancers, staff and school.

Other world premieres scheduled for the new season include a new work from Christopher Wheeldon, whose elegant neoclassical ballets have recently become a fixture of PNB's repertory.

"I think Chris has gotten to know PNB quite well over the last five or six years," said Boal. "He really was in admiration of the company in the 'All Wheeldon' rep we did last September." And PNB will also highlight its own in-house homegrown choreographers, with world-premiere dances by ballet master Paul Gibson and company members Gaines, Andrew Bartee and Margaret Mullins.

The season will open in September with a tribute to longtime PNB artistic directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, who ran the company from 1977 to 2005. "I wanted the first rep of the year to be something that had their mark on it," said Boal. The evening, with all ballets set to Stravinsky, will include Russell's staging of George Balanchine's "Agon" and a revival of Stowell's "Firebird." Stowell's full-length "Swan Lake," last seen here in 2009, will return in the spring, and he's also represented with the annual holiday run of his "Nutcracker," designed by Maurice Sendak.

Also returning to the rep will be Jean-Christophe Maillot's stark, emotional "Roméo et Juliette"; last seen here in 2009, it will be staged in February. A mixed bill of audience favorites is scheduled for March, with Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco," Ulysses Dove's "Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven" and Tharp's "In the Upper Room." And the season will close with an all-Tchaikovsky evening of three Balanchine ballets — "Allegro Brillante" (not seen at PNB since the 1980s, said Boal), "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" and "Diamonds," along with the new Wheeldon work.

Looking at PNB's next decade, Boal says he continues to maintain a wish list of contemporary choreographers (currently on it: Alejandro Cerrudo of Hubbard Street Dance and Vancouver, B.C., native Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot, among others) and hopes that Tharp's residency will be the first of many such creative relationships.

And he's pleased to note, despite continuing economic challenges, that PNB has tentatively scheduled five tours for the upcoming season, including one that would bring "Roméo et Juliette" to New York's City Center Theatre. "I think it'll be wonderful to return to full company touring. It's not something that we would do every year, but it is nice to get back to." Made possible by funding from Raisbeck Engineering and James & Sherry Raisbeck, the tours also include visits to the Spoleto Festival in Italy, Las Vegas and Victoria, B.C.

Subscriptions for the new season are on sale now for current subscribers; the general public can purchase new subscriptions beginning March 26. Single tickets go on sale Monday, July 23, however "Nutcracker" tickets will go on sale on Tuesday, May 1. For more information, see www.pnb.org.

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

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