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Originally published November 3, 2013 at 6:12 AM | Page modified November 4, 2013 at 1:14 PM

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PNB welcomes dance-maker Crystal Pite

An interview with noted choreographer Crystal Pite, who is working with Pacific Northwest Ballet for the first time.

Seattle Times arts writer

Dance preview

‘Kylian + Pite’

Pacific Northwest Ballet, Friday through Nov. 17, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $28-$174 (206-441-2424 or

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Vancouver, B.C.-based choreographer Crystal Pite is no stranger to Seattle — she and her contemporary company Kidd Pivot have been regular visitors to On the Boards in recent years. But now she’s back with something different: “Emergence,” a work created for the National Ballet of Canada, making its local debut with Pacific Northwest Ballet on Friday.

Though Pite’s background is in ballet (she was classically trained, and danced with Ballet British Columbia and Ballet Frankfurt), her interests as a choreographer have long been “on the more contemporary side of things,” she said, in town last month to rehearse “Emergence.”

But in 2009, National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain commissioned her to create a work for ballet dancers, and Pite found herself first intrigued, then fascinated to explore what she calls the “ecstatic architecture” of the ballet vocabulary again.

“I think of the ecstatic because it’s so generous — the chest is open, the neck is exposed, the arms are opening wide and high, the fingers are alive and the legs are open and turned out and extended. Everything just feels so exhilarated in the body,” she said. “Those are the kinds of postures you use when you’re joyful, when you feel powerful, and there’s also a sense of ease there.”

“Emergence,” set to an original score by Owen Belton, is inspired by the idea of emergent structures, such as a bee hive or an ant hill — or a ballet company. It plays with, Pite said, “the idea of swarm intelligence, the single individual responding to certain parameters and systems, local stimuli. Things right next to them have an echo effect in the rest of the group, creating these beautiful structures.”

And it was created as a group, for 38 dancers. “Because I had such a short time [to choreograph],” said Pite, “I tried to come up with ways that the piece could kind of make itself — to come up with systems that would self-generate the work. The cast was very much involved in responding to the information, the parameters, and coming up with solutions.”

Pite came up with, for the ballet’s final section, 24 “very short combinations of movement, about six counts long,” that every dancer learned; the cast was then sorted into small groups and sent off to play with the combinations. “It was a case of looking at what all the different groups came up with, and finding ways to combine and juxtapose them.”

At PNB for the first time, Pite said she’s enjoyed working with the dancers — “their techniques seem flawless and effortless and solid. That’s really fun to play with.” She appreciated that they were able to pick up the work quickly, due to the company’s constantly changing array of choreographers and styles.

Ultimately, she said, “for me, it’s about the place, the humans, what they are like. Here, it’s been great. There’s definitely a good spirit — an open, joyful energy.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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