Ballet in Seattle began in 1966, with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Association, which announced its hope to create a permanent, professional company. In 1972, the Pacific Northwest Dance Association emerged, and in March 1975, its dancers appeared in Seattle Opera’s production of “Manon.” Kent Stowell and Francia Russell took over as artistic directors in 1977, and in 1978, the association’s name changed to Pacific Northwest Ballet. The company grew in size and stature over the years, and today it has 43 dancers and a ballet school with more than 900 students.
After 28 years, Stowell and Russell are retiring. Principal dancer Noelani Pantastico, 25, was among those who participated in a tribute to the couple at McCaw Hall on Sunday night.
Noelani Pantastico, 25, principal dancer
My life changed from being a 16 year old girl in a small town Carlisle, Pennsylvania to becoming this city kid in Washington, living in my own apartment at 17. This was when I got my apprenticeship. So my parents moved me out here in 97/98 season and they got me my own apartment, they shut me up and I had to live and cook for myself and take care of myself and when you’re used to living in a house with ..I have 5 other siblings, so it was a wake up call. It was scary, it was really frightening and I remember some really lonely nights. But the great thing was when you join a ballet company its your family, you know, I mean it took me a few years to definitely be liked by people and for people to get used to me. But Kent and Francia were like my Mom and Dad in a sense even though the relationship wasn’t exactly the same. You know, I looked up to them like parents you know and they were responsible for me in a sense.
I’m scared of Kent and Francia leaving. I’m very scared of that. But I’m also excited for Peter Bohl to come in.
A lot of the dancers are scared. They don’t know what to expect. We’re only on contract for as year. When we sign contracts in February they’re only for a year. So a lot of the dancers are scared that maybe , maybe I won’t get a job next year. You know where are we in a year. I think that’s the only thing. People are just scared of the future. And I think they have nothing to be worried about. Peter’s a smart man and the company’s going to go so far and the company’s already great so the only place we can go is up.
…we’re used to a mother and father figure in front of the room and now its just one person. And we don’t even know that person very well. We know his past and how famous he is and what a star he is in our eyes but then to work with him is scary and not know him is scary. ‘Where did Mom and Dad go?’ you know (laugh). But I think that Kent and Francia still will be around and I’m still going to write them and let them know whats going on in my life. They’re still going to be attending performances and giving me their 2 cents, I know they are (laugh)