Grace and Steel: Louise Nadeau retires from PNB

I was never one of those little girls who wanted to be a ballerina. (This is probably a good thing since my joints are as creaky as a former pro-football player.) Had I seen Louise Nadeau dance when I was younger, however, I think I would have been clamoring for a tutu. 

Nadeau is a born ballerina and can charm an audience with the turn of a toe. On Sunday, after 19 years of dancing with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Nadeau retired her pointe shoes and was honored with a farewell performance, “A Celebration of Louise Nadeau.” 

Nadeau and PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal (who began their friendship as 15-year-old students at New York’s School of American Ballet) jointly chose the 11 dance excerpts for the evening’s program—Nadeau danced in four of them. She was the embodiment of poise and beauty in George Balanchine’s La Valse and hammed it up in Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story Suite. Demonstrating her intrepidness as a performer, West Side Story Suite also marked the first time Nadeau had ever sung on stage while dancing.     

A particular highlight of the evening was her partnership with Olivier Wevers for William Forsythe’s piece Urlicht. Acquired by PNB specifically for the farewell performance, Urlicht drew the first standing ovation of the night. It was breathtaking and showcased Nadeau’s amazing flexibility and control. Though in her forties (impressive longevity for the profession), Nadeau puts ballerinas half her age to shame!

There was a sense of continuity across the eleven pieces since seven of them were choreographed by George Balanchine—a favorite choreographer of Nadeau's. In honor of that fact, PNB Patron Dr. Joe Norman established the Louise Nadeau Endowed Fund which will keep Balanchine's work alive and well within PNB's repetoire.

The evening closed with Swan Lake choreographed by Seattle's own Kent Stowell (former PNB Artistic Director) and Nadeau danced the signature role of Odette. I have to admit that I was initially ambivalent to see this listed on the program. PNB staged Swan Lake earlier this year and I wondered how many swans one person can see before it becomes an annoying gaggle of birds. My doubts were unfounded. I had never seen Nadeau dance the part and, as always, she infused it with a quality that made me see it (and like it) for the first time. As Nadeau danced her way off stage for the last time and her prince collapsed on stage crying at his loss, I actually empathized with him since I felt the same way. 

Boal described Nadeau as a combination of “grace and steel" which indeed she is. She made me want to oil my creaky joints and do a piroutte even though I usually feel like the Tin Woman. While no one will be able to quite fill her pointe shoes, there are many other amazing PNB dancers worth seeing. Next season, search out a PNB performance and see someone who may become the next star to captivate our hearts for decades to come.

-Deanna Duff