James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico warm up onstage. Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC.

With Seattle Dance Collective, Two Pacific Northwest Ballet Stars Try Directing on for Size

On a sunny July weekend, hundreds of Seattle-area dance fans converged on tiny Vashon Island, a bucolic enclave in Puget Sound about 20 miles from the city. They made the ferry trek to attend the debut performance of the fledgling Seattle Dance Collective.

SDC is not a run-of-the-mill contemporary dance company; it's the brainchild of two of Pacific Northwest Ballet's most respected principal dancers: James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico. The duo wanted to create a nimble organization to feature dancers and choreographers they felt needed more exposure in the Pacific Northwest.


Pantastico and Angelica Generosa in rehearsal for Bruno Roque's Frugivory

Brett Doss Photogray, Courtesy SDC.

Moore says PNB's artistic director Peter Boal first broached the idea to him about three years ago.

"I was shocked. I never saw myself as a director," Moore said recently. "It took me years to get used to that idea of me in a leadership position."

Unbeknownst to Moore, a PNB board member had proposed to Pantastico that she consider forming her own dance company. The frequent dance partners and longtime friends discovered each other's plans after a number of conversations in the back of the studio.

"We stand next to each other at barre," Moore explained. "We always talk, and that's where this company grew from. We realized we had similar ideas and one day we decided to look into it more."

Liane Aung and Jim Kent in Penny Saunders' Sur La Fil

Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC

The duo envisioned SDC as a small side project; they invited six fellow PNB company members and two well-known Seattle contemporary dancers (Whim W'Him's Liang Aung and Jim Kent) to join them for the inaugural program, comprised of seven works by such choreographers as David Dawson, Marco Goecke, Penny Saunders and Pantastico's husband, Bruno Roque. They intentionally sought out choreographers whose work they admired; only Dawson and Goecke had previously been presented by PNB.

"I think we're in a more contemporary mindset at this point in our careers," said Pantastico. But she and Moore don't want SDC to be pigeonholed as a contemporary ballet company. "Because we have access to phenomenal classical dancers," Moore said. "We have ideas to do a full classical evening."

Members of Seattle Dance Collective in Bruno Roque's Frugivory

Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC

Since Moore and Pantastico officially formed SDC only last October, they had to rush to nail down the details for their initial program: choosing the repertoire, finding a venue, writing up contracts and the like. "We'd never obtained music rights, or done costuming. We never put together a rehearsal schedule," Moore admitted. "We wanted to give ourselves an education, and the best way is by doing."

They had encouragement from friends in high places: Boal offered artistic guidance, while PNB audience education manager Doug Fullington (now SDC's company manager) and former PNB board president Aya Hamilton, who now presides over the SDC board, provided organizational and financial guidance, as well as the initial introduction to leadership at Vashon Center for the Arts.

Elle Macy and Dylan Wald in David Dawson's The Grey Area

Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC

As soon as PNB's artistic season ended in mid-June, Moore and Pantastico dove full-time into rehearsals with their new company. Saunders spent several weeks in residence with SDC, and Roque was an almost full-time presence. Moore and Pantastico cast themselves in several of the dances, but when they weren't rehearsing, they donned their managerial hats, answering calls and emails and putting out pre-production fires. The week before the performance, the entire company relocated to Vashon Island for final rehearsals and to offer master classes, lodging with locals who opened their homes. The influx of artists fostered a mini-festival vibe on the island of 10,000 residents.

That sense of excitement carried over to the performances themselves, a treat for area ballet fans. PNB normally performs in the 3,000 seat McCaw Hall. By contrast, the Vashon Island theater seats 300, providing a more intimate experience for both the audience and the dancers. Pantastico hasn't ruled out a return Vashon Island engagement, but both she and Moore envision building a company that will perform locally in Seattle while also touring nationally and internationally.

Generosa and Moore in Ivonice Satie's Shogun

Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC

One of the biggest challenges will be scheduling. PNB dancers have a 41-week contract, with a series of short layoffs during the season plus a more significant summer break, unless the company goes on tour. Pantastico acknowledged the difficulty of squeezing in rehearsal time for other projects. Nevertheless, she and Moore are keenly aware that any aspiring performing arts organization needs consistent visibility to stay on the audience radar. That could mean producing a small pop-up performance over the winter, as well as planning for another significant production next summer.

Pantastico in in Bruno Roque's Anamnesis

In the meantime, Moore and Pantastico (and most of their company members) continue to dance full-time with PNB. Although they have no imminent plans to retire, both are in their late 30s, and Seattle Dance Collective provides them a clear transition path from ballet to their next steps in the dance world.

"Noe and I realize there's only so much time left in our careers," said Moore. "We have so many ballets we want to perform still, and choreographers we want to work with. Why not create it for ourselves?"

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021