The Way Back Home

December 27, 2015

Pantastico in Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.

When Noelani Pantastico saw Pacific Northwest Ballet at Jacob’s Pillow in 2014, during her summer break from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the former PNB principal realized that she had more career options than she thought. After seven years in Europe, the Hawaii native was ready for a change. But she didn’t see herself retiring yet. Instead, at 35, she decided to make a move few dancers think possible: In November, she returned to her former company as a principal.

Pantastico had no specific plan to go back when she left Seattle in 2008, but she was careful to stay on good terms with the company she “grew up” in. She joined PNB at 16, and rose through the ranks to become a principal. She might have spent her entire career there if it hadn’t been for Monte-Carlo director Jean-Christophe Maillot, who cast her as Juliet when his Roméo et Juliette entered the PNB repertoire.

She was so enthralled by the rehearsals with Maillot that she decided to move to Europe, with the “idea that I’d stay for a few years,” she says. In the end, it took her seven seasons to fully understand what Maillot wanted. “I learned a different ballet language.”

When Pantastico realized that she’d learned all she could in Monaco, she wondered if she should end her career. Seeing PNB at Jacob’s Pillow allowed her to have an informal conversation with director Peter Boal. “I wanted to experience the PNB repertoire again before I retired, but after so long I wasn’t sure it was an option,” she says. “He always kept the door open, and told me to let him know.”

Still, she took awhile to decide. The key, she says, is to distinguish between the comfort that familiarity with a place and repertoire brings, and the desire to push yourself further within them. “I wondered: Am I going backwards? But I’m doing this for a different reason.”

She envisions her return as a “third chapter.” “I want to apply what Maillot has given me. I think it will elevate my dancing,” Pantastico says. Now that Maillot’s style is ingrained in her body, she is eager to tackle works by Balanchine and contemporary choreographers with a fresh approach.

PNB offers Pantastico a chance to settle down after seven years abroad. “I missed Seattle so much,” she says. “Living in Europe is amazing, but there’s not much city life in Monaco.” Unlike Monte-Carlo, PNB isn’t a touring company, which was also a consideration. Starting a family has been on her mind. “In Monaco; it was too hard with so much traveling. I don’t know if I want kids, but I’ll have the option.”

Pantastico also hopes to have time to work on side projects. “I would love to work with museums on dance installations,” she says. While she is worried about the pressure of being a PNB principal again rather than part of the more fluid hierarchy in Monte-Carlo, returning to her former company is a way to reinvent herself. “I think I’ll be more genuine onstage,” she says. “Now it’s just about giving all I can at the end of my career.”