Noelani Pantastico Says Goodbye to PNB, and Voices Her Hopes for Ballet’s Next Generation
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Noelani Pantastico gives her final performance on February 13, the culmination of her 25-year career. After she hangs up her pointe shoes, the ballerina will join the faculty at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Pantastico, age 41, has been contemplating retirement for more than five years.
“There was a moment when my shoemaker, at Freed, retired,” Pantastico says, laughing. “And I thought, Well, maybe I should just retire with him!”
That was in 2015, when she was dancing with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Instead of retiring, Pantastico returned to PNB, where she had started her career in 1997. After seven seasons back in Seattle, she’s finally ready to step away from the stage, spurred in part by the challenges of getting back into performance shape after the long pandemic layoff, and the increased wear and tear on her body.
Over her long career, Pantastico has earned a reputation for both technical and dramatic excellence in roles ranging from Aurora in Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty and Odette/Odile in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake to contemporary ballets by Crystal Pite, David Dawson and PNB choreographer in residence Alejandro Cerrudo. She ends her career as Juliet in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. In a statement, artistic director Peter Boal called it “perhaps the most defining” role of her career.
Pantastico first danced Juliet in the 2008 Seattle debut of Maillot’s ballet. She was scheduled to alternate in the role, but the other dancer became injured. Pantastico danced all nine shows, impressing audiences, critics and Maillot himself, who offered her a job at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, where he is choreographer-director. Pantastico departed Seattle for Monaco that year, and remained there until her return to PNB.
PNB principal James Yoichi Moore, who is cast as her Roméo for most of her performances (Lucien Postlewaite dances the role the evening of February 10), says Pantastico exudes a special aura. “It gets inside your body and your spirit,” Moore says, “and it becomes more than a surface-level partnership where you’re just dancing some steps.”
A younger PNB colleague, Christopher D’Ariano, who made his debut this winter as the Cavalier in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker opposite Pantastico’s Sugarplum Fairy, was bowled over by her generosity in rehearsal and onstage.
“Noe taught me to believe, and paved the way for so many of us with her gracious energy,” D’Ariano says. “It’s rare you get to feel greatness, let alone dance with it!”
Pantastico will bring that generosity of spirit to CPYB, where she herself trained under the late Marcia Dale Weary. Although Pantastico knows the curriculum, she acknowledges it will take a bit of time to come up to speed as a teacher. Initially, she’ll work with the school’s advanced students. She stresses that they’ll need strong foundations not only in classical technique but in the ability to expand beyond traditional training, so they’re able to perform the contemporary works ballet companies have been adding to their repertoires.
Pantastico also wants to ensure that aspiring ballet dancers understand the realities of the physical and mental demands of working in a professional company.
“It’s a very beautiful world, but it can also be very intense and disappointing at times,” she says.
But Pantastico believes young dancers today are better equipped for the challenges than she was at their age; they know what they want and are less afraid to ask for it, whether it be a specific role or increased racial and gender equity in the company. And while Pantastico loves ballet’s classical repertoire, she’s eager to see how the artform can evolve to satisfy 21st-century sensibilities about gender, race and class.
“There has to be a way to maintain the legacy, but build on top of it and create something more well-rounded and supportive,” she says.
Meanwhile, Pantastico is thrilled to end her stage career with Juliet, a role she’s shared with audiences around the world. It’s her opportunity to bid her fans a heartfelt goodbye.
“When I step out on that balcony and I’m looking out, I just want to be with everyone, you know? I want that experience to go out on.”