By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I started dancing hip hop and gymnastics at a studio a block away from my family’s Chinese restaurant in the Bronx, New York,” Christopher D’Ariano, dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), told the Weekly. “I love to create dance and film, along with anything else that has to do with design. With every process of being both a creator and someone that is created on, I’m finding a clearer perspective on what my voice is as an artist.” A dancer and choreographer, D’Ariano was promoted to soloist during PNB’s most recent production, “The Seasons’ Canon.”
According to the biography on PNB’s website, D’Ariano has had leading roles in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”; Alejandro Cerrudo’s “One Thousand Pieces”; Alexei Ratmansky’s “Wartime Elegy” and Kent Stowell’s “Carmina Burana,” both recently performed at PNB; and Twyla Tharp’s “Brief Fling”—to name a few in a long list. He has choreographed for PNB and their school and appeared as a guest at Fire Island Dance Festival, which he described as one of the most impactful moments in his career thus far.
“I don’t think my career had a real direction before then. Performing for an audience that was predominately queer and raising money for a cause like the AIDS epidemic gave me focus onto what really matters to me in this life: community. I started to reflect on who I was…My lineage is much deeper than I could process at that time and I’m continually in a place where I’m still unpacking what it means to be a queer Asian artist in America.”
D’Ariano is of Chinese and Italian descent. His work alludes to people in his life, such as “my Goong Goong and memories of dreams I had as a child in his restaurant,” and to others who came before. “I want to honor those who’ve paved the way [and] be someone that can continue down that road for people like me.”
When asked what it is like as a dancer of color, D’Ariano was realistic and positive. He acknowledged “there are social and racial hierarchies” in the professional dance industry, and “unfair advantages.” However, he also believes “there is a community out there for every person.” In D’Ariano’s view, it’s possible to “focus too much on the trauma, because we are all trying to unpack it,” which is understandable and necessary, yet “we have to keep the dialogue about relatability and familiarity alive…We must use each other to uplift, relate, and create proactive conversations to change what the culture is for us and our future generations.”
D’Ariano did not really focus on ballet until fourth grade. Prior to that, he competed in hip hop, jazz, tap, and lyrical dance. Attending Ballet Tech in Manhattan at a young age exposed him to “the theatrics of ballet and I soon became captivated by the many facets this art form had.” Eventually, D’Ariano’s path led him to PNB, which he compliments for its diversity of works showcased.
“It’s rare that an American ballet company does such a range of extreme ballet and contemporary works. Peter Boal has created an environment that allows innovation to thrive and continually pushes us dancers to keep exploring new facets of our own artistic identity.”
It’s true that with PNB, you get both classical and modern dance in one venue and in one company, whereas in many big cities, the two are separated. PNB’s most recent production, “The Seasons’ Canon,” which ran from Nov. 4-21, is an example. Comprised of three pieces, “The Seasons’ Canon” started with “Catching Feelings,” based on “Works for Strings” by J.S. Bach, and choreographed by Dwight Rhoden; then “Duo Concertant,” with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by George Balanchine; and finally “The Seasons’ Canon,” Antonio Vivaldi’s famous “The Four Seasons” recomposed by Max Richter and choreographed by Crystal Pite.
In “Catching Feelings,” Bach’s music was classically familiar while the dancers’ movements were current and edgy. The piece elaborated upon the cycle of romance, from flirtation to intimacy and serious commitment and potential conflict. Costumes are always a delight at PNB and in “Catching Feelings,” the “hot pants” and cut off shirts allowed for a sexy view, yes, but also a view to the complex movements of each dancer’s body.
“Each ballet in this program reveals a different voice,” D’Ariano explained. “There is definitely something for everyone within this show.” D’Ariano himself has a soft spot for “Duo Concertant,” which he got to know at the School of American Ballet. This November, D’Ariano performed the duet with his friend, Clara Ruf Maldonado, who he has known “since our teenage years in New York.” The piece began with D’Ariano and Maldonado standing on stage next to the musicians before developing into a romantic duet set to Stravinsky’s modernistic music.
“It was incredibly full circle for us to not only dance this together onstage, but to also get coached by Kay several years after we had graduated under her direction,” said D’Ariano, who enjoyed working with PNB’s artistic director, Peter Boal, on the piece. “He allowed both of us to grow within the process and wanted to see our own voices come through…It was a huge dream of mine that became real and a moment I will never forget with Clara on that stage.”
Speaking of the third part of the program, D’Ariano commented, “Doing a work like ‘The Seasons’ Canon’ is so impactful as a company because we can feel how quickly and deeply it affects audiences,” and for certain, the dancers’ undulating movements against a dark background shot with light that separated and joined together just like they did—like a cellular organism—created an intensely visceral experience.
D’Ariano, who accepted his promotion to soloist in a gorgeous yellow Chinese tunic, would tell any aspiring dancer, “If you feel something when you move your body, then you should explore more of that. There are no boundaries to what you can learn if you have the passion and curiosity to explore it.” And he would tell anyone, including people of color, “We have to let conversations create action and be brave enough to let our own personal backgrounds, stories, and experiences shine through…Seattle is such a rich city to discover local artists, enjoy nature, and connect with my own introverted self…I feel fortunate to be here at this stage of my growing.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.