Dance is an ever-changing artform: the standard themes change, technique changes, audiences change. Even such key aspects and tools as the body shape of the dancers change. Fittingly, the second program of Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2016-1017 is titled REVOLUTION. Before the curtain opens, the theater buzzes with the anticipation and excitement of the audience—here to encounter the revolution.
Artistic director Angel Corella picked The Third Light as the beginning of the program. Choreographed by David Dawson—a veteran dancer and choreographer who trained at the Royal Academy of Dance—it first premiered in 2010 with the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium.
Its theme is light. Ten dancers in simple blue costume exist on a stage with faux concrete walls. The choreography is highly challenging and ultra progressive: The dancers move nonstop, extending their bodies in unexpected directions and lengths, twisting and turning at unbelievable speed. It is as if we are seeing nonstop news feeds on social networks—a representation of the hectic life of the modern world.
The piece has almost too many vocabularies and too much information; it risks making audiences dizzy. But then come the moments of the light, moments of calmness, moments which leave a strong impression, moments of true connection between the dancers. The Third Light makes a very strong statement of our need for something pure, bright, and authentic.
The second piece of the program, Square Dance, gives us a moment to breathe and separate from intense reality. To the music of two Baroque composers, Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli, principal dancers Amy Aldridge and Alexander Peters lead fourteen dancers in a pleasant and feel-good ballet by George Balanchine. Compared to the Third Light, the ballet is filled with the basics of classical ballet. Yet through the modesty and propriety that the ballet represents, it shows another form of revolution in human civilization.
The last piece of the program, Chicken Bone Brain, is an eccentric and eye-opening ballet. A world premiere choreographed by beloved Philadelphia dance-maker Brian Sanders, it came about after Angel Corella watched one of Sanders’s shows and asked him to collaborate with PA Ballet.
Inspired by the lyrics of Melanie Safka, “Look what they done to my brain, they picked it like a chicken bone and I think I’m half insane, ma”, Sanders recreates a world where insanity and sanity, reality and surreality are mixed to create another ideology. Dancers embark on an imaginative journey, clinging onto bones, climbing onto bones, and extend their bodies with bones.
Sanders is a former member of MOMAX, the renowned performing group that uses visual effects and acrobat techniques, including aerial circus art. He introduces those ideas and techniques to Chicken Bone Brain. The dancers step out of the boundaries of ballet, and gain new tools to recreate and express more complicated and abstract ideas and imaginings.
In several ways, this program is the revolution for our mind.
[The Merriam Theater, 250 S Broad Street] November 10-13, 2016; paballet.org.