ON EDGE (PA Ballet): Cutting-edge ballet by three striking choreographers

Pennsylvania Ballet "On Edge" Program, Thursday, November 9, 2017 at the Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Pennsylvania Ballet’s ON EDGE program includes “Tilt” by Helen Pickett. Photo credit: Erin Baiano.

Pennsylvania Ballet explores its potential in the second program of the 2017-2018 season, ON EDGE, which presents cutting-edge modern ballet pieces by three striking choreographers.

We see dancers flourishing in artistry and physicality as they get pushed to the edge by artistic director Angel Corella and the intricate work of the choreographers. The dancers are gaining artistic tools and strength with each performance.

“Tilt” by Helen Pickett opens the curtain. Dancers often long for a ballet that let them cultivate their ability as dancers and artist. This ballet is one of those precious work. From the start, the dancers show off their hyper-extended bodies, grand-jeté and pirouette at dizzying speed, and beautiful lifts. But soon the audiences realize that what is going on on the stage is not about the technical greatness that they exhibit more than well enough but about what a ballet as a piece of art can express.

Image from Matthew Neenans "It goes that way". Photo credit: Erin Baiano

Image from Matthew Neenans “It goes that way”. Photo credit: Erin Baiano

Pickett’s choreography is well-calculate, programed like an algorithm in every single movement, which lets dancers understand the meaning of each step and express the feeling beyond the technique. The eight solo dancers for the opening night were all gravitating and exceptionally astonishing. It is simply impossible to name the best. They all took the challenge by Pickett and sublimed the ballet into their own.

The stage set by Emma Kingsbury is simple but successful at creating dynamic space by depicting a balance of power that is not steady and eternal.  A big table create another stage on the stage, and two big rocks on the table are held on a small touching point, reclining on a wall. The lighting by David Finn and the costume by Emma Kingsbury fuse with the choreography and the set to create a dynamic and dramatic ballet.

After a standing ovation by the frantic audiences and an intermission was another world premiere, “It goes that way” by resident choreographer of 10 years, Matthew Neenan. His pick for the music, avant-garde American artist Laurie Anderson, indicated his intention for the piece to be experimental.

Dancers in bodysuits move like puppet on strings, then one of dancer interjects onto the stage walking like a monkey, scratching his armpit. The comical movement is contagious and other dancers also dance like monkeys. Then as if nothing happened they go back to dancing ballet steps. Giggling spread in the theater.  

The last piece of the program is a company premiere, “Episode 31” by Alexander Ekman. It is another creative ballet. A mysterious man in a clean gray suit and a tie slow walks along the stage. Seventeen mustachioed dancers in shirts, vests, pants, and skirts in black and white appear and disappear behind a black curtain that goes up and down. Each time the curtain goes up, the dancers are in different places, in different positions, zealously dancing ballet fused with rock ‘n’ roll. The incompatible scenes starts to merge. What is normal or abnormal? What is black or white? What is right or wrong? Or are those ideas all meaningless in this chaotic world?  

After performing the classic of the classic ballets, The Sleeping Beauty, only one month ago,  these dancers showed yet another impressive version of themselves. It is much anticipated that how they will reinvent themselves for the upcoming run of The Nutcracker, the annual holiday tradition.

[The Merriam Theater, 250 South Broad Street] November 9-12, 2017; paballet.org

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About the author

Eri Yoneda

Eri Yoneda writes about dance and classical music for Phindie.