Pennsylvania Ballet’s fifth program of the current season, GRACE & GRANDEUR is a historically intriguing program. It not only showcases the company’s talented dancers in both solo and group dances but also the transitions of choreographies in the context of the history of ballet. Three ballets that were created by three legendary choreographers from different eras (Paquita by Marius Petipa in 1881, For Four by Christopher Wheeldon in 2006 and Theme and Variations by George Balanchine in 1947) were staged at the Merriam Theater.
When it was initially created by French composer Édouard Deldevez and Paris Opéra Ballet Master Joseph Mazilier in 1846, Paquita was a melodramatic love story about a gipsy girl of noble background and a French officer. In 1881, the legendary choreographer, Marius Petipa and the composer Ludwig Minkus revised the ballet for a concert at Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The scene that was added, Paquita Grand Pas Classique and Mazurka Des Enfants has remained popular for its powerful music and the brilliant choreography and often performed by numerous ballet companies and schools. In addition to highly technical ballet pas, steps and postures of Polish Mazurka and Flamenco are mixed in. Even though it is one of the well-known “classical” ballet, it can be imagined that the ballet was a truly unique and hip creation back in 1881. It begins with a marvelous Mazurka by one leading ballerina and corps de ballet (all female), leading to pas de deux by a male and the leading female dancer, several solo and duo dances, closing with a grandiose finale. Pennsylvania Ballet performed it very competitively. The solo dancers were striking. The parts in duo and group, however, may have been “too” competitive. Some of the dancers were focusing on their steps and poses but not the dancers around them, creating disharmony here and there. Especially in the ballet like Paquita, which music has strong accents and rhythm, dancers movements can amplify the dynamicity if their movements visualizes the music. Just a small disorganization or disarray could sadly take away the moment of climax.
For Four was the best performance of the opening night without questions. Four male dancers, Sterling Baca, Zecheng Liang, Peter Weil and Jermel Johnson, performed the dazzling ballet to Schuberts’ String Quartet No. 14 ‘Death and the Maiden.’ Wheeldon’s choreography started with slow and meditational movements of arms but soon turned into frenetic steps. Each dancer brought the best of himself, passion and joy to dance this iconic ballet that has been danced by the best of the ballet dancers including Artistic Director, Angel Corella, and delivered the breathtaking For Four.
The last piece of the program, Theme and Variations is one of the repertoires that Pennsylvania Ballet has been performing since 1986. To the fourth movement ‘Theme and Validation’ from Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major by Tchaikovsky, George Balanchine choreographed this sophisticated and elegant ballet. Lead by Principal Dancers, Dayesi Torriente and Sterling Baca, 24 dancers presented the charm and delightful dance.
The company concludes the current season with Balanchine’s masterpiece, Jewelle, which will be at Academy of Music from May 10 through 13.
[Merriam Theater, 250 S Broad St] April 5-8, 2018; paballet.org.