Angel Corella, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, has done everything possible to downplay his orchestra –the well-developed arm of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra has a much larger audience and has been established in Philadelphia much longer than Mr. Corella. That he has fired many dancers, raising controversy, is one thing, but he is making a mistake in treating the ballet orchestra like a second-class citizen.
The orchestra is led by the perspicacious, gracious, and knowledgeable Beatrice Jona Affron. She has rehearsed the musicians for years and made them into ballet loyalists and supporters. She herself is unwaveringly devoted to the troupe. So why does Mr. Corella not return the favor?
The program for the All Stravinsky ballet which ran April 4-7 has several features which dishonor the music and musicians. First of all, there is no title for the program. Starting on page 19, the banner reads ANGEL CORELLA, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR 2018-2019 SEASON, followed by the subheading PENNSYLVANIA BALLET, next line ANGEL CORELLA. The priority is clear. Nowhere on this page is there any prominence given to the compositions by Igor Stravinsky.
If you want to know anything about the orchestra, the roster is listed on page 33 of the program, the bottom half of the page in fairly small print. The instrumental soloists are listed among the ballet personnel, but not in all capital letters like the dancers.
The first ballet, Apollo (Apollon musagète was the name Igor Stravinsky gave to the ballet he composed on commission from the Library of Congress) perhaps mirrored the début performance which was danced by amateurs. Strangely awkward choreography with Apollo (Sterling Baca) mishandling a stringed instrument and making motions which did not match what the orchestra was playing, was made more unclear by uneven dancing by the three muses.
On Saturday, the third piece, Deco, was performed next. This work was choreographed by Matthew Neenan (resident choreographer at Pennsylvania Ballet and cofounder of BalletX), using Stravinsky piano music played with lyrical elegance by Martha Koeneman. The choreography respected the marvelous classical lines of Stravinsky’s haunting piano works, Tango, 1941, and his 1924 Piano Sonata. There were also intriguing moments of silent dance which made the music seem even more delicate when the piano played again.
But it was in Jerome Robbins’ wild and furious The Cage, which was set to Igor Stravinsky’s 1946 Concerto in D for string orchestra, that made the stage come alive on Saturday. (Nowhere in the program, other than in Ms. Affron’s essay, was there mention of the name of this composition.) Principal Dancer Oxsana Maslova (The Novice) was lithe and lovely, emerging from a chrysalis stage bending every joint from her toes to the tip of her head in fascinatingly rhythmic writhing. Her dances with Dayesi Torriente (The Queen) were so beautifully coordinated and rehearsed that they were poetry. The swarm of insects attacking intruders was danced with frenetic rapture, as were the two pas de deux.
The pièce de résistance was the formidable violin concerto with soloist Luigi Mazzochi, whose dexterity with the fiendish violin part was a fluid accompaniment to the dance. The four movements had character and grace and Ms. Affron’s conducting was both subtle and attentive to the dance, which, however hard I tried to watch, did not pull my attention away from the delightful music of the master – as Ms. Affron wrote in her beautiful essay in the program, the “bread and butter” of the ballet world, Igor Stravinsky.
The Pennsylvania Ballet should recognize their wonderful musicians. Why not honor the music in the program by listing the Stravinsky pieces as Matthew Heenan did in his notes, by giving equal billing to the orchestra and the composers, by giving a title to each ballet series, and by listing the orchestra in the front of the program?
[Pennsylvania Ballet’s presents Stravinsky’s Apollo, The Cage, Deco, and Violin Concerto at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street] April 4-7, 2019, kimmelcenter.org, 215-893-1999.]