What makes a ballet company unique? What does it want to be known for? These are the questions every dance company faces. The Pennsylvania Ballet looked for some answers through the program of three world premieres, presented at the Merriam theater November 7-11, 2019. Just as one of the strengths of the company is diversity—the dancers have multi-cultural backgrounds—the selection of the choreographers for WORLD PREMIERES was diverse and one of a kind.
Yin Yue is artistic director of YY Dance Company and internationally recognized for her versatile style. Born and raised in Shanghai and trained in Chinese classical and folk dance and classical ballet at Shanghai Dance School, she has established a signature style of dance technique called FOCO, which is a union of contemporary dance and folklore dance of Mongolia and Tibet. Her world premieres for Pennsylvania Ballet, A Trace of Inevitability, was an overwhelmingly powerful piece. The dancers were in bright red, orange and pink costumes that are similar to Kung Fu uniform. Their movements were dynamic and elastic. Like waves, their bodies shifted up and down, left to right, back and forth, again and again, and the motions were amplified wider and louder. The air felt thicker and heavier. It was so powerful that watching the ballet was draining but exhilarating at the same time.
After the first intermission was Connections, choreographed by Juliano Nunes, who was trained at the Brazilian Dance Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro and studied at the Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts in Germany. The fitted, skin tone costumes were simple with no decorations, showing the authentic beauty of the dancers’ physiques. The ballet was one stream of fluent and beautiful movements from the beginning to the end. A complicating lift led to a settling pose, a smooth pirouette led to magnificent grand jete. The dancers seemed to breathe through the highly technical choreography freely, displaying a connection between the movement to themselves, to the music, and to other dancers. This is one of those pieces that will be repeatedly danced for deeper exploration.
The third and the last piece, Reverberation, was intriguing piece set to “Bach Recomposed” by a “recomposer” Peter Gregson, played partly live by Peter Gregson himself beside the stage. Just as the music was familiar but went to unexpected directions, the choreography also introduced unexpected movements. The cellos that were on and hanging above the dancers were a little overboard and sometimes distracting. However, the dim lighting against the elegant greyish blue costumes created a sophisticated and edgy atmosphere. The dancers were intuitive to the tones of the music and visualized it successfully.
The performance left me with other questions: What is contemporary ballet? Where is it heading? The movements and techniques of the three world premieres were versatile and competitive. They challenged the dancers toward a new level. At the same time, the concept and the formation were similar to existing pieces, even among those three world premieres. Of course, it can not be denied that the art always evolves by learning from the pre-existing pieces and imitating the predecessors. At the same time, a piece of art will be forgotten and disappears in the history without strong message or something that grabs the mind and soul of the audience. Just doing something no one ever did before is not enough to call it a piece of art.
[Pennsylvania Ballet at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street] November 7-10, 2019; paballet.org