A PROGRAM OF FIRSTS (PA Ballet): Remembering the start-line

Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.
Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Zeami Motokiyo, a Japanese Noh-actor and playwright in the 14th/15th century, said in his book Kakyo, “Do not forget the start-line.”  A PROGRAM OF FIRSTS by Pennsylvania Ballet reminds me of his teaching. The program consists of three pieces of ballet beginnings, letting both the dancers and the audience look into achievements the company have made.

“Serenade”, choreographed by George Balanchine and premiered in 1935 by American Ballet in New York, marks the start-line of Balanchine and his ballet in America. As a preparation to build an American ballet company, he started a class to train dancers recruited from along the East coast. Many of them were from Littlefield School of Dance in Philadelphia; one was Barbara Weisberger, founder of Pennsylvania Ballet.

“Serenade” begins with seventeen female dancers, the number Balanchine’s class had on its first day. In classical white long tutus, they stand still on the stage illuminated in simple blue light. Some basic ballet movements such as port de bras and tendue are shown as if in a ballet class; these transition to more dynamic steps and patterns. Balanchine incorporates some episodes from his class. One ballerina is delayed in joining the rest; one falls on the floor crying.

Male dancers are added to the dance, and beautiful pas de deux and pas de trois are performed. Three soloists—Lillian DiPiazza, Mayara Pineiro, and Oksana Maslova—take our breath away with the serene and dreamy dance, a remarkable contrast to the company’s energetic and powerful recent performance of Don Quixote.

The second piece is “Archiva” by Matthew Neenan. Amy Aldridge, who has been the principle of Pennsylvania Ballet for 15 years, takes the role of a ballerina who is remembering her path and career. Dancers in various ballet costumes appear in front of her as her memories flash back. Aldridge is charismatic and bold, expressing the raw and real emotions one would feel remembering the past.

“Asphodel Meadows” by Liam Scarlett closes the program. The English choreographer was trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with the Royal Ballet, which premiered this ballet in 2010. Set to Francis Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor”, three principal couples—Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde, Amy Aldridge and Ian Hussey, and Mayara Pineiro and Amir Yogev—mirror a dialogue between the two pianos of the three movements. While all three duets are stunning and beautiful, Aldridge is exquisite. Her delicate, vivid, and powerful dance conveys every note and moment of the music.

It is a pleasant surprise to see the huge improvement in both soloists and the corps de ballet in just one season under artistic director Angel Corella. They are more articulate and expressive, technically improved, and moreover have an increasingly powerful communication with the audience. The changes that the company is going through might be rapid and difficult, but it would not be too much to say that this has been one of the most exciting and accomplished seasons in Pennsylvania Ballet’s history.

[The Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St] May12-15, 2016; http://paballet.org

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