ROMANCE (PA Ballet): Fall in love with a provocative and diverse program

Pennsylvania Ballet Romance review
Principal Dancers Oksana Maslova and Sterling Baca in Nicolo Fonte’s Ghost Stories. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Those who saw the advertisements for Pennsylvania Ballet’s ROMANCE—a female dancer sitting on a male dancer’s knee in the shadow, looking into each other’s eye and holding a red rose in their hands—might have expected sweet ballet about love. It turned out that ROMANCE is much more than just a lovely ballet. The three pieces in the program show the diversity that modern ballet can offer, and what the dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet are able to accomplish.

The first piece of the program is a world premiere by Nicolo Fonte, Ghost Stories. Dancers appear on a gloomy and dark smoke-filled stage. Fonte’s choreography to the awe-inspiring and dramatic music by Ezio Bosso and Max Richter is a non-stop stream of unexpected and daring movements, challenging not only the dancers’ belief in themselves but also their trust in their fellow dancers. They jump into their partners’ arms at frightening speed and come perilously close to colliding as they pass each other. Yet the movements progress flawlessly, like a well-calculated computer or a spectacular kaleidoscopic illusion. The ballet is thrilling and mind-blowing.

After an intermission, the company premiere of Nacho Duanto’s Remansos switches the mood in the theater. The ballet was premiered as Remanso in New York in 1997, with three legendary male dancers: Desmond Richardson, Parrish Maynard, and Vladimir Malakhov. This gave the ballet the reputation as demanding and deserving of three distinctive male dancers. Later in 1998, an expanded version of the ballet was premiered as Remansos by Teatro de Madrid, adding three female dancers to the original choreography.

For the opening night of Pennsylvania Ballet’s production,  three female dancers (Mayara Pineiro, Lillian DiPazza, and Ana Calderon) and three male dancers (Sterling Baca, Jermel Johnson, and Arian Molina Soca) performed the poetic and dramatic ballet. The dancers movements are elegant, dramatic, witty, and comical at the same time.  A live pianist, Martha Koeneman, plays the melodious  accompanying music, “8 Poetic Waltzes”, composed by Enrique Granados.  The ballet has no clear story. But one red rose on the stage inspires us to imagine our own story.

The last piece of the program is Western Symphony by George Balanchine. It is a “good-old” classical ballet, loaded with fun, high-spirited, western elements such as a feather head piece on the female dancers (saloon girls?) and a cowboy hat and boots for male dancers. There are gorgeous girls admired by wild and good-looking cowboys, cute and romantic pas-de-deux, and a frantic climax where all thirty-two dancers perform high-speed pirouettes again and again like a merry-go-round (yee-haw!).

ROMANCE showcases the diversity and beauty of the company’s dancers and the power of ballet. There is nothing wrong with feeling excited, thrilled, and romantic. We are. We fall in love with the ballet again.

[The Merriam Theater, 250 South Broad Street] April 6-9, 2017;

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