RE/ACTION (Pennsylvania Ballet): Brilliant ballet by divine dancers

Reaction-1564: Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Matthew Neenan's Somnolence Photo Credit: Alexander Iziliaev
Reaction-1564: Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Matthew Neenan’s Somnolence
Photo Credit: Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet opened its grand finale for 2016-2017 season at Academy of Music for a limited run May 11-14, 2017. The program is a milestone for the company as the principal dancer of 23 years, Amy Aldridge, dances her farewell. Her charm, her dedication, and her charisma has inspired numerous young dancers. She is leaving a foundation that she built throughout her career to the next generations for them to leap higher. The company has gone through drastic changes since last season, some of which may have come with sorrow. Still they never stopped their devotion to ballet and to the Philadelphia art community. The program is brilliant and extravaganza with two premieres (one company premiere and one world premiere), three Balanchine pieces and two previews from the next season’s program. The first ballet was Christopher Wheeldon’s RushⒸ, which was premiered by San Francisco Ballet in August 2003 and received a National Dance Award. It is based on the composition of classical ballet, such as male and female pair dances and the strict hierarchy of principal, soloist and corps de ballet. But the ballet is much more diverse and revolutionary in its movements and vocabulary. Just like the orchestration of Bohuslav Martiů, the ballet was brilliant and absolutely gorgeous. It was full of complicated lifts and steps, yet elegant and fluent at the same time. Each pose and pattern that the dancers create left vivid impressions of divine beauty. While the principal pair (Oksana Maslova and Ian Hussey) and the soloists (Ana Calderon, Russell Ducker, Alexandra Hughes, Aaron Anker) were highly artistic and dazzling, the rest of dancers were also highly competitive in both their techniques and expressions. It is exciting to see the young dancers grow and transform themselves day by day, stage by stage. After the intermission, four Pas de Deux were presented.  Featured were well-known Pas de Deux from two notable classical ballets that PA Ballet is bringing to the stage in 2017-2018 season (Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty), the company’s signature Balanchine repertoires from the company’s best dancers. While all of those four ballets are performed everywhere by countless of dancers, it still means so much for a ballet company to bring those pieces on the stage. It is easy to stun audiences with jumps so high or with new and exciting presentations. It is not so easy, however, to truly amaze audiences through authentic classical ballet without truly established dancers. Among the eight dancers who performed on the opening night, Oksana Maslova was without doubt outstanding. She performed Pas de Deux from the third act of Sleeping Beauty, which does not include many complicated or highly technical steps. However, she conveyed what her Aurora was through her graceful postures, elegant and delicate pas, and gestures that express her character as a princess who carried pure and passionate affection to the prince. Sterling Baca completed Maslova’s Aurora with his noble and charming dance both in the duet and the solo dance. In Black Swan Pas de Deux,  Arian Molina Soca narrated the emotional change from conflict to total surrender to Odile’s demonic allure. Dayesi Torriente was daring and convincing in her Odile. Mayara Pineiro and Jermel Johnson were superb in Tarantella. The pair managed the technically demanding ballet powerfully and radiantly. Not to be missed was Johnson’s dedication toward the basics even in this hectic ballet, such as a perfect entrechat and positioning, which supported his defined and stunning performance. Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux danced by Lillian DiPiazza and Ian Hussey was charming and pleasant. As the ending of finale of the program, former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer and the company’s first Choreographer in Residence Matthew Neenan presented his world premiere, Somnolence. The piece is awakening in mind and poetic in movement. As the curtain opened, the intriguing stage setting instantly hyped the viewers curiosity. There was a screen at the back of the stage, which looks like a huge mattress. The bottom was ripped and a mountain of pillows were poured out of the rip. The dancers in rompers hugged pillows and collapsed on them. Vivaldi’s music played by Pennsylvania Orchestra filled the theater with dreamy ambience. The dancers’ movements were sometimes nonsensical or unreal like those in a dream. Was it one of the dancers dream, or is it the audience who was dreaming? The ballet ends with a wake up call of what it looked like a pillow, shuttering on the stage, bringing the audience back to the reality. As the title says, reaction among the dancers, to the moment, to the music and the audiences created the inspiring, beautiful and genuine ballet. As the cast changes for each scheduled performance, it is intriguing to see how those arising and exciting dancers dancers create his/her ballet. (Unfortunately Ms. Aldridge was missing from the opening night) [Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street] May 11-14, 2017;

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