SPEED & PRECISION: (PA Ballet): Color and character at the start of a new chapter


Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Lauren Fadeley and Soloist James Ihde in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Lauren Fadeley and Soloist James Ihde in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

In his second season as the artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Angel Corella is hand-picking the entire program for the first time. His three selections for the opening production—Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco and Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV(Danse à Grande Vitesse)—show the color and the character of the company, now in its.52nd season and perhaps looking forward to a strong future.  

The performance opens with Chroma. Set to the music by the White Stripes andarranged by Joby Talbot, the piece was choreographed by Wayne McGregor and first premiered by the Royal Ballet in London in 2006. Surrounded by white walls with a screen-like square opening, ten dancers in simple earth-tone costumes guide the audience to feel a variety of color, temperature, and even texture through their unpredictable movements. As often seen in McGregor’s dance pieces, it looks like there is no rule or preset choreography, yet those tremendously intricate steps flow and lead to the next like an articulately calculated computer program. While all ten dancers bravely confront this highly challenging ballet, Oksana Maslova and Alexander Peters are exquisite. Their precise and delicate yet vibrant movements resemble a kaleidoscope, eliciting the feelings of a mosaic of colors and sparkles, changing every second.  

The second piece, George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, unfortunately does not keep the excitement Chroma brought into the theater. First premiered back in 1941, the work has a long history with Pennsylvania Ballet, having first been performed by the company in 1963. As the ballet was originally choreographed by Balanchine for the students of the School of American Ballet, it does not require any excessive technique. Balanchine’s choice  of costumes—the white leotard students at a ballet school would wear—unforgivingly reveals the authenticity and fundamentals of the dancers. The dancers at the Pennsylvania Ballet start charmingly, but lack delicacy and precision to each pas and liaison, which is the key element of classical ballet and Balanchine’s style. Balanchine’s interpretation of Bach’s polyphony in Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins doesn’t quite show off either soloist or the corps. A little more attention to the basics, such as port de bras and overall harmony among the performers, would make the interpretation more delicate and pleasant.

For the closing, Christopher Wheeldon’s DVG gives viewers a glimpse of the future of the company. Futuristic costumes and a cosmic set design reminiscent of Frank Gehry architecture, dovetail with the music of Michael Nyman to evoke the feelings of the elasticity of time while traveling. The dancers stretch out of their comfort zone of traditional classical style in a pleasing performance.

The choreography of the three pieces requires the total devotion of the PA ballet dancers, as any ballet masterpiece does. While there are some standout performances, there’s a lack of cohesion and consistency in the overall performance. It is hopeful, with Corella’s influence, the dancers can continue refining and transcend their limitations before the curtain closes for the program.

[The Academy of Music, 240 Broad Street] October 22-25, 2015; paballet.org.

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