The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA; May 9, 2015
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
After what felt like an eternal winter in Philadelphia, spring finally arrived. Pennsylvania Ballet’s selection this weekend fitted perfectly the mood of viewers out to enjoy a happy opening to the long awaited beautiful weather and a joyous celebration of Jerome Robbins’ work.
At once in In G Major (music by Maurice Ravel, inspired by George Gershwin), one noticed the brightness to the lighting, set by Jennifer Tipton, making the stage and the theater itself feel like a bright summer day. Erte’s costumes for the twelve dancers are in a lovely striped pastel palette reminiscent of swimwear, with the backdrop a dark blue painting of water waves with a bright white sun in one corner shining down on the cast.
Leading the dance was Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde. From the moment Fadeley sets a pointe shoe on stage, she brings utter jubilation. The joy on her face that transpires through every outreached finger and pointed foot while she dances is so expansive; her smile reaches the farthest theater seat, carrying every single person watching her to the space she inhabits when she dances. Her technique is so meticulous that it is almost an after-thought when watching her, one is so enraptured in her jubilance.
Fadeley and Ihde’s dance in the pas de deux was fluid and passionate, in constant motion back and forth towards and away from each other like moving water, matching pianist Martha Koeneman’s flowing notes on the piano. Ihde is a strong partner for Fadeley and they are well suited. The two of them were captivating and the intention of the piece was so clearly played out, though never stated. They shone like the scintillating bright white reflections off of moving water when the sun is bright. The image in nature and as captured by them is one that a viewer never wants to look away from, it is so intoxicating.
The audience let out a collective gasp when Idhe held Fadeley in a beautiful split lift over his shoulder sliding her slowly off into a ponchée arabesque. The moment was exquisite. They exit with Fadeley captured in a breath-taking arabesque lift seeming to reach as high as the sun in the backdrop’s sky.
The whimsical arm and footwork of the six female members of the corps, later joined by six men, was light and airy. There is a beautiful moment when they are all en diagonale and Fadeley dances across in front of them, each dancer rising along behind her and lowering back down to one knee, as if Fadeley is playing the keys of a piano. At the end of the ballet they appeared to be frolicking and playing in the sun. Although there were instances when they were not perfectly synchronous, Robbins’ choreography has such flare and verve that it allows for such brief moments, and for the dancers’ personalities to shine through in these small differences of interpretation.
Fancy Free tells the story of three sailors (Arian Molina Soca, Alexander Peters and Ian Hussey), on leave from World War II, courting two beautiful girls (Marria Cosentino and Lillian DiPiazza), the ballet later being expanded to become the musical On the Town.
The set, by Oliver Smith, is truly incredible; a bar setting with stools and a cityscape back drop and an ornate tilted lamppost outside the bar doorway. The image is reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting, adding an essential element to the artistry of this evening’s performance.
Molina Soca stole the limelight. He has such a great sense of humor in portraying the sailor competing with his friends for the girls. He created such giggles in the audience with his hip movements when dancing a brief salsa. Interspersed with his moments of caricature and humor, his clearly impeccable technique shone through with his amazing extensions, jumps and flawless feet. Molina Soca has joined Pennsylvania Ballet as principal guest artist for the remainder of the season, and this completely enthralling performance will have left the audience hungry to see more of him.
Peters and Hussey joined in the raucous fun. Peters, as always, had some exceptional jump sequences and stood on the counter of the bar with his leg raised high in some extensions that made the audience gasp in amazement, worried he might fall from such a height. Hussey was a little lackluster, although the three men played well off of each other.
Cosentino acted her part well. Her costume was the most fittingly placed, her bright red purse a clear token that the men playfully used to get her attention. DiPiazza’s pas de deux with Hussey was coy and playful. Although she is a fetching dancer, her movement generally felt devoid of character, unfortunate for such a charismatic piece of choreography.
The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) was alone worth the cost of admission. Koeneman started off the comedy when she came on stage to join her grand piano, dusting it off and testing out the keys. She filled the theater with her dazzling rendition of Chopin’s music. The lighting, backdrop and costumes of the dancers are all a blue-grey, so the viewer’s attention is focused on their accessories and small items that define their personalities and eccentricities as concertgoers.
Amy Aldridge played her role so well; the passionate viewer who could not stay still, hugging and groping the piano, as Koeneman continued to play despite all the various noises and goings-on of her audience of dancers on stage. The moment when Aldridge’s seat is physically removed from under her while she remains poised on pointe as if it is still there, was incredible. Her body moved not a millimeter. Her pas de deux with Alexander Peters, a bumbling young man in thick glasses and yellow vest who could barely keep up with her flowing, expansive movement, was hilarious.
Brooke Moore was exceptional as the pretentious wife of a man, brilliantly played by Hussey, who was wholly uninterested in his wife or the piano concert.
Another section sees the women frenetically carried back and forth like stiff props, before a fun dance has them brilliantly deliver their missteps and corrections of each other. Mayara Pineiro played perfectly into her role as the dancer who always needed an adjustment or help getting into the proper location.
Hussey had the audience in uproarious laughter when he came on stage with a knife walking up behind Moore, with plans to stab her. He shushed the audience and the laughter was riotous when his best-laid plans failed.
It is not all comedy, though. As the music shifts into Chopin’s heart wrenching Prelude in E Minor, the dancers all walk slowly one-by-one opening umbrellas like a crowd walking sullenly through the rain. The scene has such simplicity and highlights Robbins’ brilliance.
The fun ended with Hussey, with butterfly wings, antennae and socks added to his costume in an exciting pas de deux with Aldridge also in pink butterfly additions to her costume. They captivated everyone.
The audience was on its feet at the close. Such a wonderful way to start spring in Philadelphia.