Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA; June 14, 2014, 2:00pm

Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

Jermel Johnson in "Penumbra" Photo © Alexander Iziliaev

Jermel Johnson in “Penumbra”
Photo © Alexander Iziliaev

This weekend’s performance by The Pennsylvania Ballet marks the end of the Company’s 50th Anniversary Season as well as the close to Roy Kaiser’s 20 year tenure as the Company’s Artistic Director.  The selections for this performance were eclectic and nuanced to showcase the Company’s breadth and strength.

The first selection was “In the Night”, with choreography by Jerome Robbins to music by Frederic Chopin.  The curtain opened on a minimally dressed stage, a black backdrop with twinkling stars.  This piece portrays love in three different stages by three different couples in an extended pas de deux.  The first of the couples to perform this afternoon was Lillian Di Piazza and Zachary Hench.  The two portrayed a young love to a pleasant and melodic Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1.  Their costumes designed by Anthony Dowell were quite stately.  Di Piazza wore a lavender bodice with a long lavender skirt and Hench a short suit coat with elaborate sleeves.  The two dancers performed the choreography articulately with some pretty lifts and twirls.  Di Piazza’s extensions and leg lines were sweet and the two portrayed the young, naïve embodiment of fresh love well.  Di Piazza’s dancing is technically precise and pretty but lacks a depth and maturity, which may have been amplified by this role selection for her.  Hench is a consistently strong dancer and partner but there was a lack of visible emotional connection between Hench and Di Piazza which seemed to decrease the meaning of this piece and the level of greatness the audience has come to expect from The Pennsylvania Ballet in this era.  The audience seemed distracted and not yet invested in this afternoon’s performance.

The second couple to perform was Brooke Moore and James Ihde.  The two reflected a stable and mature love in their performance in neutral brown and orange toned costumes.  Moore’s skirt was quite long, but one could still make out her beautiful and elaborate pointe work throughout the piece.  The intention was stronger in this pas de deux than the first and the quality of the performance was closer to the expectations set for a performance by today’s The Pennsylvania Ballet.    There was a collective gasp when Ihde flipped Moore upside down and her legs were perfectly outstretched to the ceiling in fifth position with her head suspended straight down the floor.  Ihde is among the stronger  of male partners and his power is never uncertain.  Moore is, as always, a serious dancer whose facial expression matches the gravity of her efforts as she performs.

The last couple to perform here were Amy Aldridge and Francis Veyette.  This was the most enrapturing and passionate of the three pas de deux.  They portrayed a couple in a state of tumult and there is a push and pull in their movement to delineate the story clearly.  Their costumes were red and black.  Aldridge’s extensions were impeccable and the flow of her long skirt worked well here following her movements to exaggerate and refine them.  Her port de bras was absolutely amazing, with gorgeous arms and fluidity to every fingertip’s outreach. To close this selection, the first two couples returned to the stage dancing together briefly, joined finally by Aldridge and Veyette, who contrast the other two couples in their story and their passion.  The piece ends when all three couples are introduced to one another and then perform a waltz, with a final dramatic lift off stage for all three couples.  Pianist, Martha Koeneman, played the Chopin selections beautifully this afternoon.

The second selection today, “Penumbra”, choreographed by Matthew Neenan and set to cello and piano music by Alberto Ginastera, was danced by two couples, Lillian Di Piazza and Francis Veyette and Carolin Curcio (substitute for Marria Cosentino), and Ian Hussey.  Amir Yogev performed as the solo male role in this afternoon’s performance.  In opening, he caused a stir in the audience as he stalked back and forth on and off the stage while the other four dancers moved together at the back of the stage.  The costumes designed by Oana Botex-Ban consisted of dark suits for the males and long dresses in purple for Curcio and bright pink for Di Piazza.  It was a pleasure to watch Curcio in this piece; her long, sinewy movements were captivating and effortless. She seemed to use the stretch of the fabric in her dress as an extension of her long legs and arms making every movement more delightful.  Di Piazza was technically accurate and had clean movement and lines, but lacked an emotional investment in the piece.  Di Piazza’s stature is so slight and small that it requires her to compensate with a depth and passion to her movement and intention in order to fill the stage and captivate the audience.  Her most notable moments in Penumbra included being thrown in the air and caught by the male dancers and when Yogev does a strattle jump over her head as she stands upright.  Yogev danced very well in his solo with some fresh and exciting interpretation to his movements and contractions.  The piece was fun for the audience this afternoon with the detailed acrobatics of the dancers and beautiful extensions by Curcio.

The third selection today was “La Chasse”, choreographed by Matthew Neenan, as a duet for Lauren Fadeley and Alexander Peters.  The piece is inspired by a 1911 painting by Albert Gleizes.  The music is Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2, Andante con moto, which fits the description of the music and the movement precisely.  The lighting was toned almost like a sunset and the curtain opened on Peters and Fadeley on stage in interesting dark blue costumes with an almost bib top in white.  The costumes were designed by Reid Bartelme and nicely suit Gleizes’ painting and the movement of the piece.  Fadeley’s skirt is knee length and has a flowing quality to it that she uses quite well throughout the piece.  Curiously, this afternoon’s distracted audience was silenced when the curtain opened on La Chasse and Peters began to dance, shortly followed by Fadeley’s opening movements which were minimal.  It was interesting how just the slight movement of her extended foot coursing through her flattened pointe shoe on the floor silenced this audience in anxious anticipation of the piece.  Neenan’s choreography is impeccably matched for these two dancers, who are among this era’s most exciting and gifted ballet dancers.  Their movements are electric and in this piece the audience is less focused on the traditional male and female roles of partnering and more on the movements of two amazing dancers in perfect harmony and sync beside each other with matched arms in circular and flowing shapes and sophisticated movements encompassing the entire stage and then stopping short to make sure the audience is watching.

At one point, Fadeley repeats the movement of that foot on the floor, coursing through her pointe shoe, and Peters stops to stare at it.  Peters makes the images so clear and so captivating and he is matched by Fadeley; one does not want to lose sight of Fadeley for even an instant.  To watch these two perform Neenan’s piece is to see the innovation and hopefully the future of movement of ballet.  They are fresh and talented; their movements are crisp and committed.  This piece is why someone would come to the ballet in today’s age.  The program states, “For Roy, With Gratitude” under the citations for “La Chasse”.  What a beautiful parting gift for Roy Kaiser; alongside this, there is an immense amount of gratitude from anyone who sees “La Chasse” and recognizes that an amazing inspiration, Roy Kaiser, was the foundation here.

 

The last selection this afternoon was “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, choreographed by William Forsythe and set to music by Thom Willems in collaboration with Leslie Stuck.  This piece is frenetic and fast-paced  and  matches the cacophonous and almost metallic or mechanical electronic music.  The costumes, by Forsythe, are minimal, the women in forest green leotards with black tights and pointe shoes and the men in forest green unitards.  The stage is black with only an ambiguous object hanging by a rope in the middle of the stage. The object is, in fact, a small bunch of cherries.  Lauren Fadeley, Carolin Curcio and James Ihde are prominently featured in this piece this afternoon.  Curcio highlighted effortless and lengthy extensions and her body contractions interspersed with her fluidity were notably deliberate and well executed.  Fadeley’s movements were precise and impressive and her pieces were quite long requiring an exceptional stamina of force.  Ihde danced very well here, partnering well and demonstrating sharp and powerful turn and jump sequences.  Daniel Cooper and Amir Yogev danced well in individual solos and with the corps of dancers here.  Yogev is one to watch after today’s performance.  He caught the audience’s attention and is a performer who celebrates his time on the stage, making the experience mutually enjoyable for viewers.  The other dancers featured this afternoon in this piece were Elizabeth Mateer, Alexandra Hughes, Holly Lyn Fusco and Rachel Maher.  All danced well and seemed to test the limits of traditional ballet movements in an exciting and successful way.  This was a long and arduous piece and was consistently cacophonous throughout with dancers entering and exiting simultaneously while another was dancing and then dancing in groups on stage together.

The highlight of The Pennsylvania Ballet’s A 50th Finale’s: The Ultimate Celebration  was “La Chasse”, a piece choreographed in gratitude for Roy Kaiser as he ends his tenure as Artistic Director of The Pennsylvania Ballet.  It was a sumptuous farewell piece, surrounded by interesting and eclectic selections from The Pennsylvania Ballet’s history.