Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA; March 14, 2015
Nearly eleven years ago, the audience at the Academy of Music waited eagerly for the curtain to rise on the highly anticipated world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake” – the company’s first performance of the ballet in thirteen years at that time. Since then, much has changed. Fan favorites have retired, new talent has dazzled. Pennsylvania Ballet welcomed new Artistic Director Angel Corella this season, and Zachary Hench, a new face to the company in that world premiere ten years ago, took his final bows last weekend and now takes on the role of Ballet Master.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, I found myself once again surrounded by excited audience members in the Academy of Music, no less eager to see the ballet than back in June 2004.High expectations can be dangerous, but the company did not disappoint.
In Act I, set in a dance studio where a ballet company rehearses “SwanLake,” the corps de ballet danced brightly. Lively and energetic from the start, the dancers really hit their stride mid-scene, when they found their synchrony just in time for the rousing final ensemble choreography. In particular, the men showed impressive unison in their leap sequence, each reaching the apex of their leaps in perfect timing with the accents in the music. In the Pas de Trois, Alexandra Hughes was light and graceful, Mayara Pineiro danced with sass and flair, and Lorin Mathis impressed with his athleticism and ballon.
Ian Hussey was regal and contemplative as Siegfried, drawing the audience into the story early on with his wariness of the sinister Patron, Von Rothbart, danced by James Ihde. In Act II, opposite Brooke Moore as Odette, Hussey was an elegant and steady partner. The pair danced smoothly together, their emotional chemistry palpable. Moore, however, stole the spotlight with her wonderfully expressive arms, and amazing steadiness and control. She barely wavered in held poses, whether supported or unsupported, and each fluttering bourrée and petit battement, and every tremble of her arms seemed completely deliberate.
Act II also showcased the talented women’s corps. The swans, led by Alexandra Hughes and Lynn Fusco, moved as one organism, flowing in and out of formations as naturally as you would see flocks of birds changing formations flying across the sky. The Cygnets (Marria Cosentino, Evelyn Kocak, Oksana Maslova, and Elizabeth Mateer) danced in near-perfect synchrony, the roaring applause following their feature showing the audience’s delight.
Act III shows the company at a gala evening celebrating their production, and drew the biggest applause from the audience. The Pas de Quatre, featuring Alexandra Hughes, Holly Lynn Fusco, Russell Ducker, and Amir Yogev, was an energetic appetizer to the entertainment that followed; the men in particular danced with gusto. Amy Aldridge danced a seductive and flirty Russian Dance; Kelsey Hellebuyck, Craig Wasserman, and Alejandro Ocasio were animated in the Spanish Dance; and Amy Holihan and Lorin Mathis were spirited as the Czardas. The audience also enjoyed the playful Can-Can featuring Marria Cosentino, Marjorie Feiring, Elinor Grace Hitt, and Misa Kasamatsu. The true fireworks came when Moore and Hussey alternated solos; Hussey with impressive elevation in his leaps, and Moore with an unwavering sequence of pirouettes and fouettés.
Act IV gives the audience a final glimpse at the lovely swan corps, its flowing patterns framing the tender pas de deux of Moore and Hussey, expressively demonstrating their emotional connection. As the scene ends, Hussey’s agonized Siegfried comes out of his reverie, and finds himself back in the dance studio as his fellow dancers return after their performance. The audience seemed to draw in a collective sigh as the lights on the stage and in the theater brought us all back to reality.
Though many in the audience were now familiar with the modernized setting of Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake,” there were still breathtaking moments in the performance, as if you were seeing it for the first time – the beautiful migration of the swan corps, the blending of original choreography with the classic Petipa, and seeing new faces in the company take on beloved roles. In a time of major changes for Pennsylvania Ballet, the company continues to give audiences reasons to keep coming back for more.
Pennsylvania Ballet’s next program is “A Tribute to Jerome Robbins”, May 7-10, certain to be an audience-pleaser. For details visit www.paballet.org.