Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA; May 10, 2014

Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

Pennsylvania Ballet in "After the Rain" Photo © Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet in “After the Rain”
Photo © Alexander Iziliaev

The selections in Director’s Choice were an eclectic and exciting group to watch on a lovely spring afternoon in Philadelphia.  Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” was the first selection in this afternoon’s performance.  “After the Rain” featured Lauren Fadeley, James Ihde, Lillian Di Piazza, Amir Yogev, Holly Lynn Fusco and Daniel Cooper.  The first movements featured all six dancers partnering to an amazing rendition of Arvo Part’s “Tabula Rasa,” performed by violinists Luigi Mazzocchi, Dayna Anderson and pianist Donna Batista.  The stark movements and deliberately awkward extensions and shapes fit the striking violin notes so well and were so compelling.  The simple blue costumes by Holly Hynes, highlighted purely the dancers’ physiques and musculature.  “After the Rain” is most captivating because it features the dance itself and allows the audience to immerse themselves purely in the movement and the narrative the dancers tell us.  Fusco and Cooper’s pas de deux was quite lovely with a frenetically haunting, entrancing quality.  Of all the dancers, Di Piazza seemed the most challenged by this piece, but I look forward to seeing her more in her future roles as a principal dancer with The Pennsylvania Ballet.

The second movement of “After the Rain” was performed by Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde to Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel,” performed by violinist Shannon Lee, and pianist Martha Koeneman.   This is one of my favorite pieces of choreography, and Fadeley and Ihde possess it in the most singular way; an audience would never tire of seeing this piece. As this second movement began, the lighting changed to soft pink tones; Fadeley was dressed in a pink leotard and soft ballet slippers and Ihde in light grey loose pants.  This piece is a universal metaphor for the beauty and the pain of life encapsulated in these dancers’ beautiful movements.  Ihde and Fadeley partnered with a sense of trust that is absolutely necessary to present this story in such a convincing voice.  Watching this piece was like being lucky enough to watch a butterfly emerging from a cocoon on a beautiful spring day.  This performance was moving to tears, and Fadeley and Ihde capture the details so entirely in their surety and familiarity with the dance.  There was no mis-step, only grace and a deliberate essence of the strength required to endure the fragility of a life lived fully and a dance stretched to the furthest reaches in the company and support of another soul.  I have been lucky enough to see this piece performed by these two twice now.  Ihde and Fadeley perform it like the finest silk.  Every ballet lover should find a way to see this, because it is dance at its most meaningful.

The second selection in today’s performance was the world premiere of “The Accidental,” choreographed by Trey McIntyre to selections from Patrick Watson’s “Adventures in Your Own Backyard.”  This piece was such a pleasant surprise.  The costumes by Andrea Bowers, were really notable and different — the dancers looked like they had body paint on, and again gave the audience the opportunity to really see their bodies performing this piece.  The lighting was intentionally dark, which played well with the movements and costumes.  “The Accidental” featured Evelyn Kocak and Alexander Peters, Rachel Maher and James Ihde, Alexandra Hughes and Ian Hussey and closed with a solo by Alexander Peters.  This choreography by McIntyre was so young and unique; it was really a pleasure to watch the dancers perform this way.  There is a notable difference in the relaxed and grounded movements here, and the contrast is strikingly powerful and captivating.  Peters and Kocak were an excellent duo, and the choreography was so much fun to watch.  Ihde pulled off another amazing partnering routine with Maher here, and it was quite moving and impressive.  Alexandra Hughes was so enjoyable in this piece this afternoon as well and it was a breath of fresh air to see her featured in this way.  Peters’ solo to close this selection was incredible.  There is nothing more exciting than when a dancer, who may have gone unnoticed in prior performances, steals the show and that was what Alexander Peters did tonight.  His movements were incredibly smooth, and his technique was impeccable while providing an interpretation that felt innovative.  The curtain closed on him standing alone center stage one hand outreached upwards; it was a striking picture that was a perfect ending for this piece.  “The Accidental” was a very innovative and unique selection that audiences will enjoy for many performances to come.

The last selection was the company’s premiere of “Grieg: Piano Concerto” to music by Edvard Grieg with choreography by Robert Weiss. The company took us in an entirely different direction with this last selection.  This piece was very classical ballet with the dancers in white tutus and dramatically bright stage lighting.  Elizabeth Mateer danced with Lorin Mathis, Lauren Fadeley with Jong Suk Park, and Marria Cossentino with Ian Hussey.  Laura Bowman, Holly Lyn Fusco and Alexandra Hughes were also featured corps members.  This piece highlighted lovely corps work and the formations were excellent, as always.  Mateer and Mathis partnered easily.  Mateer’s technique was good though she wore a slightly tortured expression at times which created a drive to interpret the piece in a way that might not have been accurate.  Marria Cossentino appeared to struggle with her pas de deux and solos.  She seemed to be having a minor costume malfunction, and I was not sure if this was why she appeared uncomfortable on stage this afternoon.  Holly Lyn Fusco is really a pleasure to watch, and she typically catches the eye, as she did this afternoon during the corps selections of “Grieg: Piano Concerto.”  Fadeley and Park were really excellent.  Any time the two entered the stage it was as if a brighter light came on.  Fadeley, a ballet darling, smiles the brightest smile and truly appears as if she is enjoying every moment of her life on the stage.  Both Fadeley and Park had stunning turn sets.  Park showed off his athleticism in his airy jump sequence.  “Grieg: Piano Concerto” was solidly performed, but following the first two selections, it felt rather dry and uninteresting.

This performance by The Pennsylvania Ballet was enjoyable, and I would return again and again to see Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde perform After the Rain, as well as Alexander Peters in “The Accidental.”