Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA; February 8, 2014
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
On a bitterly cold night in Philadelphia, a crowd filled the warm, bright entrance to the Merriam Theater. There was a buzz of excitement and a very full house this evening, making this performance one of the most sensational venues in Philadelphia tonight. This evening’s performance included a lovely selection of eclectic and moving pieces which kept the audience engrossed the entire performance.
This evening’s first piece was “Serenade”, choreographed by George Balanchine. There was a collective gasp from the audience when the announcement was made that Brooke Adams would be dancing in place of Amy Aldridge for this piece. The curtain opened on the corps of female dancers in their iconic white long tutus and plain leotards with right arms outstretched, looking out over their fingertips, still, in the veil of blue light over them. There was an eruption of applause for the scene. The corps managed a series of soft, beautiful port de bras in unison, with the stark movement of turning to first position an immediate contrast. This initial piece was truly a moment when one could see the art in corps work as the dancers seemed to move so well with the movement of the music and also with the peripheral sense of unison with the dancers nearby. It was really lovely. Their formations were amazing and I am sure a sight to behold from the balcony seats. Caralin Curcio, performed a nice solo with exquisite and lengthy extensions. At times her facial expressions made her seem a little unnerved. She is a beautiful dancer, though, and I hope we will see her come into her own even more as the season progresses. Brooke Adams performed her solos with nice technique and timing, though she seemed a little uncomfortable and I was worried her tutu might become tangled in her legs at some points. The corps closed with a series of precise pique turns in unison in a large circle on stage, ending where they began, together standing with right arms outstretched, overlooking their fingers.
Lauren Fadeley entered the stage to join the corps in this same position, ending stage front. Fadeley, who is really a dance darling, danced an immaculately precise piece with exceptional partnering by Ian Hussey. Her face exudes warmth and happiness while she is dancing and it was like that long tutu was an extension of her body moving and flowing with every turn, jump and extension. She is a dancer I could watch constantly, she just takes your breath away. Brooke Adams returned to perform another solo and ended center stage surrounded by four other dancers; they performed a lovely piece with arms adjoined, sliding slowly into a split simultaneously; they achieved lovely lines of arm movement intertwined and creating beautiful shapes together with their coy head bobs strikingly in unison. Fadeley and Hussey returned to perform another stunning pas de deux. She spun in quick turns with the corps, who departed the stage, as she fell to the ground.
James Ihde and Caralin Curcio entered, she behind him with her long hair untwined, walking slowly toward Fadeley’s prone figure with her hair undone, a mass of messy waves. When the couple reached Fadeley, Curcio extended her long leg into a beautiful arabesque on pointe and Ihde spun her by turning her standing leg under her tutu. She looked like a music box ballerina, and in the stillness and precariousness of this slow movement, one could feel the audience holding its breath. There was something haunting about her beautiful image spinning slowly over the prone Fadeley beneath her. While the image was lovely, Curcio looked a little nervous; it would have been even more amazing if her facial expression made it look effortless. Adams, Fadely and Curcio danced a lovely trio with Ihde. The three women danced very well together and there was an appropriate sense of strain in their movements that matched the innuendo of this psychologically uncomfortable piece. There was a striking moment when Ihde holds Fadeley under her back, her arms and legs outstretched towards the ground that was very pretty and lasted for just enough time where one had to stop to notice and think about the image. Fadeley ended back where she started laying on the ground, arms and legs and wavy hair surrounding her. Curcio returned behind Ihde where her arms moved sharply until one hand covered his eyes, the other his heart and she could lead him off stage. This piece ended with a stricken Fadeley rising to meet the other corps dancers and then be lifted straight up into the air by her legs by three of the male corps dancers. She was carried off through a parallel line of dancers and their arms along with Fadeley’s rose ever so slowly to high fifth and ended arching back as they walked off stage. It was just beautiful.
After a brief intermission, the audience was presented with “Afternoon of a Faun”, danced by Jermel Johnson and Julie Diana. The curtains opened on a series of white scrims which lifted one by one to reveal Johnson sleeping alone on the floor in a spacious ballet studio crafted on stage. He awakened and hauntingly looks at the audience, through the audience, like a dancer looking at himself in the mirror, dancing and making minor adjustments to placement as he sees a correction. His movements undulate between a dancer practicing in a classroom and a faun waking in the woods. His movements were fluid and languid. He danced back to sleep in the front of the stage. He is joined by Diana, who entered through the constructed back door opening of the ballet studio space. Her face looked adorably mischievous with her wide eyes and pixie lips, as she took of note his resting character. She appeared like a dancer practicing in the mirror as well, with clever and lovely movements, one moment lifting her leg to touch the knot of her pointe shoe ribbon as if to adjust it and then moving to the barre to practice with pristine plies and gorgeous extensions. Johnson aroused from his resting place to join her for a beautiful and charming pas de deux.
Johnson and Diana are two of the most real, soulful dancers; they truly embody the notion of those that eat, sleep, breathe dance and they appeared to do just this dancing on the stage tonight. Their movements were entrancing as Johnson reached up behind Diana to barely touch her long flowing hair and with the movement of his hand compel her to arch backwards in response to his touch. Another favorite image of mine was when he lifted her body prone and straight flat with her arms out and toes pointed, carrying her across the stage when suddenly her arms and one leg bend as if in response to the sharp catch in the music at that moment. The closing scene was also striking as his light kiss touched her cheek and in response her eyes seemed to open even wider as she lifted her fingertips to touch where his lips had been and slowly back out of the studio, as if this intrusion of his were too much. This piece was just delectable and these two dancers were so fun to watch perform it.
The third movement this evening was “Under the Sun” danced by Alexandra Hughes and Ian Hussey. Under the Sun was commissioned for a Gala event to honor Alexander Calder as bicentennial artist in 1976. It is a piece that likens to the era of its inception given the musical score and the boldly colored and asymmetric costumes reminiscent of mimes or Harlequin dolls. In “Taking Note,” a portion of this evening’s program, written by Julie Diana who holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, she described how some of Margo Sappington’s choreography for this piece was set prior to the composition of the music by Michael Kamen. It was interesting to watch the piece with this in mind given how precisely the movements seemed to mimic and provide cohesion with the music. I saw Hughes and Hussey perform this piece in A Gift for the City in October 2013 as well. I thought this evening’s performance vastly outshone that of October’s. Their interesting lifts and curious shapes and extensions were so much sharper and complete. It was a pleasure to watch and they worked so well together. The piece was smooth and carried off quite well.
This evening closed with the most delicious selection for the last piece, “Petit Mort”, choreographed by Jiri Kylian. This was the Company’s premier of this piece and a sumptuous finale for this evening’s fabulous performance. The theater became dark and filled with a sound of thunder. The curtain opened on the six male dancers, Andrew Daly, Ian Hussey, Amir Yogev, Jonathan Stiles, James Ihde and Lorin Mathis all dressed in minimal gold briefs and holding unsheathed swords. Their dance began with no music. They were shadowed in the back by the 6 female dancers, Holly Lynn Fusco, Laura Bowman, Amy Aldridge, Lillian Di Piazza, Caralin Curcio and Lauren Fadeley. At first the female dancers stood in a straight line across the back of the stage, still in the darkness and sheathed in what appeared to be full length black strapless dresses so only their shoulders and heads were visible. The men carried out an amazing performance of trickery and magical movements balancing their swords and spinning them with their feet. All one could hear was the periodic slice of their swords through the air unison. It was spectacular.
The dance is joined by an amazing Mozart piano solo performed by Martha Koeneman with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Suddenly, the men run to the back of the stage and what appeared to be the black dresses on the female dancers is, in fact, an immense black tarp which is pulled forward by the men in one amazing movement to reveal the women dressed in similarly stark gold minimal costumes revealing their entire bare and muscular legs. The women join the men to dance briefly and then return to stand in line together again. The piece then progressed through a series of rapidly changing and quick paced duets among the dancers, each one as enthralling as the next. I really loved every one. Of all of the dancers in “Petit Mort”, who were all really exceptional this evening, my one-to-watch was definitely Lillian Di Piazza, who was just beautiful this evening with her gorgeous arms and legs. Di Piazza’s promotion to soloist was just announced this month. I am excited about this decision and cannot wait to see her dance more.
A favorite moment for the audience tonight was when the five female dancers, excluding Amy Aldridge, appeared at the back of the stage again as if in long black, full-skirted, strapless dresses. Suddenly the dresses look like they are carrying the dancers forward, like an optical illusion. Then the most amazing of surprises, the dancers detach entirely from the dresses which were, in fact, giant props placed in front of them. The entire audience gasped with delight with this bit of unexpected and humorous magic. It was truly clever and so well executed. The dancers looked like they really enjoyed dancing “Petit Mort” and it truly shone through. I am so glad this has been added to Company’s repertoire and cannot wait to see it again. “Petit Mort” was a luscious and perfect ending to this evening’s spectacular and varied collection of dances. Merriam Theater was the perfect place to be to feel the warmth of utter enchantment on this cold winter night.