Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA; October 20 2013
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
A crowd amassed awaiting the opening of the theater doors at the Academy of Music this fall afternoon when The Pennsylvania Ballet presented A Gift to the City, a free performance to thank the city of Philadelphia for its support for the past 50 years. Spectators flowed in from the street and filled the Academy of Music’s beautifully ornate tiers of seating all the way up through the third floor balconies. Given the singular nature of this spectacular event in the history of Philadelphia, I opted to watch this performance from the third floor myself. I must say, the view was spectacular.
The first marquee selection from the Company’s repertoire presented was “After the Rain”, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The ballet was presented in its two parts. The first section featured three couples: Lauren Fadeley, James Ihde, Holly Lynn Fusco, Daniel Cooper, Gabriella Yudenich and Amir Yogev. This haunting section performed to Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa, was striking. The minimalist lighting and costumes created an opportunity for the dance itself to tell the story and what a story these dancers told. They worked so cohesively with the women holding their amazing extensions and the dancers twisting into unusual and arresting movements that followed the evocative cords of this beautiful score performed by the Orchestra of The Pennsylvania Ballet.
In the second part of “After the Rain”, Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde returned to perform a pas de deux to Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel. This pas de deux may have been one of my most favorite performances of all time – I would return for many, many seasons of The Pennsylvania Ballet’s performances if I would be lucky enough to see something this beautiful again. This was the first time that I have seen Lauren Fadeley dance and she left the audience awestruck. She danced in only a pink leotard and soft shoes with her hair down, and James Ihde in soft grey pants. Her feet and the sinewy beauty of every visible muscle in her legs was arresting. James Ihde was an indelible partner for her. There was an intimacy about this piece that is rare to witness in art and elevates the art to the transcendental. Fadeley and Ihde performed this piece so well and so affectionately, it was like witnessing the intimate and fragile emergence of a butterfly from its cocoon. This piece evoked the sensation of love between a couple that finds the strength in each other to witness the sun coming up after the rain; like the unwrapping of a healed wound with another human being that can be trusted with something so fragile and knowing that in that movement both participants find their resiliency and beauty in each other. While there was a multitude of gravity defying lifts and extensions in this pas de deux, the image that lingered was that of the dancers back to back, the beautiful arches of Fadeley’s feet pushing and pulling against those of Ihde’s as they strained beautifully together across the stage. This piece was inspiring and truly The Pennsylvania Ballet at its best.
Alexandra Hughes and Ian Hussey performed the pas de deux from “Under the Sun”, choreographed by Margo Sappington and performed first in 1976. This was a nice piece to juxtapose with the first selection. It was lighthearted and interesting from a ballet inspired by Alexander Calder’s mobiles, circus and mechanized toys. The costumes were without frills or decoration and more like paintings on the dancers’ bodies reminiscent of marionettes or mimes. Hughes and Hussey performed the piece nicely and partnered each other well. They close the piece well with an intricate series of winding lifts and extensions.
The third and final selection presented at A Gift to the City was Diamonds from “Jewels”. Of the acts from “Jewels”, Diamonds epitomizes the order and grandeur of Russia in the Imperial age. The curtain opened on the women of the corps de ballet in lush and elaborately decorated white tutus and crisp sparkling crowns covered in glittering diamonds. Their dancing is pristine and excellent, like watching a choreographed ball for a multitude of princesses. Julie Diana and Zachary Hench entered, and truly were the heart of this cluster of diamonds. The lovely classical choreography suited them nicely and each of their movements is precise and perfect. Julie Diana was really a shining star. Every movement of even her slightest fingertip was the embodiment of the fairytale ballerina little girls dream of becoming. She was light and effortless and Zachary Hench was her perfect partner. The piece moved through a series of sequences showcasing the women and the men among the corps, their formations on stage as 32 dancers working together were just magnificent. Julie Diana and Zachary Hench sealed this performance with a beautiful arabesque balance in the midst of their magnificent corps and the climactic surge of Tchaikovsky’s music. As this piece closed, there was just utter joy and jubilation on Diana’s face and what a pleasure to see such a charming performance for the city of Philadelphia.
A particularly touching moment of this afternoon’s event was Pat Ciaracchi of CBS News Philadelphia’s presentation to Barbara Weisberger, the Founding Artistic Director of The Pennsylvania Ballet, of a citation from the City of Philadelphia for her contribution to the history of American ballet and her role at The Pennsylvania Ballet from Michael A. Nutter, Mayor Elect of the City of Philadelphia. More so, Barbara Weisberger joined Roy Kaiser, Artistic Director, with all of the current dancers and alumni dancers present in the audience during the performance onstage for a final bow and round of applause. Weisberger received the largest bouquet of the day and found herself showered with red carnations. The event closed on Kaiser’s proud announcement while the audience applauded, “This is The Pennsylvania Ballet.” What a wonderful and warm event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Pennsylvania Ballet.