BWW Review: PENNSYLVANIA BALLET's Balanchine and Beyond
Pennsylvania Ballet concluded its second season under Artistic Director Angel Corella with Balanchine and Beyond, June 9-12 at the Merriam Theater. The Saturday matinee displayed dynamic range for the male dancers in their extensions and precision, particularly Ian Hussey, Jermel Johnson, and Arian Molina Soca. Mayara Pineiro, an addition since Corella's tenure, dazzled in Jean-Pierre Frohlich's Varied Trio (in four) with Soca, and Sanguinic in Balachine's The Four Temperaments. A mostly legato program, Hans van Manen's Adagio Hammerklavier opened, followed by Trisha Brown's O zlozony / O composite, Frohlich's Trio, and Balanchine to close. The range challenged the dancers to show the spectrum of their artistry. Corella's recent directive choices brought levity; Laura Bowman took her final bow and the program noted other retirements. Whatever the climate, Corella's choices substantially elevated the company's performance profile especially since their June 2014 performances, and even since the fall 2015 season. They moved more strongly, sharply, and authoritatively than previously. Hopefully, the female dancers will receive the same attention and focus from which the men obviously benefitted.
Van Manen's 1973 work, which had its American and Pennsylvania Ballet premiere in 1974, dressed the dancers in white (with bejeweled accoutrements on the women's chests and around the men's necks). Van Manen instituted a partnering-intensive structure toying with the intimacy of movement by diverting the dancers' gaze so that they rarely directly acknowledged each other. Repeatedly, the men looked straight ahead as they released their partners in a brief drop-hold from which the women temporarily acceded control and landed on the floor. The plié achieved more deserved status, as dancers sank together into deep grand pliés to launch themselves into lifts and arabesques. Soca took his grand pliés into fourth position, twisting around to unfold into an arabesque. Dancers leaned forward flat-footed, their torsos swooping backwards or sideways to catch their "fall". Lillian DiPiazza aggressively maintained a completely forward, open chest that kept her balance teetering. Continually ascending and descending, dancers constantly pulled a-part, tilted away, and reached off their axes. Hussey supported DiPiazza as he crawled diagonally downstage, thrusting his pelvis upward to redirect momentum. Van Manen once described the work "as a wheel that is still just moving after a push, just before it falls." Corella's dancers found that nuanced force for themselves.
Apprentice Aaron Anker joined DiPiazza and Hussey in Brown's 2004 O zlozony / O composite, a premiere for the company. Dressed again in white, against a starry background, Brown's work most amplified the dancers' capacity. In one of Brown's first works adopting balletic vocabulary, her influence on choreographers like Pam Tanowitz and Stephen Petronio resonated in the loping pas de chats, tilts, and sequenced tendus. Lying on their sides, Anker and Hussey spiraled their bodies around in a circle. Hussey's dexterity showed in a stunning rond de jambe en l'air jump turn, his torso erect. Anker wrestled with his shoulders at times, as he sought to balance Brown's strong postures with loosely swinging limbs. Brown concluded the piece as it began; DiPiazza's body parallel to the ground, her arms outstretched in a T-shape, Hussey and Anker slowly rotating her body around. Laurie Anderson's score became trance-like, with the recitation of Czelaw Milosz' Ode to a Bird in Polish and English. The flow of Brown's work can easily be misinterpreted: its looseness masquerades as a coiled undulation more akin to break dancing. Corella believes in these dancers and seeing them in works like this proved it.
Frohlich's 2013 work mostly served as a vehicle for Pineiro (replacing Oksana Maslova) and Soca - a strong partnership. The movement did not excessively challenge them, but they reveled in it. Their equality in technique and presentation created a victory lap atmosphere as they weaved through grapevine footwork, bounded across the stage in a leapfrog-esque game, repeatedly offering an upturned hand to each other. Pineiro gleefully shuffled around Soca on her heels and dove into their final pose. Soca's extension superseded that of any of his peers (in the company and beyond). Both dancers moved freely, an ease that uplifted Frohlich's choreography.
Casting changes continued in The Four Temperaments; Etienne Diaz replaced Craig Wasserman in the Third Theme, and Wasserman replaced James Ihde in Sanguinic. After the demands of the earlier repertoire, the audience and dancers seemed relieved to be on more familiar territory. Hussey maintained his dominant presence, with luscious backbends in Melancholic. The stage swelled with the ensemble, as four couples crisscrossed the stage through the corps de ballet in supported leaps. As outlined in the program notes, Balanchine created the work for New York City Ballet's predecessor Ballet Society in its opening season. Perhaps, Corella took notice, and made this offering to his dancers and company which considers itself a Balanchine legacy.Photo credit: Pennsylvania Ballet Soloist Lillian DiPiazza in Trisha Brown's O zlozony/O composite by Alexander Iziliaev.