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Pennsylvania Ballet

'Raymonda Variations,' 'Continuum,''The Concert'

Oh so us

by Lori Ibay

April 27, 2005 -- Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

The program notes for Pennsylvania Ballet's "The Concert" subtitled 'Or, The Perils of Everybody,' as a 'hilarious look at what concertgoers ponder while watching a classical music concert.'

Probably because of this description, along with my anticipation of Jerome Robbins' crowd-pleaser (and probably helped by the fact that I ran four blocks in not the most comfortable high-heeled boots and landed in my seat just before the overture for "Raymonda Variations" started), I was highly attuned to my own personal experience of the first two pieces, "Raymonda Variations" and "Continuum," before "The Concert" closed the evening.

I added to the rustle of the crowd settling into their seats, and imagined that the random fits of coughing across the way must be even more annoying than my hyperventilating and constantly wiping beads of sweat from my face. Soon enough, my neighbors had something more interesting to watch when the curtain rose for "Raymonda Variations," revealing a female corps of 12 dressed in peach, lively and crisp, like a breath of the fresh air I so desperately needed.

James Ady's stately poise opposite Arantxa Ochoa's exquisite balance and extension was impressive as usual, and it was hard for me to tell if my pulse was still racing from my sprint from the parking garage to the theater or if it was the dancers‚ energy fueling what felt like a continuing adrenaline rush.

However, the rush continued through the nine variations, starting with Heidi Cruz's radiant smile and seemingly effortless pointework (including more than 20 hops on pointe in a well-sustained arabesque). Other highlights included Jennifer Smith's quick footwork, Christine Cox's sequence of pirouettes, and beautifully, deliberate phrasing by Ochoa, who glanced down at her own feet as though she deserved to enjoy the show as much as the audience. In the ensemble finale, the corps‚ seamless tranformations, Ady's textbook pirouettes, and Ochoa's luminance brought the piece to an energetic finish.

My core body temperature had returned to normal by the time the company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's "Continuum" began with Zachary Hench and Ochoa in an intense silence. Although my pulse had slowed, my mind was still in chaos as I absorbed the lines and angles and unpredictability of Wheeldon's piece, set to Gyorgy Ligeti's "atonal and arrhythmic score for piano and harpsichord" (as described in a press release).

Danced by four couples (Hench and Ochoa, Martha Chamberlain and Alexander Iziliaev, Julie Diana and Brian Debes, and Riolama Lorenzo and James Ihde), there was an intensity that made me feel as though I hear my heart beating in my chest, with unpredictable swings in mood and tempo. Hench and Ochoa began with focused body control but later were like children playing Twister on the floor. Chamberlain and Iziliaev were initially fast and frenetic, then later slid across the stage in a movement I dubbed 'the inchworm.'

Diana, Debes, Lorenzo, and Ihde were mesmerizing -- at times moving in such well-executed slow motion that I felt like I was watching one of Wachowski Brothers' "Matrix" movies (an effect helped by the sounds of a siren wailing in the street outside the theater and cellphones ringing in the audience). I silently marveled at the difficult lifts, performed as effortlessly as the movies' digitally inserted special effects. Before there was time to wonder how the piece was "inspired by the emotional aftermath of September 11" (again, according to the press release), the music had ended, and the dancers were melting into the ground, leaving me still pondering as the house lights came up.

Then finally, the moment we had been waiting for, "The Concert," began with pianist Martha Koeneman dramatically taking her seat at the grand piano on the stage. One by one we met the oh-so-familiar concertgoers -- the ultra-artsy brooding and complex listeners, the husband dragged to the concert by his wife, the two ladies in constant conversation who rummaged loudly through their giant purses (I think they were sitting behind me).

The ensemble, led by Riolama Lorenzo, David Krensing, and Christine Cox with Alexei Charov, Philip Colucci, Yosbel Delgado, James Ihde, Valerie Amiss, Tara Keating, and Meredith Reffner (also featuring Ashley Flood, Jessica Gattinella, Elysia Lichtine, Abigail Mentzer, Barette Vance, Thomas Baltrushunas, Michel Antoine Braun, Brian Debes, Jamar Goodman, Michael Patterson, and Andre Vytoptov) fully embraced their deliciously exaggerated roles, endearing themselves and their quirky characters to the audience.

They re-created each concertgoer's "experience" with humor intermixed with dance and then some more humor, proving once again that the entire company (including the pianist) are masters of comedy. For most of the piece, I was laughing too hard to take much notice of my own perceptions, but as the house lights brightened the theater, there was no question that all ballet-goers on this evening had thoroughly enjoyed their experience.


Edited by Staff.

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