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Pennsylvania Ballet
'Theme and Variations', 'Prodigal Son', 'Western Symphony'

by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

February 3, 2006 - The Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA

The Friday evening performance of The Pennsylvania Ballet’s Tribute to George Balanchine opened with the most traditional of the three pieces, “Theme and Variations.”  The eyes could focus nicely on the beautiful costumes and the dancers’ delivery of the choreography since the stage was so brightly lit and there was no backdrop.

Amy Aldridge was pleasant to watch as the principal in this piece. She and James Ady seemed a little unsure of themselves as partners at first, but their confidence clearly built through the piece and by the end their movements were free-flowing.  Aldridge made Balanchine’s beautiful choreography look easy.  She had lovely facial expressions and beautiful legs with nice clean delivery of the footwork.  Her long arms were only slightly stiff.  James Ady was a little sterile.  He had good technique, a great jump sequence, yet seemed dispassionate and also to be concentrating too hard on his performance.   

Tara Keating, Abigail Mentzer, Jessica Gatinella and Valerie Amiss did a nice job as the soloists.  A portion of the choreography was reminiscent of the Signets from “Swan Lake,” four dancers in line with their arms intertwined.   This group’s head movements were slightly exaggerated and looked strange during this part of the dance. 

In the closing of this piece, the 24 dancers, including the corps, soloists and Aldridge and Ady, did a lovely job dancing together.  The contrast of the principals’ blue costumes against the yellow of the soloists and the gray of the corps was really exquisite.  There were only brief moments when the corps was not together.  Their simultaneous lifts were spectacular, though.

The production then moved to the boldest of the three Balanchine pieces, “The Prodigal Son,” an impressive piece of biblical storytelling that was a stark contrast to “Theme and Variations.”  This was a courageous piece and performed very well by the Friday evening group of dancers.  

Alexander Iziliaev was outstanding as the Prodigal Son.  His technique was impeccable and he was simultaneously an exceptional storyteller.  He made a profound movement from the beginning of the piece, when he was bold and rebellious, to the end, when he had been destroyed by his sins and came home in shame.  Iziliaev’s high, strong jumps in the beginning of the piece were excellent.  In finality, his movements truly embodied the emotional devastation of a man betrayed by mankind. 

Izilaev’s pairing with Arantxa Ochoa as the Siren was excellent.  They worked very well together in this piece, she as his seductress.  The role suited Ochoa well, as she was slow and sinewy in her movements and her erotic seduction of the Prodigal Son was coy and cruel.  Their dances together were almost sadistic in their eroticism; she sat on his head, stood on his knees, and many times she was wrapped around him intriguingly. 

The male corps of dancers was notable in “The Prodigal Son,” as well.  Their cacophonous portrayal of a bawdy group of drinking companions was amusing but became cruel as they stole and beat the Prodigal Son. 

The Friday evening production ended with a lively Balanchine piece, “Western Symphony.”  After the darkness of “The Prodigal Son,” this was a light way to end the evening.  This piece was set against an Old West backdrop that was an imaginative way to set the stage while letting the dancers have the limelight.  The costumes, created by Frankie Fehr after Karinska, were absolutely adorable.

The piece opened with Allegro, highlighting soloists Riolama Lorenzo and Francis Veyette.  The corps dancers in this piece seemed to be having a lot of fun, which made it enjoyable to watch.  Allegro gave Lorenzo an opportunity to show off some nice extensions.  She was flirtatious and playful.  Francis Veyette did a fine job as her partner, although he did fall out of his turn sequence.

Julie Diana and Meredith Rainey provided my favorite performance of the evening in Adagio. Diana is really a pleasure to watch on stage, soft and comfortable in her own skin as a dancer.   She had a beautiful turn set and was absolutely graceful throughout the delivery of this comical piece.  Together, they were very funny in their presentation of this choreography.  The upside-down lifts in the piece were spectacular and as awkward as they were made to look, they were perfectly delivered, and there was no doubt that Rainey’s clumsy cowboy would be able to catch Diana every time. 

The Fourth Movement closed the evening.  Tara Keating and Philip Colucci danced together in this piece. Keating’s hat was a little too large and was the only costume detail that was distracting in “Western Symphony.”  She did a nice job, though, and her fast footwork and repeated relevés in arabesque really showed off her strength as a dancer.  Philip Colucci had a nice jump set with very clean landings.  The piece closed with all of the dancers on stage in choreography reminiscent of a square dance.  One of the corps dancers in red fell repeatedly at the end of this piece.  All in all, though, the dancers did a good job, and “Western Symphony” was great fun to watch.

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