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Pennsylvania Ballet

'The Firebird', 'Franklin Court'

by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

March 11, 2006 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA

The afternoon performance of “The Firebird,” by Pennsylvania Ballet, opened with “Franklin Court.”  This piece was Pennsylvania Ballet at its finest.  “Franklin Court” celebrates the history of Philadelphia, as well as Pennsylvania Ballet’s dancers.  I truly appreciated the simplicity of the set and easy beauty of the costumes, which allowed me to focus on the dancers and the choreography.  Cecilia Brauer opened the ballet on the glass harmonica, a unique and intriguing detail.

“Introduction” highlighted the female soloists, Amy Aldridge, Riolama Lorenzo and Laura Bowman, as well as the two partners, Philip Colucci and James Ady.  This was a nice opening.  The choreography was quite poetic, at times matching the sharp sounds of the harpsichord; at other times smooth, in contrast to the blunt baroque sounds.

Amy Aldridge danced with Philip Colucci in “Bifocals,” while Abigail Mentzer and Jonathan Stiles served as the other image in Franklin’s figurative bifocals.  This piece was very creative and such an interesting concept; unfortunately the delivery was the most dispassionate of all in “Franklin Court.”  Aldridge seemed a little dismissive of this piece.  She delivered the choreography adequately and seemed confident, but her arms were stiff and she looked a little frantic.  She and Colucci were poorly matched as a couple; when he lifted her, she seemed to barely leave the ground.

Riolama Lorenzo and James Ady, on the other hand, were superbly matched in “Spark.”  At first, Lorenzo’s presentation seemed weighty in contrast to the light sounds of the music.  However, her delivery improved as the piece continued.  Her arms were beautiful, and the subtle humility on her face made her endearing.  This was one of Lorenzo’s best performances.  She was smooth and careful in her presentation and the piece suited her well.  I want to see her dance like this all of the time; Ady should always partner her if they consistently dance like this together.  They returned to the stage in “Electricity,” where their match made even more sense.  They were so easy to watch, and she looked just beautiful.  This choreography seemed traditional on the surface, but their delivery and the smooth curves of Lorenzo’s back and arms made it alluring.

Laura Bowman was also outstanding in her delivery of “Swim Fins.”  This piece was absolutely incredible.  She looked light as a feather; her poise and grace maintained, as she was tossed through the most spectacular series of lifts.  Why have I not noticed her before?  Bowman was cast in “Swim Fins” for every single performance of “Franklin Court” this season.  As such, she delivered it with the smooth mastery of someone who knows a piece like the back of her hand, trusts her partners like she trusts herself and is having a wonderful time performing.  The male corps in this piece did an excellent job partnering her; rarely is a piece this much fun to watch, while at the same time providing an awe-inspiring delivery of beautiful choreography.

Fugue created a momentous climax with the entire company dancing on stage together.  There was so much happening at once, luscious waves of arm and leg movement from the corps and soloists.  The delicious energy from the company was unmatched.

As impressive as “Franklin Court” was, the disappointing presentation of “The Firebird” was unexpected.  This piece opened on one of the most elaborate sets I have ever seen.  The sets along with the costumes were so completely overpowering; they made the already difficult-to-follow piece even more confusing.

Alexander Iziliaev, as Prince Ivan, entered and his movements were neat and sharp.  The opening dragged and seemed long.  There were multiple creatures dwelling in the enchanted garden of Kastchei, but their movements were so cacophonous and disjointed that the story was quickly lost.  By the time Iziliaev was turned to stone, my interest in the piece had vanished.

The audience first saw the Firebird, Arantxa Ochoa, on the platform above the stage.  She fluttered constantly.  The frenzied movements of this character were very displeasing in the way of ballet heroines.  Ochoa performed the role adequately with no recognizable mistakes, but she was simply not absorbing.

Martha Chamberlain performed as Princess Vasilisa.  Her costume, as well as those of the Princesses, was utterly distracting.  I find it difficult to comment on their performance, as I could barely see it under the enormous bustles that were their skirts.  It is hard to say whether the choreography itself was not flattering to the dancers, or it was simply their presentation.

Alexei Borovik performed as Kastchei the Deathless; his entrance was filled with foreboding, and darkness.  After his entrance, the piece rapidly deteriorated into complete chaos.  The only individual who seemed to stand out was Hawley Rowe, as the Snake.  Her sinewy flexibility was quite intriguing.  Tara Keating performed as Katschei’s wife, in a costume that seemed somewhat grotesque, and again very distracting.

The piece closed with the defeat of the evil Kastchei, with all of the dancers covered head to toe in gold robes and hats, at the wedding of Princess Vasilisa and Prince Ivan.  In the final analysis, it was difficult to say whether the costumes and sets were too much, the choreography was not flattering, or the dancers did a poor job; regardless, this was a difficult piece to watch.

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