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Pennsylvania Ballet

'Symposium,' 'As It's Going,' '11:11'

by Lori Ibay

June 9, 2006 -- Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Ballet closed its season with a program featuring a trio of works by choreographers from the within the company.  Former Artistic Director, President, and CEO (1990-1994) Christopher d’Amboise’s “Symposium” began the evening, followed by two works by current corps member Matthew Neenan -- a world premiere, “As It’s Going,” and last year’s crowd pleasing “11:11,” after which the program was titled.

Set to music by Leonard Bernstein, “Symposium” began with the dancers dressed in simple black costumes, forming straight lines in front of a white backdrop with two black perpendicular lines breaking up the space.  The piece is abstract and plotless, and “should be viewed as a shape rather than story, as line rather than character, creating tension without subject and emotion in abstraction” (program notes).

The corps moved in angular patterns, the men sometimes seeming like robotic wind-up toys, interacting by domino effect rather than by personal contact.  Featured dancers Amy Aldridge, Arantxa Ochoa, James Ady, James Ihde, Alexander Iziliaev, and Meredith Rainey infused some color into the landscape and created curves and waves in contrast to the rigid, emotionless corps.

Rainey, Ady, and Aldridge as the central pas de trois produced intensity, but the only suggestion of emotion came later from Aldridge and Ochoa, who danced with hints of smiles playing on their lips.

After intermission came Neenan’s world premiere of “As It’s Going,” titled after Anna Akhmatova’s poem, “And As It’s Going,” set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.  Light white draperies hanging by the wings before a bright background created a dreamy, cloud-like setting.  Principal dancer Martha Chamberlain costumed the dancers elegantly in blues and browns, the women in simple, classic (seemingly) strapless dresses, and the men looking cavalier in calf-high boots.

The movement, while looking easy and natural on the dancers, was remarkably energetic and fast-paced, always matching the emotion and tone of the music.  There were unexpected breathtaking moments infused throughout, such as Jermel Johnson’s impossibly high leaps, Riolama Lorenzo’s jaw-dropping extension, and Francis Veyette’s athletic acrobatics.

Neenan excelled at creating movement that showed the dancers at their best -- Zachary Hench and Julie Diana danced a passionate, intimate duet, Lorenzo was graceful and sultry, and Philip Colucci’s feature incorporated frenetic spins and a segment of floorwork that was reminiscent of a kid breakdancing on the sidewalk.

The finale felt like a sprint to the finish -- the pace and energy of the entire ensemble left the audience feeling as though we needed to catch our breath (and wondering how the dancers were able to do so).  Just as the tempo reached a climax, the race came to a sudden halt, and the piece ended abruptly, unexpectedly, and to thunderous applause.

After a second intermission (the dancers most definitely needing the time to catch their breath), the program ended with Neenan’s “11:11,” a feel-good audience favorite that premiered in February 2005, set to songs by Rufus Wainwright.  Chamberlain’s earth-toned costumes were as breezy as Wainwright’s melodies; the movement as swaying and soothing as Wainwright’s voice.

Once again, Neenan’s choreography showcased the company at its best, and the dancers -- looking loose and upbeat -- seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the audience enjoyed their performance.  Diana and Rainey were tantalizing and entrancing in “Vibrate;” Valerie Amiss, Christine Cox, Jessica Gatinella, and Tara Keating moved in seemingly constant motion in “Natasha,” in contrast to the slow, easy music; and Veyette was wonderfully lovestruck opposite Lorenzo in “Greek Song.”

Ochoa, Hench, and Ihde formed one pas de trois and Laura Bowman, Ady, and Colucci the other in “Poses,” with smooth fluid transitions that matched the music, and the entire cast in “Oh What a World” danced a rousing, inspiring ensemble segment that could have been the finale.  However, the pace slowed down in the final segment, “Sally Ann,” ending with the unpredictability and creativity that has become Neenan’s trademark.

Pennsylvania Ballet looks forward to an ambitious 2006-2007 season, including more audience favorites such as “Fancy Free” and “The Concert,” full length works “Giselle” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” and modern programs “Continuum,” “Lambarena,” and “In the Upper Room,” to name a few.

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