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 Post subject: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Tue May 11, 2010 1:30 pm 
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Pennsylvania Ballet's 2010-11 season is announced. Marissa Montenegro reports in Playbill.

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:07 pm 
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In Philly2Philly, Debra Yemenijian previews the 2010-11 season, which begins on October 21 at the Academy of Music with a triple bill of Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco," a new work by PAB resident choreographer Matthew Neenan and Roland Petit's "Carmen."

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 8:18 pm 
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In the Courier-Post, Karyn Collins previews Roland Petit's "Carmen," which opens as part of a triple bill at the Philadelphia Academy of Music from October 21-24, 2010.

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 6:55 pm 
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Ellen Dunkel reviews the Thursday, October 21 performance in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:00 pm 
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In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Merilyn Jackson reviews the Thursday, February 3, 2011 performance of a triple bill: Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," Wheeldon's "Polyphonia" and Tharp's "In the Upper Room."

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 Post subject: Pennsylvania Ballet dancers in "Black Swan"
PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:58 pm 
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An older but interesting article on the fourteen company members who appeared in "Black Swan" (and mentioning Millepied's world premiere, which the company will be presenting next month), as background info for the review of PAB's "Swan Lake," which I saw last Thursday night.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20101205_DANCING_WITH_A_STAR.html


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 Post subject: "Swan Lake" on March 3, 2011
PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:07 pm 
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Pennsylvania Ballet – ‘Swan Lake’
March 3, 2010 – Academy of Music, Philadelphia
By Lori Ibay

Pennsylvania Ballet first presented the world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s re-envisioned “Swan Lake” on June 4, 2004, neatly timed with the Dance Critics Association’s 30th annual conference taking place in Philadelphia the same weekend, and allowing dozens of critics (myself included) to witness the historic event. The timing of this season’s opening night was probably not coincidental either. With the 2011 Academy Awards still fresh in our memory – complete with images of a glowing, pregnant Natalie Portman clutching her Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the blockbuster film, “Black Swan” (which was also nominated for five other awards, including Best Motion Picture) – it seems as though audiences are eager to see a full-length, real-live “Swan Lake.” If they’d decided to pile into the Academy of Music on Thursday night, as I did, they would not have been disappointed.

Wheeldon’s modernized “Swan” still feels refreshingly innovative, even seven seasons after my first viewing. Gone are the typical stone castles, the dark woods, the evil sorcerers, and the parade of princesses at the royal ball. Instead we have a company rehearsing for its production of “Swan Lake,” a sinister ballet patron, a motley entourage at the company’s gala, and a principal dancer obsessed with his role. The opening scene roots us unmistakably in the Degas era. Ballerinas gather in rehearsal clothes, pausing deliberately for fleeting moments while tying their shoes or fixing their hair, creating live reproductions of Degas paintings. By setting the action in the 19th century, Wheeldon ingeniously makes his version simultaneously modern yet traditional, and undoubtedly more accessible to 21st century audiences.

As the principal dancer overly engrossed in his role, Zachary Hench is regal and engaging. Hench was Wheeldon’s original Siegfried, and the character seems to come second nature to him. His partnering looks effortless, even in the most intricate pas de deux; he consistently delivers fireworks during his solos (and rarely fewer than five revolutions in his pirouettes); and his emotions flow from him so naturally that we believe and sympathize with his turmoil and his heartbreak.

Opposite him, and in nearly opposite circumstances, new to the role and (gasp) corps de ballet member Lauren Fadeley attacked the challenge with grace, poise, and solid technique. Her Odette was appropriately timid and apprehensive, and her long arms were a natural fit for the swan-like movements. As Odile, Fadeley was more confident, coy, and flirty, though not as sexy, seductive, and truly evil as I hoped she would be (admittedly this opinion comes from one who feels that every traditional “Swan” should end in a double suicide). It will be interesting to see how she develops her portrayal of the Black Swan as she continues to perform this role throughout her career. Technically solid, Fadeley showed off beautiful lines and perfectly arched feet, and in her Act III solo, fired off twenty-two uniform single pirouettes (but who’s counting?). More importantly, she was expressive and believable in her despair in Act IV, which was key in delivering the tragedy of the love story.

The corps de ballet supported the principals with lively dancing in Act I’s company rehearsal scene. Dressed not in costumes, but in rehearsal attire of muted grays and whites, the dancers added all the color to the scene with their movement, particularly the men’s corps, whose sequence of grand jetes never lost their height, even in the umpteenth leaps at the end of the sequence. Standouts in Act I were Martha Chamberlain, Lillian Di Piazza, and Jermel Johnson (whose ballon never ceases to amaze) in the Pas de Trois.

In Acts II and IV, the women’s corps was absolutely stunning as the flock of swans. They seemed to move, breathe, flow, and morph as one organism into beautiful shapes and forms that Wheeldon expertly weaves. By moving the swans onto the stage more quickly than previous versions, the flock really seems to fly into the scene, and the constant changes in formation make the seamless uniformity of the group more mesmerizing than monotonous. The Cygnets, danced by Laura Bowman, Phoebe Gavula, Abigail Mentzer, and Ryoko Sadoshima, were in near-perfect unison, with only a barely-noticeable stray tilt of the head reminding us that there’s no CGI involved in this production.

Act III’s festivities were fueled by Abigail Mentzer, Kaia Annika Tack, Ian Hussey, and Jermel Johnson in an energetic Pas de Quatre; Amy Aldridge dancing the Russian striptease with flair (with help from an eager and enthusiastic men’s corps); Lillian Di Piazza, Edward Barnes, and Jonathan Stiles dancing a flamenco-infused Spanish Dance that was fiery, if not a bit out of control; and Rachel Maher with James Ihde as the heel-kicking Czardas. Catalin Curcio, Adrianna de Svastich, Amy Holihan, Riolama Lorenzo, and Alison Pray danced a fun and flirty Can-Can before Meredith Rainey’s scheming Von Rothbart introduces Odile.

The evening’s opening night glitches – stage directions audible enough to be heard through the curtain, a stray spotlight here, poor lighting there – were minimal enough not to affect the success of the performance. With final showings coming up on March 12th, this is an opportunity not to be missed for balletomanes and movie-buffs alike. And, with fourteen Pennsylvania Ballet dancers (including Fadeley) appearing in “Black Swan,” and the film’s choreographer (and fiancé to Natalie Portman) Benjamin Millepied presenting a world premiere at the company’s April performances, Pennsylvania Ballet is undoubtedly the company to see this spring.


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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:41 pm 
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Ellen Dunkel reviews the Thursday, March 3 performance of Christopher Wheeldon's "Swan Lake" for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:26 pm 
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The Pennsylvania Ballet
Academy of Music
Philadelphia, PA
March 5, 2011

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake”
-- by Jerry Hochman

Every once in awhile, attending a ballet performance becomes more than just attending a ballet performance: It becomes an opportunity to recognize, and to celebrate, a landmark work of art. Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake” is cause for celebration.

I had heard about Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake,” was aware that his vision of this classic Romantic ballet was unusual and idiosyncratic, and recalled that the production was generally well-received when it premiered in 2004 (it was commissioned to celebrate PA Ballet’s fortieth anniversary). But except for the company’s appearance at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, the production has been unseen, and under the radar, since then, despite Mr. Wheeldon’s ever-growing (and well-deserved) reputation as one of the finest of contemporary ballet choreographers. So when I heard that the production was scheduled to return to PA Ballet’s repertoire this season, I had to see it – even if it meant venturing outside of New York, New Jersey, and nearby San Francisco, Seattle, and London.

It was worth the trip. Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake” is intelligent without being too cerebral, complex without being overly complicated, exciting, audacious, and, most significantly, sensual (from the inside out, as I will explain below). And Mr. Wheeldon’s concept – setting the relatively standard operating “Swan Lake” in a ballet studio in late 19th century Paris, is much more than a simple concept. It is not only Petipa/Ivanov and Tchaikovsky mated with Degas, it is “Swan Lake” pollinated by Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge.” And, miraculously, on multiple levels, it works. If tickets for the only remaining performances (on March 12) are still available, go.

Mr. Wheeldon’s decision to change the ballet’s location is both reasonable and opportunistic. If the story is not going to take place in some Central European castle and nearby woodland surrounding a lake inhabited by a creepy monster and beautiful swan/ballerinas, setting it in late 19th century Paris is an alternative choice that makes sense. It was the time that the “Swan Lake” as we know it was initially produced, and the connections between Petipa and Paris, and even Tchaikovsky and Paris, are well known. [Indeed, Tchaikovsky visited Paris more than any city outside of Russia, and was in Paris in early 1876, around the time that he was in process of completing “The Lake of Swans,” which became “Swan Lake.”] And setting the action in a ballet studio enables Mr. Wheeldon to change the ballet’s center of gravity from the fantasy world of “Swan Lake” to the ‘real’ world of ballet at that place and time, as witnessed and represented by Degas – a world where the power of wealth and privilege met the power of beauty and sensuality, and where the dancing on stage may have been a prelude to a ‘real’ dance of mutual seduction.

The genius of this memorable production is that Mr. Wheeldon has used this concept as an opportunity to portray one world, the fantasy world of “Swan Lake,” mirrored in the ‘real’ ballet world of Degas, and in the process to blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality. [And I’ve used the word ‘mirror’ advisedly – a mirror is a prominent visual component of the production.]

I will discuss Mr. Wheeldon’s creation in greater detail later in this review. But the evening was also memorable for PA Ballet, as a company. It had been many years since I’d seen PA Ballet, and I don’t recall being particularly impressed then. Things have changed, for the better.

As with any relatively small company, PA Ballet provides abundant opportunities for young dancers to gain performing experience. But under the leadership of artistic director Roy Kaiser, there appears to be an unusual effort here, at least based on this performance, to nurture, and to feature, younger dancers. Members of the corps, and even apprentices (for example, Laura Bowman and Lillian Di Piazza, respectively), are given soloist-level roles, and performed very well. Indeed, among the dancers I noticed were two very young dancers who are not yet on the company roster – one sprite, Ryoko Sadoshima, who performed with an engaging natural quality that stood out from the general tendency of other corps dancers toward stiffness (which comes from lack of experience rather than any lack of competence), and Phoebe Gavula, who danced with unusual clarity and assurance for someone so young. [I later ascertained that both these dancers, as well as others in last night’s cast, are with Pennsylvania Ballet II, PA Ballet’s pre-professional company.]

But perhaps the strongest measure of PA Ballet’s investment in the future is the selection of the two dancers to perform Odette/Odile for the seven-performance run. Brooke Moore, a soloist (for the matinee performances), and Lauren Fadeley, a member of the corps (for the evening performances).

I was unable to see Ms. Moore, but Ms. Fadeley, who has a NYCB pedigree, did an admirable job. Her Odette was promising, but also was clearly a work in progress (as it should be at this stage). Although she did well with the Romantic style, it seemed to this viewer to be a style that she had dutifully learned, rather than a style she adopted and inhabited for the performance. More importantly, she does not appear to be a ‘natural’ Odette, and seemed to have difficulty displaying the regal vulnerability that the role requires (although her Odette in Act IV, which is somewhat less emotionally complex, was very well done, and effectively moving).

On the other hand, Ms. Fadeley’s Odile was a knockout.

As I’ve written previously, for me the measure of success of a “Swan Lake” performance is how well the ballerina dances Odile. And for me the measure of how well the ballerina dances Odile is whether she successfully seduces both the Prince and the audience. Most ballerinas I’ve seen have a tougher time with Odile than with Odette. It’s not doing the steps – it’s doing the steps and being a siren at the same time. [Tomas (“Black Swan”) must have read my reviews.] And if the seduction doesn’t come across as an irresistible sexual force, the ballet loses its edge. As Odile, Ms. Fadeley knew what she was doing from the moment she hit the stage, and her ‘I’ve got what you want; what are you going to do to get it?’ smile was a killer. As any successful seductress knows, the looks may be a prerequisite, but if you want to catch your prey, and your prey’s wallet, it’s the attitude. Ms. Fadeley’s Odile had attitude to spare. That she didn’t do all the ‘requisite’ fouettes (which, after three consecutive nights of Odette/Odile, was understandable) didn’t matter; that she could convincingly make the Prince go weak in the knees did.

Which returns me to Mr. Wheeldon’s concept.

If anyone had asked me, which of course no one ever did, I would have told them that one way to consider learning how to portray Odile is to imagine how it would feel if you were an entertainer at a ‘gentleman’s club,’ and had to convince a customer to spend his money on you, and not on someone else. Mr. Wheeldon’s concept evolves into something similar.

The action takes place in a ballet studio where the dancers are rehearsing a new production of “Swan Lake.” The characters are the dancers, including a Principal Male Dancer who will perform Prince Siegfried in the ballet, a Gentleman Patron (one of many gentlemen patrons who populate the piece), who has donated substantially to the studio and who is allowed access to the rehearsal (and the ballerinas), the school’s Ballet Master (who will become Prince Siegfried’s tutor, Wolfgang), and various denizens of typical ballet studios (who will be recruited to play various roles in the production).

The opening scene of the dancers in the studio quickly transitions to the rehearsal of Act I itself (which, for the audience, is the ‘real’ Act I of the ‘real’ “Swan Lake”). When the rehearsal ends, the dancers, patrons, and others leave the studio, but the Principal Male Dancer, distressed by what he sees as the salacious motives of the Gentleman Patron (and probably also by the willingness of the ballerinas to accept and encourage this attention), is overcome with sadness. In his melancholy, he dreams, and in his dream he sees (and dances in) Act II of the “Swan Lake” production that the dancers are preparing to perform. But in this dream performance, which takes place in the studio, the villain who has entrapped the ballerinas into becoming swans, Von Rothbart, is none other than the Gentleman Patron – whose suit and top hat have been converted into ugly tattered rags (perhaps a reflection of the ugliness that the Principal Male Dancer sees in the Gentleman Patron’s character). Act III takes place in the same ballet studio, which has been converted into the location of a party to celebrate the new production, and where the guests are gentlemen patrons and the dancers. The Gentleman Patron has arranged the evening’s entertainment – seductive dances by the ballerinas to entice the other gentlemen patrons (the male dancers are along for the ride). These dances of seduction lead to the dance of seduction by Odile, presented by the Gentleman Patron (in the guise of Von Rothbart). The Principal Male Dancer’s dream then continues in Act IV, where he loses Odette to Von Rothbart’s unbroken spell, and the production then ends as the Principal Male Dancer returns to reality, the studio, and the ‘real’ dancers who have inhabited his dream.

As I see it, Mr. Wheeldon’s Act III is the cornerstone of the production and the key to its success.

In the usual production of “Swan Lake,” Odile's seduction of the prince, inevitable as it must be, emanates from outside the ‘real’ world of castles and kings, nobles and peasants, witches, fairies and sorcerers. Act III takes place in a fantasy castle where princesses from neighboring countries are presented for the uninterested Prince’s consideration as marital partners, and the princesses’ entourages provide the court’s entertainment (played ‘straight’ as character dances from each of the respective countries). Von Rothbart suddenly crashes the party (though sometimes this happens at the beginning of the Act), bringing Odile with him. Odile is the exotic temptress, different in appearance and attitude from the plain vanilla princesses, and she seduces the Prince. Prince Siegfried’s inability to resist temptation is the result of the imposition on him and his ‘real’ world of forces outside of the norm over which he has no familiarity, and no control.

In Mr. Wheeldon’s production, Odile’s seduction of the prince, inevitable as it must be, emanates from the inside. Act III takes place in the ‘real’ ballet world of late 19th century Paris, a world that included exclusive parties for gentlemen patrons (in an upscale 19th century French gentleman’s club?; in a rarified Moulin Rouge?), where the power that Odile has over the prince is just another example of a beautiful dancer’s ability to seduce wealthy men (who, of course, are there to be seduced, and expect nothing less). The diversions that the Gentleman Patron presents are not antiseptic character dances, but sexually-charged dances designed to enable the ballerina to seduce the gentlemen patrons and to convince one (or more) of them to share his wealth and status with her. In the first of these dances, one ballerina, dressed top-to-bottom in an all white costume as a Russian Snow Maiden (or Ice Princess), dances the ‘typical’ Russian variation seductively in front of the assembled men, and then allows herself to be disrobed piece-by-piece by different ‘gentlemen’ until she is no longer a virginal snow maiden, but a siren in lingerie. It is a high class strip tease. While less obvious, the subsequent ‘character’ dances are equally seductive – their only reason for being is for the lead ballerina to entice the gentlemen patrons. [The scene includes s a pas de quatre at the beginning, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the scene, and which perhaps was intended to be a ‘legitimate’ dance prelude to the ‘real’ dances of seduction to follow.] The final ‘character dance,’ before the Gentleman Patron morphs into Von Rothbart and presents Odile to entertain and seduce the Prince, is a Can-Can (danced to the music usually used for the Neapoliltan dance). So, in Mr. Wheeldon’s conception, Odile’s seduction of the prince is not so much the product of an outside force different from the ‘real’ world as it is an extension of, and reflection of, the ballet world of Degas with which the Principal Dancer is all too familiar.

But lest I give the impression that Mr. Wheeldon’s creation is more cerebral than it is, I’ll resist the temptation to convert this review into a thesis any further than I already have. Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake” is as entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating.

Created on PA Ballet, and presumably with the expectation that it would be performed at the Academy of Music (an extraordinary jewel of a theater), it has a more intimate feel than the blockbuster productions often seen. Into this smaller space Mr. Wheeldon has crammed considerable activity, but although crowded, the stage never looks overly busy. Some of the choreography that Mr. Wheeldon has created is merely passable (the polonaise in Act I, the Act III pas de quatre, for example), but most of it is both strikingly beautiful to watch and yet unpretentious and accessible at the same time. I particularly like his ‘village’ dance that opens the Act I rehearsal, and the way he weaves the dancers in the white acts in and out of the doors of the studio (the French doors, naturellement), giving equal emphasis to the ballet and the fact that it is being danced in the context of the Principal Male Dancer’s dream that takes place in a dance studio.

The piece is not only well choreographed, its production values are impeccable. For example, the production is marked by repeated visual references to Degas paintings – the dancers, costumed roughly as Degas portrayed them, move from one mini-scene to another, and occasionally – and subtly – assume positions that mimic the positions of the dancers in Degas’s paintings (including a “snapshot” recreation, seen through the mirror, of Degas’s representation of the dancers partying with ballet patrons). The impact of seeing the dancers through Degas’s eyes, and of recognizing the dancers on stage as the dancers in the Degas paintings and then seeing these paintings come to life, is extraordinary. Credit to Jean-Marc Puissant, Natasha Katz, and Adrianne Lobel, who created the costumes, lighting and sets respectively.

As the Principal Male Dancer/Prince Siegfried, Zachary Hench, a company principal, did a commendable job dancing the steps and partnering Ms. Fadeley. But in this production the ballet can’t happen unless the Dancer/Prince conveys through his acting and body language both the fantasy world of “Swan Lake” and the ‘real’ world of Degas sufficiently for the audience to feel his pain. In this respect, Mr. Hench excelled. The Act I pas de trois, which was relatively straightforward Petipa/Ivanov, was well danced by Ms. Bowman, Ms. Di Piazza, and particularly by Jermel Johnson. Amy Aldrich’s ecdysiastic Snow Maiden was danced both powerfully and irresistibly, and Meredith Rainey brought strength and conviction to his performance as the Gentleman Patron/VonRothbart. Ms. DiPiazza and Rachel Maher were alluring seductresses in the Spanish Dance and the Czardas, respectively (Ms. Maher’s flaming red hair alone would have been enough to arouse a stone), and Ms. Bowman, Ms. Gavula, Ms. Sadoshima, and Abigail Mentzer danced an admirable “Cygnets” that the audience recognized with enthusiastic applause. And two of PA Ballet’s principal dancers, Riolama Lorenzo and Julie Diana, portrayed the Queen and the Seamstress, respectively, with understated conviction: Their presence added an extra measure of class to the production. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the unusually and extraordinarily sensitive conducting by the PA Ballet’s Music Director and Conductor, Beatrice Jona Affron.

As the performance drew to a close, I wondered how Mr. Wheeldon would pull it all together – the dream, the dancers, and Degas. When Act IV of the dreamed ballet concluded, all the dancers, except for the Principal Male Dancer, exited the studio (where Act IV in the dream had taken place). As the Principal Male Dancer returned to a hazy reality, the dancers (the real dancers, including dancers who had just performed in the dreamed ballet), re-entered the studio dressed as Degas had portrayed them, creating an image of yet another Degas painting. One of these dancers, Ms. Fadeley, who was now just one of the ballerinas in a ballet studio in late 19th century Paris, approached the Principal Male Dancer. They turned to each other, and shared a knowing, mysterious, and eloquent glance. Two larger than life characters in a ballet; two performers in a dream, two dancers in a Degas-inspired studio. The curtain came down, I pumped my fist silently into the air, and said under my breath: “He nailed it!”


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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 12:06 pm 
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In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ellen Dunkel reviews the Thursday, April 7 performance of Jorma Elo's "Pulcinella." with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center.

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 Post subject: "Building on Balanchine" on April 14, 2011
PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:32 pm 
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Pennsylvania Ballet
‘Building on Balanchine’ – ‘Agon,’ ‘This Part In Darkness,’ ‘Who Cares?’
April 14, 2011 – Merriam Theater, Philadelphia
By Lori Ibay

Pennsylvania Ballet opened “Building on Balanchine,” a program including two Balanchine works and a world premiere by Benjamin Millepied, on Thursday evening before a packed house at the Merriam Theater. The audience buzzed with energy as it filled the theater, perhaps fueled by the ongoing Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (which contributed in part to the funding of Millepied’s “This Part In Darkness”), or the long-awaited seventy-degree springtime weather, or simply the anticipation of seeing a triple bill including a world premiere (or a combination of all of the above). Regardless, ballet-goers on Thursday evening were not to be disappointed.

The program began with “Agon,” (Greek for “contest,” or “agony, struggle”), the third and final collaboration of Balanchine with composer Igor Stravinsky. With twelve pieces of music for twelve dancers costumed in black and white, the ballet is frank and exact. The four men (Ian Hussey, Francis Veyette, Andrew Daly, and Amir Yogev) danced the opening Pas de Quatre with sharp, crisp movements, soon joined by the eight women (Amy Aldridge, Arantxa Ochoa, Brooke Moore, Gabriella Yudenich, Caralin Curcio, Lillian Di Piazza, Rachel Maher, and Kaia Annika Tack), who danced with the precision and exactitude characteristic of Pennsylvania Ballet’s women’s corps.

Though stark, the ballet is not emotionless, as seen in Part II. The First Pas de Trois (Hussey, Moore, and Yudenich) showed lightness and ballon in their steps, with Yudenich and Moore displaying beautiful symmetry in their unison, creating perfect mirror images. In the Second Pas de Trois, Aldridge exhibited steady balance (with the support of Daly and Yogev) and impressive musicality, dancing the Bransle Gay with quick steps that were perfectly married with the music. In the Pas de Deux, Arantxa Ochoa was absolutely mesmerizing, commanding attention with her gasp-worthy extension and graceful, deliberate movements. Veyette was her solid partner, working steadily through seamless transitions and supporting Ochoa’s unwavering balance.

In contrast to “Agon,” the final piece of evening, “Who Cares?” set to sixteen songs by George Gershwin, showed another side of Balanchine – full of color and character, celebrating the spirit of Broadway. Costumed in vivid pastels and before a backdrop of the New York City skyline, the ensemble of twenty filled the stage with lively dancing. Even an unfortunate slip and fall early in the piece could not dull the sassiness or the smiles of the dancers.

Principal dancer Martha Chamberlain (who will retire at the closing performance of “Building on Balanchine,” after a 21-year career with Pennsylvania Ballet) was radiant and regal in pink, taking the stage to enthusiastic applause from the audience. With Zachary Hench in “The Man I Love,” the pair danced a sweet, romantic pas de deux. Later, in “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” Chamberlain showed off her quick feet and the classic charm that has made her an audience favorite for over two decades. Gabriella Yudenich sparkled in a solo to “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”; Ochoa showed her sweet and innocent side in “Embraceable You” with Hench, and in a solo to “My One and Only”; Hench partnered the women expertly, but lacked some of his usual flair until his solo to “Liza.” The final number, “I Got Rhythm,” with the complete ensemble on stage, brought the evening to a rousing end.

Sandwiched between the classic Balanchine pieces was Benjamin Millepied’s “This Part In Darkness,” set to mesmerizing music by David Lang. The piece began after the first intermission with little ceremony – there was no flashing of the house lights signaling the end of the break, no orchestra warming up or reintroduction of the conductor. The curtain opened to a bare stage, wings exposed, and a large screen on which was projected a live camera shot of the audience still making their way back to their seats. The camera gradually honed in on one woman, a dancer (Barette Vance), who slowly made her way down the aisle to the back of the theater and out into the lobby, where she was met by another dancer (Francis Veyette).

The camera stayed close to the pair dancing an intimate pas de deux in the empty lobby, allowing the audience inside the theater to see their faces and feel their connection from a unique perspective. As the pair separated, the shot followed the male dancer making his way backstage, and as he strode out of view, the action began to explode on the stage. Three men, in simple black pants and dark green shirts (costumed by Paul Cox) were joined by two, then three more, and though the wings were in view, the entrances happened so quickly that there was no anticipation – no notice of dancers waiting for their cues to enter – until the eight men commanded the stage, exuding athleticism and masculinity with their movements.

The screen abruptly switched to a top view of the stage, again allowing the audience to see a novel perspective of the formation of men before them. Later we saw a split screen, with half of the view of the men lined up on stage, and the other half foreshadowing the line of women forming opposite them, although they hadn’t yet appeared. When they did burst onto the stage, dressed in black pants and deep purple tank tops, they were just as powerful and relentless as the men, hair flowing loose, with passionate commitment to the choreography.

The projection on the screen continued to change – while Jermel Johnson and Ochoa were engaged in an intense pas de deux, a corner of the screen showed off-stage action: a pair of hands reaching for each other, past each other, finally meeting. Later a steadicam (held by Alexander Iziliaev) appeared on stage and shot the action around the dancers, giving the audience multiple perspectives at once – the customary view of the stage, but also multiple views from the cameras that made the dancers scattered on stage seem closer together and more interconnected. It’s as though you were looking at the director’s view, a participant’s perspective, and the final product all at once. Overwhelming at times, but also exhilarating.

The intensity of the music and the dancing built to a climax that felt much like the endurance test of “In the Upper Room,” but whereas Tharp’s piece makes me feel like the dancers have just completed a marathon, Millepied’s made me feel like I just witnessed a triathlon. With so much going on all at once, the audience’s experience is likely to be new and different at each performance.

Although live cameras and projections have been used before (and sometimes with more deliberate views, illusions, and special effects designed), Millepied’s use of them seems more pragmatic and realistic, allowing the audience to experience the piece almost omnisciently, with a seemingly multi-dimensional flooding of the senses. I did wish that the long cords trailing the cameras could have been hidden out of the views, which took away from the magical sense of omnipresence, but the triviality did not keep me from coming to my feet along with many other audience members at the close of the piece.

“This Part In Darkness” is technically Millepied’s second collaboration with Pennsylvania Ballet, the first being his work with fourteen company members who appeared in the film “Black Swan,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and choreographed by Millepied. With two triumphant successes in a row, let’s hope it is not his last.


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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:39 pm 
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Posts: 341
Location: New Jersey
The Pennsylvania Ballet
Merriam Theater, Philadelphia
April 15, 2011
Agon; Millepied Premiere: “This Part In Darkness;” “Who Cares”

-- By Jerry Hochman

Benjamin Millepied’s dances aren’t dull. But, of the pieces of his that I’ve seen, it’s not quite clear how to describe what they are. Competently executed, of course, stylistically contemporary (which in this case means that the viewer can’t yet discern any particular style), and at times curiously interesting, his creations also have appeared to this viewer to be frequently unfocused and unfinished-looking, both existential and frenetic (as if created by a Jean-Paul Sartre with a NYCB accelerant). They’re ok, but not anything I’d go out of my way to see a second time.

Mr. Millepied’s new work, “This Part In Darkness,” is all of this - except it’s also inventive, energetic, stimulating, and exciting to watch. In short, it’s the best work by Mr. Millepied that I’ve seen.

Given its world premiere the previous night, “This Part In Darkness” is a multi-media unified performance. By that I mean that it is a single choreographed work taking place in multiple locations (from within the audience, the theater lobby, the backstage bowels of the theater, the wings, and the stage), from multiple angles (side views, angled views, front views, views from above, and close-ups of the dancers - or parts thereof), and with different media (the dance is seen both on the stage, and as images on an upstage screen).

Most importantly, all of it is in real time – the images on the screen are not projections or recorded images; they are the televised images of the dancers performing the choreography as seen and transmitted to the screen by a live camera from locations that the audience is unable to see directly, as well as televised images showing different views of the part of the performance that takes place in front of them on the stage. And there are times when some dancers are on stage and some off, so if the camera is focused on the off-stage dancers, the audience sees images of the dancers off-stage that are televised on the screen at the same time that they’re seeing dancers performing in front of them on the stage.

This sounds considerably more distracting than it really is. On the contrary, as conceived by Mr. Millepied and executed to perfection by the PA Ballet dancers, this viewer found the multiple contemporaneous points of view (including that overhead view that briefly – very briefly - brought to mind camera views of the June Taylor Dancers from the old Jackie Gleason Show) to be enlightening and exhilarating rather than distracting. For example, I found the opportunity to view two sets of dancers (as I recall, divided male/female), seen separated right-left on the stage, simultaneously with a view of the same dancers at the same time from a different camera angle switched left-right on the screen, to be visually intoxicating.

Displaying multiple views of performers on a split-screen, or screening images in the background while dancers perform on stage, are not novel ideas. And there probably have been performances that feature live images on a screen behind the dancers on the stage also, though I can’t recall any. But a staged/screened unified piece of choreography that allows multiple simultaneous images and views of the dancers while they perform in front of the audience, and which also displays action that the audience cannot see at the same time and in the same view as action that the audience can see directly in front of them, is something else again. Perhaps it’s been done before. Perhaps it was an idea generated by Mr. Millepied’s acquaintance with hand-held cameras as they are used in moviemaking (“The Black Swan.”). It doesn’t matter. The idea appears fresh and inventive and makes “This Part In Darkness,” if not unique, at least highly unusual.

The piece begins with the screen spread across the back of the stage, displaying an image of Barette Vance, appearing to be looking for something or someone. Shortly thereafter, the audience realizes that this image is a live shot of Ms. Vance walking up the right aisle of the orchestra, captured on camera and viewed on screen at the same time. Ms. Vance then exits the orchestra, enters the lobby, where she has a rendezvous with Jonathan Stiles. They circle each other (or the camera circles them), exchanging uncertain romantic-infused but somewhat emotionally detached movements, all displayed in close-up on the screen in front of the audience as it takes place in the theater lobby. Eventually, Ms. Vance and Mr. Stiles separately exit the lobby, proceed back along the theater’s internal alleyways (captured by the camera – as both surrogate for and messenger to the audience), and eventually join the other dancers in the piece. And then the ‘real’ performance begins.

Although the concept dominates the piece, and informs my recollection more than the actual choreography, Mr. Millepied succeeds in creating a movement dynamic that grows on you and eventually sweeps you away with the its inexorable and increasingly vigorous pulse, complementing music of the same description – “Pierced,” composed by David Lang (sort of a contemporary “Bolero” without a melody, an elephant, or an ending).

But the best part of the piece was Mr. Millepied’s incorporation of the ‘concept’ into the work as a whole. For example, images of one arm approaching another from opposite sides of the screen, at first sort of ‘circling’ each other, tentatively, wary of actual contact though infused with an emotional gloss (similar to the full body and close-up images of Ms. Vance and Mr. Stiles that had been displayed on the screen earlier). Then, the hands meet, and then seem to caress each other. And at some point in this visual presentation, the audience realizes that the arms are not disembodied images, but the actual arms of two dancers sitting deep in the stage right wing, being captured by the ubiquitous camera. Eventually, these two dancers (who appear to have been Lillian Di Piazza and Andre Vytoptov), join other dancers on stage – and the camera captures, and the audience sees, all of it – including emotional undercurrents between people that take place in private, as well as images that are always unseen – parts that usually, to the audience, are ‘parts in darkness’.

Although all the PA Ballet dancers performed as if the piece had been mounted on them – which it was – in addition to those already identified, particular mention must be made of Arantxa Ochoa, Francis Veyette and Lauren Fadeley.

“This Part In Darkness” was sandwiched between two ballets created by George Balanchine: “Agon” and “Who Cares.”

“Agon,” one of Balanchine’s black-and-white signature works, didn’t quite come off that way. Although the PA Ballet dancers performed credibly and generally mastered the difficult choreography (noteworthy were Ms. Fadeley and James Ihde in the pas de deux, and Holly Lynn Fusco, Evelyn Kocak, and Ian Hussey in the first pas de trios), there were timing and spacing issues, and as a group the piece failed to exude the attack, the cohesion, or the crispness that the piece requires.

On the other hand, the PA Ballet dancers not only did Balanchine’s “Who Cares” justice, they were superb. A crowd-pleaser choreographed to sixteen Gershwin songs, “Who Cares” is guaranteed to put a smile on your face as you leave the theater. But when the dancing is better than just good, as it was at this performance, the grin goes from ear to ear. Amy Aldrich was both compelling and exciting in “The Man I Love” (with Mr. Veyette) and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” Abigail Mentzer irresistibly sweet in both “Embraceable You” (again, with Mr. Veyette) and “My One and Only,” and Brooke Moore vivacious in “Who Cares” (with…Mr. Veyette) and particularly in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” Laura Bowman and Mr. Stiles danced an engaging “’S’Wonderful,” as did Ms. Kocak and Daniel Cooper in “Lady Be Good.”

It was a great way to end a very good PA Ballet evening. And if they perform “This Part In Darkness” again, I’ll look forward to seeing it a second time.


Last edited by balletomaniac on Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:42 pm 
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Posts: 12407
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
In the Philadelphia nquirer, Ellen Dunkel talks to choreographer Benjamin Millepied about his new work for Pennsylvania Ballet, "This Part in Darkness."

Philadelphia Inquirer


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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 7:51 pm 
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Posts: 12407
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Lisa Kraus reviews "Agon," "This Part in Darkness" and "Who Cares?" in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia Inquirer


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 Post subject: Re: Pennsylvania Ballet 2010-11
PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:27 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 30, 2006 5:02 pm
Posts: 1495
Location: USA-Switzerland
Thanks, balletomaniac Jerry, for your March 5 Wheeldon "Swan Lake" review, another one of your epically fine efforts. I look for your reviews, but didn't think of checking out the Pennsylvania Ballet. I have now learned to check your membership site to see what you have written.

Next stop, April 15 "Agon: Millepeid Premier...." Wheeldon, Millepied and Ratmansky are several choreographers that I try to keep my eye on as much as possible these days. At the Mariinsky Festival this year I was very impressed by Millepied and Wowed(!) by this theater's interpretation of Angelin Preljocaj's "Le Parc." He is considered quite a 'sensualist' at the moment, but if this 'more restrained' 17 year old classic that he revived, is typical of his work I would definitely consider him as another choreographer to follow as closely as possible.

My daughter, son-and-law and grandchildren live in Philadelphia so I try to see the Philadelphia Ballet, but haven't had much luck with my timing. The twice that I've seen them, I thought that they were quite good.

I have not seen that much Christopher Wheeldon, but I really like what I have seen. I've never seen a full length work by him, but certainly hope to. This sounds like a fascinating possibility.

I believe that in most of his works that I've seen there's been a 'knockout' duet that carries everything into another realm. Was there any such thing in this performance or anything else that made it Wheeldon Special ?

I look forward to all your future reviews, as usual, and hope that you continue to enjoy seeing what you do as much as I enjoy reading about it.

loribay, if you're reading this, I hope to be able to read your reviews as well.


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