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Versatility in Pennsylvania Ballet's Program - Serenade, Carmina Burana

by Taylor Gordon
November 17, 2007
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
www.taylorgordononline.com

Pennsylvania Ballet website - www.paballet.org

PA Ballet Playbill
Back in New York after a 22 year absence, Pennsylvania Ballet brought two programs to City Center from Nov. 14-18. Saturday evening's performance featured two extremely different choices of repertoire. Dancing a classic next to a new contemporary work with the same attack and grace takes skill, but the company definitely made an impression.

First on the program was Balanchine's Serenade, staged by Sandra Jennings. It is a classic that was made for students at the School of American Ballet in 1934. While much of the company's repertoire is based in Balanchine work and a good portion of its members trained at his affiliated school, it still took guts to tackle such a representative ballet with The New York City Ballet, Balanchine's own company distinguished by his works, just blocks away.

Pennsylvania Ballet dancers proved themselves easily with an exceptional combination of technique, speed, and elegance, which are the signatures of this master's work. Principal dancers Martha Chamberlin (stepping in for Amy Aldridge), Julie Diana, and Arantxa Ochoa each shined with a unique quality – Chamberlin of freedom, Diana of beauty, Ochoa of drama – and could easily match any performance of Balanchine's own dancers.

One of the great things about dancing a Balanchine piece is that the corps de ballet is given significant responsibilities and opportunities to move. There are no swans bemoaning the sidelines for a three act ballet here. Though they do indeed frame the principals, Balanchine's corps dancers are constantly moving with free upper bodies and sharp footwork, working almost as hard as those in the spotlight. Pennsylvania Ballet's corps sparkled next to the equally charming principals.

Going from the clear distinction of hierarchy in this early ballet to the mishmash of Carmina Burana, the program's second piece, was a surprisingly welcomed shock. Choreographed by company member Matthew Neenan, the dance was a far cry from the lyricism and poise demonstrated in Serenade.

Neenan's choreography itself was interesting, but it was the costumes and set that made it pop visually. Throughout the ballet a white tent-shaped, semitransparent platform sat on the stage, occasionally being moved and manipulated by the dancers. It became the corner stone that remained constant while so much else changed through the piece.

Such a distracting shift was with the lead singers walking on and off stage to find their place near the ensemble. The vocals by The New York Choral Society were powerful as a whole, but had the leads been more inconspicuous they wouldn't have taken away from the performance. Instead, they would enter and exit from the front wing just in time to sing their line, but it always seemed to come at a poignant transition where audiences expected a dancer rather than a singer hustling to his place.

Another distraction was in the costumes, though they did make the piece what it was. Designed by Oana Notez-Ban, they didn't appear to blend with the others onstage since there were so many styles and colors going on, but individually they were intricate and creative. A number of different variations on the tutu were worn, including long white ruffled skirts that only hung down their back, and half of a more wiry skirt attached to a black bodice. Others used a lengthy tail of elastic material that was incorporated into the movement and partnering. How each outfit related with the others was unrecognizable.

Despite this, however, the piece included some wonderful dancing and stimulating visuals. The closing image of the night was the entire company onstage in nude leotards or dance belts. In a high-energy finale, a blackness came over the backdrop, leaving only a half moon shape of light to bare the dancers in their near-nakedness. Not only were their bodies exposed, but their audacity and spirit were truly revealed by the end program.
Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki


Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki


Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki

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