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Lewis J Whittington
Performance Reviews
Academy of Music
United States
Philadelphia, PA

Pennsylvania Ballet - Stiles for styles & substance in finale

by Lewis J Whittington
June 15, 2014
Academy of Music
240 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Pennsylvania Ballet
Academy of Music, Philadelphia
A 50th Finale
June 12-15*
Pennsylvania Ballet brought the curtain down on its 50th Anniversary season with ballets by Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe and two ballets by PB resident choreographer Matthew Neenan. Earlier in June, they took their production of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream to the Kennedy Center. Programming with a strategic show of range, and a chance to feature several corps de ballet dancers.

In the Finale program in Philly on June 15, longtime corps member Jonathan Stiles was bidding farewell, after a distinguished career with the company and exemplar of a corps dancer whose solid artistry and technique were among the best the company has ever seen. He was indispensable at any given time.

The biggest PB news, though, at the end of a milestone season, was the announcement that artistic director Roy Kaiser and executive director Michael Scolamiero are stepping down after many years. Kaiser will remain while a new director is named and help in the transition for next season.

Meanwhile, even with these shakeups, there was a concert to dance.

Jerome Robbins' In the Night, choreographed in 1970, is a subversive old world ballroom scene with duets of three couples that play as snapshots of their relationships, scored to the lush romanticism of Chopin piano transcriptions. Lillian Di Piazza and Zachary Hench dance with cold chemistry that is part mannered and part Robbins' literalness that, by now, can look over thought, with tangled and ponderous configurations. Within that, Di Piazza and Hench, even with some mechanical moments, made this flow.

James Ihde and Brooke Moore had more to work in terms of expressive phrasing, and were able to build sensual chemistry, but the lift patterns still looked studied. Robbins' lightened up with the final dance between Amy Aldridge and Frances Veyette, with airy unfussy lifts and dramatic conflict fleetly told in a few gestures. Throughout Robbins' density, ballet orchestra pianist Martha Koeneman delivered sublime Chopin piano etudes, preludes and ballades.

Matthew Neenan's Penumbra, for five dancers, scored to Alberto Ginastera's lush salon noir music, played by Koeneman and cellist Jennie Lorenzo, is already a company signature piece, with vintage Neenan signatures- squirrelly group patterns, balletic fusion and folded up torsos, turned up ballet feet — just to mention a few. Two male - female couples cavort separately and together, meanwhile Jermel Johnson dashes across the stage, stops for a little mambo move solo or slices the through the air with razor sharp layouts before crumbling to the floor.

Carilin Curcio and Ihde had sumptuous moments, at one point Curcio snakes head first down Ihde's 6'4" frame of a high lift, like silk. Stiles clean, unfussy technique and great patterning on full display for one last time (officially, let's hope) partnered with Laura Bowman was a perfect way to say goodbye: this couple radiated dancer heart.

At the bows, Stiles moved downstage as Kaiser brought him flowers and a bottle of Verve Clique and the audience rose to recognize his distinguished career, countless great performances. Martha Chamberlain, former principal at PB and Stiles' wife came on carrying their daughter Molly, as current dancers also filed onstage to applaud Jonathan.

Next, Neenan's premiere La Chasse, a pas de deux with Lauren Fadeley and Alexander Peters set to the music of Franz Schubert and played, with penetrating luster by Koneomen, Lorenzo and on violin the masterful Luigi Mazzocchi. Even though Neenan is just as whimsical as the previous piece, it is in a completely different choreographic key and just as involving. Neenan is inside the silky chambers of this music and this wily dance, keeps evolving off his micro steps ala Fosse. La Chasse proved a showcase for the dance personas of these stars, one of his most sonorous keys.

William Forsythe's 'In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated' with a soundscape by Thom Willem and Leslie Stuck, that makes you feel like you are waiting for club drugs, with the concussive rhythms engulfing the stage. The dancers in electric green unitards and everyone has their own fragments of Forsythe's double-time choreography, the more developed one having a magnetic pull. Made in 1987, this ballet's contemporary glamour, but by now, this older Forsythe work, by now, has lost some of its edge. Meanwhile, the rotating ensemble of nine dancers, with droll athletic precision and Milan runway attitude.

Forsythe allows for balletic improv and among the standouts taking advantage with fine results at this performance Edward Barnes, Daniel Cooper, Amir Yogev and Carilin Curcio.
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