New works, old works, comings and goings, promotions, cast changes, and a wake-up call marked the Pennsylvania Ballet’s season closer, Re/Action, last week.
No big rush
A Philadelphia premiere, Christopher Wheeldon’s 2003 “Rush” opened the program. Pianist Martha Koeneman played Bohuslav Martinů’s plinky score with a spirited lightheartedness. Listeners could even pick it out over the rest of the orchestra, playing under Beatrice Jona Affron’s sure-handed baton.
With three central duets – Ana Calderon and Russell Ducker, Alexandra Hughes and Aaron Anker, and Oksana Maslova and Ian Hussey, plus 10 corps members in jewel-toned satin -- the company looked sleekly elite despite its first four last-minute cast changes. The women, en pointe, bent their arms toward the floor as the men, hands on the women’s waists, turned them in circles as if they were compasses on a drawing board. There were few choreographic innovations in this early work of one the world’s most sought-after choreographers. He played it safely balletic, and I wouldn’t rush to see it again.
A delayed departure
It was to have been a triumphal evening for one retiring ballerina, principal dancer Amy Aldridge, on the boards as one of the company’s most infallible stars for 23 years. But a recurring injury kept her from dancing her fan-favorite roles in Balanchine’s "Rubies," "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" with Alex Peters, and "Tarantella." I saw the latter, with Mayara Piniero and Jermel Johnson gaily spanking their tambourines.
Neither did we see Peters, as artistic director Angel Corella scratched "Rubies" that evening. Peters, another fan favorite, had his own recent injury, but he’s far too young and vivid in his springy leaps to retire; he’s leaving to join Miami City Ballet.
Reportedly, later in the run Aldridge was well enough to return, and audiences did see her flirtatious "Tarantella" with Craig Wasserman. Also later in the run, she danced her Rubies with Peters and took the lead role in the world premiere of choreographer-in-residence Matthew Neenan’s Somnolence. Neenan, who as a company member danced with Aldridge for many years, gave her the honor of having the last laugh in his piece’s final twist. A tearful flower-and-confetti-flowing farewell followed.
We did get to see Peters along with Jermel Johnson, Ian Hussey, Sterling Baca, and James Ihde as they took lead roles soloing and partnering Dayesi Torriente, Maslova, and Holly Lynn Fusco, who subbed with regal authority and aplomb for Aldridge. Neenan, who loves the chance to give roles to as many of the company as he can, marshaled 21 dancers for this piece.
As the curtain opened on "Somnolence," a towering pyramid of purplish pillows and tangled people rose against a torn and tufted backdrop suggesting a Hollywood Regency headboard. To a tranquil Vivaldi work, they became fitful dreamers tossing and turning, slithering off the pillows, sleepwalking, carrying their pillows offstage, and belly-sliding back in on them like third-base runners. The women wore Martha Chamberlain’s lush bloomers and teddies and the men, grey one-piece sleep togs.
Torriente, promoted earlier this week to principal dancer from soloist (13 dancers were promoted), and Baca, also a principal, danced a languorous duet that registered regret or loss as they parted. Dancers threw pillows across the stage and then stepped on them as if fording a stream. Some slid on their bellies cradling the cushions, taking a little snooze.
What started as a dreamy night from Neenan led to his shockingly snarky ending and made us sleepers wake up. I would rush to see this again if the ballet reprises it, so no spoilers.