A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Pennsylvania Ballet plays it safeBY: Merilyn Jackson 06.11.2012
The Pennsylvania Ballet could be an international sensation instead of a regional stalwart if it didn’t play it so safe.
Pennsylvania Ballet: Neenan, Beside Them, They Dwell; Robbins, New York Export: Opus Jazz; Martins, Barber Violin Concerto. May 31-June 3, 2012 at Merriam Theatre, Broad and Spruce St. (215) 893-1999 or www.paballet.org.
Pennsylvania Ballet’s quandary:
In last week’s final Pennsylvania Ballet 2012 spring run, Matthew Neenan’s choreography did the heavy lifting, heaving the company, just barely, above being a good repertory company of well-performed museum-quality work. But even the premiere of his ineffably sublime new work, Beside Them, They Dwell, lacked the steam to pull the entire program above the ho-hum level.
While financial considerations may restrict program choices, the works seemed chosen to please everyone: the funders (public and private), who mostly like the tried and true with Jerome Robbins’s 1958 work, N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz; the balletomanes, with Peter Martins’s 1988 Barber Violin Concerto. And for those of us who still dream (even scream) “Astonish me!” when we step inside a theater, the (only slightly) more experimental Neenan was sandwiched tentatively in between.
Pleasing everyone is an impossible task. So why not just go completely ballsy and find works that will cause a stir, give these dancers some real fat to chew, and really piss some people off?
This company has already worked with other great choreographers who can do just that. As for new ones (to the company at least), I’m thinking Mats Ek, Rodrigo Pederneiros, Nicolo Fonte and Édouard Lock, to name a few who are lighting up the dance universe just now.
Uninspired Peter Pan
The company’s dancers are just too good to be put through the paces of such drudging works as last month’s outing of Trey MacIntyre’s Peter Pan. Oh, that such an imp as Moses Pendleton would do a Peter Pan for them— can you imagine its light and airy fantasy? Alas, ballet is not Pendleton’s forté, any more than I think it’s MacIntyre’s, who excels in contemporary choreography.
The all too obvious Classical vs. Modern dance mash-up that ends mired in Romanticism in Peter Martins’s Barber Violin Concerto opened this bill. The concerto was performed live and lovingly by Luigi Mazzocchi under the able baton of Beatrice Jona Affron, down in the pit.
But how much more trenchant could it have been if Mazzocchi had been up on the stage with the four dancers? This would only have been a slight innovation, to be sure, but would have shown at least a little daring on the company’s artistic direction side.
Martins’s work consists of two pair of dancers, one with soloist James Ihde in classical white tights, slippers and blouse and principal ballerina Amy Aldridge in white, with a French twist and en pointe. In the other, Ian Hussey (the hottie who appeared all-too briefly in Black Swan) is bare-chested, and Laura Bowman dances in a slightly shorter dress than Aldridge’s, with both in bare feet.
As it was, the dancing on Saturday night wasn’t up to keeping the work fresh looking. And the arms bent down from the elbows, hands flexed from the wrist, Nijinsky-like, is such an old-fashioned cliché a century later that it can hardly be seen as modern, only as facile.
Ihde partnered Aldridge beautifully and without mishap, but when she later fails to find him as she peers around the stage and Hussey appears instead, things don’t add up. Aldridge is taller and more mature than Hussey, and while each dances perfectly well aside from each other, their partnering just doesn’t fit.
Not only was there no chemistry between them that would make it believable for the classicist to crossover to take the modernist for her lover, but there were frequent clumsy gropings in the partnering that clearly had Aldridge stiffening with nerves. And when Hussey holds her, head to the floor, while she hurriedly unpins her hair to free her, it’s not sensual at all.
How much sexier if Martins had Mademoiselle Classique languidly undoing the twist and flinging her pins (the hair and leg kind) to the wind while teasing Mr. Modern before abandoning herself to him? As for the partnering of Ihde and Bowman, no matter how much she sizzled as Ms. Modern (and she did, spectacularly), she couldn’t light a flame under Monsieur Classique.
The Martins opened the show, and while it contrasted nicely in coloration and lighting, and musically to Neenan’s darker, more inscrutable work to a non-lyrical Pierre Boulez work of plinking strings, it did nothing to set it up. Neenan’s nine dancers excelled in this piece, which required no sensual connection between the actors— just beautiful precision dancing, and they gave him that.
Biblical birds and beasts
Here, Aldridge’s lyricism and Hussey’s easy phrasing seemed less stressed, more innocently playful. Central to the piece were the duets between Brooke Moore and principal danceur Francis Veyette, and Jermel Johnson’s skittering in a squat around Lauren Fadeley while spinning her was dazzling. (Johnson, Fadeley, Hussey and Moore will all move up from soloist to principal next season.)
The wonderful costumes by Christine Darch minimally suggested the birds and beasts of the Biblical passage from Psalm 104 that inspired the work, but John Hoey’s relentlessly dark lighting kept us from enjoying their colors to the fullest. Was there no daylight in paradise?
So the finale— the Robbins— was a crowd-pleasing grand finale. It was fun to watch my favorites, like the elegant Caroline Curcio and the suave Jonathan Stiles, boogie out in sneakers to Robert Prince’s Bernstein-like score.
But is the mission of a great company merely to entertain? Shouldn’t it also be to educate and elevate the artistic palate of their audience? The Pennsylvania Ballet could be an international sensation instead of a regional stalwart if it didn’t play it so safe.
These dancers always rise to the occasion when they feel challenged. Audiences can too.
Respond to this Article