When we talked last week, principal dancer Ian Hussey said he’d been thinking about retiring from dance for a while. He wants to take the “long-distance” out of his relationship and build a family with his husband, whose business keeps him in Brooklyn. Hussey is a homegrown favorite. He was born in Westmont, New Jersey, and began his career in Philly at the age of nine, when he started at the Ballet’s Rock School. But he wants to leave dance on his own terms. “We don’t always get to write our own story,” he said. He’s still healthy, and after a 25-year career with the company, going out on top matters.
Minimalism Is Hard
The repertoire matters, too. As Drosselmeyer, the magical uncle of the Nutcracker, Hussey bookended a career he began as the Nutcracker Prince. But the May 2019 series cinched the deal. “I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh, this would be a really nice program to go out on.’”
Christopher Wheeldon is one of Hussey’s favorite choreographers and DGV is a favorite in the Wheeldon repertoire. It is a tour de force piece set to Michael Nyman’s "Musique Grande Vitesse," commemorating the Train Grande Vitesse (TGV), France’s high-speed train.
Hussey has danced DGV with the company in the past, but the real jewel of the evening is made of Glass. Philip Glass, to be exact: Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces. Hussey calls it a wonderful work of art and confides, “I just always dreamed of dancing it, and I have been waiting for it.” It's finally in the repertoire and Hussey will be dancing it in this final series of the season.
I couldn’t help noticing that both DGV and Glass Pieces are both set to minimalist music. Minimalism is hard to dance to, so Hussey is really going out on a high note. According to Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra member Jay Krush, minimalism takes the beats from rock and roll. It slows down the harmonic progressions and keeps the rhythmic pulse. That pulse repeats and builds in intensity. DGV gives us the rhythm of the train: the pulse and the speed and the staggering lifts. Glass Pieces, set in three parts, shows us three different moods of Philip Glass, with an opening that starts with the company walking across the stage and speeds up with a complex urgency that is almost Brownian in its calculated randomness. Dancers work hard to keep up with the speed and the overlapping rhythms, but the effect can be spectacular.
When I asked Hussey what he would miss the most, he said the people—the relationships. When I last saw him at the studio, he was carrying Ana Calderon’s baby while members of the company wandered by to say hello and to coo at little Mateo, so that came as no surprise. Hussey said that throughout the season, he and Jermel Johnson have talked about how they will miss each other. They’ve been friends for 17 years and in the company together for 15. “We have so many inside jokes … that we’ve giggled about throughout the years, that no one else will get.” So he will miss his friends and the tight community of dancers.
The company is always changing. Old friends retire; new faces take their places. But as a dancer, Hussey leaves with no regrets. “I’ve gotten to dance every ballet I’ve ever dreamed of,” he told me, and you can’t ask for more than that.
The Pennsylvania Ballet presents its May series from May 9 through 12, 2019, at the Academy of Music, 240 South Broad Street. Visit online or call (215) 893-1999 for times and tickets.