Tis The Season

Nutcracker, Features, 11-12

by Jillian Mele
NBC Philadelphia
December 17, 2011
Jillian Mele gets an exclusive look behind the scenes at the Pennsylvania Ballet. 
Watch the video at NBCPhiladelphia.com.

A Prince of a Part

Features, 11-12, Nutcracker

by Michael Elkin
Jewish Exponent
December 14, 2011
At Lucas Tischler's Bar Mitzvah this February at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, will they be doing the Macarena or a pas de deux?
Why not both: The proudly Jewish Elkins Park youngster is high on Haftorah and ballet leaps these days and is used to being feted himself.
Now he'd like to fete others. The community mitzvah he plans to pursue as part of his rite of passage: a dance-a-thon to benefit Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia; it's also where his mother is supervisor of volunteer services.
It is, as he reasons, "a step up" from his part last year in the suite as Fritz, a less regal role.But before the Bar Mitzvah, there's raising the barre. And that's what the 13-year-old is doing now, playing the Prince in the current Pennsylvania Ballet Company production of "The Nutcracker" at the Academy of Music.
He owns the court, saving little Clara from the armed toy soldiers in battle and plumping himself and her on a throne in this most sugarplum of a role.
But the Cedarbrook Middle School student has worked hard for it: "I've been studying professional dance for six years." And he owes quite a bit, he says, to the talented teachers at the Metropolitan Ballet Academy here.
A smart kid, he somewhat smarts when stereotypes of ballet dancers are voiced.
"Everybody plays sports at school," says the baseball and hockey enthusiast and accomplished player, too, "but ballet is very tough -- especially when you're taught by Russians," which he was during a summer session at the rigorous and respected Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Connecticut.
No tough love at home, just filial loving support coming from both parents Lisa and John, a computer programmer, as well as older sibs Emma and Golde.
The next step? He'll probably be handling princely roles for the next few years.
But one day, he says, "I'd like to act."
He acts his age, unspoiled, even while traveling in the jete stream of professionals. It is all so wonderful being on stage, where he says he knows he belongs.
A fan of the film Billy Elliot and its en point perusal of children in ballet, he totally agrees with the number from A Chorus Line in which dancers concede that "Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet."
"It certainly is," he says with a sigh. "It's magical."
Read at jewishexponent.com.

PA Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Features, 11-12, Nutcracker

By Pat Ciarrocchi
CBS Philly
December 14, 2011

It’s the holiday season, and George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is at the Academy of Music now through New Year’s Eve.

With its score by Tchaikovsky and the performance by the elite dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet, The Nutcracker is captivating.

And for Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette, the experience has spun a web of love.

“It’s very, very rare that you get to do what you love with the person you love,” says Veyette.

On October 29th, Veyette married Fadeley during the two week period when the company wasn’t performing.

“They emailed us the schedule,” says Fadeley, “and it said, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Veyette for Sugar Plum and Cavalier.’”

Principal roles that tell a romantic story are the stuff of great ballet. But to dance the roles together–for the first time–is rare.

“She’s an amazing ballerina,” Veyette gushes about his new wife.

“This is the best wedding present we ever could have gotten.”

The Nutcracker turns on the story of a child’s fantasy. The roles of Marie and the young Prince were cast with Nutcracker veterans from the first act’s party scene.

Twelve-year-old Mary Lee Deddens is dancing as Marie for the first time, and she’s thrilled.

“We’re told to practice at home. My sister is in the party scene also, so she sings the music and we both practice.”

Ballet Master Jeffrey Gribler has worked with The Nutcracker‘s children for twenty years.

“They’re mature and wise beyond their years, so they bring a lot to the ballet,” he says.

That includes 12-year-old Christian Lavallie, who is the Young Prince for the first time.

“I was a Party Boy, and it’s just like a huge upgrade from that. So, it’s a lot of fun.“


Read and watch the video at philadelphia.cbslocal.com.


Polished and pretty, a ‘Nutcracker’ to celebrate

Reviews, 11-12, Nutcracker

By Ellen Dunkel
The Inquirer
December 12, 2011
Fresh off a seven-performance tour of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker to Ottawa, Pennsylvania Ballet opened at home Saturday night with a polished performance at the Academy of Music.
The principal children - Mary Lee Deddens as Marie, Juan Rafael Castellanos as her brother Fritz, and Christian Lavallie as the Prince - are adorable and all danced well, but they also drew the audience in with a believable sense of wonder.
Pennsylvania Ballet is a small company, so most dancers perform more than one role, which only adds to the transformative feel of the story. Lauren Carfolite and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan are Maids serving drinks in Act 1 and turn into Tea in Act 2. Most of the Snowflakes blossom into Flowers. Holly Lynn Fusco was the Harlequin doll in Act 1, a Snowflake at the beginning of Act 2, and then the lead Marzipan Shepherdess later in the show, performing all flawlessly.
Amy Aldridge is an ideal Sugar Plum, smiling and beautiful. She upped the role on Saturday, with great reactions as the Prince mimed his battle with the Mouse King. She also added extra turns to her pirouettes, twice doing four rotations. Only her partnering with Zachary Hench as her Cavalier now and then seemed forced.
Barette Vance Widell danced Dewdrop, a gorgeous fairy who jetés and flits on and off stage among the flowers. Her solo featured a set of fouettés that she finished with a fast double turn.
Other notables include Brooke Moore as the female lead in Hot Chocolate, who performs in a group of 10 dancers but is magnetic in the role. Alexander Peters, an apprentice, was a sharp, precise Soldier doll, something the part demands but doesn't always get.
Riolama Lorenzo has been off the stage for several months, and it was wonderful to see her back as the sultry Coffee, performing with a bare midriff and sixpack abs that made it hard to believe she had a baby girl in July. There won't be many more opportunities to see her, though; she is retiring from the company in February.
Jermel Johnson excels in roles that require high jumps and extreme flexibility, and he brought both to Tea, with Carfolite and Ryan. This is the one divertissement that, while entertaining, also seems extremely dated, with non-Asian dancers representing Chinese people and performing stereotypical movements. Yet somehow, with an African-American man and two white women in the roles, the politically incorrect aspect was played down.
One section that needs work is the Angel dance. The children in beautiful costumes are a joy to watch, but they do not float as they do in New York City Ballet, which dances the same Balanchine choreography. Either the children's steps need to be smaller and faster or the dresses longer, to hide their feet.
With low-tech magic and a top-notch cast, Nutcracker is a holiday favorite for good reason. Catch it if you can. If you can't, stop by the Comcast Center, where Pennsylvania Ballet is part of the new holiday show on the wall.
Through Dec. 31 at the Academy of Music. $20-$140. 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org.

From Russia, a coup for Pa. Ballet

11-12, Features

By Ellen Dunkel
The Inquirer
October 18, 2011
Alexei Ratmansky's Jeu de Cartes was built on the very specific talents of Bolshoi Ballet royalty, international luminaries such as Natalia Osipova, Svetlana Lunkina, and Maria Alexandrova.
The fleet, energetic ballet, set to Stravinsky, was choreographed in 2005 to honor the 80th birthday of Maya Plisetskaya, one of the most prima of ballerinas ever to grace a stage. It won a major Russian award for best choreography. And only the Bolshoi has ever danced it.
Until this week.
Pennsylvania Ballet presents Jeu de Cartes on its "Russian Suite" program Thursday at the Academy of Music, along with George Balanchine's Raymonda Variations and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.
When artistic director Roy Kaiser approached his agent about acquiring a ballet from the highly sought-after Russian in time for the 2011-12 season opening, Ratmansky - who initially knew nothing about the company - selected Jeu de Cartes because he didn't have time to create a new work, he was eager to revive this one, and he learned that Pennsylvania Ballet in 2004 had debuted the Swan Lake of another highly regarded choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon.
And Ratmansky wanted to make it special. Philadelphia is "close to New York, and I don't think it's nice to repeat things that I've seen there," he said, sitting under an umbrella at a cafe table behind Pennsylvania Ballet's East Falls studios on a drizzly day last week. "I've done a lot of stuff in Russia, so I just think it's a good opportunity for me to bring something."
The 43-year-old Ratmansky danced with the Kiev Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet before leading the Bolshoi for five years. By 2008 he had worked so much with New York City Ballet that he seemed poised to succeed Wheeldon as resident choreographer there, under ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
Instead, he stunned the dance world by signing with American Ballet Theatre, as artist in residence.
"It's just schedule conflicts, because I had planned some projects that didn't really go well with Peter's plan of a resident choreographer. My schedule is much more free" with ABT, where in April his contract was extended to 2023. He continues to work with companies around the world and is premiering a major Romeo & Juliet at National Ballet of Canada next month.
Jeu de Cartes - "The Card Game" - was initially a wild card. Another ballet planned for Plisetskaya's gala hadn't come together, So with time running short, the Bolshoi shuffled the deck and turned to Ratmansky, then its artistic director.
"We were all like in panic: 'What to do? What to do?' " the choreographer said. "And so they all said, 'Well, there's nothing left. You have to do this yourself.' "
He had choreographed for the Bolshoi before, as well as the Mariinsky and other major companies. But this was one of his first works as artistic director, and the first time he had to choreograph on the fly, with no plans and with whichever dancers he could pull together.
"I knew this music, and I wanted to do this piece for a long time," Ratmansky said, "and it just happened. All the plans were made, and I just thought, 'OK, this principal guy is free,' or 'These three people are free, I will take them.' It was sort of this organic process. I didn't have anything."
His bet paid off. Ratmansky won Russia's Golden Mask Award for best new choreography for Jeu de Cartes, an honor akin to a Tony Award on an even larger scale because it spans all theatrical forms, from opera to puppetry to drama to dance.
For the Philadelphia premiere, he entrusted the casting to Kaiser. His wife, Tatiana, came two weeks ahead of him, to teach the steps.
"I sent a letter, because I didn't have a chance to come here myself," Ratmansky said. "But I described all the characters, quite precisely, to Roy. And he said, 'Well, that's people we have, and I'll make a choice. If you see something wrong, you'll change it.' But it seemed to work."
His Jeu de Cartes is not literally a card game, but Ratmansky, known for his extremely inventive musicality, plays with the Stravinsky score.
"It just blew my mind," said Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Brooke Moore, "what steps he would put where. And how many steps he wants you to do within one count - three different steps within two counts. Musically, it makes sense, but it's a challenge for your body to break it down. He's using everything that's in those three counts, things I just did not think I could do."
His inspiration arose partly out of Plisetskaya's interests. "I know that she likes solitaire, playing with cards with herself," he said.
There's no story. "It was more like a portrait of the dancers I worked with, so the vocabulary of the solos was what they could do best. It does make it difficult to set it on other companies."
Moore stepped into one of those positions. "He needed a powerhouse," she said. "In the second movement, my girl just does not stop for a while. He needed somebody who was more of an athletic dancer.
"The whole ballet is really hard," she said. "The solo that I have in the middle of the second movement is just very fast, and he basically wants me to move quicker than I think I'm capable of. I just have to push myself with everything I have."
In a recent rehearsal, Ratmansky spent more than 15 minutes with Moore going over and over and over the same phrase, stopping her every few steps to correct her foot position, her speed, or how she leaned into another dancer's arms. He and Tatiana stepped in to demonstrate.
"My goal is to get the maximum out of them, the most physicality, the most excitement," Ratmansky said.
"I will say that his wife was wonderful," Moore said, "but the ballet has become like a completely different piece within just the week that we've worked with him, because he's just very determined to get us to move the way he envisions us. And his musicality.
"He's super-nice, but he wants it for us - for his ballet, yes, but he wants us to move that way."
Ratmansky agrees. "I enjoy working, because no matter how good the dancers are, any company can have good dancers now. But to make the dancers do something better, that's the most exciting moment."
Read at Philly.com.

Another Month, Another Premiere

Reviews, 11-12

by Alastair Macaulay
The New York Times
October 21, 2011
Does a month go by without some kind of premiere by the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky? In April the Bolshoi danced the world premiere of his three-act “Lost Illusions;” in May American Ballet Theater presented the world premiere of “Dumbarton,” and in June, its first New York performances of his full-length “Bright Stream”; in July the Mariinsky Ballet gave New York its first view of his “Anna Karenina” and “Little Humpbacked Horse”; and in September the Paris Opera Ballet gave the world premiere of “Psyché,” based on the Greek myth. On Thursday the Pennsylvania Ballet presented the North American premiere of Mr. Ratmansky’s “Jeu de Cartes.” It would be nice to think the guy took August off as a well-earned vacation, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
The “Jeu de Cartes” that the Pennsylvania Ballet is dancing this week at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, as the centerpiece of a triple bill, was first danced by the Bolshoi in 2005. Its score is the one Stravinsky composed for a world premiere in 1937, choreographed by George Balanchine, in which poker became comic drama, and cards were dancers.
The Pennsylvania production includes a note from Mr. Ratmansky: “We are not card players; there will be no cards in this ballet. The meaning of the original title, which we have kept, may be interpreted as follows: to dance to music by Stravinsky is always a bit of a gamble — how not to lose count. We will go for broke!” And when the Bolshoi danced the ballet in London in 2006, “Go for Broke” was its title.
As that suggests, this “Jeu de Cartes” is a high-energy rush. It’s also full of many kinds of game playing. The 15 dancers enter not only from the wings but also through a central, gatelike space, down a small ramp and along a flat ledge — and they all use these areas to wait and observe what’s happening center stage.
The imagery includes playing dice on the floor; trotting while clasping invisible reins; displays of male virtuosity delivered with athletic or acrobatic display; and rolling on the floor too. The work’s most recurrent motif, for individual women, is a straight-legged, side-to-side teeter on point, with the dancer transferring her whole weight from toe to toe and back again — tentative but twinkling.
Principally it’s pure dance. The idea of games is pervasive. And though we don’t see cards, we feel as if we were in the thick of card playing. Group succeeds group like one hand of cards after another, forever being rearranged, and sometimes in rivalry. Some groupings recur — two male-female-male trios, batches of three or more men — but the main point seems to be near-constant change and renewal.
As it proceeds, it’s increasingly fast, furious and funny. One ballerina whips off a taxing circuit of turning jumps, then briefly collapses, caught as she falls by another woman. At the end everyone suddenly, excitingly coalesces in a freeze-frame tableau.
The designs are by Igor Chapurin. The dancers start largely in purple costumes, change into purple-cum-yellow for the second section and wear mainly yellow for the third and final part. These strong colors are offset effectively in each case by black.
It’s enterprising of Pennsylvania Ballet to present this Continental premiere. Two Balanchine ballets sandwich it: the brilliantly but fragrantly ultraclassical “Raymonda Variations” (1961) and the comic show-within-a-show-within-a-show “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (1936).
The company, which has had a strong Balanchine association since its start in 1963, has just 32 dancers, most of whom danced two of Thursday’s ballets each. Its orchestra played the three scores handsomely, skillfully conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. The elegant, bright Arantxa Ochoa and the hunky, precise Ian Hussey led “Raymonda Variations” to Glazunov’s music. It’s wonderful to see again this astonishingly intricate and step-packed piece, with its staggering demands of footwork, turns and jumps for five supporting women, as well as the lead couple.
The Pennsylvania dancers don’t have full Balanchinean turnout — amid the highest-speed passages there were a few blurs and slips — but their style is bright and lucid, with especially spacious arms. The steps shone: Audience members left the performance talking about them (and their awesome demands) above all. Ms. Ochoa’s deportment is one source of delight; Mr. Hussey’s command of rapidly beaten jumps another.
In “Slaughter” Amy Aldridge is not quite the bombshell needed for the Strip Tease Girl; still, she makes the bump-and-grind movement lively, and her merriment carries the story. Jonathan Stiles is an appealing Hoofer. The Richard Rodgers score is a comic marvel, steering us to find death as a joke and love as serious.
It’s a particular pleasure to revisit the Philadelphia Academy of Music, with its red, gold and gray interior, its beautifully painted ceiling and its spectacular central chandelier. In the intermissions I eagerly explored the theater’s upper tiers. Built in 1857, it’s the oldest opera house in America still used for the purpose for which it was built. And nowhere in the United States have I yet encountered an opera house more beautiful. The company dances Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” with its 19th-century setting, each year there: a perfect house for it.
Read at nytimes.com.

Thank you for a great season!

11-12, Videos

We've just closed on another incredible season and have to extend a huge thanks to our beautiful dancers, hardworking staff, generous donors, and loyal patrons! Our season would not have been a success without you.




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