Happy Birthday, Pennsylvania Ballet

13-14, Features

The Inquirer
by Peter Dobrin
To ring up the curtain on its 50th-anniversary celebration, Balanchine-centric Pennsylvania Ballet will mount its first complete performance of a major gem in the master's crown: George Balanchine's Jewels.
Later in the 2013-14 season, it will premiere new works by important contemporary choreographers Trey McIntyre and Matthew Neenan.
In a nod to its own artistic lineage, the company will bring in pieces old (Balanchine's Serenade) and new, by former artistic directors Christopher d'Amboise and Robert (Ricky) Weiss.
And to satisfy small E.T.A. Hoffmann aficionados and aficionadas, Pennsylvania Ballet will once again dispense magic and bring dolls to life in productions of Coppélia and The Nutcracker.
Artistic director Roy Kaiser said he wanted the season to honor the company's heritage - he performed some of these works when he was a dancer - while moving the art form forward.
"Many of the ballets [on for next season] molded the company," he said. "On the other side of it, I wanted to show what people can expect to see from the company and look to the future with these two world premieres by Neenan and McIntyre. These are the young men who are creating today."
Jewels opens the season Oct. 17-27, at the Academy of Music. The Feb. 6-9 program at the Merriam features the company premiere of Petite Mort by Jirí Kylián to music of Mozart; Jerome Robbins'Afternoon of a Faun (Debussy); Balanchine's Serenade (Tchaikovsky); and the "Pas de Deux" from Margo Sappington's  1976 fantasy on Alexander Calder , Under the Sun (Michael Kamen). John Butler's Carmina Burana (Orff) and Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto - a company premiere - share the bill March 6-15 at the Academy.
The Nutcracker is put up on its usual holiday perch Dec. 7-29. Coppélia is given three performances at the Academy on March 8 and 16.
On a "Director's Choice" program May 8-11, Balanchine acolyte Weiss is represented by the company's first performance of his Grieg: Piano Concerto, and d'Amboise by his popular Franklin Court(Bach), joining a world premiere by Trey McIntyre.
June 12-15, at the Merriam, In the middle, somewhat elevated by William Forsythe is paired with two titles by Neenan: At the border, set to John Adams' Hallelujah Junction, and a new work - his 15th commission for Pennsylvania Ballet.
Neenan, 38, the ballet's choreographer in residence, says that at this point he has made few decisions about the work he is to create - only that it likely will be for two to four dancers. Typically, he starts with a piece of music, but he has not even chosen that yet, though he is listening all the time.
"A lot of it is intuition. I would say most of it. OK, all of it is intuition," he said. "Music is so important to me, even if there's no music. I've been working a lot lately with silence, and to me, even that's music."
He expects to start working with dancers in December, in Nutcracker season. "It's always nice for the dancers to do something else at that time," he said.
In a way, the appearance of Jewels completes a long-delayed journey. Of the three acts - "Emeralds" to scores of Fauré, "Rubies" to Stravinsky, and "Diamonds" to Tchaikovsky - Pennsylvania Ballet has performed only "Rubies." A scheduled company premiere of the entire work in 1990 was canceled after artistic turmoil prompted the Balanchine Trust to revoke permission to mount it and other Balanchine works.
Kaiser says he believes Jewels was programmed and withdrawn other times because of budgetary reasons. It's a large work, a full-length one without a story.
"The musical choices he made are in my opinion perfect, and it's a work that when it was done was successful initially, but it is also very different," said Kaiser. "A lot of people were maybe not such fans of it - a full-evening ballet without a narrative. How do you do that? This is about music and movement and beautiful costumes. Pretty pure."
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