Sweet sorrow for a dancer bowing out

11-12, Reviews

By Ellen Dunkel
The Inquirer
February 11, 2012
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Riolama Lorenzo's final performance before retiring is Sunday, but it was already a lovefest Thursday night, when the company opened its Pushing Boundaries series at the Merriam Theater.
The theater was buzzing with talk of Lorenzo, both before the show and during the two intermissions. And she didn't disappoint, dancing two Matthew Neenan ballets: 11:11, set to six songs by Rufus Wainwright, andKeep, in a gorgeous, mature pas de deux with Zachary Hench.
Created in 2009, Keep is a beautiful ballet, featuring a suite of, mostly, duets about relationships, set to string quartets by Alexander Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. But it also could be interpreted as Lorenzo's bittersweet bourrée into the next phase of her life, as fresh-faced dancers in pink eagerly fill the gap. Lorenzo, in a yellow gown, stands in the shadows during a long section, then kneels to lean over a fallen colleague and, with bits of chiffon floating around her, melts into her partner in pirouettes and dramatic ports de bras.
The piece ends with Lorenzo alone on stage, spinning on a stool as the curtain comes down.
Neenan's 11:11 from 2005 is one of his classic works, a well-paced suite of dances featuring a large cast pulsating as the seconds tick off in the music, and rotating in a Bolero-like circle to Wainwright's "Oh What a World," which includes a nod to the Ravel composition. A man picks up a woman and rotates her clockwise, her legs like hands of the clock.
The evening opened with The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, by William Forsythe, a 1996 ballet of great speed and - ideally - precision, set to the last movement of Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C major.
It felt like an audition for future Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers, and perhaps it was. All the company's principals danced Thursday night, but Vertiginous Thrill featured three female soloists (Lauren Fadeley, Brooke Moore, and Barette Vance Widell) and two men from the corps de ballet (Andrew Daly and Tyler Savoie).
All were up to the task, but few got the exactitude. My audition callback goes to Fadeley, who had the most precise footwork while projecting an air of fun and ease.
Read at philly.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.

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.


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