Thursday's dancers, occasionally overshadowed by the intensity of the chorus, might have made their movements larger, but they performed very well. Especially notable were the men, including Ian Hussey and Francis Veyette, and Zachary Hench as Jesus.
In one beautiful section, Veyette partnered two women, Barette Vance Widell and Arantxa Ochoa, dressed in white. At times, he had both promenading or turning, requiring great strength from all three. In another section, pairs of dancers stretched out yards of fabric that rippled over the floor like water, as Hench walked atop it.
At a particularly quick and breathtaking point, several men threw Hench nearly onto the backs of three dancers; three men caught him at the last minute. The "Hallelujah Chorus," with the full cast of dancers, closed out the first part of the ballet with a bang.
At another point, the cast, all in white, lined up at the lip of the stage, leaning and supporting one another. Hench was weighted down by a great cross, which looked even more poignant in shadow against the backdrop. Finally, attached to a cable, he spun and rose toward heaven.
But one section ("Why do the nations so furiously rage together") baffled, and almost made the entire ballet jump the shark. In it, the dancers waved flags of various countries and causes, including that of the Confederacy. Some performed hand-to-hand combat with sticks, others goose-stepped like Nazis, a group vibrated as though firing machine guns. And then Hench, as Jesus, leaped back on stage and restored calm.
No question, Messiah looks good on Pennsylvania Ballet, and clearly some will love it. But it may not be for everyone.
Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at firstname.lastname@example.org.