Pennsylvania Ballet’s dancers looked young and fresh on stage against a series of backdrops that looked like paintings, stained glass, and a schoolyard. But they would look equally fantastic in LOVE Park or the courtyard at City Hall, with colorful outfits against gray stone and an audience of passersby.
While Opus Jazz is newbie-friendly, Matthew Neenan’s world premiere Beside Them, They Dwell is far less so. Set to a very modern score by Pierre Boulez, with plucked strings, vibrations, and long sections of silence, Beside Them refers to a passage from Psalm 104 about the beasts in the field and the birds of the heavens.
And indeed, the dancers fluttered, flew, and strutted — as much as one could see them. The performance was so dimly lighted that details were lost in the dusky gloaming. A shame, because several dancers stood out, including Lauren Fadeley, Jermel Johnson, Evelyn Kocak, and Alexander Peters.
The ballet was pure Neenan, but with new maturity. His signature quirky movements — lifting an arm with the opposite hand, overly stylized hand positions, off-balance postures, and tiny ronde de jambes en l’air — were interspersed with more traditional ballet vocabulary.
The evening opened with Peter Martins’ 1988 Barber Violin Concerto. It featured a classical couple, Amy Aldridge and James Ihde, mixing it up with a barefoot, modern duo, Laura Bowman and Ian Hussey.
Bowman, an adorable, nonstop dynamo, made the ballet, but the piece was studded with little problems, emphasized by a loud crash as Bowman and Hussey exited stage right.
This program’s performances close a season marked with several retirements in the top ranks. Aldridge and Francis Veyette were the only principals who danced Thursday night, and much of the season felt like auditions for future company stars. Tune in next fall for some big changes in the ranks. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Additional performances: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org.
Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at email@example.com