Pennsylvania Ballet dances its premiere of Wheeldon's "After the Rain"

Posted: February 10, 2013

On the eve of a snowy nor'easter, Pennsylvania Ballet danced the company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain on Thursday night at the Merriam Theater. It is a gorgeous - and hopeful - homage to love and weather.

Set to music by Arvo Pärt, the piece features three pairs of dancers clad simply in gray - Julie Diana and Zachary Hench, Evelyn Kocak and Ian Hussey, and Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde - storming the stage.

The men first slide their partners, who are en pointe, across the floor; they sit while the women lean over them in arabesques; and finally, they lift their partners across the stage in succession, legs at various heights.

Then the dark backdrop gives way to a rosy hue, and Hench and Diana return in pastels for a slow, hopeful pas de deux. The movement includes lots of wrapping, unfurling, and flexing of limbs, like flowers seeking the sun.

Wheeldon created this piece in 2005 to honor retiring New York City Ballet star Jock Soto, and Hench and Diana beautifully re-created its lovely shapes.

The program opened with George Balanchine's Square Dance, a leotard ballet set to Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli. A study in geometry, it employs six corps couples and a pair of principals, Amy Aldridge and Jermel Johnson.

The Russian-born Balanchine loved Americana, an affection exemplified in Square Dance by the delightful blend of classical steps in service of the patterns of that homespun American social dance form.

The dancing is speedy and impressive, requiring lots of small, quick jumps and turns, and meticulous precision, but Aldridge and Johnson nailed every step and kept it buoyant throughout.

The evening closed with Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove, set to Joseph Lamb's Bohemia Rag 1919 and music of Haydn. Created in 1976 for American Ballet Theatre, this early and well-known crossover piece embraces jazz, modern, and ballet.

Its initial ragtime section has Hench, Aldridge, and Fadeley dancing different styles, in a sort of vaudeville act. Then it becomes an amusing take on a full-length ballet - the serious ballerina, the cavalier who would just like to be seen behind his partner, the over-the-top corps de ballet, and the character-dancing villagers in long dresses and babushkas.

Hench, a casual character who pops in and out of scenes, plays with bowler hats, other dancers, and the audience.

All three of the choreographers on this program have made significant marks on American ballet, and Pennsylvania Ballet's evening provided a light in the gloom before the storm.


 Additional performances:


2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Merriam Theater. 215-893-1999.

Contact Ellen Dunkel at edunkel@philly.com.

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