Pennsylvania Ballet ends a season and an era

Amy Aldridge and Francis Veyette perform in Jerome Robbins' "In the Night," one of four works in the Pennsylvania Ballet's season-ending program celebrating the company's 50th anniversary.
Amy Aldridge and Francis Veyette perform in Jerome Robbins' "In the Night," one of four works in the Pennsylvania Ballet's season-ending program celebrating the company's 50th anniversary. (ALEXANDER IZILIAEV)
Posted: June 15, 2014

Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 50th anniversary season as a company in transition. Artistic director Roy Kaiser will leave once a new director can be found. Executive director Michael Scolamiero is off to a new job.

The ballet's 50th anniversary finale program, which opened Thursday night at the Merriam, is a rather serious celebration, but the dancing - much of it duets set to piano music played by Martha Koeneman - impressed.

The cast of dancers has changed more than usual in the last year or two, as well, and presumably will change even more under a new director. So, the finale is a good time to assess.

The program opens with "In the Night," Jerome Robbins' follow-up to his beloved "Dances at a Gathering," set to Chopin piano nocturnes. Lillian Di Piazza, promoted this season to soloist, had a new depth to her dancing, if little emotional connection with Zachary Hench in their fresh, light pas de deux. Brooke Moore and James Ihde hit the right notes in a more precise, formal ballroom-type dance. The expressive Amy Aldridge, along with Francis Veyette, danced with passion and complex lifts, finding a storyline to the mostly plotless ballet.

Matthew Neenan's "Penumbra" featured two duets - Caralin Curcio and Ihde, and Laura Bowman and Jonathan Stiles, plus the ever-dynamic Jermel Johnson, who bursts on stage to change up the movement. Johnson is known for his powerful jumps and flexibility, but has matured beyond the tricks. Curcio dances with emotion and legs that go on forever.

Neenan, the ballet's choreographer in residence, also offered a world premiere pas de deux, "La Chasses," which he dedicated to Kaiser. Based loosely on the Albert Gleizes painting of the same name and set to Schubert, it is a series of days in the lives of a couple, Lauren Fadeley and Alexander Peters, that moves from formality to familiarity with Neenan's trademark humor. Peters, still in the corps, is too short to partner all dancers or dance role, but is a rising star of great talent and potential.

The evening closes with "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," a William Forsythe ballet the company premiered in 2010. Set to a pulsating Thom Willems score, it is the realization of "dance as if no one is watching" - clean, fast, carefree. The cast of nine, in polished practice clothes, danced repeated combinations in and out of the lights, performed full out or marked steps, looked into the audience as though it was a studio mirror or faced backward and performed to an unseen audience.

A finale would be a good time to see the whole company, for a final hurrah - particularly in a transition period. This program featured only part of the company, and it was a serious occasion. But I am eager to see what the next era and season bring.


Additional performances: Saturday and Sunday at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. Tickets: $30-$125. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org.

edunkel@philly.com

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