An Eagles fan, trash talk and a battle over ballet

Lauren Fadeley , principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, takes a break from class. She said: "Our job is to make it look easy." DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Lauren Fadeley , principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, takes a break from class. She said: "Our job is to make it look easy." DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 07, 2016

It was a cultural clash unseen even in a city long defined by the confrontational fanaticism of its sports fans: a grande bataille between a trash-talking Eagles fan and an elegant defender of the ballet.

And in yet another sign that Philadelphia may be a city in transformation, a city rightly celebrated for much more than sports, a cracked bell, and steak on a roll, the ballet guy owned the Eagles guy. Big time.

The emotions of the cultural imbroglio have settled, and with no permanent ill will. But what happened is a reminder of the emerging dominance of our city's ballet company - and just how hard its dancers work to make the unnatural movements of an art form appear easy and elegant.

It began two weeks ago, after the Eagles' debacle of a playoff-hopes-ending-loss to the Redskins.

In the defeat, Jonathan Stiles, marketing manager for the Pennsylvania Ballet, saw an opportunity to playfully remind Philadelphians that with football season all but officially over, they could still catch the six remaining performances of the ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker.

"Eagles season got you feeling down?" Stiles wrote on the ballet's Facebook page. "Escape to the land of Sweets!"

Then a guy named Jerry Ward, who is apparently culturally enlightened enough to follow the Pennsylvania Ballet on Facebook, but not enough to realize his words would insult ballerinas everywhere, wrote:

"Eagles played like they were wearing TuTus."

Stiles, once a professional ballet dancer himself, wasn't having it.

Not from an Eagles fan.

With ballet superstar Angel Corella as artistic director, with its expanding repertoire, and with its upcoming production of Don Quixote being billed by many as a can't-miss dance event, the Pennsylvania Ballet is on fire. A top-rate ballet company with a growing international reputation.

The Eagles are home on their fannies.

"It pushed a few buttons," Stiles said of Ward's dismissive remark. He saw an opportunity to highlight the achievements of the dancers - and have a little fun.

"With all due respect to the Eagles," he began in his response to Ward on the company's Facebook page. "Let's take a minute to look at what our tutu-wearing women have done this month."

They performed The Nutcracker 27 times in 21 days, with many ballerinas performing the epic - and gruelingly difficult - Snow and Waltz of the Flowers scenes without understudies to spell them.

"No second string," he wrote. "No injury timeouts."

And unlike the Eagles, they left their fans happy.

"No Boo Birds at the Academy," he said.

Boom.

"So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we'd all be looking forward to the playoffs.

"Happy New Year!"

By Tuesday, Stiles' good-natured takedown was being read on ESPN's Mike and Mike morning radio show.

" 'Take that,' says the ballet, and I love it!" screamed host Mike Greenberg in delight. "I'd like to see Sam Bradford standing just on the tips of his toes."

And in rehearsal rooms of the Pennsylvania Ballet, the company's dancers went about their morning workouts - the first session of their daily six hours of practice.

"It's a life," said Lauren Fadeley, one of the company's principal dancers, who starred as the Sugar Plum Fairy in this year's production of The Nutcracker.

Fadeley and her fellow principal dancer, Ian Hussey, spoke of the realities of their art. Of the long days of unending exercise and preparation, of dancing through broken bones, of the backstage tears. Of the toll it all takes.

"Our job is to make it look easy," Fadeley said. "But we're dying up there."

They spoke of the reward - of the joy of self-expression they find in it.

"Being there on stage doing what you've trained your entire life to do," she said.

There are no hard feelings, said Hussey, a lifelong Philly sports fan from Westmont.

He said he hopes the Eagles will be better next year.

Then, he and the other dancers went back to work.

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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