Philadelphia Ballet performed two separate programs at the Academy of Music this month— a mini ballet repertory run of Angel Corella’s “The Sleeping Beauty,” followed a week later by “Dancing With Gershwin” with three defining ballets by George Balanchine.
‘The Sleeping Beauty’ – March 2-12
Since becoming director in 2014, Angel Corella has adapted a number of well-worn story ballets by tweaking scenes, streamlining some of the rote balletics, and, significantly, giving the full company roster gives a chance by rotating dancers in key character and specialty roles.
Corella’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ follows the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov-minted version from the 1890s, and remains full of dance pageantry, the story unfolding in fantasy ballrooms, magical garden, and bejeweled costumes, looking grander than ever in the Academy of Music. Philadelphia Ballet’s Orchestra conductor Beatrice Jona lead the Philadelphia Ballet Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s majestic score .
There were empty seats in the Academy at the March 4, Saturday night performance. There are a lot of reasons that the lengthy Sleeping Beauty would lose some of its appeal by now in its classic fantasy of a Princess waiting around for the Prince to bring her back to life, but those who were there clearly were enjoying the production, even applauding the repetitions of the treacly ‘garland’ dance, a brittle, and lengthy promenade.
During its two-week run there are five different Auroras and Prince Desires, also switches out the ballet’s many character roles with soloists, demi-soloists, corps member and apprentices.
At the Christening celebration by the King and Queen all of the Fairies are inviting to present their gifts to the infant Aurora. Caraboose rides in on a chariot with her leaping minions to crash the party, and furious at being snubbed and she puts a curse on Princess Aurora. Flash forward to Aurora’s 16th birthday where she is presented at court to courtiers and potential husbands.
At the March 4 evening performance Dayese Toriente and Arian Molina Soca portrayed Princess Aurora and Prince Desire. Aurora is a technical, demanding role with lots of adagio pointe work, and some transitions by Toriente looked tentative, but she nailed the perilous Rose Adagio, as she greets her four suitors free-balancing with each in full arabesque en pointe. She also captivates when she pricks her finger on the spindle that the disguised Carabosse hands her and dances around half dazed until she collapses into her father’s arms. Meanwhile, she is exquisite in pirouette runs and jetes. Arian Molina Soca is charmingly ardent Prince, building his character via soaring aerials and solid landings, with an unfussy princely deportment.
The night was a showcase too for the corps de ballet, from the esprit of the linked arm precision of the corps de ballerinas and the razor-sharp double turns en l’air by the ballerinos. In Act III’s wedding of Aurora, all is well at the palace—a time for multiple divertissements. Mine Kusano’s Florine holds her own partnering Nicholas Patterson flights of The Bluebird. Yuka Iseda and Peter Weil are the very animated co-seducers as Puss & Boots.
The central pas de deux belongs to the wedding couple and Soca and Toriente thrilled with four repeated poisson variations ( ‘fish dive’) lifts in the finale. Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron once again brings grandeur and detail to Tchaikovsky’s ballet score. Among the outstanding soloists were violinist Tess Varley and Harpist Mindy Cutcher.
‘Dancing With Gershwin’ March 16-19
In the early 60s, Philadelphia Ballet (formerly Pennsylvania Ballet) was founded as one of the regional companies under the under the administrative auspices of George Balanchine, modeled after his training techniques at New York City Ballet and his school. He chose Barbara Weisberger as artistic director and his choreographies established the company’s core repertory.
The program ‘Dancing With Gershwin’ performed last weekend included three of his most accessible works-‘Ballet Imperial’ ‘Agon’ and ‘Who Cares?’ following their ten-day run of ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ Balanchine Trust repetiteur Colleen Neary’s imbues these revivals with vibrant mystique and in the case of ‘Agon’ lustrous technical artistry on a new generation of PB dancers.
The curtain comes up on ‘Imperial Ballet’ (c.1942) on a phalanx of ballerinas in blue tulle tutus in a sharp diagonal line facing the men in white tights against a blue sea backdrop. Balanchine’s jumping off point is a more dynamic and muscled variation of renaissance court dances.
Scored to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto No. 2 and laced with Balanchine’s modernist choreography for solos, duets and trios to the concerto’s robust solo piano passages . The ballet had often been performed with a court set design, but it is much more interesting without it.
Dayesi Toriente and Jack Thomas are the lead couple in a series of virtuosic duets. Not to be outdone in their pas de trois danced by Sydney Dolan, Peter Weil, and Ashton Roxander. One of the strongest aspects of Balanchine’s ‘neoclassicist style’ is more compelling choreography for the corps de ballet, not just decorative. Affron proves again that she is a Tchaikovsky ballet score specialist and pianist Alexander Timoveef, in concerto passages, engulf the cavernous opera house.
Next was ‘Agon’ (1957) a Balanchine piece that is at the artistic center of this program. Scored by Igor Stravinsky, Balanchine’s closest musical collaborator, it remains a true masterpiece, a choreographic record of Mr. B at the height of his creative powers.
The title ‘Agon’ connotes contest, as well as human stress. Both are in play from the opening scene as four men move forward on stage to a hushed trumpet fanfare and state some of the movement themes of angling movement, both strategic and feral- body lines reflexive to Stravinsky’s bending strings. It is a Balanchine abstraction of renaissance dances.
Afterwards, a double quatrain occurs as eight women join them. As the configurations get more intense and the patterning more intricate in this performance there seemed to be a little scrambling. The pas de trois Sarabande, Gailliard and Coda was danced by Zecheng Liang with thrilling tour en l’air and turn sequences. He then performed flawless partnering in the pas de trois with Jacqueline Callahan and Gabriella Mesa, who offered exquisite pointe work. Then there were variations danced with equal flair by Thays Golz, Jack Sprance, and Peter Weil.
Stravinsky’s striated strings, blazing trumpets, and descending harp offered mis-en-symphonics that are anguished, defiant and unresolved—elements that Balanchine expresses choreographically. He takes the dancers inside the sensorial prism of Stravinsky’s musicality.
Balanchine’s enigmatic and riveting pas de deux is the highlight of this work as danced by Sterling Baca and Oksana Maslova. The hypnotic body entwinements and lift patterns can get pretty clammy, but as intricate as this duet is, it flows on the right dancers. Maslova and Baca ignited both its technical artistry and its timeless mystique.
The concert closer was ‘Who Cares?’ (1970) scored to the symphonic medley of the George Gershwin song arranged by Hersey Kaye, and one of Balanchine’s expressions of love for American culture, as well as a jab of disdain toward Russia. The ballerinas wore silky dresses of the 20s, the men, suits and undone bow ties. Balanchine throws in quotes from jazz dances of the era as the dancers pair off for breezy stylized duets.
Nayara Lopez and Arian Molina Soca partnered on ‘The Man I Love’ scene, Balanchine essaying a gorgeously simple duet ala Astaire, laced with shimmering balletic movement. Against a blue city backdrop, Gershwin’s orchestral melody bloomed, especially in the haunting back-alley trumpet solo by Brian Kuszyk. It was a dance that filled the air with romance.
Later, Soca emerged as the leading man about town partnering Lucia Erickson (Who Cares), Mayara Pineiro (Embraceable You), and then back in the arms of Lopez (Fascinating Rhythm) and finally dancing solo to the tune ‘Liza.’
The finale is Gershwin’s showstopper ‘I Got Rhythm’ that Balanchine makes a jumpin’ jive for all 14 dancers giving it rigorous energy and precision balletic style. .