Pennsylvania Ballet

'Concerto Barocco,' 'The Four Temperaments,' 'Fancy Free'

by Lewis Whittington

October 8-12, 2003 -- Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA

Pennsylvania Ballet, poised for the company's meaty 40th anniversary season, shot out of the gate with their starting bill of George Balanchine works that show what this troupe is made of and what they aspire to. And, for this program, artistic director Roy Kaiser threw in Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" for breezy comic relief.

The curtain rises on the eight women in the tight geometric patterns of "Concerto Barocco," scored to the "Concerto in D minor for Two Violins" by Johann Sebastian Bach. Both music and movement snapped our minds into Mr. B's stoic modern artistry-- these tight configurations during the opening vivace can jangle the nerves of even seasoned dancers after a summer off, with its razor-sharp unison work and counterpoints under Bach's persistent strings. It's one of Balanchine's naked statements of "pure movement" that will reveal any technical deficiencies.

Indeed, there were slight errors in unison by this ensemble, instantly made up because the group hit the inner pulse of this choreography right away. Pennsylvania Ballet is noted for its strong corps de ballet, and the controlled attack here is notable. The Largo movement brings principals Dede Barfield and Martha Chamberlain holding as studied command as the violins that moved them together gorgeously. The playfulness was brought out by both dancers without sacrifice to Balanchine's crisp patterns. The crucial male role in the allegro segment is danced with technical flair and quiet physicality by soloist James Ihde.

Bach speaks to the polite, logical mind, but Paul Hindemith's "Theme with Four Variations for String Orchestra and Piano" score to Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments" speaks to the psyche. Martha Koeneman's sinewy piano as well as Balanchine's choreography brought together dramatic, even thrilling moments.

The lunging first movement brought a luminous Valerie Amiss (who had a baby just three months ago) partnered with husband Edward Cieslak, opening the "themes" with sumptuous clarity of movement and arresting "freezes." Following that, the choreography opens up more with the equally dynamic pairing of Heidi Cruz and Ihde. Cruz's turns were breathtaking in their speed and accuracy, and Ihde continued to dazzle with his lithe technical skill. James Ady, returning after a year with another company, paired with Chamberlain, ably finished off this pairs section.

Those "Four Temperaments" were then realized by some of Pennsylvania Ballet's strongest dancers. David Krensing essayed "Melancholic" with the doomed irony of Hamlet. Whether he is crumbled on the floor, releasing bent knee torso twists, or in a hyper-extended back bend, his precision is so second nature that his interpretation of the part is wholly memorable. Not to be outdone, Arantxa Ochoa and Meredith Rainey ushered "Sanguinic" like lightning bolts-- the pair's eyes locked at every moment they were facing each other, and otherwise showing themselves always as accomplished Balanchine dancers, even allowing for sass. "Phlegmatic" is choreographically the weakest section and its flatness is valiantly rescued by Alexei Borovik, flanked by four women, who put sincerity into the repetitiveness. "Choleric" brought a completely electric Amy Aldridge to glittering arabesques, air lacerating turns, and fiery pirouette runs. The choreography brought Aldridge, like Krensing, to transcendent execution.

As Hindemith's interior symphonic tonals lurch and crescendo, the finale brings the full company onstage a little heavily, but the high kicking unison work by the corps, with Mr. B's now dated firework lifts over the waves of arms by the principal four couples, was first rate.

"Fancy Free" brought Philip Colucci, Johnathan Stiles, and Ady on furlough from the navy, taking a bite out of the Big Apple during WWII. If this sounds familiar, it's the dance tableaux that Jerome Robbins devised onstage that was turned into the great movie musical "On the Town" with Frank Sinatra.

The male trio is smart enough to know that this is character dancing, and their personalities are more important than the steps as they try to impress their femme fatales, Aldrige and Christine Cox. Colucci's double-tours that he landed in a clean split left us all panting, if not their pick-ups.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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