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PABallet premieres thrill

Pennsylvania Ballet

World Premieres

Nov. 7-10

Merriam Theater, Philadelphia


Pennsylvania Ballet’s recent World Premieres program at the Merriam Theater featured danceworks created for the company by three contemporary choreographers- Yin Yue, Garrett Smith and Juliano Nunes. The concerts proved a substantive modern ballet sampler bursting with choreographic muscle and thrilling artistry by the dancers.

Cast of Yin Yue’s ‘A Trace of Inevitability
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

 The curtain came up on Chinese choreographer Yin Yue’s ‘A Trace of Inevitability’ scored to original music by Michel Banabila for the cast of nine dancers. Yue is director of her own internationally acclaimed company and was BalletX’s first choreographic fellow in 2015 and has created what could be a signature piece on PAB.

Yue’s ballet idioms fused with grounded modern movement and cultural classicism is vital choreographic ground. As danced in the November 9 evening performance, it flows with urgency and liberated technical precision.

Yue‘s  opening duets stating some of the intricate choreographic themes, and vividly danced by partners Aleksey Babayev-Kathryn Manger, and Alexandra Hughes-Albert Gordonas, and soon other partners  sweep onstage  in distinctly different movement scenarios, some more abstract that others, and not hinting at any gender character roles.

Banabila’s score ‘Dragonfly II’ progresses from lyrical themes to a more industrial rhythmic drive, as the full ensemble gathers in cryptic unison configurations that seems cut loose from what came before. Though the final partnering with one of the dancers slumped in another’s arm adds another layer of mystery.

The propulsive drive of ‘Inevitability’ is matched by the dramatic images of the next ballet, Connection by Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes. Scored to haunting orchestral music by Enzio Bosso, the curtain comes up on 10 dancers in fleshtone micro-corsets in sculptural ensemble circles with bodies seeming to bloom out in communal ritual.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Juliano Nunes’ Connection
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

But at the end of one of those configurations Zecheng Liang is shoved away and it becomes a different narrative. 

Lyrical classicism is laced with explosive solos and duets. Liang is a consummate technical dancer and dancer-actor in both story ballets and abstract works. Also in top form, a dramatic duet by So Jung Shin and Russell Drucker who hypnotize with Nunes’ geometric interlocks.

There is a most riveting moment when Nayara Lopez flies in the air in an arc-back leap partnering Jack Thomas and an electrifying trio danced by Oksana Maslova, Jermel Johnson and Arian Molina Soca. 

American choreographer Garret Smith’s Reverberance is scored to Bach Cello suites ‘recomposed’ by virtuoso Peter Gregson who plays the live accompaniment with passages also supplemented with electronica. 

Even though the cellos are danced in and out against the cobalt blue light and visually has playful charm, enhanced by bluenoir atmospherics by lighting designer Michael Mazzola. Garrett’s uncluttered choreography has such a naturalness of ballet classicism, but the hook of the cello props, however playfully the partnering, runs out of steam.

But Reverberance has many entrancing pure dance elements and admirably Smith keeps Gregson’s musical variations of Bach the equal partner onstage.

Smith’s concept is the varying responses to the music, perhaps in moments, ala Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, where the dancers embodying the string lines, but also idiosyncratic reactions of the music, that are abstract and not meant to be symbolic and unforgettable moments like Yuka Iseda and Sophie Savas-Carstens darting through the air in a gravity defying straight line. Wonderful silky blue ensembles designed by Monica Guerra also give a dreamlike quality.

Peter Weil, Sophie Cavas-Carstens & Yuka Iseda in Garrett Smith’s Reverberance
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

Since becoming artistic director Angel Corella has been upping Pennsylvania Ballet’s expansive artistic goals, with productions both on conventional tracks with revivals of story ballets, as well as a re-alignment of a neoclassical aesthetic of George Balanchine. This program definitely one of the most dynamic for PABallet dancers making the most of in ballet fusion styles and Corella continuing to strengthen a new generation of stars.