Ian Hussey’s poignant last dance with Pennsylvania Ballet

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

On a soaked Sunday afternoon on Mother’s Day May 12, the Academy of Music was radiant with warmth by a packed audience in attendance to bid farewell to Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Ian Hussey, in his final performances dancing in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV and Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces.  Both fittingly enough both were symbolic of Hussey’s artistic journey, starting as the Nutcracker Prince in Pennsylvania Ballet’s in the 90s, then over 15 years as a company member, widely admired by colleagues and fans as one the company’s most versatile dancers in both classical and contemporary roles.

Hussey exits at the height of his artistic career at age 33, relocating to New York with his husband Adam Scher, and finishing his degree in Dance at the Leap School.  But, on this day, before that new journey begins, there was still one more show to do and it proved to be one of the most thrilling programs that Angel Corella has put together since becoming artistic director. Not only choreographically but for PABallet’s Orchestra, conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron, it proved a tour de force musical event as well. A rare treat indeed to experience full orchestral live accompaniment of a full orchestra performing contemporary ballet scores in the Academy of Music.

Wheeldon’s ‘DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse’, with music by Michael Nyman, with a dramatic backdrop of metallic sculptures, the dancers appear from behind metallic backdrop and swarm in tight geometric ensembles, the theme of bodies moving on a train, navigating physical, mental and emotional terrains, simmers with energy.  Nyman’s music inspires Wheeldon in unexpected ways. There are four lead male-female duets all distinctly different. Ian Hussey makes his entrance mid-way through holding Yuka Iseda over his head.  They float through a series of lift patterns, laced with Iseda’s shimmering arabesques and lyrical pointe work.

Next was Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s premiere of ‘Trigger Touch Fade’ scored to music by Haydn and Bach, Elo taking full advantage of the classical ballet prowess of PAB dancers. A gush of fleet classical vocabulary- jetes, tours en l’air, pirouette runs, pointe work and all style of dynamic variations for six couples. Lillian DiPiazza and Sterling Baca, followed by Oksana Maslova and-Zecheng Liang, performing the main duets, but impressively, all the couples making the most of Elo’s unique modernist-classical style.  Liang is explosive with Elo’s series of buoyant aerials. Meanwhile, Maslova breathtaking classical line that animates J.S.Bach’s lead violin passages performed by the orchestra’s virtuoso Luigi Mazzocchi.

The finale work starts with the clamorous keyboard and flute arpeggios of Philip Glass’s composition ‘Rubric’ which propels Jerome Robbins’ masterpiece ‘Glass Pieces’ created in 1983. This PAB company premiere expertly staged by New York City Ballet repetiteur Jean Pierre Frohlich. 40 dancers traverse over the stage in a flowing movement mosaic of urban energy, dressed in dancer garb/street wear.  They continue to stream across the stage as soloists in muted color unitards leap out of nowhere, the body traffic gets more intricate, but, this is Robbins at is best, it just flows with uncluttered choreographic ideas.  It is Robbins at his most humanistic. The patterns are geometric, angular and more about energy than clever movement. Featuring a series of strong duets by some of the newer dancers in the company including Nayara Lopes, Alexey Babayev, Zecheng Liang Therese Davis and Paul Pujol.

The second movement scored to Glass’s ‘Facades’ unspools with the silhouettes of ballerinas moving in across the back of the stage, bathed in cobalt blue, as Lillian DiPiazza and Ian Hussey, longtime frequent PAB partners, suddenly appear for Robbins’ exquisite central pas de deux.  Despite the technical demands of an adagio ballet technique, this pas de deux has the aura of meditation and movement catharsis.   For DiPiazza and Hussey, a breathtaking finale to their sumptuous chemistry onstage.

Robbins’ choreographs the excerpt from Glass’ opera ‘Akhnaten’ with the men in rhythmic, architectural configurations and this sequence featured several standouts newer company members. The male corps de ballet is looking particularly strong in the Robbins’ geometric precision, but just as important, an earthy ensemble energy.  Robbins’ follows with the women’s’ corps sequence which strikes, comparatively, choreographically underpowered. But when the sexes regroup, the Robbins’ finishes with a full-company finale, that met with the roar of approval, with everyone bounding out of their sets as the curtain came down.

A beat later, the curtain came up on Ian Hussey standing alone centerstage, as red roses arced over the proscenium at the dancer’s feet.  The current roster of PAB dancers came on and presented him with a rose and a hug. Then former colleagues, many of came back to Philadelphia just for the occasion.  Ian looked drained, humble, proud and joyously overwhelmed, wiping away some tears as frequent partners Alexandra Hughes and DiPiazza embraced him. The applause went on through the entire procession, ending with rousing cheers from the audience as Angel Corella presented him with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, his mother presented him with more flowers, and his husband Adam,  another rose and a kiss.

During his years with the company, Hussey’s was particularly accomplished in several George Balanchine classics, most memorably in the Four Temperments, and he created a slate of new roles for contemporary choreographers. But most fans remember him on the Academy stage dancing so many of ballet’s romantic and heroic leads- from the Nutcracker Prince, The Cavalier, Albrecht in Giselle, Siegfried in Swan Lake, Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty and of course Romeo, his first lead role with the company dancing opposite Arantxa Ochoa’s Juliet. And for many in the crowd, some of those countless unforgettable moving images came dancing back as Ian took his final bows.

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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