By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | Photo by Alexander Iziliaev
PA Ballet’s 3rd and final installment of their Spring Series was a bright spot on an otherwise grey holiday weekend. Beauty is composed of three world premieres and set to the music of Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon. Choreographers Juliano Nunes, Meredith Rainey, and Russell Ducker created physically demanding works that affirmed the company’s renowned artistry is still intact, coming out of quarantine.
Nunes’s Encounters was a gorgeous contemporary ballet that reflected on the chance encounters that influence and inspire us. His movement vocabulary provided a variation on themes without being repetitive. The work comprised of solos and duets rich in sinuous transitions of levels and shapes. Nunes’ well-placed use of inverted knees and flexed, often sickled, feet made for a unique, unexpected element in his transitions. The dancers balanced power and control with ease and fluidity. Martha Chamberlain’s costume design nicely complemented the effortless feel of the piece.
Ducker’s Dance Card was his interpretation of ballroom etiquette where ladies would record the names of successive dance partners throughout a ball or party. The women’s asymmetrical dresses were elegantly understated and perfectly coordinated with the men’s tails. The piece was rich with sweeping gestures that had the couples gliding seamlessly between each other. Ducker was particularly inventive with his choice of arm positions. This added an extra dimension seen throughout the work. Featured dancer Mayara Pineiro performed with the precision and attention to detail she is known for. The music selections from Higdon’s catalog offered nice changes in mood and tempo, though the dancers’ timing was not always as crisp as needed for some of the ensemble work.
In Rainey’s Spillway, dancers burst on and off stage in a flurry of long lines, explosive leaps, and intricate turns. The brisk pace was made all the more dynamic by the constant directional changes. Rainey skillfully interspersed quieter moments which gave the piece a natural ebb and flow. However, the timing seemed to be an issue throughout the work, with the performers often out of sync. Partners Yuka Iseda and Jermel Johnson- along with Sterling Baca and Lillian DiPiazza- reigned supreme with their artistry.
PA Ballet is allowing ticket holders unlimited viewing May 27-June 2, 2021. Each of the works is available to view individually, as opposed to one continuous recording. This allows the option to jump between the different pieces. During the bows, the camera pans across the stage, and each dancer is identified by name. This is a nice way to refamiliarize patrons with the company. There is also a 55-minute conversation with the composer and choreographers, which gives viewers a glimpse behind the creative process.
The digital season announced in March was a tribute to PA Ballet’s visionary Founder, Barbara Weisberger (1926-2020.) Strength. Resilience. Beauty. was rehearsed and filmed at Philly’s Performance Garage. As much as I enjoyed the recordings, there is nothing quite like the shared experience of live performances. I look forward to seeing the company back on Broad St. at the Academy of Music.