Philadelphia Ballet

Mr. B’s Ballet Buffet

Philadelphia Ballet followed up its run of Swan lake this month with a challenging triple bill of ballets by George Balanchine, administered a corporate grant to establish regional ballet companies in the US, chose Barbara Weisberger run what was then the Pennsylvania Ballet and allowed her to stage many of his most revered works.

Since Angel Corella became artistic director in 2014, Philadelphia Ballet he has assured fans of the company that Balanchine’s work would remain an essential part of the company’s programming. The ‘Bold, Brilliant Balanchine’ concert, staged by Colleen Neary, répétiteur of the Balanchine Trust. These ballets showcase Balanchine’s neoclassic style, and highlight many of his choreographic signatures, even as they reveal his penchant for recycling corps de ballet formulas. Aside from that these works, as danced in this performance, are a seminal primer of his mid-20th century repertory.

First up ‘Symphony in C’ named for Georges Bizet’s  score, which he composed when he was just 17 and remained unperformed for many years. Bizet would never know that eventually, its central orchestral theme and the oboe solo in the movement are two of the most recognizable pieces of romantic classical music. In this performance conductor Beatrice Jona Affron consummate detailing with Ballet orchestra engulfed the Academy.

Choreographed in 1947, with virtuosity for the principals and, corps de ballet geometrics that are so dense in some passages, that they can easily look mechanical, but even with a few scrambled moments, but that was not the case in this performance, as the dancers sustained tight, lyrical precision throughout the lengthy ensemble passages.

Soloists Jack Thomas and Sydney Dolan danced charmed as the lead off couple in the first of four pas de deux. Highlights included Mayara Pineiro and Ashton Roxander thrilling technical clarity and Jermel Johnson and Yuka Iseda’s lustrous phrasing. But the capper was Oksana Maslova and Arian Molina Soca in the second movement, with its mystical oboe solo that ignited this couple’s chemistry and luminous artistry.

Next, Divertimento no. 15, scored to the music by Mozart. Balanchine resisted scoring by Mozart, stating he didn’t want to tamper with perfection. but couldn’t resist trying with Divertimento no. 15, with its sumptuous violin lines. Balanchine characterizing the music’s Theme and Variations, Minuet, Andante and finale, it remains one of his most unfussy chamber ballets.

Jermel Johnson, Aleksey Babyev and Arian Molina Soca are the romantic squires of  ballerinas Thays Golz, Lucia Erickson, So Jun Shin, Yuka Iseda, Nayara Lopes, for an assortment of solos, duets, and courtly dances. Choreographed in 1956, when Balanchine was presenting more abstract ballets of ‘Four Temperaments’ and ‘Agon’, this is the choreographer delving into unfussy romanticism with courtly deportment and sans his overcrowded pas de bourees or entwined groupings.

An emotional highlight of the evening came as the dancers took their bows, former African American Pennsylvania Ballet company members came onstage and during the curtain call and presented Jermel Johnson with roses for his performance in Divertimento 15 and for his distinguished 20-year career with the company.

The closer was Balanchine’s ‘Stars and Stripes’ scored to  John Philip Sousa spirited marching band music, who was in fact headed the Army Bands in WWI, in symphonic arrangements by Hersey Kaye, choreographed in 1958, it is Balanchine at his most warm, comic and dancer generous. And this audience was ready for it.

The ‘First Campaign’ of the ‘Corcoran Cadets’ of a dozen ballerinas led by Kathryn Manger leading fire up the troops with high-flying kick-lines and cancan balletics. Balanchine after all was had in Hollywood and on Broadway and didn’t shy away from showstopping kick lines this side of the Rockettes.

Ashton Roxander commands as the leader of the 2nd Campaign- or ‘Gladiator and Thunder’, he leads the corps de ballet men with their blue and red uniforms, and uniformly razor-sharp in the jump sequences, both aloft and on landing. And Roxander executing a tours en’ la air sorties with swagger to spare

Dayesi Torriente and Sterling Baca are the dazzling couple in the high stakes virtuosity as Liberty Bell and El Capitan. Torriente shimmering pointe work and line hypnotizes and Baca the glint- eyed officer completely won over this audience from his first salute to his huge hang time jete-ing around the Academy stage with the greatest of ease.

Balanchine created ‘Stars and Stripes in 1958, at the height of the Cold War with Russia, Balanchine showed his unbridled affinity for the US in his ‘Stars & Stripes’ and its celebration of liberty and patriotism resonated with on many levels as Russia’s current barbarism Russia is perpetrated against Ukraine. Aside from being an architect of Dance in America, Balanchine sought both intellectual and artistic freedom in America, obtained US citizenship in a country he loved so much he always wore a western style bolo tie.

This opening night performance began with the culmination of presentations of the company’s commitment to be more inclusive with black and brown dancers and artistic teams going forward. Corella and executive director Shelly Powers presenting a citation of the City of Philadelphia to pioneering black ballerinas who will be partnering with Philadelphia Ballet in its efforts to achieve more diversity and inclusion in ballet.

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