From March 16-19, Philadelphia Ballet beguiled audiences with a Balanchine program titled Dancing with Gershwin at the Academy of Music.
To be more precise, the program was an all-Balanchine affair, Agon, Ballet Imperial, and Who Cares?, with music by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Gershwin.
Agon, one of Balanchine’s immortal classics with music by Stravinsky, was staged by none other than Colleen Neary, a former New York City Ballet (NYCB) star, trusted by Balanchine himself to replicate his ballets on other companies while he still lived, worked with the genius who was Maurice Bejart, and co-founded Los Angeles Ballet with her husband in 2004. By all the memories many could muster, Ms. Neary also did a splendid job with Ballet Imperial, and Who Cares? A few audience members may have felt Agon to be softer, smoother, than they recalled when Balanchine lived. He valued speed, angularity, and striking poses of the body and hands. Here we saw dancers such as Oksana Maslova, Sterling Baca, Thays Golz, and Zechang Liang perform elegantly, fluidly, with great panache, rather than with breakneck daring and speed. Beatrice Jona Affron conducted sympathetically. One recalls Hugo Fiorato, who conducted with breakneck speed in the works at NYCB.
George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky when young were taken under the massive wing of famed impresario Serge Diaghilev, who famously had an eye for talent and handsome young men. Both Balanchine and Stravinsky remained close working partners on several ballets and as friends. Stravinsky would cook Russian delicacies and bring them to Balanchine when in New York, and Balanchine would iron Stravinsky’s clothes. It was said Balanchine loved to eat and to iron clothes. The two friends spent many an hour gossiping and sharing news.
Lincoln Kirstein, who ran the business end of NYCB, was said to have married his lovely wife so as to be close to her dazzlingly handsome brother, whom Lincoln adored.
But we digress.
Ballet Imperial began the program with leading dancers Dayesi Torriente and Jack Thomas. Set to Tchaikovsky, the piano soloist was an immaculate Alexander Timofeev. A spectacle in the grand Russian tradition, it was one impossibly beautiful tableau melding into yet another, punctuated by sparkling duets and solos. The costumes received no credit one could readily see, which is a pity. Rarely do costumes receive a rousing ovation from the audience. Under Production Credits, we did learn that Pittsburgh Ballet supplied the costumes for Who Cares?
Agon was previously mentioned. The afternoon program concluded with an immaculately danced Who Cares? starring Lucia Erickson, Nayara Lopes, Mayara Pineiro, and Arian Molina Soca. Mr. Molina Soca took one’s breath away. His dancing swept the viewer into tropical reverie, as he melted into his partner, while plainly exuding feral sensuality. Many in the audience clutched their pearls and had smelling salts at hand. It was during Who Cares? that the orchestra came alive. Stately during Ballet Imperial, cautious during Agon, the orchestra exploded with wit, vitality, and excitement for Gershwin. It was a profoundly different listening experience.
As usual, the appreciative audience applauded the spectacle loudly, and often.
Credits were given for several new dance floors to make dancing safer, and healthier, and the new expansion of Philadelphia Ballet’s Center for Dance. Contact Zac Joseph, Director of Development at 445-544-8415 ([email protected]) to contribute.
Next will be Coppelia, May 11-14, at the Academy of Music. For information, www.philadelphiaballet.org