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Pennsylvania Ballet is En Pointe with Start of Its 2009-2010 Season at the Academy of Music

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Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancers Julie Diana and Zachary Hench in Theme and Variations. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev The Pennsylvania Ballet launched its 46th season last week at the Academy of Music, with a George Balanchine classic, contemporary new choreography by Matthew Neenan, and Agnes de Mille’s rousing ballet honoring the American West. 

Dance aficionados crowded into the seats of the Academy of Music as the Company opened with a performance of Theme and Variations, Balanchine’s tribute to the Imperial Russian Ballet. Set to the music of Tschaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 in G, Theme and Variations showcased challenging choreography and the classic pas de deux as it connected the art of the past to the present with the modern sensibility that became the standard for classical form and movement. 

Classic ballet yielded to innovation when Neenan, the Company’s choreographer in residence, presented the world premiere of At the Border, his 12th commission for the Pennsylvania Ballet. Neenan wanted to explore the idea of crossing borders, moving from one space to another and the process it takes to get where one is going. In this work, 14 dancers continually moved across the stage, breaking into large and small groups, and changing partnerships. 

Rodeo, Agnes de Mille’s spirited ode to Americana, told the unexpected story of a tomboy in search of love. With cowboy boots and calico dresses, this western ballet was the precursor to de Mille’s choreography for the musical Oklahoma!, complete with a rousing hoedown that was an audience favorite. 

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Rodeo. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev “I want to be able to expose the audience to a wide variety of styles within the art form,” said Roy Kaiser, who is celebrating his 15th year as artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet and his 30th year with the Company. “We have an amazingly talented company of dancers that can take on a diverse program like this and perform at a very high level.” 

And the upcoming season is indeed diverse, including a few Company premieres. Even more exciting this year for the Company, is that the Pennsylvania Ballet accepted an invitation to perform George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Nov. 24-29). This engagement marks the first time Balanchine’s version of The Nutcracker will be performed in Washington, D.C. The Nutcracker then returns to Philadelphia with performances at the Academy of Music from Dec. 12-31. 

Here’s a look at the rest of the season: 

Program II (March 4-13, 2010, Academy of Music) features The Four Temperaments and Carmina Burana. The stunning simplicity and angular architecture of The Four Temperaments became one of Balanchine’s standards. The piece is an abstraction of the ancient doctrines that enumerated the four aspects of a person’s disposition. Neenan’s Carmina Burana, which sold out to audiences when it premiered in 2007, has been called “steamy and explosive.” In this work, Neenan fuses Orff’s classic music with eruptive choreography and existential sets.

Program III (March 10-14, 2010, Academy of Music) will present a trio of works embodying the emotional range and inventiveness of composer Frederic Chopin in a celebration of his 200th birthday. The Crossed Line, choreographed by Neenan, explores the boundaries and shifting nature of relationships. In the Night and The Concert both showcase choreography by Jerome Robbins. In the Night uses four Chopin nocturnes as inspiration for three intimate pas de deux, and The Concert is Robbins’ comedic masterpiece, which is set during a piano recital complete with on-stage accompanist. 

Program IV (May 5-9, 2010, Merriam Theater) will present four works, including the company premieres of Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” and William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” Considered a landmark piece of lyrical dance theater, the Robbins piece features a nymph-like figure that interrupts a male dancer’s work in the dance studio. The pair engages in a delicate duet with the audience as their mirror. 

“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” is a frenetic experiment in angular movement where the feigned disdain of the dancers contrasts the technical demands of the choreography. Program IV will also include Balanchine’s “Square Dance” and “Requiem for a Rose,” an encore of the work Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created for the company’s 45th anniversary season. 

The Pennsylvania Ballet will close its season with Romeo & Juliet (June 4-12, 2010, Academy of Music). The ballet version of Shakespeare’s famous tale of star-crossed lovers established choreographer John Cranko as a master storyteller. Prokofiev’s powerful music and Cranko’s pristine movements explore the powerful relationship between the title characters. 

“I’ve always drawn inspiration from the extraordinary dancers who continually seek to improve their technical virtuosity and impassioned artistry,” Kaiser said. “I remain committed to presenting challenging and provocative programming, and I think this season really represents the artistic strength of the Company.” 

2009-2010 season subscriptions to the Pennsylvania Ballet are now on sale for up to 30 percent off single ticket prices at www.paballet.org or by calling 215-893-1955. Individual tickets for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music are on sale now. Visit www.paballet.org or call 215-893-1999.