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Pennsylvania Ballet's Program II Feature Matthew Neenan and George Balanchine


PA Ballet Program IIThe Pennsylvania Ballet’s Program II is an exciting one that likely introduced most ballet-goers to new repertoire. It included George Balanchine's Four Temperaments. This is a work based on Paul Hindemith’s work for solo piano of the same name. Matthew Neenan’s newer work is set to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Orff’s work is based on text from a 13th century Benedictine Monastery and are infamous for their portrayal of “wine, love, and loss of innocence.”

The Four Temperaments was premiered in 1946. The three themes and four variations and finale that make up Hindemith’s piece are represented by different ensembles, varying in size and gender composition. Almost every movement uses a dance soloist, mirroring the role of solo pianist. Martha Koeneman was an adept and engaging soloist with a brightness and spring to her playing that help shape the work.

The ensembles varied in size from duet to septet. In each variation, the soloist either forms ensemble with the other dancers or acts as being accompanied by the ensemble, analogously to Hindemith’s score. This soloist and ensemble interplay go on until the Finale, wherein the ensembles all join together: A septet, a sextet, a quintet, and a soloist.

Jermel Johnson

Balanchine’s sense of structure and form shape the architecture of this work. One fragment stuck in mind throughout “beauty in form.” The standouts were the lithe and sassy duet (the Sanguinic Variation, Arantxa Ochoa and Sergio Torrado). Torrado’s grace seemed as it could be discordant with his athleticism, but it was a seamless suppleness. The most memorable was Jermel Johnson, in the Phlegmatic Variation. His dance is beautiful and engrossing. The choreography for this moment is especially well paired with Hindemith’s use of solo strings and piano.

Neenan’s Burana, from 2007, is a force. It’s epic in scope and engages on many levels. This work relies on other media to create a holistic powerhouse. Integral in its use, the witty costuming is beyond cheeky and includes fringed cherry-red bathing suits, deconstructed wedding dresses and black elbow length satin gloves, primal looking tattooed nude bodysuits, lilac see-through suits and farm maiden A-lines with leather high boots, and Lady Gaga-worthy saran wrap dresses and structured wigs. Most ingenious were the spandex wrap dresses and pants that offered resistance and support to dancers as they were anchored at one end of the garment by another dancer. The springing action that this enabled was novel and entertaining. The lighting is another controlled element that effectively creates the ambience for this polyglot choreography. The set is a simple one with bold, geometric shapes: a moon that floats over the stage, a movable 15-foot high sail-like tent that births and hides dancers in its folds. All of these elements combine with the choreography in a flowing and effective whole. This is the choreography of a maven with perspicacious insight. Neenan knows how to create drama and tension with all of these elements, filtering through his diverse styles and disciplines. Again, Jermel Johnson stood out in a marziale duet. His dancing is painterly and full of great acting.

Carmina is victorious and Matthew Neenan a star.


Joe is  a native Philadelphia who began writing music at the age of 12.  He has worked with the cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Seattle Symphony, among others.  He has also entered the world of pop music and remixing.   He teaches both privately and at Drexel University.  Joe has been writing for the arts for 10 years.  You can follow Joe on twitter at  twitter.com/HallmanComposer.  You can find his music on iTunes and all other major digital retailers.  For a taste of his music, check out:  www.reverbnation.com/JosephHallman

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(Homepage): Soloist James Ihde and Company Members Ian Hussey, Caralin Curcio, and Meredith Reffner in Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana.  Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

(Right): Company Members Megan Dickinson and Ian Hussey in Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

(Left): Soloist Jermel Johnson in Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

(Gallery): Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.