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Pennsylvania Ballet Keeps Audiences on Their Toes with Four Contemporary Classics


The Pennsylvania Ballet took the stage of the Merriam Theater with Program IV on Wednesday night, presenting premieres by Jerome Robbins and William Forsythe, a timeless Balanchine piece and a dynamic encore presentation of a work commissioned by the Company in 2009.

“When creating a program, I strive to choose ballets that will make our dancers better artists while simultaneously engaging our audience with moving, energetic work,” said Roy Kaiser, Artistic Director of the Pennsylvania Ballet. “Program IV accomplishes each of these goals beautifully.”


Program IV begins with George Balanchine’s “Square Dance.” Last performed by the Company during the 1992-1993 season, this work marries classical ballet and American folk dances. While it is inspired by square dancing, Balanchine uses traditional ballet to express the intricate and formal patterns of folk dancing. In the original version, Balanchine set musicians on stage with a square dance caller to call out the steps; however, in the 1976 revival (seen this week in Philadelphia) Balanchine omitted these two elements and added a virtuosic solo for the principal male dancer.


The performance continues with the Company’s newest Jerome Robbins acquisition, “Afternoon of a Faun.” In this piece, Robbins recreated the essence of the music and themes in Vaslav Nijinsky’s “L’Apres-Midi D’Un Faun” for modern audiences. The curtain rises on a ballet studio with a single male dancer captivated by his own appearance in the mirror. After a woman enters the studio, his attraction to her is sealed with a kiss after they dance.


While Nijinsky created four ballets, “L’Apres-Midi D’Un Faun” is the only one to survive in the classical repertoire. It’s widely regarded as a “miniature masterpiece” that disregards classical discipline in favor of a style of movement that attempts to mimic the two-dimensional effect of bas reliefs and Greek vase paintings.


The third work, “Requiem for a Rose,” was choreographed by Annabelle Lopez OchoaThis is the encore presentation of the piece the Pennsylvania Ballet commissioned Ochoa to develop in 2009. “Requiem for a Rose” is an abstract ballet about love and the death of romance. Twelve dancers represent a bouquet of red roses, the flower Ochoa considers the cliché of romance.


While the ballet doesn’t have a plot, Ochoa urges the dancers to tell a story with their bodies. She has created a fluid work featuring classical pas de deux, ensemble sections and a dynamic solo for the “rose girl.” She represents a heartbeat, and it bookends the ballet, permitting the audience to interpret the meaning of her presence.


The evening concludes with “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” William Forsythe’s frenetic experiment in abstract movement. Set to electronic music, the work is classical ballet with an edge. It features strong, muscular movement with dancers bursting into movement and then suddenly stopping and strolling off stage. Classical steps emerge and then morph into more asymmetrical forms throughout the performance.


The ballet takes place on an empty stage, and the only set piece is a small cluster of cherries hung “in the middle, slightly elevated.” Nearly all of the interest in this one-act ballet lies in the dancing more than in any set decoration or structure.


Remaining performances of Program IV at the Merriam Theater include:


·       Thursday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m.

·       Friday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.

·       Saturday, May 8 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

·       Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m.


Tickets for Program IV are on sale now, with prices ranging from $21.50 to $126.50. Tickets are available online at www.paballet.org, by phone at (215893-1999, or in person at the Kimmel Center Box Office.


A special Mother’s Day package is available for Sunday, May 9. Tickets start at $85 and include brunch at the Palm Restaurant  (including tax, gratuity, and a glass of champagne) followed by a 2 p.m. matinee performance . For more information and tickets, please contact Group Sales Manager Arajua Backman at abackman@paballet.org or (215587-6921.



Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Company Member Abigail Mentzer in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose. Photo: Paul Kolnik.