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Lewis J Whittington
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Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
United States
Philadelphia, PA

Fonte’s "Ghost Stories" Highlights Pennsylvania Ballet's Romance

by Lewis J Whittington
April 11, 2017
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Love was in the air for Pennsylvania Ballet's latest program Romance at the Kimmel Center or the Performing Arts' Merriam Theater. The program, April 6 with ballets by Nicolo Fonte, Nacho Duato and George Balanchine all featured sensual duets in sharply different styles. The program was a good sampler of how Angel Corella is showcasing the versatile strengths of the company as well as utilizing its emerging new stars under his artistic direction.

The highlight was the premiere of Nicolo Fonte’s "Ghost Stories" set to music by Ezio Bosso and Max Richter. It proved a stunner right out of the gate with principal dancer Oksana Maslova knotted up on the floor then rising in a hazy pool of light to perform an intimate solo. In it, her askew positions gave way to shimmering pointe work, then to frenetic transitional phrases. It was all the more dramatic under lighting designer Brad Fields tilted canopy of spotlights that hovered low over the stage. Other dancers flowed on stage to join Maslova, picking up her steps, with supple precision until the ensemble filled the stage. The progressions from adagio phrasing, to mid-tempo and full-velocity kept pace with the drive of the music.

Fonte’s 2015 ballet “Grace Action” was both a critical and popular success for Pennsylvania Ballet and with "Ghost Stories," Fonte is even more defining in its thrilling ballet/contemporary dance fusion.

The ballet tapped the individual expression and technical artistry of its dancers. In the opening night cast were Maslova paired with Sterling Baca, Dayesi Torriente with James Ihde, Alexandra Hughes with Ian Hussey, Nayara Lopes with Harrison Monaco and Yuka Iseda with Aaron Anker who all distinguished themselves.

A central trio with Hussey, Baca and Torriente was highlighted by intricate lift patterns low to the floor and entwined body sculptures. One of the newest company members, Albert Gordon, nailed the challenge of a thrilling breakout solo.

Next came Spanish modern master Nacho Duato "Remansos" (1997). Originally, an abstract trio for men entitled "Remanso," Duato expanded the piece to include three women. Principals Mayara Pineiro, Lillian Di Piazza and Ana Calderon were joined by Baca, Jermel Johnson and Arian Molina Soca.

Duato seems ponderous about what the themes of the ballet are. The dancers pair off in male-female couples and dance to sometimes fevered waltz paced music variations by Enrique Granados, performed by Martha Koeneman from the orchestra pit. Koeneman's playing of Granados' music has such dimension it is more than a background soundtrack, it seems to wrap around the dancers. Romantic scenarios between the dancers bubble up, but Duato appears more interested in abstractly characterizing the movement through the dancers’ bodies. What might seem intimate between some of the dancers is perhaps more an articulation of Granados’ notes into abstract choreography.

A rose gets passed around and ends up in Baca’s mouth. There are other humorous moments with dancers mirroring each other's quirky, fragmented moves with precision and a contact improvisational feel. The most compelling section remained as in the original, the male trio. The dancers performed on and around a freestanding reticular panel. They climb on it and on each other looking like Greco-Romanesque friezes on an illuminated frame.

Balanchine's "Western Symphony" is the master choreographer at his most effervescent. Danced to a score by Hershy Kay that laced in Americana classics melodies like "Red River Valley" and "Goodnight Ladies" that was robustly performed by Pennsylvania Ballet’s orchestra under guest conductor Salvatore Scarpa, this revival was looking mighty fine. It had special poignancy in that the first movement was danced by principal dancer Amy Aldridge, who announced earlier this month that she would be retiring after 23-years with the company.

Balanchine, the Russian expat, stylized some authentic hoe-down moves for the corps de ballet saloon girls and spiffed up dudes in town for a good time.

In the first movement, Aldridge and Ihde, another seasoned dancer, started kicking up the ballet dust in the first of four pas de deux. Aldridge flirted up a storm as she tossed off quicksilver battements and turns that slightly upstaged Ihde’s flinty chassé turns and double tours en l'air.

Between the couples dances, Balanchine gets out of his own way and has some spirited (and unfussy) ensemble interludes that are danced with precision and esprit by the corps women. Craig Wasserman has aw-shucks charm as Maslova, his dance partner tease, jeté stepped away. Then Johnson and Pineiro turned up the rodeo ballet heat along with Soca and Torriente in the final partnering sequence in which Torriente kicked up the most dust in two dozen glittering fouettés as Soca sliced through space in tours en l’air variations.
Oksana Maslova in Nicolo Fonte’s 'Ghost Stories.'

Oksana Maslova in Nicolo Fonte’s "Ghost Stories."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Nicolo Fonte’s 'Ghost Stories.'

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Nicolo Fonte’s "Ghost Stories."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

Jermel Johnson in Nacho Duato’s 'Remansos.'

Jermel Johnson in Nacho Duato’s "Remansos."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s 'Western Symphony.'

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s "Western Symphony."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

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