On June 15, I had the pleasure of going to see the 2pm matinee of Pennsylvania Ballet’s Forsythe and Kylian program with none other than my favorite dance mom and partner in crime for the summer, Teresa. The program was a daring and much needed step in the right direction for the closing of the 49th season of Pennsylvania Ballet, a top rated Balanchine company, who has a knack for carrying these daring and contemporary works of the 21st century very well. Maybe even so better than when I have seen the company try to pull off the gems of Balanchine’s neoclassical repertoire.
The program opened with Jiri Kylian’s Forgotten Land, one of the choreographer’s lesser-known works from 1981. The work was originally inspired from paintings from the Norwegian expressionist artist Edvard Munch, and follows a series of couples as they move to express the memories, events, and people that have essentially made up a “forgotten land.” The music used in Forgotten Land, Sinfonia da requiem by Benjamin Britten, is dramatic by all means and evokes a nod to the supreme dance dramatist herself, Martha Graham, not only in music choice, but also choreographically. It is also Martha Graham that could have helped the dancers to pull off some of the key elements of Kylian’s choreography, as he places a large importance on the flexibility of the upper back. The lead couple to open this piece, Brooke Moore and Francis Vyette, tried with all of their might to live up to the European contemporary flair needed to make this piece a success, but at times, I found the dancers to become positional and stiff in the back where such a fluidity could have allowed the nuances of Jiri Kylian’s work to shine. Similarly, I found Lauren Fadeley and Daniel Cooper’s attempts admirable, but at times, it seemed as though the quick tempo and chaotic harmonic phrasing of Britten’s music proved too much for them to handle. My favorite couple of the night came in that of Rachel Maher and Jong Suk Pak. Though Jong looked confused and unsure at particular moments, Rachel was able to move through the choreography with a vulnerable and distinct quality that I thought none of her peers were able to reach.
At Various Points, resident choreographer Matthew Neenan’s 14th commission for the Pennsylvania Ballet continued on with the program’s contemporary theme. Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, At Various Points acted as a nice transition from Jiri Kylian’s Forgotten Land, as the calm quartet highlighted the wolf pack of four dancers, with Caralin Curcio playing the odd one out, almost like Zach Galifinakis as the awkward Alan of The Hangover Series. However Curcio was awkward in a good way, as her expansive extensions and unforgettable stage presence demanded that she be watched. Choreographically Neenan’s work was tailor made to this group in that they all looked very comfortable and moved in a cohesive unit with Neenan’s signature hand gestures, breezy partnering sequences, and love for the angular shapes beautiful, ballerina legs can create all out on display.
Nevertheless, the matinee’s pride and joy clearly laid in that of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, a tour de force of choreography that paid homage to the ballet technique in a way that only William Forsythe could. Created in 1984 for the Frankfurt Ballet, Artifact Suite was last seen in 2006 on the west coast at the San Francisco Ballet, so it was nice to see this work back in the states, with none other than William Forsythe himself to stage the work on these dancers. What a treat.
The first section of the piece opened and closed many a time (literally the curtain went up and down every time the dancers switched formations) with the impeccable partnering of Gabriella Yudenich and James Idhe, as well as Brooke Moore and Lorin Mathis, as they were surrounded by a whopping 35 dancers who continually moved around in a variety of shapes that helped to compliment William Forsythe’s very own lighting scheme.
Without a doubt, Gabriella Yudenich was impossible to stop looking at, as she attacked the Forsythe choreography like an artist who has been under Bill’s tutelage for years. Her lines were clear, clean, and precise, and she demonstrated ferocity for movement that was dually matched with an ever supportive and established partner in James Idhe. As Artifact Suite continued on, the dancers changed from the yellow-nudesque leotards into a green and black combination with Caralin Curcio playing once again, the “other person,” only this time she lead the corps in a series of flurried hand gestures and Forsythe movement that the men of the Pennsylvania Ballet carried very well. The sets of women presented in Artifact Suite were also a pleasure to watch, as they moved in a unison fashion that I haven’t seen from Pennsylvania Ballet in quite some time.
All in all, I think it is safe to say that Pennsylvania Ballet’s strength lies in that of contemporary works, and tonight proved this statement once again. If this is a preview of anything Pennsylvania Ballet’s 50th Anniversary season will look like, than Philly is in for a real treat.