Pennsylvania Ballet

June 7, 2006

Pennsylvania Ballet
Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA

June 7–11, 2006

Reviewed by Lewis Whittington


F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote psychological workups of his characters before he scripted their dialogue, and Pennsylvania Ballet dancer-choreographer Matthew Neenan seems to do the same thing with dancers. In his new ballet, As It’s Going, he has essayed a multidimensional work that, like its Shostakovich score, achieves both abstract and classical intimacy.


The evening began with Christopher d’Amboise’s Symposium. Based on the stark lines of painter Piet Mondrian and set to music by Leonard Bernstein, it had a mechanical feel in the beginning but still contains meaty sections, including a central pas de trois danced with dramatic clarity by James Ady, Amy Aldridge, and Meredith Rainey. Another highlight was Arantxa Ochoa, who gives any brittle modernism a lighter flair.


Then came last season’s 11:11, a work for 20 dancers set to a song cycle by gay icon Rufus Wainwright that became an unexpected critical and audience favorite. Neenan is in full, expressive, quirky bloom (for starters, Rainey tosses Julie Diana offstage at the end of the love duet in “Vibrate”) aside Wainwright’s pop lyricism.


Who would have thought that Shostakovich, with his dissonant strings and diabolical piano, could be just as sexy? But the music was pure fuel for the choreographer in As It’s Going. Neenan took the ballet’s title from a 1907 poem by Anna Akhmatova, who like the composer was censored under Stalinist Russia. Its ending lines—“Who are so lofty, bitter and intense / About days when we were saved together”—were symbolized in Neenan’s flash scenarios of the dancers’ secret lives.


The blank stage, dressed only with sheer curtains at the wings, suggested an ethereal ballroom haunted by dancers. Multihued, slow fadeouts, as the dancers still moved in the dark, offered glimpses of lost stories. Martha Chamberlain’s costumes—men in chocolate-brown tights and black boots, women in ribbed-bodice dresses—would have looked natural a century ago at the Maryinsky.


Four lead couples get tied up in duet torpor, but in the solo passages Neenan floods the stage with choreography indelibly matched to music. Principal Riolama Lorenzo’s voluptuous solo landed her on the floor, where she reached back a leg like a contortionist. Soloist Philip Colucci attacked Neenan’s familiar squirrelly moves with typical breakneck speed. Jermel Johnson tossed off laser-beam jumps, and Francis Veyette’s layout turns became thrilling aerials. The abrupt finish, with the women horizontally locked into the men’s’ arms like planks, was anticlimactic after such rich dance writing. Despite Going’s bailout finale, Neenan is engraving rich textures on Pennsylvania Ballet with his artistic dialogues. See