Pennyslvania Ballet

April 12, 2000

Company premier of Daniel Pelzig’s
Nine Lives: Songs of Lyle Lovett.

Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet

Pennsylvania Ballet

Merriam Theatre
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

April 12?16, 2000

Reviewed by Brenda Dixon Gottschild

On the heels of its modern classics program in early April with Concerto Barocco and Rodeo, Pennsylvania Ballet presented contemporary and new works one week later: Daniel Pelzig?s Nine Lives: Songs of Lyle Lovett (1996); principal dancer and ballet master Jeffrey Gribler?s Cricket Dances (1998); and company member Matthew Neenan?s Rocky Road to Kansas (a world premiere).

Gribler?s and Neenan?s works are a study in contrasts and a generational mirror of sorts. Gribler, 40-something and still going strong, is a Balanchinian neoclassicist and modernist. Like Balanchine?s Concerto Barocco, Gribler?s Cricket Dances is clean-lined, more exercise than experiment, a paragon of good form with a clear progression and resolution from beginning, to middle, to end. In Rocky Road to Kansas, Neenan, 25, created a postmodern patchwork fusion of fast-moving, short-lived motifs that seem inspired by the computer world of cyberspace and draw upon a host of influences: African American, Latino and even yoga. His restless pace jumps from one idea to another with no linear, or a-b-a, sense of progression. Packed, even choked-full of ideas, it?s an information-age experiment.

Gribler?s dancers wear green fitted shorts and tops; Neenan?s strip down so that, in the final section, the men are topless and the women are in shorts. It?s exhilarating to see bare legs on the ballet stage, which brings me to the peppy Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. Meredith Rainey (also a dancer-choreographer) shines in Gribler?s work, but in Neenan?s he scintillates, first in a solo that is a poem of small gestures that bubble up and disappear, and then in a duet with Neenan. (A corps member since 1987 who has choreographed several works for the company and performed countless fine solos over the years, Rainey finally was promoted to soloist last fall.)

Heidi Cruz and Edward Cieslak were partners in both works. Simultaneously cool and sensuous, they dance beautifully together. In Rocky Road, they top off their duet by exiting with small prances, disappear, but then reenter backward from the same wing, doing the same prances?just fun. Most of these clever comments?like a line of women inserting a one-bar “bump,” (a 1980s social dance) into their movement phrase?got no audible audience response.

In Cricket Dances, Cieslak and newcomer James Ady deserved propers for their attentive, engaged partnering, and Valerie Amiss and Portia Maria Jones performed a duet with precise care.

Pelzig?s Nine Lives rounded off the evening. In it, Leslie Carothers?s beautiful solo (to “All My Love is Gone”) was doubly bittersweet: a fine performer, she leaves the company at the end of this season. Her timing, pacing and sensual embrace of a crystalline technique will be hard to replace.