Philadelphia Ballet's Scores with Innovative 'The Spark'

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 3, 2021

A promotional photo for "Landscaping"
A promotional photo for "Landscaping"  (Source:Alexander Iziliaev )

Angel Corella has been reshaping the Pennsylvania Ballet since he became the company's artistic director in 2014, most recently changing its name to the Philadelphia Ballet for their return to a live performance season after18 months of live performance shutdown due to the pandemic.

During October the company performed a series of concerts called "The Spark" at the Performance Garage, just blocks from the company's studios on North Broad St. The venue is a dance theater and studio founded by Jeanne Ruddy, former principal in the Martha Graham Dance Company. The intimate venue is dedicated to supporting dance artists, companies, educators, and choreographers.

The Performance Garage provided a chance to see the company up close, and it was abundantly evident that these dancers were in top form. For months, the dancers went through a thorough regimen of COVID safety requirements to stay safe during daily classes, rehearsals, and the filmed performances.

Earlier this year, Corella presented a series of commissioned ballets filmed at the Garage that were streamed through a digital stage series available at the company's website. The series succeeded in staying connected with audiences locally and nationally. "The Spark" kicks off the company's 2021-22 season, with a ballet by Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes, and premieres by Corella and Matthew Neenan, Philadelphia Ballet's resident choreographer.

The program opened with Matt Neenan's "Other Half," scored to music by Australian composer Rose Langabeer, a mix of mystic soundscapes, jazz improvs, and a samba or two. The musical mashup that truly ignited Neenan's inventive balletics weaved through intimate duets for both opposite and same sex couples. Principal Sterling Baca and Iseda Yuka dazzled in a riveting pas de deux capped off with in a thrilling poisson variation. Neenan has been very prolific this year, creating new ballet for BalletX and Ballet West, and here he is at his warm, witty, unpredictable best.

Next was Nunes' "Connection," structured around five male-female partners in a rotating series of sensual duets scored to music by Italian composer Enzio Bosso. The couples come together in circles and seem to be trying to connect with a central figure, danced by Principal Zecheng Liang, who spellbinds in a central solo featuring his explosive tours en l'air. Nunes mixies up the couple's narrative with a luminous pas de trio danced by Arian Molina Soca, Iseda Yuka and Ashton Roxander.

Angel Corella danced classical roles for premier ballet stages all over the world while he was a principal at American Ballet Theater. For PABallet he has restaged classics "Don Quixote," and "Sleeping Beauty," and later this season will present his reimagined "Swan Lake." His premiere of "Landscaping the Mist" is his first completely original ballet for the company. Scored to music by Philip Glass, for 21 dancers, Corella masterfully navigates a large cast on a smaller stage. But this ballet just bloomed in a choreographic stream that was full of choreographic ideas and cohesive narrative. As the Philip Glass score kicks into high velocity, so do these dancers with laser beam attack, precision, and ensemble esprit de corps. Each dancer has a center stage moment as the ballet opens, as they move in diagonal lines over the stage.

As Glass's music inevitably kicks into driving tempos, the choreography careens into quicksilver choreo high gear, Corella presenting the personalities of the dancers in breakout solos, duets, and groupings throughout. Principal Dayesi Torriente captivated in the ballet's fiery solo passages in the last movement, with Glass's perpetual-motion keyboard runs performed live by brilliant PB orchestra pianist Martha Kounenmen.

Philadelphia Ballet will be returning to performance in December in Philadelphia's historic Academy of Music for their annual performance of George Balanchine's minted production of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker." Meanwhile, for Philadelphia Ballet it ends a season of unprecedented industry isolation and uncertainty, and "The Spark" concerts mark an auspicious new beginning for the dancers and audiences.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.