The Pennsylvania Ballet bears about the same relationship to New York City dance as Canada does to the United States. This Philadelphia-based troupe is a worthy longtime neighbor that has attracted little attention from New York dance audiences in recent years.
There is much to celebrate, however, in this impressive ballet troupe, founded in 1963. That was one message of the "Repertory Favorites" program presented by the company on Saturday afternoon at the Merriam Theater of the University of the Arts here. Trey McIntyre, the young choreographer of the program's zany, authoritative premiere, was the afternoon's other revelation.
Mr. McIntyre's new "Plush" is essentially a romp with tantalizing undertones. One thinks fleetingly of Diaghilev and his total-theater approach to dance. Mr. McIntyre's choreography is an equal partner to Liz Prince's wildly inventive costumes and to the Milhaud chamber symphonies to which "Plush" is set. Buried in the ballet's bizarre goings- on is the suggestion of a narrative and a great respect for the classical canon.
Mr. McIntyre has been affiliated with the Houston Ballet as a choreographer and performer since 1989 and has created dances for a number of ballet companies. He is firmly grounded in the classical ballet vocabulary and appears to relish its sleek, complex beauty. But he also incorporates other kinds of movement in "Plush," including basketball and boxing feints, without calling attention to the differences as most crossover choreographers do.
"Plush" defies interpretation. Its title character, danced by Philip Colucci, races in and out, shedding parts of his bulky furry costume as he goes. Eventually he is revealed as a ballet prince in elegant leotard and tights, his hair a punkster's startling red. He is also the catalyst for the action, which includes two spiky pas de deux danced by Amy Aldridge and Jonas Lundqvist and one with slightly more traditional partnering, danced by Arantxa Ochoa and David Krensing.
Meredith Rainey shifts suddenly and continuously between sharply focused lickety-split dancing and the droops in one central solo. A near- virtuoso ballet solo follows for Mr. Colucci. The most fascinating aspect of the ballet is his pas de deux with Christine Cox, a mystery woman who appears and reappears without warning. The partnering is classical, but their bodies remain separate entities. Mr. Colucci's ballet prince has both feet firmly planted in the disaffected 21st century.
The dancing matches the music for nervous energy. Ms. Prince's designs range from unitards in brilliant reds, yellows and greens to short dresses in bold grape purple and dully iridescent dark grays and light golds, costumes whose small surprising details define her genius. John Hoey, the program's lighting designer, creates a forest of shadow and dim light through which these modern fairy-tale characters roam.
-The New York Times
By the time viewers got to Plush, the much-anticipated Trey McIntyre premiere that closed an ambitious but skittish modern program from the Pennsylvania Ballet, they had been put through their visual and emotional paces.
The opening work, Balanchine's Agon, lacked the academic clarity that the dancers usually bring to the work. After a clean introduction by the men, the company rushed through the ensemble passages, although the first pas de trois, danced by Alexander Iziliaev, Jennifer Gall, and a serenely athletic Heidi Cruz, looked lush and angular. Meredith Rainey struggled in his central duet with Arantxa Ochoa, although the pair's considerable chemistry compensated for any technical flaws. But the cast lacked focus in the final movement, scuttled under Stravinsky's fanfares.
Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two, with music by Mozart, pulsed naturally through these dancers, with classical flourishes finished off by loopy end-phrases. The cast relished Lubovitch's childlike joy and witty sophistication, returning repeatedly to the flowing ensemble circle. The piece was anchored by the central male duet, the adagio, a signature work for David Krensing and Jeffrey Gribler, who is retiring this year as principal dancer after twenty-six years with the company. The two were transcendent as the lovers who support, comfort, sustain, falter, and entwine in Lubovitch's movement meditation on AIDS. Christine Cox, Amanda Miller, and Kelly Moriarty, meanwhile, danced the limb-flinging rondo section with comic flair. Kudos to Beatrice Jona Affron's ballet orchestra, which was paced beautifully with the dancers.
Roy Kaiser's eight years as artistic director have transformed this company most clearly in contemporary pieces like Plush, McIntyre's five-part ballet scored to Darius Milhaud's Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1–5. The title refers in part to Liz Prince's vibrant costumes, which ranged from peltlike to futuristic to trashy Euro-disco chic. The piece looked simultaneously retro and modern, and showed off the company's technical diversity. The corps—four women in hooded fur outfits, à la Josie and the Pussycats, and four men in purple velvet bell-bottomed unitards—appeared and vanished with playful earnestness.
Philip Colucci eventually shed his yellow plush-toy costume to reveal superhero underpinnings; he was a steely presence in McIntyre's fevered choreography. Amy Aldridge and Jonas Lundqvist lurched toward, and cleaved to, one other, while Christine Cox, costumed like Theda Bara, peered over her folded arms and launched into a menacingly brittle solo as dancers slid on their bellies and froze in crouched positions. McIntyre's piece could benefit from another segment, because just when everything was aloft, he pulled the plug.