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Modern Masters

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Okay, I went to the opening night of PA ballet's "Modern Masters" program and was fairly pleased. I don't think that Kevin O'Day and Val Caniparoli count as "masters," at least not yet, but I'll go with the PR tag for Twyla, whose In the Upper Room closed the program.

O'Day's Quartet for IV (and sometimes one, two, or three..) opened the program. A quiet work to Glass-y sounding music by Kevin Volans charmed me more than I expected it too--it was well crafted and mostly well performed, notably by the always commanding Heidi Cruz-Austin. Caniparoli's Lambarena, while certainly the best thing I've ever seen this choreographer do, delivered more uneven results. In mixing together ballet and "African Dance" (Africa is a continent with hundreds of different dance traditions, so I'm not sure what this means, really), I questioned why the women really had to be on point. And it was kind of funny to see the corps men try to do some of the African-inspired movement: those hips were just not going to move. Even the pricipal men looked a bit stiff, including Francis Veyette who seemed very relunctant to shimmy! Jermel Johnson was the great exception here. While he is still a young dancer--he still has to work on dancing bigger and projecting himself more--he's got amazing facility and can really move. Some of the other guys in comparison just look plain stiff. (I hope PA Ballet's working hard to keep him--I can imagine other companies moving to scoop him up.) The women took to the movement better, as a whole, though Cruz-Austin again stole the show. WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO PROMOTE HER? As with other work by Caniparoli that I've seen, I had a hard time discerning what's motivating the choreography--what's behind the choices that he made. A not displeasing work, however, although I did wonder about PA ballet's choice here, with all of the amazing Africanist and African American work that already exists in the region.

Tharp's Upper Room was great to see after all of these years--what a productive mind at work there! And hearing Philip Glass always takes me back. (Though it lousy to hear it canned, as all of the music was for this program, rather than live.) The company didn't quite pull off the air of insoucience that's needed, and at one point there were either partnering or point shoe problems with one of the ballerinas. A petite female dancer really stood out--I'm not sure who she was--as really getting it right. The same could not be said for the lighting design here, which only superficially resembled what I remember as Titpton's spectacular lighting of 1986. (The lighting--levels and cues--was pretty mediocre throughout, bad tech being a Philly curse, alas.) The audience really seemed to get into it, despite the lateness of the program ending (I don't know why they don't start their mid-week programs at 7:30--with 2 intermissions, we didn't get out until after 10:30).

Not sure if New Yorkers or Washingtonians should make the trip out, but if you happen to be here, you might stop in and take a peek--for the Tharp if nothing else.

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The Saturday matinee was worth the trip from DC just to see Lambarena. I seem to have seen a different cast from what Ray saw -- one led by Amy Aldridge. My crew *did* move their hips magnificently! Special kudos to lanky, curly-haired Maximilien Baud in the famous male solo that begins and ends with the dancer resting in a circle of light. Tall blonde Berette Vance (substituting for Martha Chamberlain) was also impressive, as was tall brunette Ms Aldridge in the leading role created by Evelyn Cisneros 12 years ago in San Francisco. The ballet received a huge ovation from the Merriam Theater audience.

The matinee began with O'Day's 'Quartet of IV' which afforded me the opportunity to see what's all the the fuss surrounding Heidi Cruz-Austin. The fuss is spot-on, she is so charismatic and musical!

The program ended with Tharp's 'In the Upper Room' -- the disappointment of the day (perhaps of the calendar year), for many of the same reasons cited by Ray. There was so much fog on the stage during the first half of the work (until the male trio, in fact) that dancers could barely be seen. Honestly, I expected the show to be halted within the first five minutes, it was so ridiculous; I could not believe that it continued past the first segment. It was as if we sat looking into a cloud, with an occasional arm or leg spotted. Even the two leading 'sneaker girls' who begin the ballet were barely visible when dancing downstage...and when they separated and skipped to the back of the stage were totally out of view. I could hear dancers falling...don't recall if it's in the choreography. During the 3rd segment (contemporary pas de six to Spanish-sounding music), only the front dancers could be seen. I almost gave up & walked out, as did my neighbors. Very upsetting.

AT one point during 'Upper Room,' a stagehand walked past me (I was on an aisle in Balcony) and stood at the front of the balcony for a few seconds, noded back & forth ("no"), then retreated. He was right - he saw nothing.

I've now seen (or attempted to see) 'Upper Room' by four different ballet companies. I know what the lighting & fog-effects are supposed to be & this definitely was not right. This was not Ms Tharp's creation on view in Philadelphia.

I left the theater with happy memories of 'Lambarena 'and 'Quartet for IV'.

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I went to the Friday evening performance and it appears that I saw the same cast as Natalia. In reading her comments on the three ballets, I found myself in agreement with a lot of what she said.

The highlight of the evening for me was certainly Lambarena (which also seemed to be the audiences favorite judging from the applause). As Natalia stated earlier, both Amy Aldridge and Barette Vance stood out in this ballet and the crowd went wild with enthusiasm as they came up for their bows. :huepfen024: Both seem to have adapted well to this style of dance which is notable as I am sure this is very different from the classical styles that they are used to dancing.

Contrary to Natalia's previous post, I believe that the playbill was incorrectly printed and Barette Vance was not substituting for anyone but was actually cast in the pas with Phillip Colucci. The same goes for Julie Diana in the first cast. She should have also been listed in the pas with Francis Vyette.

I also have to give kudos to Heidi Cruz Austin. :blink: Even though I did not particularly care for the choreography of Quartet IV, I have to say that Heidi did a phenominal job and definitely was the standout in this ballet.

Unfortunately I did not enjoy In the Upper Room. I found the piece to be very dated, however, as much as I did not care for the choreography, I have to say that Tara Keating did a great job in her role.

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