Company Members Alexandra Hughes and Lorin Mathis in Liturgy Photo: Alexander Iziliaev
Lincoln High School ’17
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I had the pleasure of attending one of the Pennsylvania’s Ballet performances at the Academy of Music in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. It was a chilly Sunday afternoon and guests were bundled up waiting in line as people entered the double doors that led inside the auditorium. On that day, I was being introduced to live ballet performances, and I was excited for what was to come. This particular performance consisted of four different pieces. Although they were all uniquely good in their own way, there was a specific one that had me paralyzed in awe. Liturgy was being premiered for the first time that day, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon it was a piece I will me sure to remember. The dancers, Elizabeth Wallace and James Idhe were great in connecting with one another. This piece combined intimacy and tension to the best of its potential starting the debut of Liturgy on a positive note which will surely be a reoccurring performance at the Pennsylvania Ballet.
The performance started with a dark lit stage while the orchestra played eerie music. This set a very suspicious mood and captivated me in an instant. As the dancers came into view they started off with hand movements that gave off an Egyptian vibe. It soon escalated to where they were both dancing attached to each other, acting as if they depended on each other for their next move. This gave a vibe which really connected with me and may be talked about amongst young ballet lovers and performers.
The male dance, James Idhe, displayed desperation in his movements as his partner faded in and out of the stage. This helped me develop a story in my head that portrayed devastated lovers. The lighting stayed low as the music increased in pace and volume. At times the orchestra would slow suddenly, creating more tension as the performance progressed. Music composer for Liturgy, Arvo Part, did an exceptional job with providing a soundtrack that would accentuate the dancer’s chemistry to par. All these aspects together created such a captivating performance, the aesthetic with the music and lighting showed the ballet industry as very modern to me.
You can hear the faint buzz in the audience as the dancers showed their flexibility in a series of complex movements. The stage kept the dark vibe as the performance continued, an indistinct glow in the middle of the back being the only exception. Lighting Designer for Liturgy, Mark Stanley, created a shadowy setting for this piece which fits like a missing piece to a puzzle. As the performance came to an end, I felt my self-dreading the ending. For I have become hypnotized to a piece of art in less than twenty minutes. Liturgy made my introduction to ballet a good one. After my pleasant experience with this performance I look forward to more pieces by Christopher Wheeldon and more debuts from the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Bodine High School ’16
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It was rather a brisk, early Sunday afternoon, as I walked through the passageway into the concert hall to view four individual pieces consisting of the talents of George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky, Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon, produced under the Pennsylvania Ballet. On this day the Pennsylvania Ballet treated us all to a new and fresh face, Angel Corella who is the new Artistic Director of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Aside from this, all the attention and hype was placed directly onto the stage and the magnificent choreography that was presented. As we prepared to watch the performance, there was an ominous chill that pervaded the room and left this alarming stigma among the audience. That same feeling was empowered in a performance choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon entitled Liturgy.
Liturgy quickly grasped my attention with its terrifying hush and profound stillness. For a moment, there was no sound, it seemed to even be an incredible amount of secrecy presented by the two performers that stood staunch on stage. Rather than lose interest in their stillness, I was intrigued by a sudden, shrieking of a string instrument, specifically a violin. In an instant, movement began and I could do nothing but feel a profound feeling of confusion being erected from my mind. Oddly, there was a feeling of understanding and comprehension of the message being spread by the messiah. It was almost as if a gordian knot was on the door of the theatre and nothing of reality was allowed as the audience and I sat atop our ivory tower viewing these dancers and their odious act against traditional ballet. My eyes shifted rapidly, almost instantaneously complete stuck on the stage as these dancers participated in their mysterious ritual.
Throughout the entire performance, all I could feel was a wickedness that attached to the heart, which inflicted warmness and love between the dancers and viewers, but also a sense of coldness and detachment from the rest of the world. Throughout the performance, I sensed so many conflicting feelings between, myself, the audience and the dancers. There was nothing but a brew of emotions, uncanniness, unnaturalness, screeching and abstractness that left my eyes and mind completely puzzled of what action was happening before me. I have never been in such wonderment and misunderstanding of a piece of ballet, and at the same time seemed to have a better understanding of what the world was. The only thing melodic about this piece was the movement of the dancers, which consisted of almost supernatural, and ritual-like body gestures that did not fit the ballet norm. Between the most unnatural movements, the strong flare and kicks of legs and the obnoxious rising sound of a screeching violin; the two dancers, and only two dancers for this piece seemingly struck the bottom of the ocean in their quest to understand the abyss. Their quest was almost private, even though hundreds of eyes viewed them. This sense of privacy added to the personal effect the dancers portrayed in their movements. Which consisted of dynamic athleticism that provided support for each body. As the dancers were connected to another. They seemingly floated in the space of an ocean, connected to the environment, with each water molecule and each chemical compound that create a profound substance of melancholic foundation.
The environment was perfect. The world or backdrop seemed to be the unknown ocean. The only thing that seemed to exist was the darkness of the ocean, two dancers, and a blue aura of light. However, all of these things seemed to be connected, as if they were meant to be there and exist in the natural world together. In contrast, as I believe this, I also felt as though these things were extremely out of place, but in the moment they seemed to be the way they should have been. Viewing this, in the moment caused the belief of an uncanny dance that shouldn’t be considered ballet at all. Viewing Liturgy caused a wonderful feeling of joy for its weirdness, but a very somber confusion of it place in the Pennsylvania Ballet. All of a sudden, just as somber and unnaturally-peaceful the peace had begun, it was over. For the moment, all I could think was that this was the greatest piece of dancing I had ever viewed. In the moment, smiling and applauding their effort, my eyes were opened to a new world, the contemporary but abstract form of dance of the 21st century.
Northeast High School ’15
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In the afternoon of October 19, 2014, I witnessed the beginning of a new era at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia’s Center City. The Pennsylvania Ballet’s new Artistic Director, Angel Corella, made his debut by presenting a collection of four ballets: half of which were company premiers, and each from a different choreographer. As I took my first seat ever in the parquet of the theater, I joined the audience, clueless as to what these performances would bring in terms of enlightenment and satisfaction; but at the end of the showing, I left, feeling a sense of change in my perception of the ballet art form. Being accustomed to primarily dance, often I had took very little in terms of describing the effects that help to make these productions happen. As a result, it was both refreshing and a pleasure to take into account the background and light features in addition to the forms of motion. One of the ballets in particular, Liturgy, caught my eye and kept me glued to the stage. I found that Liturgy exudes control, exemplified through the dancers’ movements and performance in addition to being complemented by the bareness of the background and lighting.
The beginning of the ballet features a woman (Elizabeth Mateer) seemingly alone in the center of the stage. She then does some gentle and firm gliding with her arms, both extended and fluid, unyielding bending as the muscles raised and held themselves with a certain grace that can be observed from a crane lifting concrete. Suddenly, I noticed that a few feet behind her is a male (Lorin Mathis) who, acting as some sort of shadow or phantom limb, follows in her motions about two seconds after she completes one, and occasionally breaks free from this impersonation, opting to rotate his hips at a different angle or deciding to sway opposite to the female lead. Control is evident through the interaction: both dancers appear to be distant from each other, yet it is their synchronized movements that keep the other in balance, and as a symbol of this connection, they embrace, arms encircling around each other, globed, forming their own universe.
In a more intimate moment, the performers and performance relate to the idea of control and convey a sense of structural order. The male lead is Herculean, lifting the female lead up to the fabricated sky, her facial features frozen, her body frozen in time as the male travels with her around the stage, introducing rotating limbs and extended pushes into the air, holding the oxygen in place as if it were falling. The man is a lifter while the woman is a barbell, the latter being elevated and lowered as she leans forward, her body splayed and arrowed in direction as she is lead to and fro. Both had similar attire in the form of black and white, and the male’s physical prowess only served to prove his dominance in leading the female on stage.
The mixture of background and lighting emphasize this characteristic of control; the initial dark gray shade enabled me to focus more on the act itself, watching both the dancers and their second shadows move up and down, both fixated in their spots on the stage, nailed firmly into the laminated flooring. This background manipulates and “strips” its color in order to present a more focused picture of the dancers, allowing the audience to focus intently on the dancers as if they were the only beings in existence, as if the stars and the planets only revolved around them. While immersed, you suddenly realize that the lights start to give off a hue of blue, evoking a more melancholic state in the audience as both dancers come back together and continue the same ABA pattern as done in the beginning, but this time at a closer proximity.
As the elements of the ballet worked in harmony to produce such an engrossing experience, I could not help but wonder the times I have neglected these elements in the previous ballets that I have watched. I had always been aware of a ballet’s special effects; but, interpreting them into the fabric of the ballet was a journey that I had not traveled into. This “journey” altered the dimension of which I was viewing the ballet, as taking into account the dynamics of space enhanced my understanding. Mesmerized by this newfound perception, I joined the long ovation and the congregation of clapping hands to salute the ending ofLiturgy. I then wondered how I could better approach my newfound perceptions in deducting from all aspects of a ballet what I got out of. Just as Angel Corella had a breakthrough in becoming the new director, I had a breakthrough in becoming an attentive and knowledgeable ballet observer.
Bodine High School ’16
Response to Press Play
On the beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon of October 19, 2014 my fellow peers and I had the privilege to see four ultimately different piece of ballet under new direction of Angel Corella. The Pennsylvania Ballet did a wonderful job presenting the four pieces: Allegro Brillante, Liturgy, Other Dances and Jeu de Cartes at the Academy of Music. Each piece consisted of its own style but Liturgy had a rawness that stimulated my sense.
Allegro Brillante choreographed by George Balanchine was first to be performed and it had a radiant, upbeat vibe. The music was fast paced and alive; while the dancers movements were powerful in the sense that they were defiant with hard emphasis at particular times. Then the amazing Liturgychoreographed by Christopher Wheeldon was performed and had a completely different feel. AfterLiturgy, Other Dances choreographed by was Jerome Robbins was longer than the first two. The setting was different, with an actual pianist on stage and the dancers signaled the pianist to start when they were ready, which is uncommon. There were plot twists and intense jumps where you were able to hear the clapping of feet as they went into the air. Jeu de Cartes choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky gave me a sense of a fun, playful obstacle course with a variety of colors. The background and dancers’ attire changed many times. It was very energetic and fun but, between all of these pieces Liturgy was my favorite because its rawness which includes unique movement and cultural aspects.
Specifically because of its rawness, Liturgy grabbed at my senses. It was raw due to movement techniques it displayed. I had never seen two people come together like that in a piece. The movement, with or without the music, mesmerized me. The dancers made each unique movement seem as if it just came naturally. Hearing was one sense grabbed throughout this performance. The music for this piece came from violin soloist Luigi Mazzocchi who gave a mellow, repetitive rhythm. The music was as low as a whisper but it was still important to each movement. The performers relied on the music as if the music was feeding them energy which caused the variation in movement. The rawness of the piece came into play when I saw the dancers in unison with one another. Elizabeth Wallace and James Ihde were perfect to present this piece because they moved so well with one another. The dancers seemed very connected and intimate as they were entangled on the floor and up in different positions. They were moving over, under, within and around one another without giving the audience a simple glance of acknowledgement. The dancers did not stay in one place on the stage which made the performance more exhilarant. They used the entire stage as well as the curtains like a piece of the set up because there is a point where they disappear and reappear from behind the curtain. There was a moment in the end and beginning when the dancers did a movement that resembled Egyptian cultural dances, it was eccentric and brilliant. Throughout Liturgy I felt full of excitement and delightfulness. I just loved how poised and calm, yet cultural the piece was. The performers were engaged and the music gave them that guide to give an amazing performance.
Overall the entire Pennsylvania Ballet did an incredible job performing and I want everyone to experience what I did.
Posted 9th December 2014 by PA Ballet