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Off-Center Ballet.

Pennsylvania Ballet celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this season. The good news was the restructuring of the company's mortgage, considerably reducing the troupe's indebtedness and the amount of its annual payments. It thereby seems assured of maintaining its position as the southern anchor of Philadelphia's planned "Avenue of the Arts." The bad news was the loss of two fine principals, Lisa Sundstrom (now with American Ballet Theatre) and Giorgio Madia (who returned to his native Italy). Then, there is the question of where the company stands, artistically, at this juncture.

As president and artistic director (both of the main company and its experimental wing, Off-Center Ballet), was Christopher d'Amboise, who resigned in May, juggling too many roles? What makes a good company better, or even great? How can the growth of individual dancers be nurtured along with that of the full ensemble? What gives a company a special signature? These were questions I found myself asking as I watched the March programs.

The sleeper was Ib Andersen's Rhapsody Concerto, choreographed to Bohuslav Martinu's score of the same name. There was something old-fashioned about this piece: no tricks, no meta-references, and, unlike most current concert dance, no quirky lifts or gymnastic technical feats. The through-line is the intensity, sensitivity, and credibility of the choreography in projecting an emotional state without getting emotional about it. The dance establishes a palpable, yet restrained, sense of yearning and nostalgia that is communicated through the movements and by the superb way in which the choreography reflects and resonates within the musical structure. The combined restraint plus longing result in a mood of quiet endurance bordering on heroism. This straightforward work is aesthetically akin to the Humphrey-Limon choreography of traditional modern dance. It bespeaks the human condition, as tempered and humbled through experience.

Leslie Carothers and Andrew Carroll, the pair who danced so well together last year in d'Amboise's praiseworthy Golden Mean (1991), were stunning again, wearing Andersen's choreography like a second skin. This is a fine, understated dramatic ballet.

D'Amboise's choreography gets into hot water when he tackles dramatic expressionism. Last year's Da Mummy, Nyet Mummy, The Planets (1992), and Face to Face (1989) fall into that general category. Not that these works completely fail--d'Amboise is too skilled a craftsman for that. But they are driven by device. "Woman seeking to know more than she should" is the thematic hook on which hangs Pandora's Box, a d'Amboise premiere. Jennita Russo's reaching, searching movements are restrained by Jeffrey Gribler. Two brief passages of robotlike, staccato, stop-start choreography end with Russo crawling into Gribler's arms, cradled in a fetuslike position. Why not? The dance really had no place to go. D'Amboise's Dumbarton Oaks (1991) and Balanchine's Western Symphony completed the program.

Off-Center Ballet performances followed in less than a week. Last year's offerings of works by Joe Goode and PB corps member Meredith Rainey were better company vehicles than the facile choreographies of Lucinda Hughey (Variaciones Picantes) and Michael Downing (Texas). Neither work challenged the capabilities of the dancers. Thanks to Philadelphian Terry Beck for giving them something beyond their grasp that may expand their range and sensitivity. His Dig held together as a unified concept, free of cliche. Daring to take the women off pointe, he invigorated his cast, impressively led by Christine Cox, with somber, stark, sink-your-teeth-in-'em phrases.

PB needs more strong statements-traditional, like Andersen's, and experimental, like Beck's--if it hopes to grow and glow through the next thirty years.
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Title Annotation:Philadelphia Arts Bank, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Author:Dixon, Brenda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
Words:574
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