STYLISH STAR-CROSS'D LOVERS.
Amid a swirl of controversy, the Pennsylvania Ballet was born (with the award of a sizable Ford Foundation grant) in 1963 to a local Philadelphia dance school and amateur company run by a Balanchine protegee, Barbara Weisberger. The Pennsylvania Ballet, for its first decade or so, flourished under the certainly dynamic Weisberger herself, at one point in conjunction with Benjamin Harkarvy, and for a brief time it even acquired a New York base as a resident company of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In recent years, its career has been far more checkered, and I was glad to see how it was faring under its director, Roy Kaiser, who has now been in charge for six years. It was also especially revealing to see it in a standard work I know well--John Cranko's version of Romeo and Juliet.
It is fascinating, and even disturbing, that since Tchaikovsky composed The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, only two evening-length ballet scores have found a permanent place in the ballet repertory. And both have music by Serge Prokofiev: Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet. Nowadays, major ballet companies across the country and the world have included in their repertories some production of Romeo and Juliet. And each has been faced with the difficult question--which Romeo and Juliet do you mount? Do you hire a young, perhaps unknown, choreographer to run one up, or do you try to acquire one of the accepted standard versions? Usually the better, if perhaps more expensive, course to take is the road more traveled, as the Pennsylvania Ballet has done.
Cranko's Romeo--here staged complete with its original, lushly Renaissance scenery and costumes by Jurgen Rose, which were oddly left unattributed in the playbill--was first staged in this final version for Cranko's own Stuttgart Ballet in 1962. A good case can be made for this being the best of all productions. It heavily influenced Kenneth MacMillan's staging, danced by Britain's Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and in North America the Cranko is given, if memory serves, only by Chicago's Joffrey Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. It is a good choice, but the truly gratifying thing is how well the Philadelphia-based company dances it. After many ups and downs, here is a troupe whose dancing standards are clearly on an up.
I saw two performances, and they were both vigorously danced and compellingly stylish. At one, Shakespeare's star-cross'd lovers were danced by young soloist Martha Chamberlain, making a dewy-fresh and eloquent debut, partnered by the company's forcefully stylish Russian-born leading dancer, Alexei Borovik. The other Juliet was the elegant Leslie Carothers, who recently announced her retirement (I had seen her quite a few years ago dancing the role in New York with the Joffrey Ballet, prior to its Chicago reincarnation). She was strongly partnered by Pennsylvania's somewhat stolid David Krensing. This season's other Juliet, whom I missed, was Jodie Gates, also a Joffrey alumna.
From the strength of the two performances, which were a tribute not only to Kaiser but also to his ballet staff--led by Jeffrey Gribler, Tamara Hadley and Sandra Jennings--it seems that these Pennsylvanians are regaining the high ranking the troupe once enjoyed among the nation's leading ballet companies. And this was not only shown by the principals and the ensemble, but almost best of all, in the handsomely filled lesser roles. I especially noticed Gribler himself, a company veteran of twenty-five years and now its balletmaster, in a piquantly danced and dramatically apt account of Mercutio, and William DeGregory, another longtime company stalwart, as a hard-driving, malevolent Tybalt.
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|Title Annotation:||the Pennsylvania Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2000|
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