Whenever I find out that I’m about to be subjected to yet another three-couples-in-love ballet I think longingly of Jerome Robbins’ poetic In the Night. It is a genre that he apparently created and it is still the most successful of its type. The reason that it worked is that Robbins didn’t force acting or meaningless emotion into his ballet. It came through naturally in the choreography and the music. Matthew Neenan’s overwrought Keep, which opened Pennsylvania Ballet’s engagement at the Joyce Theater, was considerably less successful. I’ve seen this rampant emotionalism in other Neenan works and it always seems to detract from his choreography.

<i>Keep</i>: Arian Molina Soca and Lillian DiPiazza © Yi-Chun Wu
Keep: Arian Molina Soca and Lillian DiPiazza
© Yi-Chun Wu
The Angry Couple, Amy Aldridge and Francis Veyette, was too tense to enjoy watching. The rigidity in Aldridge’s neck made me feel uncomfortable just watching her. The Happy Couple, Lauren Fadely and Ian Hussey overdid it by half and they were ultimately irritating. The Nostalgic Couple, Lillian DiPiazza and Arian Molina Soca, came off best because they tried to do less and they’re so good looking together that they were effective just standing still. Acting or emoting in a ballet that has no plot context is extremely difficult to do and it wasn’t great here. The best part of this ballet ended up being the two pairs of Jermel Johnson with Evelyn Kocak and Alexandra Hughes with Andrew Daly. Luckily for them, the two extra couples were not obligated to deliver any character. They were free to dance without encumbrance and performed quite nicely.

Trey McIntyre’s The Accidental effectively demonstrated how to give a plotless contemporary ballet emotion without making it irritating. He resisted the impulse to have his dancers portray anything too specific and merely set the mood. Evelyn Kocak and Craig Wasserman danced together with passion, none of it was forced. They took their moments to engage each other with affection where they occurred naturally and it was purely enjoyable. Oksana Maslova and James Ihde made a curious couple. Maslova is waifishly tiny while Ihde is tall and rangy. They moved well together and it was a curiously compelling study in contrasts. Alexandra Hughes and Ian Hussey seemed preoccupied with getting their steps right which made their pas de deux lack spontaneity. This ballet notably ends with a male solo in a moderately paced waltz, danced by Wasserman. It’s not a splashy ending. It’s just a fine piece of work that had Wasserman constantly changing directions with a powerful feeling of inner ambivalence. He lingered nicely over turns and balances that expressed an inner conflict that McIntyre happily refrained from making explicit.

<i>Accidental</i>: Oksana Maslova and James Ihde © Yi-Chun Wu
Accidental: Oksana Maslova and James Ihde
© Yi-Chun Wu

Nicolo Fonte’s Grace Action closed out the show with lots of action set to the pulsing music of Phillip Glass. The three lead couples were well matched and strong. The first pair was Lillian DiPiazza and Arian Molina Soca who are a can’t-miss pairing: they just go together like peanut butter and jelly. Their every lift and jump was seamless and they exude a certain degree of star power. They are lucky to have landed in the same company. Mayara Piñeiro and Etienne Díaz make another great match. Piñeiro is fantastically strong with eye-popping grand jetés. Lauren Fadely and Ian Hussey also did very well. For all that they delivered great dancing, my eyes kept getting drawn to Holly Lynn Fusco who was paired with Craig Wasserman among the three supporting couples. She had no featured solos but she danced this piece better than anyone on else stage. Fonte’s choreography is tough. It requires the dancers to constantly shift their balance by thrusting their hips forward and back followed by quick, whipping turns and jumps. Fusco was pure, tightly focused energy. She has remarkably tight control over her center that allows her to change direction at will. I would love to have seen her in one of the solo roles. The other interesting aspect of this piece was the lighting. Most of the lighting came from light trees at the back of the stage and the light cannisters were motorized so that they could be focused anywhere onstage. It created a constantly changing lightscape that looked like a lighting designer’s dream but was also a bit of a distraction as I got caught up in watching the lights move.

Pennsylvania Ballet: <i>Grace Action</i> © Alexander Iziliaev
Pennsylvania Ballet: Grace Action
© Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet looked very good in this opening show, their first in New York since Angel Corella took over as Artistic Director. I’m sure the changes at the company have been seismic since he took over but the dancers made a strong statement. There is plenty of talent to draw on and they can stand with the top tier of America’s regional dance companies.