In its New York debut, the Polish National Ballet made a great first impression. The troupe has plenty of excellent dancers, 23 of whom were on this tour, and it has one budding star in Aleksandra Liashenko. The program choice was puzzling as it featured two ballets by its resident choreographer and artistic director, Krysztof Pastor, which was one too many. There aren’t too many choreographers whose work can fill an entire program and Pastor’s work, while enjoyable, is not in that class. The other piece was a setting of Rite of Spring by the Israeli choreographer, Emanuel Gat, which suffered from too much redundancy. These are some well trained and rehearsed dancers who move fluidly and if there’s a unifying aspect, it’s that they all conformed to a general idea of what most people think ballet dancers should look like. The women all have highly arched feet and are extremely flexible and slender while the men are solid and princely looking. Despite the questionable programming, the show was enjoyable due to the fine dancers and was well received. One thing that this company does that I wish others would emulate is that they included the details of the recordings used in the performance in the program notes.

Adam Kozal and Aneta Zbrzezniak in <i>Moving Rooms</i> © Ewa Krasucka
Adam Kozal and Aneta Zbrzezniak in Moving Rooms
© Ewa Krasucka

Pastor’s Adagio and Scherzo opened the program and it was a solid enough offering. On a practical level it showed that the company can move with finesse, lyricism and speed. Maria Zhuk partnered with Robin Kent in the Adagio movement’s opening and she was terrific from a technical standpoint. All the elements were there. She is blessed with beautiful line and sensitive musicality but that wasn’t enough. The drawback with Zhuk was that she doesn’t project very much emotion beyond the proscenium. Similarly, Yuka Ebihara, paired with Vladimir Yaroshenko, was gorgeous by anyone’s standards but also was not a dynamic performer. It’s not enough to be a great dancer at this level, you also have to command the stage.

The difference was palpable when Aleksandra Liashenko took the stage. She is the kind of dancer who thrills the audience and the company as a whole needs more of it. Liashenko’s style is highly theatrical and even bombastic at times. She dances large, in the Russian style, filling the stage with her personality. At times it was too much but it is far better to see a dancer with a too bright personality that you have to mute than one you can’t ignite. When she takes off on a grand jeté she has a way of flicking her front foot out that gives her an extra bit of elevation. It’s the kind of extra detail and effort that makes her compelling. The Scherzo movement was the better of the two in this ballet but this is the piece I would rather have seen discarded in favor of something that better showed off the company’s dramatic range.

Emanuel Gat’s ballet set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring began with the dancers mostly standing around and running in darkness. Occasionally they ran through a rectangle illuminated with red light in the center of the stage. An involuntary groan may have escaped my lips at what appeared to be self-conscious avant garde posturing. It was surprisingly irritating and I was at the point of deciding I hated this piece with every fiber of my being when they unexpectedly began swing dancing. The juxtaposition with Stravinsky’s discordant music was striking and it was fun for the first five minutes but it went on too long. It seemed that Gat, having arrived at something that tickled his fancy, kept doing it over and over until it was no longer a fun novelty. Even Liashenko’s theatricality couldn’t save this piece from ultimate tedium, but I didn’t hate it.

<i>Moving Rooms</i> © Ewa Krasucka
Moving Rooms
© Ewa Krasucka

The program closed with Pastor’s Moving Rooms, the highlight of the evening. The concept of this ballet had the dancers moving within sharply defined blocks of light, representing rooms. It’s an idea that works and keeps working because the lights shift frequently. With varying numbers of dancers on stage, the number of rooms changed and the dancers had their spacing down perfectly to use the light to its best advantage. Particularly effective were the sequences featuring the full company, the light dividing the stage into a checkerboard pattern. Carlos Martín Perez danced the opening solo with powerful presence and felt like a driving force in this piece. In a lovely pas de deux, Aneta Zbrzezniak, a lovely and lyrical dancer, moved beautifully with Paweł Koncewoj. It culminated with a coda that was pulsing and bursting with energy that brought the audience to its feet.

The Polish National Ballet is very good, in a class with American regional companies like Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet West and San Francisco Ballet. This tour is only featuring a small number of dancers from a company of 90 but, assuming that this a representative sample, it’s a strong company. They move cohesively with nice unity of style and good dynamics. Some of the lead dancers are not as charismatic as I would have liked but the technique is there. They are well worth seeing, despite the lackluster repertoire that I saw. On their next trip I would like to see more of their contemporary repertoire.