Since the pandemic has begun, many ballet companies have found unique and creative ways to film new content for streaming. One of the most ambitious projects has been Pennsylvania Ballet’s digital season. Artistic Director Ángel Corella separated dancers into separate pods. The different pods rehearsed and filmed together in a small stage called the Performance Garage. Three separate programs were filmed and will be streamed. The second program was called Resilience.

Sterling Baca and Oksana Maslova in Polyphonia
© Alexander Iziliaev

Resilience is a good indicator of Corella’s vision and the kinds of dancers and ballets he values. It’s a hodgepodge of the classical (Raymonda Suite), the neoclassical (George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante), and the contemporary (Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and an excerpt of Dwight Rhoden’s And So It Is). Corella dismissed quite a few veteran dancers when he took over Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014, saying that he needed dancers who “could do everything”. Judging by this program, the desired versatility has been achieved.

Wheeldon’s Polyphonia might be the ballet that the dancers looked the most comfortable dancing. The astonishing Oksana Maslova has a body seemingly made of rubber and her extreme extensions are well suited to the ballet’s contemporary, minimalist aesthetic. Sterling Baca partnered her adroitly in the acrobatic pas de deux. Another standout was So Jung Shin. Unfortunately, this ballet’s charms continue to elude me, no matter how good the dancers are. Also, this is a ballet that does not benefit from close-ups. In the theater, the dark stage and the geometrical shapes made from the lone spotlight are striking. Up close with more lighting, the mechanics of the piece are more obvious.

Dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet in Raymonda Suite
© Alexander Iziliaev

Raymonda Suite (credited to Corella/Petipa) is basically the famous Act 3 of Petipa’s Raymonda. It includes the wedding pas de deux between Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, the wedding variations, and the clapping variation for Raymonda. Arian Molina Soca (Jean de Brienne) has an elegant classical line and is a strong partner. Dayesi Torriente (Raymonda) is a strong par terre dancer who eschews the harebell delicacy so prized by balletomanes. She’s technically solid, though a little unpolished – she stormed through the steps rather than highlighting the choreography. It was not a surprise that she chose the loud, assertive clap in the famous variation. The sets and costumes were absolutely lovely. Sydney Dolan and Fernanda Oliveira stood out in the last two wedding variations for their fast footwork, big jumps, and bright smiles.

Jermel Johnson in And So It Is...
© Alexander Iziliaev

A seven minute solo from And So It Is showed off Jermel Johnson’s strength and extreme spine flexibility, but seems a bit random in this program – it’s taken out of context and I need to see more of the full ballet to appreciate the choreography.

The best offering of Resilience is Allegro Brillante. Balanchine’s short-but-thrilling ballet is tailor-made to Mayara Piniero’s talents. She is like Tiler Peck (my benchmark for this role) in that she’s so strong and so fast that she can play with the steps. Piniero is the one of those dancers where a triple pirouette seems easier than a single. She flew through the technical challenges in the cadenza solo. Pennsylvania Ballet does not dance Allegro Brillante with the same breakneck speed that New York City Ballet dances it, but this was an excellent performance by any measure. Zecheng Liang was the cool to Piniero’s fire, and the performance sailed to its thrilling finish. The camerawork was excellent, showing off the intricate patterns Balanchine was able to make with only eight corps members.

Mayara Pineiro and Zecheng Liang in Allegro Brillante
© Alexander Iziliaev

These streaming offerings by various ballet companies are in a sense auditions for the post-pandemic world. They are presenting reasons to care about the company’s future. Pennsylvania Ballet’s Resilience is not perfect, but the strength and vitality of their dancers is striking. They dance with an abundance of, well, resilience. 


This performance was reviewed from the Pennsylvania Ballet video stream

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